Christian Life/Personal Holiness: September 2005 Archives

Knocking on the Door

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Jesus told us, "Knock and it shall be opened unto you."

Sometimes it feels as though I've knocked on that door until my knuckles are bloody. Was there ever a widow more importunate? Was there ever a person more persistent? Why do I not seem to progress?

I know the answers to those questions. It came to me early this morning. The door opens inward. If you knock on it, expecting it to open, you have to unlock it first. You have to be willing to let it open. And there are so many ways to keep oneself from unlocking the door. I start by ignoring that it needs to be done. Other methods are head knowledge that somehow never makes it to the heart and transforms it.

I now know the answer as to why some times seem so dry and so difficult. What does one do about them? I think the answer lies in simple patience and persistence. I must be patient in my constant application for admission and I must be persistent in pursuing.

But I also have to be patient with myself. I have to recognize that there are things that prevent me from unlocking that door, and I have to ask God what they are. I have to stop jangling the handle fruitlessly. Quite simply, I need to ask God to light up the interior of this great storehouse that is me and I need to oil the hingese, and clear away the cobwebs and chase away the spiders. I say I have to do it--the reality is I must merely be willing to have it happen to me. I must will to do it insofaras I can understanding that it is only the action of grace that accomplishes these things.

So long as I consider my prayer my own, and not a gift from God, I am on the wrong footing. My prayer is my own only as it arises from me. All prayer is God's gift returning to God with interest. The greater interest from those who have already realized what a gift it is and so do not struggle so hard--do not kick against the goad.

None of this is easy for some of us. Particularly those of us who are very interior people, who have grown accustomed to keeping everything inside. People often comment how very open and revealing some of the things I write are--but believe it or not, they don't begin to even scratch the surface. These are the things I am willing to share--the depths, the true reaches that I have yet to thoroughly plumb and acquaint myself with, I dare not even hint at. Such honesty as there is is superficial--whisper thin. But it is helpful for me to articulate that much--it lays out the map of the known territory and from it, I can begin to explore the reaches. And perhaps my map will assist others who are wandering in the same or similar lands. From it they can get a bearing and move forward.

Please pray for me.

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About Prayer

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I loved this passage.

from Ascent to Love Sister Ruth Burrows,
quoting Wendy Mary Beckett, "Simple Prayer," in Clergy Review

The simplicity of prayer, its sheer, terrifying, uncomplicatedness, seems to be either the last thing most of us know or want to know. It is not difficult to intellectualise about prayer--like love, beauty and motherhood it quickly sets our eloquence aflow, it is not difficult but it is perfectly futile. In fact those glowing pages on prayer are worse than futile; they can be positively harmful. Writing about prayer, reading about prayer, talking about prayer, thinking about prayer, longing for prayer and wrapping myself more and more in these great cloudy sublimities that make me feel so aware of the spiritual: anything rather than acutally praying. What am I doing but erecting a screen behind which I can safely maintain my self-esteem and hide away from God?

The writing is less than grand, but the idea is perfect. Too often I take any recourse to escape from prayer. What am I afraid of? Perhaps it is the Keatsian, "Being too happy in thy happiness, thou light-winged dryad. . ." Perhaps it is loss of identity, perhaps it is any number of a thousand other possibilities. But the reality is that I use all of these escape mechanisms and more. Do you?

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Several times recently, I have seen the Old Testament standard of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," derided as the draconian face of the "Old Yahweh" (whatever that might mean). And indeed, in terms of our present understanding, the standard is harsh. But in fact, for its time, the standard was enlightened.

The Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest sets of written laws, set out the rule for the nation. Nearly everything was punishable by death. If a neighbor killed your son, you were entitled to kill his son. If you lied on the witness stand, you were to be executed. If you stole something of great value, you were to be executed. Hammurabi's code was indeed draconian.

The "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" code is, in fact a moderation of this very strict, very harsh, very difficult code. One could not go from the rule of Hammurabi straight to "turn the other cheek." I suppose if there is development of doctrine among human beings it is because God first led us step by step to the rule of love. As we responded to His gentleness and clear law, we were encouraged to move further, to improve upon it in our behavior. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," was not the "rule absolute" but rather the absolute limits for what one could justly demand. There is no necessity to demand this from another--but in the transaction of law, no more could be taken than was taken originally.

An eye for an eye is not the way we live today, but it was a considerable improvement over the way we lived in Hammurabi's time.

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A Grace Note on the Charismatic Renewal


One thing I forgot to say and which ties in with themes that have been running through my mind since earlier this week (there are no coincidences) is that Praying in Tongues is certainly exemplary of "a joyful noise." While I have never done so myself, I am always at home with those who sing their prayers to God--I am buoyed up and brought closer to God on this tide of joy and I am moved to joy myself.

In a very real way the Charismatic movement taught me the beginning of contemplation, of waiting on the Lord with patient fervor.

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More Advice from the Psalms


Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness
and come before His presence with singing. . .

How much better a world this would be if we would do this even 10% of the time. How much better each of our lives would be. How much better for all those around me. Perhaps this is a commitment I should make.

The other day at Disputations Tom was commenting that we don't do a very good job of preaching Jesus and Him crucified. Perhaps this psalm gives us a place to start that teaching. We start when we make a joyful noise unto the Lord. What better preaching is there than joy that comes from God alone, shared and spread to everyone we meet?

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An Aphorism Along the Same Lines


Better the scraps from the Master's table than a feast of my own making.

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A Sobering Prospect--Personal Holiness


I was writing a meditation on a gospel passage this morning when a sobering thought occurred to me. We serve the Lord more by who we are than by what we say. People who see us and know that we are Christians judge both us and the Christ we proclaim by what we do. The look at the concurrence of words and actions to see what it is we proclaim.

What does my life say of Jesus? It isn't a consideration I like to give much thought to. If I am honest, the Jesus I present to the world must be a thin and weedy thing indeed. A spindly weed of a man who pipes up now and then with some heartening consideration about the kingdom of heaven. His Presence hasn't much presence in my day-to-day world.

I am who I am--there is little enough I can do about some things. But does my life convey the joy of knowing Christ? And if not, what can I do about it? To the former question, I can only quake in fear at the answer--if people knew the enormity of my sinfulness and unworthiness, it would make a mockery of Jesus. But as to the latter, I do have an effective answer. As weak as I may be, as sinful and worthless a man as I might present to the world, I can be otherwise through prayer. I cannot change myself for good, but I can be changed by submission to and continuing in prayer. I will remain a sinner, but I will be a sinner who is honest host to God Himself, seeking always to remain in His presence. "If the bridegroom is present, can the wedding guests be in mourning?" In prayer I can be transformed to be a true messenger of Christ. If I spend time with Him, I will become like Him.

It is said that married couples through the years become more like one another. ( I suspect that is mostly in the bad things so that our annoying habits do not annoy so seriously. ) So, if we seek the Holy Spirit through the marriage of prayer and we keep the blessed trinity company through prayer, surely we will become more like them. Or to take another metaphor, one is judged by the company one keeps. The reason is that one becomes more like the company one keeps--it is a natural human inclination to blend in. What then could be better than to blend into the company of the blessed trinity.

Prayer will transform me to become a true disciple of Christ, preaching daily through my actions and through my love.

I have nothing to add to the deposit of wisdom that has been passed down through the ages. In truth, I don't understand a majority of that deposit. Unlike some, I have no wisdom or understanding to share. So I am driven by this to share the only thing I can know well--God's love. I share that not in my words, but by His indwelling presence and by my submssion to Him in the presence of His children. I serve God by loving Him and I love Him best when I show His love to His children--all of His children without regard to how I personally may feel about them.

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Will All Be Saved?

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This is one of my favorite Sundays because it always gives rise to the speculative, hopeful side of me. The workers in the vinyard are all paid the same wage regardless of when they come to work. It is this that gives me hope that all of humanity decides to accept that wage. The "I" of TULIP is what I would invoke, were I inclined to flowery theology. As I'm not, I know that grace is a gift, and as with any gift, we can refuse it.

But I'll share something from the Gulley and Mulholland reading I've been doing:

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

Holiness and love are not competing commitments. God is love. His love endures forever. This enduring love is what makes God holy. . . .

Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). If this verse was [sic] a command for moral perfection, our cause is hopeless. Fortunately, this admonition follows a command to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Perfection is demonstrated not by moral purity, but by extravagant love. We are like God not when we are pure but when we are loving and gracious. . . .

The Holy One will never come in wrath.

The Holy One always comes in love.

I love elsewhere their concept of what holiness is. By their definition, and I don't know how well it fits with classical definitions, Holiness is God's ability to confront evil without being defiled. More they say that true holiness delights in restoring the impure. When I think of the great saints of the Catholic Church, they all had largely the same focus, though it may have been expressed differently. Every one of them wanted to save souls, to win souls to God, to confront the impure and to bring it to purity.

It is when I think about this--the holiness of God and yet His tender interaction with me, the greatest sinner I know--that I am most overjoyed. Talk about mercy. Talk about love. Talk about patient endurance. Talk about the shepherd going out looking for the lost sheep. Here I am and I don't seem to be in hurry to move closer. He comes to me. The father of the prodigal, the good shepherd, the Lord, the keeper of the Vinyard--all of these, He comes to me. He condescends to come to me, and most glorious of all, He doesn't even remind me of or think about condescension at all. He does not constantly remind me of who I am and who He is. What could be greater love? He is still the eternal servant. And very honestly, sometimes I treat Him as such. And still, He comes to me. Oh, what a gracious, loving Lord. Surely such a Lord would not allow one to escape His grace. So I hope, so I pray, so I believe is possible. But I stay firmly with the Church saying that we cannot know it to be so with anything other than hope inspired by the Holy Spirit. I will not be a universalist--but I'll get as close as possible, because it is in this image of God among His children that I most rejoice. And I want to be in that crowd of children.

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I started this note as a response to Talmida's cogent comment below about how one should read and understand one verse of the decalogue--often translated "Thou shalt not kill." It was getting too lengthy, and it started to raise issues that I wanted to discuss in more detail anyway.

You raise a good point in your first point regarding the technical translation. This has, of course, been said many times and I don't necessarily disagree with it. However, in the judgment of what it is actually saying,the question arises as to what is "murder." We tend to view it in a very technical legal fashion--however, when the state unjustly takes the life of a man who committed no crime, has murder been committed? I think so--a great many do not. When a person has been killed in the course of killing enemy combattants has murder been committed? I think so--a great many do not.

The point isn't so much who is right in the debate, but rather the extended difficulties of orthodoxy. The meaning of every verse of the Bible is (thank heavens) not explicitly spelled out. As a result, much is left to us to formulate. I read "Thou shalt not murder" in a much broader way than some might. "Thou shalt not deprive the innocent of life" would more accurately reflect my understanding. Now, I cannot ask anyone else to accept my interpretation, but as I read the Catechism, this seems to be the understanding they come up with for this verse of the decalogue. Problem is, someone else can read the same source and come to a different conclusion. Three priests explaining what is meant by this will come up with three different conclusions. Which one reflects orthodoxy? Usually, I assume the one that is closest to what I already believe. And that's part of the problem with orthodoxy--there is a tendency to take the answer closest to what we already believe.

However, there is a plus to this. Even if we accept the answer closest to what we already think, by accepting the authority of a voice outside ourselves, we have already shifted our own viewpoint to some degree. By slow steps, one hopes one reaches orthodoxy without stumbling into rigidity.

And there is another stumbling block. Is it possible to be orthodox without being rigid? By that I do not mean that a person holding to orthodoxy should be willing at a moment's notice to jump ships. But does being orthodoxy carry with it a certain baggage that might be off-putting to people who are not so far down the line? I don't think it necessarily must--but I do think, unfortunately, it often does. I think of some of my experiences with some apologists for the faith whose whole demeanor and approach is so alienating that I wonder what they think they are about. They are impolite, impolitic, and inconsiderate. (This does not by any means apply to everyone in the field of apologetics, merely a subset who so thoroughly alienated me early on that (1) I nearly didn't become Catholic in the face of such arrogance; and (2) the whole term Apologetics carries with it certain very strongly negative overtones for me.) The people I speak of were extremely orthodox; indeed, orthodox to the point that they no longer knew how to speak to someone who was not in a way that honored the sincerity of the convictions that they held. Not every person who is in error is stupid or is consciously following an agenda against the faith.

I've wandered off-track here for a moment, but one of the problems of Orthodoxy is the amount of time and study it takes to be and remain orthodox, and the wide spectrum of conflicting opinions as to what consitutes orthodoxy. Who has the clear definition? Where does orthodoxy lie? Some tell me Karl Rahner is a perfectly orthodox theologian--others imply that anyone after Garrigou-Lagrange is suspect. I know nothing of theology--how do I decide? If my opinion is shaped by some neo-rahnerian effusion, how am I to know it?

The desire for believing as the Church believes is real, but fully understanding precisely what it is the Church believes is a much more difficult task than it might first seem. For example, see below some comments about biblical inerrancy and what is required for it to be true. Who is right in the matter?

And with this I come back to my favorite theme. Some people are not daunted by the prospects I have outlined here. They wade in and sort things out fairly capably. Often they don't so in any way that makes sense to me, and so I'm left on the short wondering who is winning this alligator wrestling match. Most of us don't have the time or the inclination to study every point of doctrine in all of its nuances. As a result we don't study much of any point of doctrine, or study those that most need to resolved for us to find a comfortable place to sit.

The reality is, the only comfortable place to sit is at the feet of Jesus. And sitting on the ground, in the dust is only comfortable so long as we are caught up in adoring love. The solace comes from Kierkegaard who, paraphrased out of context, said, "Those who are comfortable with Jesus do not know Him." So a comfortable Jesus isn't really something we will every find. Perhaps this whole struggle with orthodoxy is a series of points and barbs that move us steadily toward the God who loves us. I have concluded that the only way I'm going to find my way is through longing, lasting, lingering, love. My brain threatens to explode every time I open a book of serious theology, so instead, I open a book of poetry, a book of nature, a book of art, a book of revelation beyond the mere word, and for a moment I am immersed in the immensity that is God. It is there that I will find Him, with the guidance of scripture and the Church, not in the thousands (millions?) of tomes of theology that threaten me like the amplifiers that towered over Quay Lood.

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Why Orthodoxy Matters to Me

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There is a tendency on the part of some to deride orthodoxy--to see it as the strict domain of the ultra-Catholic. Not many, but some. I thought I'd spell out why Orthodoxy is so important to me and why I do try to toe the line, if not always successfully.

I became a Catholic principally because I wanted a guide to what was beautiful and true. In my other faith life, I was told to read the Bible and it would tell me all I needed to know. There was really no reason for someone else to help you understand the Bible because it really was a "priesthood of the believer." In a sense, everyone was to fashion his or her own reality, and hence, in my estimation, his or her own perfectly suited God. This is an unfair representation of the reality and comlexity of Baptist thought, but it is what I finally made of it.

Orthodoxy is valuable to me because I want to believe what is true rather than what is comfortable. My strongest desire is to grab onto the truth and hold on for all I'm worth, because the Truth, ultimately is Jesus, who told us, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." If so, then to believe the Truth is the believe Jesus and to do anything else is to miss the mark.

What I've come to discover is orthodoxy is not so simple as all that. For example, as an Orthodox Catholic, I have as a set of clear guidelines to behavior the decalogue. Among the commandments encoded therein is "Thou shalt not kill." Thus, one could conclude that the orthodox Catholic would say, "Killing is wrong." However, we then face the question of just war and the death penalty, both of which are permitted by the Church (although the latter to be exceedingly narrowly interpreted and applied). Hence, "Thou shalt not kill" is not so clear as the four words might seem to say to the orthodox Catholic. I struggle with this because I want those four words to mean precisely what they say. But nothing is so simple. Everything must be interpreted and understood as the Author intends, rather than as I understand.

Orthodox faith is exceedingly valuable to me. But its articulation is never more valuable that a person. That is to say, where orthodoxy can be hurtful, I must believe the truth, but I feel as though I must not bludgeon others with it. When my opinion or belief is not directly asked for, and where that might hurt another's ability to speak with God, I should not advance it. (TSO posted something the other day that touched upon this, and started this train of thought, but I can't seem to find it now. Later: Here it is. I had merely placed it later in the list in my mind and hadn't gone searching far enough. Thanks TSO.)

Thus, I believe that the Church teaches that homosexuality and a homosexual expression of love is sinful. (Honestly, I struggle with internalizing this truth, but I accept it as the truth.) However, in dealing with a homosexual person, I am dealing first and foremost with a person, not with a walking sin. Sometimes, people I encounter treat the sin first and foremost and the person only secondarily.

Now, I need to make clear that there are those who are called and who have the dispostion proper to reproving and correcting. I do not fault anyone for following God's way. I just am all too aware of the glass walls of my own house to begin casting stones. I know how far I am from perfection of action, thought, or word. I also know that I will be a long time (with the aid of the grace of God) hauling that beam from my own eye--so I'm not out looking for my brothers' motes.

Even writing these words sends up warning flags--as though I am trying to say something about those who do correct and teach. Believe me, I am not. I am not more fit judge for them than I am for people who sin. I am an unfit judge even for myself. So I struggle to avoid judgment and to live, as best I can the orthodox life. And I always find myself overthinking the matter.

In truth, this is the story of my journey to Carmel. Carmel encourages me not to get lost in the incredible labyrinth of my own thought, but to look at God and love Him as He is--the God of love and life. I need to know enough to know Him truly, but I do not need to worry so much about all the details. I may err in my thoughts, as I did when I started out Catholic. But I have complete faith in God and in His good people, that these errors will gradually be remedied and corrected, that I will gradually be freed from the slavery of sin, and that I will eventualy find my way home to Him.

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A few weeks back, I commented on some difficult passages of the bible wherein we are told that God told the Israelites to slaughter all of a certain group of people for one reason or another. I have to be very, very honest. No matter what his sovereignty, I reject a genocidal god who goes back on his own word to his own people.

But, honestly, I don't think that is what the Bible portrays. I had to spend some time and ask myself, "How do I really deal with these passages without rejecting Biblical inerrancy?" My answer my be akin to verbal sleight-of-hand, I don't know, but it works for me.

Let me give the full answer. Most honestly, I largely used to deal with these passages by eliding them or pretending they don't exist. I still tend to avoid them because they provide a stumbling block, but as I considered the data and Church teaching, I think I've reached a conclusion that is viable.

What I say to myself in the course of these passages is that while the Holy Spirit inspired what was written, it was interpreted through faulty men and women who were desperately trying to understand God, but who had not yet had complete knowledge of God's revelation. These people interpreted events and actions and their understanding in such a way as we get these awkward passages--passages that hint at God's abiding love for at least one group of people, but which fail of the mark of true, all-encompassing love.

I go back to one of St. Thomas Aquinas's most persausive arguments (if I understand it properly) God is triparite, but uniate and simple. That is God is of one essense, there is nothing mixed in Him. Anger and malice do not blend with sympathy and love. When we say that God is Love, that is to say that God is entirely love--the essence of God is love. There is nothing about God that is not love. If God is love, God must be love for all people, not just for me. If I understand God ever to say that He hates anyone then I am just not hearing God, because God is simple, uniate, love. That God "hates" or rejects sin is entirely commensurate with love because sin rejects love, but that God "hates" a person is not commensurate with love, because a person is a creation of love.

So, when I hear someone say that "God hates homosexuals," I think I'm hearing a modern echo of part of the Old Testament. The rulers and leaders and military persons of Israel would naturally assume that God hated what was not Israel.

However, when we get to the prophets, while we still do not have the fullness of the revelation of Jesus Christ, we get far closer to the real message. Jonah is sent to the Ninevites--not a people of Israel, not one of the chosen race. Hosea writes to Israel, but reveals Gods tender and compassionate love, most particularly in chapter 11. Isaiah promises a savior to all of us, lion and lamb shall lie down together both literally and figuratively.

So, while I am an inerrantist, I am not, nor ever have been a literalist. There are faulty narrators and faulty hearing throughout the Old Testament.

Now, does this refute the fact that God may, indeed, choose to punish individuals? No. Entire nations? I am less certain--but I am absolutely certain that He would not do so through genocide. If we can bring ourselves to believe that, it is only a short step away to accepting abortion as a near-sacrament. Why would it be okay to slaughter women and children and yet we would be required to spare children in the womb? Obviously, it doesn't make sense. Nor does a God who, now or then, orders genocide to preserve racial purity (sounds frighteningly familiar, does it not?)

No, the way I see it is that the Biblical text is inerrant, but reading bits in isolation does not allow for the complete image of God. And the complete image of God MUST be simple, uniate, complete. God is love--it is impossible for Him now or ever to be anything other than love or to express anything less than love. It is not in His nature.

At least, this is how I talk my way around this extremely difficult passages. Maybe, as I said, a verbal sleight-of-hand. But I don't think so. I'll research it and come back some time soon if I arrive at any astounding conclusions or find anything that accepts or refutes the notions I have proposed above.

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The Efficacy of Prayer


Some have argued that Katrina is a visitation of the judgment of God. I'm not ready to go there for a number of reasons--not because it can't be, and not because God might not do something like that, but because it would seem to me that a visitation might have been due Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot and any number of other tyrants (Kim il Jong, etc.) before it was due New Orleans. Yes, much bad goes on in New Orleans--I hardly think it compare with death camps and genocide, and I think God, if He were visiting wrath would probably weigh that in the scales. But the reality is that I must admit I do not know the mind of God and He may have something else behind this judgment if it is.

But the main point of this is that I wonder if those who were so quick to reach this conclusion would equally quickly embrace the possibility of the good that prayer can do. Can we, through concerted effort "pray away a hurricane?"

So far our lovely little friend Hurricane OPHELIA has wandered around and around the Atlantic--the shifting course making prediction of anything nearly impossible. First Jacksonville, then Savanah/Charleston, now the outer banks were the target. But look how it skirt the outer banks? Would our prayers be efficacious in moving it more? And how would we know?

Regardless of whether or not we would know, perhaps we should make a concerted effort to pray that this Hurricane miss landfall entirely. Katrina has visited enough destruction for a pretty good chastisement for some time to come. It would be better that no one else suffer because of the weather. Admittedly the storm is relatively weak in terms of hurricanes--but so was Katrina when 7-10 people died in the Miami area.

So, let us all pray together for this storm to follow some as yet untracked course away from land. Surely God can hurry the front along and push Ophelia away from all the possible harm she may do. And if not, then, "thy will, not mine, be done."

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What Does Vocation Mean?

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Sometimes I am a very slow learner.

It has taken me a long time to understand the meaning of vocation, and I'm not certain I understand that meaning in its fullness even now.

The Lord has raised up a great many orders with lay associations from which lay people who are called may profit mightily. However, those who are not called can often wreak havoc and distress the communities to which they wish to belong. How do we begin to discern a vocation?

I'm not sure I can answer that question in its fullness, but the other day, while pondering something in The Ascent to Love I suddenly realized one of the reasons I am called to be a Carmelite. Quite simply, I cannot do otherwise.

God uses all that we are--physical appearance, personality, intelligence, charisma, etc. When He calls us those things operate like homing beacons to hear the call. We will be naturally drawn to what best fits what God has made. So for example, it has been my experience that nearly every Franciscan I've ever encountered has been downright giddy. That's not meant to be judgmental, but rather a perception. What I perceive as giddiness is a manifestation of the Franciscan joyous charism. But my perception of that is distinctly negative--I don't want to be that. I don't mind other who are--in fact, I deeply grateful to them because they serve a critical role among God's people. But my temperament is not naturally suited to that sort of effusiveness. Cross the Franciscans off my list.

Then I turn toward the Jesuit/Domincan orders. These are people who are drawn to the rigor of logic and argumentation. (Not solely, mind you. No one is all one thing.) The method of Aquinas appeals to them in its organizational and logical beauty. The preeminence of intelligence and intellect in the approach to God is a hallmark. I thought for a while I was cut out to be a Jesuit or a Dominican. Truth is, I haven't the mind for it. I cannot pursue my quarry with such persistance, and the more I think about some things the more morose, estranged, and distanced I become from God. (As an example--"Just War" theory.) From this, in retrospect I conclude that I was not called to be a Dominican or Jesuit. Now, my comments here should not be taken to define the true Charism of either order--I do not know that because I do not belong to them. I'm only talking about perceptions.

The order that most appealed to me didn't appear to have a lay association. I found out later that I was wrong, the Cistercians actually do have lay associates--but I think that this knowledge was withheld from me until I had found a home. The Cistercian Charism might exacerbate my already extremely low receptivity to others. On most personality indicators and by most measures, I'm just about as far from extravert as one can be and still be breathing. I don't mind being around a small number of people, but I do not seek out company. The Cistercian turn of things might have amplified this tendency to a point where the pursuit of sanctity became impossible because of my reclusiveness. I don't really know. God alone knows why He called me where he did.

I ultimately ended up with the Carmelites. Now it's hard for me to identify why this feels so much like home. But part of the feeling comes from the certain knowledge that St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila described very clearly my early experiences in faith and prayer. They also struck a chord in that I recognized the road to God in their words. There is a certain melancholy, which is not to say depression, but a kind of pleasant longing, which may typify many charisms, but which I could recognize here. The whole idea of "dark night of the soul" and of "dryness" in prayer rang true to me. I knew in hearing it that it was the truth. Now, it may in fact be the truth only for certain types of people. That is, not everyone will go through these spells, nor will everyone need to exprience dryness to experience closeness with God. But, I suppose, in a sense, this "dryness" is honoring and tempering the desire to be alone that so typifies the extreme introvert. God let's us experience that fully without ever allowing us to be alone. I don't know why I am called. I just know that there is something in the charism that speaks in a way nothing else has. I recognized a call.

In recognizing my own vocation, I started to discern the whole sense of vocations. I've had some very promising aspirants to the Carmelite order, who were simply not called. They moved into the group hoping to change and transform it into something else--more charismatic prayer, more thoughtful discourse, more appreciation of the fine points of liturgy, more apologetic, more. . . You name it. Most of these people found for themselves that they were not Carmelite. Some found other orders, other found prayer groups or other Churchly associations that benefited from their gifts.

Sometimes people will say to me that they want to belong to an order. My question to them is, "Does God want you to belong to an order?" Belonging to an order is not a guarentee of sanctity. In some cases it may interfere with our life's journey toward God. Belonging to a lay association of an Order is not the only means to intimacy with God. For many it is not a good way at all. But I understand the longing to find people of similar ways of thought and similar dispositions toward prayer. I think this is what people have in mind when they say they want to belong to an order. If God is calling you, you will belong. However, God may not call you to an order, but may call you to service with others. I would love to belong to St. Vincent de Paul society. But every time I make strides that direction, I find my entire life derailed in one way or another. The limits of my ability to associate consist in giving the goods that the society will disburse to the needy. I am not called there.

And that is another very interesting point. There are a great many vocations that have nothing at all to do with Holy Orders or Religious Communities. Every life is a vocation. God is always callilng, always yearning for us to turn to Him. He calls each one of us and it is in careful listening that we ultimately begin to hear and shape our lives according to His will. For some, matrimony is a vocastion--but it does not end there. In matrimony some will have many children, some a few, some none at all--these circumstances in turn will shape our vocations. Those with few or none who have longed for them will find ways to care for children who would otherwise not have families. Or they will find ways to serve children and be around them as in daycares, nurseries, teaching, nurses, etc.

Our vocation is built into who we are and how God has crafted us. It is the homing signal He built into us to call us home. The very best thing we will be able to say upon entering heaven is "I heard you call and I came." Our vocation is a way of living in response to that call and it may or may not involve association with a group of like-thinking, like-praying people. More often than not, it does not--and yet those who are not called to these aseemblies are still irrevocably called to discern their vocation and to serve God.

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Aridity and Apaethia


from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

Almost always God's greatest gifts are wrapped up in the saking of painful self-knowledge. When we 'got on well' in paryer, when there was satisfaction in the mass and sacreaments, when we could talk inspiningly of spiritual things and other showed respect for our wisdom, we had no idea of the true state of affairs. Humility is acceptance of the truth about ourselves, not an effort to work up humble sentiments in spite of our obvious excellence!

I wish I could say that the state I have been in resembled this aridity. It more resembles sloth--that painful condition in which doing anything whatsoever spiritual takes an enormous effort of will and always manages to be distinctly unsatisfying to the point where one says--"Oh, why bother? He isn't paying any attention, why should I?" The truth is that He is paying attention and I am not, otherwise I wouldn't be in that condition.

It would be pleasant and easy to think that I had advanced so greatly in prayer that everything I did was embued with sanctity and I could now rest on the spiritual laurels and wait for the world to come to me for my magnificent, benevolent wisdom. That thought would release me from continuing to struggle.

As it is, I know what I am fighting--apathia or acedia is more the fruit of sloth than of prayer. And sloth exists in intention as well as practice. That is more where my own lies. I need to force myself to read spiritual books, to pray, to go to Mass. It is ever a temptation to give all these things a miss and move on with my own agenda. And I could attribute (in spiritual pride) all of these things to Aridity.

The odd thing is you have to "earn" aridity. That is, you must have been so faithful in prayer that God honors your faithfulness with a purifying fire that makes spiritual things difficult for you. It's odd that this is how it develops in some people (I don't think all, but then I'm not far enough along and it seems that in every Saint's life I read, I notice these lagging times that seem to suggest aridity.)

Aridity is the fruit of constant, faithful, devoted, involved prayer. Apathia and acedia are the result of viewing prayer and attendance upon God as obligation rather than privilege. I go through the motions without a lot of heart.

But part of the cure of any disease is to recognize its symptoms and to deal with the disease. There is much that can be done for this torpor. The first thing that must happen is repentence--both in the traditional and etymological sense of the word. I must think about the privilege of being a servant of God. When I realize what a tremendous opportunity I have been given, it sparks a willingness to see to all the attendant responsibilities of that station. This is grace in action. God reminds me that I am His own precious child and my petulanace and stubbornness are unbecoming the son of so benevolent a monarch. I can love because He first loved me.

Then I can fill my senses with all the things that remind me of His presence among His people--with beauty, with music, with prayer, with good company--all agents of His will.

But most of all, I can see my helplessness for what it is and cry out as did the man before Jesus, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief." For what cause could such a condition have except a certain unbelief--a certain lack of trust that God will take care of all things that need taken care of? In one word, the cause of sloth and of its attendant ills is that I do not, in some way, trust or believe the fullness of God's truth. I am no longer simple, one-hearted. I have become duplicitous because I love something other than God more than God. It does not good to try to find out what has become my idol because I'm clever enough to hide that knowledge from myself as it is convenient to do so. What I can do is pray that God show me the idol that has replaced Him and ask Him to remove it from my presence.

I suppose I shouldn't make so public my own failings; however, by so doing, I can encourage your prayers for me and for others in this community similarly afflicted. More, I can show what I really am--a vain, foolish, selfish, hard-hearted slip of a man--rather than what I appear to (some to) be. This is salutary--it puts the universe in right perspective and helps me start all over again.

I thank God for the Carmelite Charism that keeps me going in these weak times. Sometimes it is all that sustains the breathing of my spiritual life.

So if you've seen a dearth of the helpful, the insightful, or the spiritual--now you know why and I will continue to work as I pray. I will continue to write as God works with me and I will continue to ask your prayers on the journey--prayers to relieve the numbness and weariness that come from relying upon my own will to do what God wishes. Because in surrendering to Love, I will be made whole and I will be saved. And there is nothing short of surrender that can make any difference.

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Beauty Amid the Ashes


This couple really knows what hope and joy are all about. Join me in praying for a long and happy marriage for both of them. In the midst of tragedy they helped to remind a lost of people around them that there is still life and there is still hope.

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About this Archive

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

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