Christian Life/Personal Holiness: July 2005 Archives

Why is it so difficult for us to love unreservedly? Why do we constantly find ourselves embroiled in controversies that divide us and give us the "right" to judge another?

I pick so many ways to judge. Often I am scandalized, stunned, shocked, and secretly gratified that I have found a way to be more pious, more Godly, and more Christian than my neighbors. In the non-relgious realm I do the same, but the qualities that I am improving in myself are somewhat different. It is good that I am more refined, more intelligent, more cultivated, more honest, more loving, more whatever.

It is a problem I find myself constantly combatting. My rush to judgment is nearly always (although often unconsciously) about feeling good about ourselves. I am piqued or provoked than an opinion on some matter differs from our own.

I read a number of so-called "progressive" blogs. One of the reasons I read them is that they challenge me, sometimes strenuously, to enlarge my view of what the Catholic Church is and of the diversity of opinion within the Church. I almost never find my views of the doctrine changing as a result of reading these blogs--but what I often do find are faithful, strong Catholics, who while holding a divergent viewpoint, still want to belong to, and from their point of view, improve the Church. On the more traditional side, I read a number of blogs that wish to do the same things in the other direction. And what I find here is a difference of opinion--sometimes a difference in which one party or another can be demonstrated to be wrong according to all reasonable explications of tradition and Church Doctrine. But still, there is seldom, if ever, any malice in this wrongness.

This is one of the reasons I'm so apposed to "cleansing the temple" of those who disagree. Heaven knows I would ultimately be one of the ones cleansed because so many of my opinions are pressed right against the border of Orthodoxy and I hold on only by will. For example, you all have heard time and again how I feel about "just war." And honestly every fiber of my being repudiates such an oxymoron. Nevertheless, the Church holds and definitively teaches that such is a possibility--therefore, while all that I am rails against it, I stand with the Church. I guess this puts me in a good stead to sympathize with those whose views differ.

Nevertheless, I find judgment creeping into my thoughts. I find that I use myself as the measure of all things and what a poor measure it is! But woe be unto you if I perceive you do not reach my exalted heights and standards. (Not really, but I am sometimes shocked by my own propensity for judgment.) And so I attribute this to many of us. In some cases, people are more willing to articulate and make a point of their judgments. In my case, I pray that I can learn to stop making those judgments. And as with all such prayers, I have ample opportunity to practice the skill.

But learning to love isn't merely about learning not to pass judgment, but it is learning to accept grace and look out of oneself toward the Other. I must look first to God who is the source and image of all love. If I strive to love without grounding in God, I do so in vain because of myself I can do so little. But with His grace I can do all things. With His love I can learn to love. Paradoxically, seeking His love demands that I look beyond myself and my judgments. Seeking His love requires total abandonment to it. I've said before and will say continually, God's love is "All or Nothing at All." One cannot serve God and Mammon or God and _____. One cannot serve two masters because the one less visible will always be the secondary. As money, sex, fame, and food are all overtly present before us at all times, God will always take the back seat to them if we try to serve both.

An answer to my question then--it is so hard to love because I am so bound up in myself and my own concerns. It is so hard to love because original sin has alienated me from love. To learn to love, I must reach out to the Cross and come to an understanding of what love is by embracing Jesus as He offered Himself--not as I would like Him to offer Himself. I must accept the sacrifice of the Son of God as my own and not seek to alter, change, or transfigure it. That is part of taking up my cross. And it is only in taking up my cross that I can begin to learn love.

(P.S., I know this is a lot of I, I, I, but I also discover that the third person plural is not nearly so convicting as is the first person. That "we" do something hides me in a mass of humanity and in some way excuses what I do. But strip it down to what I do, and I need to acknowledge and answer it. And as one of my theories of blogging is that I do it largely for an audience of one who needs to hear over and over again the truths of the faith--well, please forgive me for burdening you with it.)

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Ordinary Miracles

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Who needs speaking, bleeding, or crying statues when you have these kinds of things around you every day? (To protect bandwidth, they are in the extended entry.)

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Struggling Against Birth


At times it seems that I kick against the goad when it comes to God. There's one metaphor for you. But let's go to Nicodemus and take our substantive metaphor. Jesus says, "Unless a man be born again of water and the spirit. . ."

At times it seems that I struggle against being born. What I need to do is relax (surrender) and cooperate. But let's face it--the womb is a comfortable, sensual place. No child in his right mind would choose to be born over staying in this warm, comfortable, quiet, intimate space. Well, that's probably not true of children. They are ready for the world. But as adults many of us have had enough of it to think that an additional decade or two suspended in an amniotic sac doesn't sound like so terrible a prospect.

That's the way it is with my spiritual life from time to time. For example, I can feel the movement of the spirit within me, coaxing me toward birth and renewal. But the "womb" of the world, the lure of what I know, the delights of the senses keep me pinned here. And pinned is exactly the right metaphor as well. So long as I cling to all the admitted delights of the world, I am pinned as a butterfly is pinned in a collect--beautiful, perhaps, but inert and dead. I am suspended without life.

True life lies beyond the sphere of the merely sensual. It lies within the realm of the spirit living with but not in the world. My struggle against birth is the fight of the Old Man to retain what is his "birthright." My struggle to be born is the struggle of the man renewed in Christ, the New Man, to claim the proper birthright of the one Risen from the Dead.

And all that it requires is surrender, to struggle to supress the urge to stay in the warm amniotic sac of the world and to allow myself to be born again to my true heritage--to my place in the body of Christ. That is the struggle that is what I go through daily--to choose myself and the world, or to choose my place in Christ's body and my spiritual heritage. God knows it is difficult, that is why many of us have been given so much practice in a lifetime. But the world is a more beautiful, more wonderful place when you have entered the new birth and can see more clearly our Father and our Brother in all that is around us.

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My friend here is a lifelong reader. He reads very, very slowly. As a result he is particular about what he reads. However, he has a very nice bookstore nearby--a very large--two story Barnes and Noble which has no rival anywhere near where I live. Also this city (Naples) seems to be stuffed to the gills with used bookstores, once again, the antithesis of where I live.

As we were carefully combing through the store, looking at all the wonders there were to read, I noticed one of the advantages of a very large bookstore. Looking through the "Religion" section, and particularly the section on "Catholic Thought," I found both I Am a Daughter of the Church and I Want to See God on the shelves. I was shocked. In addition, I was able to once again find the full four volumes of the Philokalia--something I haven't seen on the shelves of religious specialty stores.

Of course, this also has its down-side. The complete opus of anti-Bishop Spong pocked the shelves like so many pustules. There were other verminous writings as well. But it was nice that the store was large enough to have balance. Normally one finds the Spong Opus without any relief from the orthodox contingent. And I'm certain that Neil could pull out from Spong's collected works one or another gem. Honestly, that's way too much slogging for me.

Anyway, the whole purpose of writing this was to mention a collection of essays I found by Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas is a renowned Christian thinker and a longtime contributor to First Things who left regular contribution after the September 11 attacks. I don't recall the reason at the time, but it seemed logical and integral. Here is a brief piece in which Hauerwas offers a tribute to the work of Il Magnifico (John Paul II).

That said, the book had no price, and I don't spend my time running books to cashier to figure out how much I'm likely to pay for it. So I did not buy it. However, there were some intriguing titles and I did read the majority of one essay. The Title, "Why Gays (as a group) Are More Moral than Christians (as a Group),"

I didn't follow the whole premise because I was skimming, but it seems I must take another look at the chain of reasoning. The whole question centered around Gays in the military and even touched lightly on the question of Just War--a central question I often find myself returning to. And here's the rub--it is very annoying to find oneself with enough intellectual resources to understand the question, but simply not enough intellectual wherewithal to reasonable "encounter" and wrestle with the question. This is the quandary I often find myself in. In high questions of morals, theology, and other such matters, I can often follow the discussion and agree to the chain of reason, but all too often I find myself incapable of making any substantive contribution to the engagement. While I can assent to the reasoning, it seems to me that reasoning merely provides the guidance whereby one ultimately makes a choice and the choice need not always be made on reason alone. Reason must be informed by mercy, compassion, and charity--animated by the whole human spirit or else, it seems, reason becomes a tyrant.

Reason must be consulted and even used to the best of our ability to inform and to decided the correct course of action. But it seems to me that there is room for the rest of the human being in any discussion that occurs. Once reason has spoken, perhaps other factors militate against the decision made in coldest reason. I don't know. But what I do know is that on these matters I seem to be doomed to a life of confusion anyway. I am drawn like a moth to the flame to consider them, and yet I find great frustration in tangling with them because they seem so far beyond me. I love to hear others talk about them, but my capacity is merely interested spectator and that is a great burden sometimes. Nevertheless, to pretend otherwise would be to place myself well beyond my own limits and to give capacity where none really exists.

My, I've wandered far from where I started. But that is the pleasure of writing as one will. Writing is often a path of discovery--it leads to the heart of thought and the heart of prayer. It is a map of many undiscovered countries and looking back over its contours one often finds what one has been looking for a long time. The wonders of blogging and of writing. Now back to the image gathering that I hope will lead to more poetry.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from July 2005.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: June 2005 is the previous archive.

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