Christian Life/Personal Holiness: November 2005 Archives

I'm still reading the book and still thinking about the complete argument in an attempt to evaluate it. But I find many of the issues raised interesting. I'm sure Cardinal Dulles would find much to refute in the course of the logic of the book. But this at least trolls an interesting depth.

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

I paid homage to God's grace while championing human freedom. Salvation was not dependent on God's decision to save me, but on my decision to accept him. My righteousness determined my status and destiny. I controlled my destiny. I chose whether I was loved and accepted or hated and rejected. God's love was dependent upon my behavior. Grace was not a gift but a trophy.

I had easily rejected predestination's claim that the trophy was randomly awarded. What good was a trophy if you hadn't earned it? Though I was uncomfortable when the power to save or damn lay solely in God's hands, I had no qualms with suggesting the power lay completely in mine. In retrospect, my defense of human freedom was simply plain, old human pride. I wanted to take credit for my choice to respond to God's grace. I wanted to believe I chose God.

Obviously this is not a matter for proof-texting but for understanding in the overall sense and reading in conformity with the tradition of the Church, and in this case the earliest tradition without the accretions of understanding that resulted as historical contingency shaped a world-view. We must understand the debate on its own terms without the triumphalism of one party or another. These earlier fathers give us a glimpse of that thought before accretions had been crystallized. And even among these earliest Fathers there is a strong measure of debate. In fact, there is a line (said to be overstepped by Origen, amongst others) that the Church definitively teaches we may not cross--that of suggesting the fallen angels shall be reunited with God. However, several great Saints of the Eastern tradition held fast to the idea of universal salvation as some members of the Orthodox community do today.

But what is important here isn't so much the mechanics of salvation and whether everyone is saved. Because even if everyone is saved, we still must work as though they were not because we cannot know that universal salvation is a given and there is much to argue against it.

No, what is really important, as TSO pointed out earlier this morning, is that when I take my eyes off of Christ, I will flounder. His face holds me up, His breath sustains me, His love makes me entire, His grace saves me from eternity to eternity.

When I take my mind off of this reality, I find myself in the untenable position of wrestling with matters that are really beyond me. I can no longer assume the place of the child in this--one of my favorite psalms.

Psalm 131

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

For my own peace of mind it is far better to focus on intense love of God and following His commandments rather than trying to wrap my mind around mysteries within mysteries within mysteries. As I will not know the fullness of the truth until I have achieved the beatific vision (God be willing!), I should not trouble myself with these difficulties, but rather spend my time in the realities I know and understand. As St. Teresa of Avila said, "The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything." Which is not to argue against knowledge, but to admit that there is a time in every person's life where thinking and knowledge fail and obedience and love must prevail to carry the person through until the end. Teresa's dictum comes at the point where words end and the mind has been trained as thoroughly as possible. For some this will be a longer stretch, for some a shorter. In different matters we may think more and longer with greater fruit than in others. When it comes to the mystery of God's will in salvation, I have thought to the end of my own resources and I turn to love--because love holds the gaze of the beloved and it is in that gaze that I am made lovable. It is God's love and grace that makes any person loveable and while that Grace is constantly supplied and bestowed, it is strengthened by knowing from whence it comes, by holding the eye of the Beloved as we move ahead in faith.

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Prisoners Awaiting Freedom

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Advent is here, we patiently await the revelation of the Lord and His Kingdom. As we do so it is well to think of what it is like without Him.

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

We too easily mistake our limited choices for authentic freddom. We are like jail inmates glorying in their freedom to choose their dinner vegetable, oblivious to the guard in the corner and the bars on the window. We exult in our supposed freedom, when in truth we are shackled by selfishness and entangled in evil.

This passage, taken out of context from an argument for universal salvation, is relevant even in its isolation from the surrounding text, for we indeed are like jail inmates. People think they have the freedom to do anything they desire. But if desire is our only lead, if right reason through Grace does not guide it, then desire will always stray. Desire is necessary and good. It is the cupid's arrow to the heart of God, drawing each person closer to Him. That is desire guarded by the intellect informed by Grace.

Too often desire is merely untrammeled, unchanneled, undirected. Desire knows there is a destination, but desire itself works in the night, without the light of grace or reason desire thrashes about endlessly. It causes no end of mischief and harm to the soul that does not accept guidance. Desire teaches us that we are the arbiters of what is good and ill. Desire willingly takes on shackles that we might declare our "independence." But no one driven by uninspired desire is independent of anything. C.S. Lewis depicted this beautifully in The Great Divorce where he shows numerous souls inches from the Kingdom of Heaven rejecting it because they cannot give up what they once loved blindly.

God desires us. He gave us desire in imitation of Him. Desire was always meant to be directed to God. With the fall, the compass of desire became disoriented, it no longer pointed true because our first parents had introduced into the equation the new lodestone of self--a lodestone so stron and so proximate that it effectively overrides the "distant" pull of grace. But God is not so easily dismissed, and in the fullness of time, grace can overcome even the obstacle of self if we show so much as a second of a degree of turning. God takes whatever small steps each person is capable of and uses them to redirect the compass, to more effectively assert the predominant direction.

When we glory in our freedom we wind up with the Reign of Terror, the Holocaust, and the Killing Fields. When we glory in God, we wind up with eternal, unending, perfect love and a home within God's heart and kingdom. So contra Milton's Satan: Better to serve in Heaven than to reign in Hell.

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The Unmoved Mover

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In some descriptions of God you might hear Him described as "the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause." If I properly understand the latter half of this statement, I can raise no objection. But I have heard the first half too often abused and misconstrued.

Many people say that God cannot be moved, He has no emotion, He is from eternity to eternity. I am not smart enough to argue with those people. But I think they miss something in the argument and in pure reason. Anyone who has any experience of life knows that it is not possible to love without being moved to action. Any love that is unmoved is not really love, but a vague shadow of it. Any parent who has loved a child knows that love means hurting, and longing, and hoping, and praying.

God longs for us. He loved us. He sent us an icon of His love--an icon that shows not the unmoved mover, but the deeply human Jesus Christ weeping--outside of a tomb, over the city of Jerusalem. This is not the unmoved mover. This is the engaged God, the God who loves us. The Icon of God is not the God who examines us with the microscope, but the Father who welcomes the prodigal, the Savior who weeps over our sin and death. Hardly unmoved.

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God Is. . .

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. . .as close as the breath in your lungs

. . .as close as the thoughts circulating in your head

. . .as close as the blood in your veins

. . .as close as your own skin

. . .as close as the shadow that precedes you in the morning

. . .waiting, listening, aching

. . .desiring, waiting, longing

. . .loving, endlessly loving

. . .the center and the source of Joy.

Then today, turn to Him, reach out to Him. Let Him lift you to Him and shower you with kisses. Stop your obstinate toddler strut and take up your bower in the strength of His arms in the quiet shade of His love.

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God Comes in on Little Cat Feet


Carl Sandburg

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

God is like that too. I go through life randomly oblivious to His Mercy and then suddenly I turn around and am struck between the eyes, and God move on to plan His next stealth mercy-blitz.

This has happened to me recently--one incident has spawned a barrage of incidents of awareness. I would like to say that the statue of the Virgin smiled at me. But it was nothing so fantastic, it was merely the obedience of one servant of the Lord serving the others. It was merely the voice of one person to another. It was "merely" the breath of the Holy Spirit, rising, for a moment, to a howling windstorm and then subsiding. And I am caught "under the torrent of His love." Praise God, who is so good to me. His mercy is everlasting and His patience from age to age. Now if He will only make me a servant of His servants.

A moment of conversion, a glimpse of grace. "The moving finger writes and having writ moves on." The rest of that quatrain is rather more gloomy, something about never being able to coax it back to wipe out a line of it. But why would I want to obliterate a single note, much less a line, of His love song for me? Why would I want to change a single syllable of the sonnet He composes as He shapes me?

Change me, mold me, shape me the way you would have me be. Let your light be my light and my only light.

Oh, how I hope that at last His snares have overcome my wiles!

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More Thankfulness

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I never fail to be impressed at how God's finger always points the way. Even though I am ignorant of it or trying to avoid it, as Omar Khayyam told us,

"The moving finger writes and having writ moves on."

So it is with God, and it is only upon looking back at my life in fits and snatches that I begin to see the patter He has impressed upon it. How thankful I am for His constant intervention that saves me from the disaster of my own free choices. I am filled to overflowing with joy to see in all my life the clear signs of the God who loves us all.

The other day I was conversing with two friends and one of them shared with me a heart-rending and very difficult situation she found herself in. The easiest way out of the situation involved surrender to opposing forces and compromising her own conscience. In the past I had done this for the sake of family peace and for less noble motives. I was there to tell her to hold fast. And suddenly with a stroke of grace I realized that God took even my bad choices and mistakes and turned them to good for someone else. Let it always be so. May God use my own faults as blessings for others.

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Ten Influences meme

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De Civitate Dei: My 10 greatest influences meme

I have been asked to name my ten greatest influences. Outside of God and Family. I will name ten, but I have to concede that order of importance would be a very difficult puzzle to work out. Also, I'm afraid this will probably come as a massive disappointment to all of you reading. But then, that is part of humility. I am judging influential by how they helped me make decisions at critical junctures in my history. Some have pervasive influence, others, the influence of a critical moment. But all have been crucially (and I mean that etymologically) important in my spiritual development to date. In addition, I have also chosen not to include the blessed mother in this list. While she is not God, her constant intercession is the sine qua non of life. Even if I do not show the devotion a son ought, I do love her, respect her, and admire her above all other saints, and above all other people, and above all creation, and above everything except God Himself. Too bad I too infrequently make it known.

1.St. John of the Cross--The Doctor of Spirituality. The high-point of the teaching of prayer. This quiet, gentle, generous man, abused, nearly killed in the political turmoil over simply trying to seek God most effectively--his writing called me to Carmel. His spirit speaks to me almost daily. I am convinced that his intercession wins for me daily visions of God's greatness in my own life. If I were to pick a saint to be almost exactly like, it would be this one. But instead, learning from him, I choose to be the saint God would have me be and thus to serve others--not as a copy but as a new example of the paths of sanctity. John of the Cross is my guide, my intercessor, my spiritual companion.

2.John Paul II--A saint, a genius, a man who could do it all and all well. When his prose did not speak, his poetry hit me between the eyes. His writing was magnificent, but completely back-seat to his example. Is it possible to truly forgive your would-be assassin? Is it possible to acknowledge past wrongs and seek present correction? Yes. His example taught the value of confession.

3. St Teresa of Avila--"God save me from sour-faced saints." "If you think you are having visions, perhaps you would do well to eat more." The utterly practical, utterly delightful, completely joyous nun who looking only to hide herself in God completely transformed an Order, the face of Europe and much of the Church. I am only beginning to appreciate the depth and power of this wonderful woman.

4. St Therese of Lisieux--I started out shying away from her and her legions of saccharine followers wandering with a hand out waiting for a rose. Discovered the iron core hidden behind the flowery prose and the lovely face. A lovely soul to match a lovely person. A tower of strength, a true teacher.

5. Coilin Owen--My Grad-School James Joyce Prof--Who, when I advanced Joyce's theory of the Church quietly said, "Well then, you're not at the end of life yet are you? And who knows then?" Perhaps it was unintentional, but he directed my attention to the eternal things.

6. My Little Sister in Christ, who shall go unnamed here. At a critical point in life simply sat me down and said, "Consider the evidence. And then consider it again." I did so I cannot repay her. She is so little aware of her influence and of the fact that her influence is most strong when it is most gentle.

7. Claude Debussy--The impressionists painted light, Debussy composed it. Without him no Durufle whose Requiem I want played at my own funeral. But more importantly, his symphonic poem, La Mer got me through the last three years of teenage life as at least remotely sane. Without him I cannot say. He taught me the beauty of the solid and the shifting, and that one need not make a nuisance of oneself to be a rebel.

8. Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Giorgio di Chirico and the surrealist school of painters in general--who, whether they intended to or not taught me that life is a great deal more mysterious than we will ever know and what we see hides a great cloud of what we do not see. And what we do not see is often more important in life.

9. James Joyce--A genius and largely a genius because of his pervasive, undeniable Catholicity. He became "agnostic" perhaps even "atheist" toward the end of life, but the Catholic Church so shaped him that He could not escape, and as much as he may have hated it or repudiated it, his short story "The Dead" and the first scene in Ulysses (among others)were instrumental in my journey toward Catholicism.

10. Albert Einstein--"God does not play dice." Science and religion are not at odds. The primacy of conscience in all areas of life (refusal to work on the Manhattan project.)

Again, if I have disappointed, I am most sorry. But it is better you see clearly the flaws before you try to appreciate whatever is given to me to convey. By looking at many of these models, you can see what a broken vessel I am. I'm just glad God sees fit to try to put me back together.

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Thanksgiving--A Little Early


Today I give thanks particularly for all of those who bless me every day with a kind word, a thought, an idea, a revelation. I thank God for those in St.Blogs who conscientiously attempt to live out their vocations as Catholics and who bless me by their example. There are too many to count, but know that God speaks through each of you--therefore, strive to be worthy spokespersons. (Most of you haven't much striving to do--but I've got my eye on the rest, believe me, I'll keep you posted! :-)

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Because It Is Alicia


and because it has a spiritual bent, I'll respond to this three-meme.

1. Write three things for which we are grateful to God for in this past liturgical year.
--Linda and Samuel
--the opportunities for growth I've been presented with
--F. and K. and their friendship and love which sustains me.
2. Write three ways in which we hope to improve our relationship with God in this coming liturgical year.
--cultivating productive solitude
--devoting more time to Mary and imitation of her
--instilling greater regularity into the details of my prayer life

I won't pass it on. If you'd like to volunteer in comments, I'd love to see it. If you'd like to take it to your own site, I'd love to know about it. This is a nice meme to spend a little time reflecting on and committing to.

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Mary, Queen and Mother of Carmel


Some of what follows is sheer speculation, thinking out loud. If it conflicts in any way with established doctrine and understanding, it should be disregarded, and I would greatly appreciate a note correcting any such error.

Mary, Queen and mother of Carmel and big sister to the Carmelites and to all contemplatives. From earliest times, Carmelites have viewed Mary as both Queen and Mother and as true Sister and exemplar of the Christian expression of St. Elijah. In a certain way, she is the Mother Superior of the Order, chief among the sisters and brothers--example and guide for the attentive.

Also from earliest times, Carmelites have had a special devotion to Mary. The earliest manifestation of this was in the primitive Oaths and Vows that referred to the Carmelite follower of Mary as Vassal and Fief of Mary--the true property and servant, the one owed protection and special care of the Blessed Virgin. Even today, the Carmelite, with his or her habit of the brown scapular, claims the special attention of Mary. (Which is, in no way to imply favoritism on the part of the Blessed Virgin, it is merely reflective of the origin of the Order and its charism.)

True devotion to Mary does not consist of endless prayers to her but of substantive imitation of her way of life and of obedience to her very few direct words to us.

John 2:1-5

1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;
2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
4 And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come."
5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Do whatever he tells you. These are the words of the Mother and sister who already has reason to know that what is being done is extraordinary. As she pondered the events of her life in an extended thirty year examen, she came to know who and what Jesus is even before there has been any overt sign. It is at a word from her that the prophetic and salvific mission begins. It is as though the Holy Spirit in both unites them at this unique time and place to initiate the Earthly preaching mission of Jesus. At Mary's word, the every obedient, loyal, and loving Son is released just as He had been bound after the finding in the temple.

One of the chief ways in which devotion to the Blessed Virgin is expressed is through praying the Rosary. In the before times, long ago, the Rosary was a device that led to a kind of extended lectio without the necessity of being able to read. One pondered the mysteries of the life of the Blessed Virgin and of Jesus Christ in the course of praying through the Rosary. In addition, the Rosary was a kind of "replacement" for the Liturgy of the Hours for those who could not read. It became possible through the three sets of mysteries of the Rosary to pray through the 150 psalms of the psalter.

Of the rosary, Pope John Paul the Great, of recent memory, wrote:

from the Apostolic Letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae"

[1] With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer. . .

[3] I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary, as a kind of Marian complement to that Letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.

[5][T]he most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine “training in holiness”

[10] The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[15] The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. Insistent prayer to the Mother of God is based on confidence that her maternal intercession can obtain all things from the heart of her Son. She is “all-powerful by grace”, to use the bold expression, which needs to be properly understood, of Blessed Bartolo Longo in his Supplication to Our Lady.This is a conviction which, beginning with the Gospel, has grown ever more firm in the experience of the Christian people. The supreme poet Dante expresses it marvellously in the lines sung by Saint Bernard: “Lady, thou art so great and so powerful, that whoever desires grace yet does not turn to thee, would have his desire fly without wings”. When in the Rosary we plead with Mary, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35), she intercedes for us before the Father who filled her with grace and before the Son born of her womb, praying with us and for us.

I won't belabor the point. The entire letter is worthy of careful consideration--it may be among the most Carmelite of the Letters of this most famous Third Order Carmelite. The understanding of both the Rosary and of what it teaches, strikes me as profoundly Carmelite. We don't recite the prayers of the Rosary as a rote exercise or as a devotion, we pray the Rosary as a model and a source, a root, as it were, of contemplation. For the Carmelite, any other use of the Rosary falls short of its true potential AND, more importantly, falls short of true devotion to Mary. True devotion to Mary, in the Carmelite tradition, consists in imitating her to the extent possible according to our way of life and our present cultural milieu. Yes, through intercession and prayer, we trust her with all of our concerns, but that falls short of the perfection of devotion, which consists of Imitating her, and in the imitation of Her, gazing on and becoming like Her Son. In a very real way, in her thirty years of meditation upon the mystery of her life and the Incarnation, she bound herself to her Son--as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she already experienced the "spiritual marriage" and "mystical union." In some way that I don't comprehend or presume to explain, it would seem to me that she shared in the sufferings of Christ in His passion AND carried her own weight of suffering (as a Mother losing a beloved child) as well. In the depths of the mystery of the Passion, she seems to play two roles--one in union with the Holy Trinity through the indwelling Holy Spirit and the complete consummate spiritual union, the other as sorrowing mother, observer and witness of the trials, terrors, and horrors, of the Passion. (I hope I don't overstate the case here, forgive me if I have or if I have inadvertently written any error in regard to these deep mysteries. They are truly beyond me, and I hope I do not go beyond what the Holy Catholic Church teaches. Here most of all, I humbly await and accept correction.)

Thus, the Carmelite looking upon the Blessed Virgin sees both contemplative and example. She is Queen and Mother of Carmel. She is the chief protector, guide, and example of the Order. But by virtue of her human birth She is our sister as well as our mother in faith. This is not so odd as it sounds--in many religious order, the Mother Superior, is merely the chief of all the sisters. After her term of office, she returns to the state she had before in the Order. Mary is simply the permanent Mother Superior of all Carmelites.

I hope I've provided some insight into the role and importance of the Blessed Virgin in Carmelite devotion. It explains why a great many Carmelites had difficulty with reciting the Rosary on a regular basis. The common recitation of it does not often lend itself to the depth implied by John Paul the Great in his letter. Too often it is too easy to be carried along on the tide of the familiar and not enter into the depths of what is available in this most wonderful of devotions. Truly prayed, the Rosary should effect a profound change in the pray-er making her or him more like the subject of the devotion and more like Jesus Christ. Too often, the Rosary is a chain of supplication and intercession more than it is an entrance into the depth of the life of Our Savior and His Mother. But, as Saint Teresa of Avila points out, even vocal prayer is raised to the level of mental prayer if we keep in mind always the vastness of great dignity of the One to Whom we speak. And even though we seem to speak to the Blessed Virgin, the Rosary is a continual plea to God through the merciful intercession of the Blessed Virgin. A properly prayed Rosary, faithfully accomplished every day, is as much a gateway to contemplation as faithful following of the Liturgy of the Hours or Lectio Divina. That the latter two along with special devotion to the Blessed Virgin--either in the form of the Rosary or in other special devotions--make up the pillars of the introduction to prayer in Carmel should come as no surprise. That they serve as the gateway to meditation, contemplation, and as God wills, eventual union with God, again should not be the source of any surprise. The Blessed Virgin Mary looks with an eye of special kindness on those who wear her scapular worthily and upon those who invoke her aid in learning to look upon the face of Her son. This is true whether one is Carmelite or not. Carmelite Spirituality merely shows these forth for what they are in a way unique to the Carmelite Order. They are a special gift to the Carmelites and hence to the Church at large--available for anyone who chooses to follow them within the order or outside. The Blessed Mother will not withhold the graces she bestows for the sake of a name.

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Living Our Vocation

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dedicated to my little sister in Christ, about whom I thought as this idea came to me

Or, the perils of ignoring popular culture.

Coming into work today, I heard this for the zillionth time and thought about it yet again:

Something to be Proud of
Montgomery Gentry

Dad, I wonder if I ever let you down,
If you're ashamed how I turned out?
Well, he lowered his voice, then he raised his brow:
Said: "Let me tell you, right now:

"That's something to be proud of:
"That's a life you can hang your hat on.
"You don't need to make a million:
"Just be thankful to be workin'.
"If you're doing what you're able
"An' putting food there on the table,
"And providing for the family that you love:
"That's something to be proud of.

"And if all you ever really do is the best you can,
"Well, you did it man."

Oddly, I always get a little choked up over the lines about "something to be proud of." Today I gave it a little thought and realized what was trying to poke its head out of the ground.

Too many of us are dissatisfied with where we are in life. I know too many people who want to be something other than what they are--richer, taller, smarter, friendlier, less friendly. They want a career, a home in a different section of town, a new wife, a different wife, obedient kids, smart kids, a new Ferrari--you name it, the human race is expert at discontent.

Let me share with you a moment a list of my own discontents: I didn't beat Mary Shelley to the publishing punch, I haven't published my first novel or first book of poetry, I'm not as wildly popular as Stephen King and Michael Crichton, I'm not as cool and as obscure as James Joyce, I don't have the voice of William Faulkner, I can't express the joy of Gerard Manley Hopkins, I am not living on St. John, or better yet my own Carribean island, I didn't achieve sanctity and sainthood at the age of 24, I didn't write the new Summa, I haven't discovered a new form of prayer, I haven't uncovered a new Cahtolic Doctrine, heck, I haven't even been able to come up with a new sin. If I were of a mind to, I could wander around and recite Ecclesiastes all day long, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." "There is nothing new under the sun." And boy is the latter true--particularly when it come to discontents--none of them are new--only new to us.

This discontent is another trend we are called to buck as Christians. Look back at the lyrics. Dad, did I disappoint you because I didn't live up to some expectations? Dad's answer--"You don't need to make a million, just be thankful to be workin'." And more importantly, the advice we all need to hear, "And if all you ever really do is the best you can,/Well, you did it."

God has carefully selected, cultivated, and chosen the time and the circumstances of every event in our lives. He has fashioned us and our lives. This is the crucible of refinement, the cross of the day. I don't sell as many books as Anne Rice. I'm not as popular as Stephen King. Oh well, buck up and get over it--that isn't my crucible.

Our crosses are custom made. We might think of them as orthopedic devices. Only in fitting to them are we made straight. We can only fit them by who we are and where we are in our life's journey.

And so, to quote the Joyce I am not, "a commodius vicus of recirculation brings us back to" rejoicing. Rejoice in this moment, rejoice in who God made you. Take up that cross. More than take it up, conform to it and be transformed into the image God wishes for you. Take your rightful place in the body of Christ and don't fret if it isn't the place you wanted or saw yourself in--that's part of the crucible too.

So, once again, with Saint Paul, all together now, "Rejoice in the lord always. Again, I say, rejoice."

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The Simple Economy of Trust


Another cause for joy in our lives is the simple economy of trust. That's a fancy way of saying that Jesus Christ is either trustworthy or He is not. There is no middle ground. If Jesus is worthy of trust, then He is worthy of trust in every matter and with everything I have and I am. If He is not worthy of trust, then He is not worth the time I spend in prayer--no matter how little it is.

Sometimes, it seems, I like to play both sides of the street. I work as though everything depended upon my effort and I pray as though everything depended upon my effort. A short way of saying that is that I trust God so long as what He does is within my control. When that fails, so too does trust.

But the marvelous reality, the absolute guarentee stems from who God is and how God is constituted. It's amazing how many things depend upon one essential understanding of God articulated some 800 years ago. This understanding is both counterintuitive and amazingly clear and completely consistent. Moreover, it is one that I speak and hold to with only the smallest impression of the fullness of meaning. I speak, of course, of the simplicity of God. St. Thomas Aquinas taught it as foundational in His great work. It is one of the first matters that he articulates in detail and I do him an injustice even reiterating his thought because I cannot claim to understand it. But boiled down for me, it comes to--God is simple. That is God is comprised of a single, pure essence that is utter immiscible nothing that has any trace of not-God may combine with this essence. We know this--God cannot tolerate sin both for its offense and because what God is does not allow for anything He is not.

The end result of this is that God moves one direction with no trace of movement in another. He cannot go both forward and back, not because He is powerless to do so, but because He does not will to contradict Himself. If this is so, we come back to the main thesis. Either God is completely trustworthy with everything I am, I have, or I can do, or He is not worthy of anything at all.

Time and again, He has shown me His worthiness. Being the frail, weak thing that I am, I ask Him to prove over and over and over again that He truly loves me. I ask for signs of His love and miraculously the come, tumbling over one another, a torrent, a cataract, a deluge. And still I stand, either unimpressed or unaware and say, "If you love me Lord, you will show me."

So I rejoice in His fidelity, His faithfulness to so weak a part of creation, His vast love. His love for me and for each of His children is endless and plays out in endless displays. Having the attention span of a very small child I need constant reassurance, constant reinforcement, constant abiding concern and direction. And I get it. And God waits patiently for me to decide whether or not I will choose to trust Him, Who Alone is worthy of my trust.

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Holiness--"A People Set Apart"


1 Peter 2:9-10

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;

10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Deuteronomy 14:2

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

Holiness. Santification. The call to be apart. In the second reading, in the midst of an array of laws and rules, God pauses for a moment to say why He is granting the gift of the law. And that is something we often forget--the laws of the people of Israel were not arbitrary regulations imposed by an arbitrary God on all of creation. Rather they were a circlet of love, a way of marking His bride for all of time. These laws were a definition, a declaration of His concern and His abiding love. So too, the fulfillment of all laws is a sign for all time of His deep and abiding love. By this fulfillment of law, we are called apart. We are to stand as a chosen people, the somewhat bedraggled bride of the most high. But by His love we are made worthy of love and restored to what we once were.

Holiness is a call to be apart from the people around us. Not apart as in unconcerned or uncaring, but apart as in being distant from their practices. To take another biblical metaphor--modern society is the Canaanites amongst whom we must not marry. Indeed, we are called to destroy them down to the last woman, child, and animal. No, not kill them, not wreak violence upon them except the violence of God's all encompassing love. We are called to break down their society, to demolish the altars of the Molochs and the Baals. To lay the places of their idols to waste.

How do we do this? Holiness. We destroy the molochs and the baals when we refuse to embrace them. We destroy Canaan when we are the people of the Land of Milk and Honey.

I have been reminded twice recently of St. Teresa's famous statement, "Lord, save me from sour-faced saints." If we live our lives as though under restrictive laws and go about with doom and gloom and no hope for sinners on our lips, we will entice no one to live as children of the Most High. No, our proof is to be children of light and joy--in the midst of our trials to love and bring love. In the days of darkness to be a light. Can we be a light if we are in darkness ourselves? Can we light the world if we are of it?

This is what holiness calls us to--separation of kind. We do not give back to the world what it has come to expect. We do not return insult for insult, injury for injury, complaint for complaint. We imitate our Master who endured scourging, and crowning, and spitting, and crowing, and insult, and pain, and suffering, and even relentless, long enduring death, only to rise again and to give life and hope to the whole world. We are His brothers and sisters. We are heirs of the kingdom, and the kingdom is not this present darkness, but the light of life and truth, Jesus Christ.

Holiness calls us apart, not to be isolated and disapproving, but to be of service. A lamp that is only inches from the ground doesn't do much to show the way--but one that is raised up high can spread a pool of light in which many can gather and the journey can begin-- from lesser light to lesser light, until finally all the light is gathered into the one Light, the source of all light, hope, and warmth. As Holy People, God gives us the task of lighting the way for all of those in darkness. To do this, we must be light in that darkness. We will stand apart. We will be peculiar. That is our gift and our privilege.

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Psalm 131

1 Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

2 Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

3 Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

from Psalm 139

1O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.

12 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.

13 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

14 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

from The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila

It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls.

The providential conjunction of these three readings led to what follows. It is important to note that what follows is highly personal and highly individual. No two people will follow exactly the same way. Nevertheless, the path followed by one may be instructive or indicative; it may provide guideposts along the way.

Were I to write of the numerous ways in which I have denied knowledge of self or missed the mark, I'm certain we would fall into the realm of too much information. So I'll confine this story to the points suggested by the readings above and to what I have already made public many times. You've heard all of this before, perhaps out of context, and the contextualization will give you a sense of where the journey is guiding me. The three readings together have made me realize that there is often a wide gap between self-knowledge outside of God (mostly self-delusion) and self-knowledge in Christ (the real self). This gap is not overcome merely by recognizing it, but recognition is the first step toward remedy. Grace and prayer will take anyone the rest of the way. Or so I assume, because I am still on the way.

Psalm 131 has, along with psalm 100, long been a favorite of mine. It has spoken to my soul long before it spoke sufficiently to my intellect to provoke any action on my part. The imagery of being stilled and in the arms of God was intimately appealing, an invitation of the first order, a promise of the life I was meant to live.

The reality is that I do trouble myself with things beyond my
capacity, and I do stir around in things that merely dredge up irreconcilable feelings. I recall that one of the first things I wrote over at Disputations was my deep distrust of St. Thomas Aquinas. I further recall picking at the great Doctor's arguments on the basis of empirical understandings that he could not have had at the time.

What I have gradually come to see is that these are defensive postures. I look upon the greatness of intellect and spirit, and feeling intimidated, I try to find ways where I can challenge the Saint. The reality is that I don't have the capacity to even engage the saint in much of what he writes. I read him and my head spins. Ultimately I come down to a huffish, "Who cares anyway?" This isn't apathy, this is merely self-disgust projected outward upon the object that gave rise to this inner light. There is no shame in not understanding St. Thomas Aquinas. He was one of the great intellects of his time and perhaps of any time. His unique mind gave rise to some of the most intricate reasoning and thought ever composed. And more importantly, he spent his time thinking about the good, the beautiful, and most of all the true. That I cannot engage is not a measure of the Saint, but a measure of me. I am not found wanting in that, I am found different. There are a great many people who are utterly turned off by St. John of the Cross. This isn't a reflection on him, but rather on the capacity of the people approaching him. Again, it is not to say that they are wanting, but rather that they are differently constructed. What the saint has to say isn't meant for them directly. They'll find those truths (if it is necessary for them to do so) in another way.

The long and the short of this argument is that we need to allow ourselves to like what we like and to shy away from what has no appeal. God calls us through these differences. This is one of the reasons there is the enormous array of Saints and one of the reasons I was so appreciative of John Paul the Great's recognition of so many Saints. We are called to be all that we are, but we are never carbon copies of some other Saint, and not all of us are called to Francis, Dominic, or Aquinas.

I have been a long time battling this feeling of insufficiency that came when I recognized that I could not engage Thomas Aquinas. I had always thought of myself as reasonably intelligent, reasonably well-versed, reasonably reasonable. But this showed me that I had grossly overestimated some of my capacities. On the other hand I have also learned that I have grossly underestimated others. I have never seen myself as a particularly kind, considerate, or engaging person. I never viewed myself as sympathetic or overly emotional. The veneer of intellect covered up a vast well of emotion. This I discovered as I was meddling in these things beyond me. I read in various blogs a number of different kinds of argument. For example, there were arguments about how one was required to participate in representative government, there have been ongoing debates about the justness of the War in Iraq, and any number of other subtly reasoned but controversial points. In viewing each of these, I realized that I could follow reason so far. I could read the arguments on each side and found myself assenting to nearly every reasoned line. The argument against the war in Iraq made perfect sense to me. So to does the argument that speaks of its justness. The end result was utter confusion. I reached a place that intellect alone could not provide a solution. In all such cases the solution came from the heart, from thinking about all of the people involved on both sides. Such solutions are tricky and dangerous--doubly dangerous if we do not take care to inform ourselves to the best of our capacity. But for some of us there is no solution in the chain of reason, something more must be added to the mix before the solution can be satisfactory. Part of the end result of this is that I can be perfectly comfortable with people who hold views diametrically opposed to my own. I can sometimes perceive the reason that they follow to get to their endpoint and conclude that the person, differing in opinion though they are, is acting in good faith with all the right intentions. Too often in debates, I perceive that the point is not so much to find the truth as to convince someone else that we are right.

So meddling in things that are beyond me has taught me a great deal about the masks I wear and the image I would like to project. It has also taught me not to be ashamed of the fact that I am ultimately driven more by feeling than by intellect. There are those who would have one feel bad about such an arrangement, but so long as the feelings are as informed as one possibly can do, it seems that they may provide a solution when the intellect alone cannot resolve the perceived difficulty.

This dismantling of self is very painful, but also very productive. I discovered in it abilities that I had long thought were beyond me. I found ways of listening and ways around some of my own obstacles. I found in this dismantling a hint of who I am in Christ.

That is the point of this perhaps overly intimate sharing. And it is the point of the second and third readings above. God alone knows me as I am meant to be known. He alone has the knowledge of who I am and what part I serve in the divine economy. He alone can apprise me of my capacities and my shortcomings; He can augment the one and ameliorate the other. He has known me and had a place for me in the body of Christ from before the time the Psalms were written to tell us. Such knowledge, such a realization when it hits home is overwhelming. When the pyramids were being built, I was known and my place in the Body of Christ was fixed.

The only person who does not know me is me. And as Teresa of Avila points out in the third reading, that is entirely my own fault. God did not strike me blind, deaf, and unfeeling; rather, I struck myself blind. I cannot see because to open my eyes and see is too painful--it involves laying aside too much of what I think about myself.

God alone can assist me in finding the way home. He alone can help to deconstruct the huge barriers I have placed in the way of self-knowledge. The amazing thing is how gentle He is and what mechanisms he uses. At the risk of possible embarrassment of a great many here, I want to say how much the parishioners of St. Blogs have helped me along the path to self-knowledge. First among them, I need to thank Tom at Disputations who effectively dismantled what I thought were reasoned responses and showed them to be emotional reactions with little core of thought. Sometimes it hurt and I was hurt--but that was never his intention--and such momentary smarting made the lesson stick all the more. Tom isn't perfect, and he never laid claim to being, but his desire to know the truth has been immeasurably helpful to me. I have also to thank so many people in St. Blogs who have shown me the many different ways of being a faithful Catholic. They broadened my perspectives and my understanding. Chief among these was Karen Marie Knapp who very gently corrected a statement I made regarding her former Bishop and showed me what charity really meant. But others have helped as well. The vibrancy of the personalities and the deep-felt faith of MamaT, JulieD, and TSO (among others) have been mainstays of my consideration of Catholic life. The quiet reflections of innumerable bloggers, including Quenta Narwenion, Enbrethiel, have all helped. I can't continue to catalog, but every person listed in the left-hand column here has done a part of the work of helping me to come to know myself as God knows me. Admittedly, I am very, very far from the goal--but I have at last realized some part of that ultimate goal in terms that are more than academic.

Many in St.Blogs deny that their work is "spiritually valid" or important. But let me say that every encounter with a believer is important and formative. Every association with someone who prizes Christ above other things is healing. Every word exchanged with someone who, if even for a moment, sets his or her mind on the things above is liberating. In Saint Blogs I encounter God every single day in so many ways that I am often awestruck. Too often I have neglected to convey my deep thanks and appreciation to each person. Please consider this that thank you. Each person has helped me immeasurably. and as I open to grace and see God's motions, will continue to help me. That is what community is about. We help one another to God.

So, what is the conclusion of all of this? I have not yet realized the fullness, or perhaps even a great fraction of what God has in store for me. I suspect that this may be the case for a great many of us. God is present in every interaction of every day--we come to know ourselves not by seeking self-knowledge, which is often delusion, but by seeking Him. It is in searching for Him and loving Him that we become who we are supposed to be. The most wonderful thing about this is that we needn't do anything extraordinary to find Him. We continue in the sacraments, we engage the scriptures, and we pay attention to the arc of the day. God is present always and everywhere. He is ready to show us who we are when we are ready to see it. My eyes are slowly opening (I hope) and I count on His grace to sustain me and to take me where I can do His will to the greatest effect. All of you have been and will continue to be a part of this journey--for that alone I thank God daily. For all of your service to me, I dedicate my fasting, my prayer, and my suffering--to some more each day (you know who you are little sister), but always for those I encounter every day, for those who unwittingly are so instrumental in leading me to Christ.

Joy overwhelms me when I think of how much I have to be grateful for even in this place which is hardly real. How much more so in the interactions of the day. Please continue to pray for me and I will continue to pray for you. Pray that I continue to advance in the knowledge of God and that the knowledge makes of me a person who can serve Him as He deserves.

Thank you and God bless each visitor today.

(KOB--you were much on my mind as I wrote this--I hope it speaks to you little sister--I send it with much affection and with all of my prayers.)

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The Way of Gratitude

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Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

--Phil 4:8 (KJV)

You knew that in my extended reflections on Philippians, I would eventually come to this verse and I will. But today, I wanted to reflect a little on this verse because I believe that it is a way of gratitude, a way that will tutor us in how to approach the Lord. As The way of gratitude helps to pave the way of Joy.

Let's first note what this passage DOES NOT say. It doesn't say that we are to hide our heads in a hole in the ground and pretend ugly, evil, and terrible things do not exist. It does not imply that we should withdraw to an insular world of airy contemplation of lovely things and refuse to engage the real tragedies and difficulties present in the world. It does not say that we are to pretend that what is ugly is beautiful or that we are to put on some distorting spectacles that reinterpret all events in the lights of the good, true, beautiful and virtuous. As Christians, we are called to be the ultimate realists about the existence of both individual and corporate evils and we are called to try to demolish both.

However, what it does say, is that when we are seeing all of these things around us, we are not to let them become the center of attention. These things are distortions of the reality God wrought--these are signs of the fall and they are not the food for good meditation. They are not to be denied, but they are not to be central to our time with God. Paul was in prison (actually confined to house arrest in Rome) while writing this letter, and while he acknowledges that situation, he does not dwell upon it. Rather his whole letter dwells upon the faith and the love of the people of Philippi. The joy of the letter comes from the contemplation of the faithfulness of a community. In the letter itself, Paul spells out the meaning and the practice of this piece of advice.

There are probably a great many reasons for thinking about the things that Paul suggests. It would seem that they would feed all three of the theological virtues--faith, hope, and charity. But one of the reasons that comes to my mind is that when I think about these things, there is a natural inclination to humility and its consequent expression gratitude. When I see the beautiful--either the work of human hands or the natural world, I am moved. In some strange way I am called beyond myself and caused to realize, not in a negative way, but in a way charged with grace, how small and inconsequential I am in comparison to all of this. And further reflection would show me how small this is compared to all of these wonderful things. And how small all of these wonderful things are compared to the Maker of wonderful things.

Reflection on the good, the true, and the beautiful is one road to personal realism and humility. I can begin to see myself as very small and yet intensely loved. All of this Universe of beauty and truth was made to be enjoyed and appreciated by the one part of creation (we presently know about) capable of doing so. So far as we know, Dolphins do not contemplate great beauty, nor do worms, nor birds, nor trees, nor fish. Only humanity has this ability to see beyond the immediate circumstances and to discern meaning.

Knowing who we are in the scheme of things is a sovereign remedy to pride. We know who we are in all of creation and how small we are. Then add to that the knowledge that God Himself came and lived and died that we should be redeemed, and we understand that despite our smallness, we are greatly valued. In the right-ordered person, or even in the mostly-not-right-ordered person, the natural destination of such knowledge is intense, life-altering gratitude. God Himself entered my insignificance. God Himself loves me so much that He chooses to make a dwelling-place of my smallness. He fills the space and lights it as nothing else can.

This gratitude naturally begins to flow into deeper and deeper love of God and consequent joy in His presence regardless of our circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that the purpose of the good, the true, the beautiful, the upright, the pure, and the virtuous are to lead us directly to the throne room of God. They are restorative and they are salutary to any spiritual life. It is important to understand that they are not the end in themselves, but the means to the One Thing Necessary. And as means they are meant to be pondered and to be enjoyed. They are goods that God has granted to transform us into beings more like Him. Eventually, with sufficient time and prayer, we are to become beings not just like Him, but of Him. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila refer to this divinization as "union with God." I think it's important to note the this divinization does not mean that we all become little Gods, but that we enter into the life of the Most Holy Trinity in a way that allows us our identity even while we become of the substance of God. In some way I do not presume to understand, we become the simple substance of God. Otherwise there would be no union. What is pure can not mix with what is blended in the spiritual world.

So, for those looking for joy, one good place to start is to see what is around you insofar as it is beautiful, true, and good. Ponder these things, not for themselves but for what they tell us about the God who made both them and us. Humility will blossom, and gratitude will be its natural outpouring. Do keep in mind that this is not the only way to humility, gratitude, or joy; however, it is a way that has worked for many over the centuries.

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Have you ever felt called to a task that you really don't feel fit for? Recently, this has happened to me and it has subtly shifted the course of this blog. (Or perhaps not-so-subtly, depending upon how long and careful a reader you have been). Elsewhere in the blogosphere I had an unfortunate interchange with another blogger. This resulted in a flurry of e-mail on my part and eventually an understanding of where each of us stood. But what alarmed me is the casual snarkiness I allow to creep into my writing. I've noticed it on and off over the past few months and haven't really felt compelled to do anything about it until this momentary crisis opened my eyes to how really bad the problem was.

One result was that it seemed best to do something to change the blog. I wasn't actually certain of what course of action to take, but I knew that I could not continue as I was. You may ask why, and the answer is quite simple. "But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt 12:26. With this warning it is profitable to reconsider words and what they are doing. Now, by idle words, I don't suppose that Jesus meant that every conversation of every day would be scrutinized, but rather that every communication that had at its heart something damaging to another, either directly or indirectly. Nevertheless, caution is indicated. If there had not been idle words, I was tacking awfully close in some of the things I have written and shared.

The problem, however, was two-fold. This blog is auto-didactic. That is, what is written is written because the author needs to learn and internalize some truth or needs to explore the contours of the truth in some way. Words force the thought out of the head and take its formlessness and give it a form. The second problem is that I am going to write something no matter what I am doing and it may as well be something that can help me or others. I cannot not write--that isn't in the programming. Even a day or two off is painful. So, I was going to continue blogging. The question was how to continue without giving offense (a minimal standard) and with giving glory to God (probably not possible from mere words in ether--but better to have a lofty goal and not make it than to fulfill one that calls for nothing from us.)

As noted, Flos Carmeli is auto-didactic. The author learns as he writes for others. This fact gave me the essential piece of the puzzle--the place and the meaning of Flos Carmeli needed to flow from the heart of my vocation as a Lay Carmelite. Great! Now I was ready to go, except for one minor problem. What is my vocation as a lay Carmelite? I can give all the classic textbook answers, but as with many who hear the call, I haven't spent the time to discern the subtleties of the call and what God wishes to offer to anyone through my gifts and my writing (if anything). So the shift you are seeing here is a sea-change in understanding vocation and in seeking to live it out. I've studied Carmelite writers for many years and still I am not certain I understand the fullness of the teaching.

So, by the grace of God, my dear audience, you become the guinea pigs and the sounding board as I walk my road and try to find out what is expected of me, what I can offer anyone, what I can do for God (by His grace, of course). In short, I feel called way above my ability. It is presumptuous of me to give instruction to anyone about almost anything. Yes, I can share a few facts here and there, but in reality, I am not so far along as I would like to be. And I am certainly not so far along that I can feel comfortable trying to tell others how to get there. But remember, at least part of what I do is talk to myself. So you are the lucky (or unfortunate) auditors of what is partially an internal conversation.

I need what I write and I have not found it elsewhere--that is the sole purpose in writing it. If it existed in a form that would fulfill my need, there would be no cause to commit it once again to a medium. There are times when I return to what has been written in a day and discover things that I didn't know were there on first writing. Most of these things are typos and sentences that make no sense. However, some of these things take me by surprise and I recognize that One far beyond me has hitched a ride for a while and guided my hands and mind. I hope the same experience occurs for some of you from time to time. If so, thanks be to God. If not, I pray at least no damage has been done.

So, please continue to journey with me and please continue to pray for me that I can write something worthwhile and in writing learn and in learning become what God wishes me to be. A lot of this is heart learning (my head is filled to the exploding point), and that is the very hardest kind of learning to take root in me. Please bless me with your prayers and please ask that God may bless you through the words He gives me. And let all work to the betterment of every visitor.

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Confronted by Grace

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Sometimes the light of grace makes present some very hard truths that I know I try hard to steer around. The great iceberg of the truth is the ever-present menace to my Titanic of pride.

And it is a shame I should view it with this metaphor because the Truth is the ground of our being. Truth is, in fact a Person. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). "For in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The truth in love is where we live. But too often I perceive the truth as a threat. It is a threat to my image of self, carefully built up and preserved over the years--but as with any house built on sand subject to the tide (Matt 26-27). Oh, and how painful the day and the moment and the passage of time during which that great but fragile house falls completely to the ground, utterly vanquished, completely demolished--destroyed utterly. What a terrible day when I slink to the mirror and look in it and see the real reflection, the mask removed. How much I am inclined to regard that great moment with fear because it means the death of self.

But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And more importantly I know and trust that unless a grain of wheat should die (John 12:24), it will remain only a single grain, isolated, unfruitful, unproductive, desolate. There can be no growth into the complete organic unity of heaven if I decide to remain an isolated grain, wrapped up in all the devices that I have invented to protect me from the truth and from grace.

For truth is the soil and grace the water and warmth in which a new seed quickens and brings forth life. Planted solidly in the truth, trusting the revelation of Jesus Christ received through the Holy Spirit and nourished by the sacraments, I am given the strength to escape the bondage of self. And the bondage of self is far stronger that the bondage of the one called Legion. He only takes up residence with permission and can be cast out with a word from Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus will not enter where the door is not opened. He will not force open the closed center of self. He will not break down the walls I have built up to get at me, until such time as I ask Him to remove them. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the only thing I can do on my own, the only thing that is not a product of grace and God's help is my own refusal to accept grace, to enter Christ's life, to live in unity with God. In short, all I can do by myself is sin and each sin makes the closed castle of self a little bit darker. I'm put in mind of the image at the beginning of The Interior Castle where St. Teresa of Avila tells us of the Castle environs:

from The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila

Chapter 2
You must note that the light which comes from the palace occupied by the King hardly reaches these first Mansions at all; for, although they are not dark and black, as when the soul is in a state of sin, they are to some extent darkened, so that they cannot be seen (I mean by anyone who is in them); and this not because of anything that is wrong with the room, but rather (I hardly know how to explain myself) because there are so many bad things -- snakes and vipers and poisonous creatures -- which have come in with the soul that they prevent it from seeing the light. It is as if one were to enter a place flooded by sunlight with his eyes so full of dust[37] that he could hardly open them. The room itself is light enough, but he cannot enjoy the light because he is prevented from doing so by these wild beasts and animals, which force him to close his eyes to everything but themselves. This seems to me to be the condition of a soul which, though not in a bad state, is so completely absorbed in things of the world and so deeply immersed, as I have said, in possessions or honours or business, that, although as a matter of fact it would like to gaze at the castle and enjoy its beauty, it is prevented from doing so, and seems quite unable to free itself from all these impediments.

But even these souls, who have started on the way to unity, are better off than those who stay securely fastened inside the kernel of self. For a little earlier in the same chapter St. Teresa has this to say:

For, just as all the streamlets that flow from a clear spring are as clear as the spring itself, so the works of a soul in grace are pleasing in the eyes both of God and of men, since they proceed from this spring of life, in which the soul is as a tree planted. It would give no shade and yield no fruit if it proceeded not thence, for the spring sustains it and prevents it from drying up and causes it to produce good fruit. When the soul, on the other hand, through its own fault, leaves this spring and becomes rooted in a pool of pitch-black, evil-smelling water, it produces nothing but misery and filth.

It should be noted here that it is not the spring, or the brilliant sun which is in the centre of the soul, that loses its splendour and beauty, for they are always within it and nothing can take away their beauty. If a thick black cloth be placed over a crystal in the sunshine, however, it is clear that, although the sun may be shining upon it, its brightness will have no effect upon the crystal.

I am the keeper of my own castle, the guardian of the fortress, the single force within that can say no to the God who also dwells within.

But there is the secret. Whether I like it or not, God dwells inside. I may refuse to look at the light. I can disregard all of his gentle leadings, all of his urgings of love (Hosea 11:4). I can remain ungentled, untamed, unredeemed. I do not have to look at the light.

Even if I do not look, it is there, large and glowing at the center. The rays so dimmed by the huge array of obstacles I have placed in its way as to be nearly undiscernable. Nevertheless, it is there, firmly at the center, waiting for me to turn and with grace uncover and recover it.

Every day I wake and I am confronted by grace again. I have lived another night, I have seen another morning. All is gift. Even in my sinfulness and in my waywardness I cannot but see that all around me is His love, His strength, His fruitfulness, His creativity, His brilliance, His light, His Joy. So long as I can resist the lure of all of these good things, I can remain safe in my dwelling place--alone and away from God. Oh, but what strength it takes to stare so firmly into the mirror when there are so many very good distractions from my own carefully sculpted images. What tremendous force of will it takes to deny God entry.

I suppose that leads to the main point of this long "shaggy dog" story. When confronted by grace (as we are every single day) our greatest recourse is to give in. Confronted by grace we learn to love and the seed is plumped by a little water. Soon the seedcoat will burst open and new life will come forth. Fragile, delicate, evanescent--but it too shall be confronted by grace and so long as we do nothing but surrender, it shall grown toward the light, and like the magic beanstalk it shall grow rapidly. It shall grow toward the light until it enters the light and, in fact, becomes light itself.

But only when there is surrender. Only when we are confronted by Grace and we give in.

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Where is Joy to Be Found?

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Joy is not something that can be willed. We cannot wake up one morning and say, "Today I will be joyful." Joy is the positive organic outgrowth of vibrant faith and life in Jesus.

For those of us who do not lead joyful lives, how can we begin to approach joy? That may not even be the right question because joy is not the goal, but He who gives rise to joy. So let's reorient the question. If we wish to have the joy of the Lord, how do we go about receiving it?

As noted before, joy is not the end, but a kind of side-effect of the end. Prayer seems the most obvious answer to how we become acquainted with the Source of Joy. But perhaps the word prayer needs a little explanation in this context. Perhaps we need a more "active" understanding of prayer. By that, I mean that many seem to think that prayer is often a sitting, standing, or kneeling activity in which the mind is directly engaged in either discursive meditation or recitation of "standard" prayers.

But prayer is not just something we do, it is also a state of being. We can be "in prayer" every waking moment. That, I believe, is what St. Paul meant when he told us to "Pray constantly." Obviously we cannot direct the interior dialogue all day long because there are things in life to which we must apply thought that would interfere with this discursive activity. Being "in prayer" consists of recognizing in the moment God's presence in our lives. It is in the classical terminology, "practicing the presence of God." Now, the term "practicing" is probably difficult and misleading. It sounds as though we can somehow make God appear by practice. The practice--or more appropriately, the discipline--of being aware of God's action in our lives is an "active" form of prayer. It isn't a discursive meditation, it isn't even a recital of vocal prayers. Rather it is a consistent internal reminder--the space of a moment--when we say, "God is here, in this moment too." And then we return to work aware of His presence in what we do.

When we begin this practice, we do well to say a very short prayer of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving flows from a humble heart that knows how much there is to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is an expression of deep gratitude. The expression of thanksgiving, more than anything else gives rise to a very deep feeling of attachment and love. Praise also contains elements of love, but it gives rise more to an exaltation of spirit, a recognition of glory. But thanksgiving is an act of humility that cultivates in its most rarified form true love and true attachment to God. When we realize how naked, alone, and incapable we are, it is a natural human instinct to turn to Someone for comfort, protection, and help. Gratitude teaches us to look to God and to trust Him. It shows us that He has been with us in the past and will continue to be our strength and our support.

Gratitude cultivates love, and love realized takes us out of the shell of self and transports us into eternity. Love is transcendent--it is an act of will and an emotion. It is a recognition of the necessity of the Other. Love is eternal and Love is incarnate. When we love, we live the life of Jesus. It is to be our sign, our banner, our pattern of recognition of one another.

From love flows joy--the serious business of heaven. The assurance of the beloved, the sure knowledge of the truth, the serenity of His presence, the acceptance of His will. All of these are part of joy and yet joy is so much more--encompassing all of this and more.

We will not know joy until we come to love and trust. I am learning these things slowly--far too slowly. But love and joy both come in their own time through God's all-giving grace. I can make small motions toward these, but in the end it is God who grants them in their fullest as we dispose ourselves to receive them.

After all of this it boils down to--where is joy to be found? In gratitude, in grateful acknowledgment of all that God has given me, has shown me, has made of me, has offered me. This is the beginning. It is the small movement of will that disposes us to receive even greater graces. Gratitude--the simple courtesy to say, "Thank you," to the One who loves us.

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The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Joy, here and now and in the life to come, is the serious business of heaven. It is part of the warp and weft of God's creation. When we rejoice in the Lord, we move out of the linear time stream of our lives and dwell for that moment in eternity. Rejoicing allows us to become more fully ourselves. We take one step closer to Jesus Christ.

But we do not rejoice alone. When we turn our attention outward even for a moment, all of heaven rejoices in the glory given to God. And God Himself rejoices over us. The Father welcomes His prodigals home--not with a churlish lecture or a grudging acceptance, but with the joy of one whose love has at last been recognized and accepted.

Joy flows out of love. Joy is the offspring of God's deep and permanent love for us. And in a sense, joy is not an emotion. Joy is not happiness nor contentment. Joy runs deeper and more true. I'm not even certain that joy is a faculty of the natural part of us, but rather true joy is expressed deep in the soul, the supernatural part of us--beyond the intellect and its faculties. It is the heart-deep cry of one who has at last what has been waited for so long.

God's joy springs from the deepest core of the mutual love of the Trinity and stretches out to touch us. God is compelled to joy (if the immovable can be said to be compelled to anything) by His deep and abiding love for us. As Zephaniah tells us, "God takes delight in us." His delight flows out in love which quiets us (Psalm 131).

So today, let us spend some time with Him that we can come to know the joy that exceeds all human aspiration. Let us love Him and see how He rejoices in us.

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The End of Prayer


from Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century
Ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

"Contemplation and the Stream of Consciousness"
Fr. Kiernan Kavanaugh

In the seventh dwelling places of The Interior Castle, Martha and Mary join hands together. Action flows into contemplation and contemplation pours over into action. The two are not at odds, the troublesome disassociation ends, "the cavalry at the sight of the waters descended" (Spiritual Canticle 40:5). God is found present, though ever hidden, in all of life's activities and events. And the little streams of memories and plans about our past and future all flow easily into God. The spiritual marriage "is like what we have when a little stream enters the sea, there is no means of separating the two" (Interior Castle 7.2.4)

When we look at the life of St. Teresa of Avila, we can readily see that contemplation cannot help but to flow over into action. St. Teresa established at least 13 foundations throughout Spain. She ran almost every convent she lived in, and she produced a remarkable volume of spiritual guidance and letters. This spilling over into action is not always transparent. In the case of the cloistered, the action is hidden, but very real. For example, St. Thérèse desperately wanted to become a missionary nun in Vietnam. Given her health and other considerations, this was not a possibility, but it did not stop the longing. Indeed, so great was her yearning that it was recognized in elevating her to Patroness of the Missions.

But how can we love God without wanting to serve in some substantive way? How can we embrace our spouse and then say that His children mean nothing to us? It isn't possible. When we join in spiritual marriage, the welfare of all of his children becomes our overriding concern. Time and again in Carmelite writings we are encouraged to pray for all whose souls are endangered that everyone might join the banquet in Heaven.

The end of contemplation, most particularly for a lay person, is substantive action that builds or at least supports the Kingdom here on Earth. Love that does not spill over into action is mere sentiment. Love that does not honor the beloved in honoring His intent is mere illusion and blindness. Love is, above all else, hard-working, endlessly laboring to please the One who is Love.

And when we love, we join in the vast ocean of His love, still ourselves but much more in His image, and inseperable from the vast ocean of mercy that carries every child home.

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To All the Saints. . .


Happy Catholic

From Julie D. at Happy Catholic:
Jean at Catholic Fire is expressing gratitude to her favorite saints for their help on the way by listing them with a few of the traits she admires most. Great idea!

Julie shares her list, and I shall share mine. I'm certain that much of it will surprise no one--but there may be a few surprises.

St Augustine--his real and arduous struggle against the sins of the flesh and his ecstatic love of God.

St. Benedict--level-headedness and clarity, as well as charity in the development of the rule for relilgious life.

St. Catherine of Siena--her determination, her courage, her hard work

Dorothy Day--her sheer grit and determination, her love for the poor, her humility

St. Frances de Sales--his brilliant writing, his pastoral personality

St. Ignatius of Loyola--his missionary zeal, his solid teaching and training in prayer

St. John of the Cross--his poetry, his gentleness, his humor, and his solid, clear teaching.

St. Katherine Drexel--her love for the poor and underprivileged, her life of total self-giving

The Martyrs of Compeigne--their faithful, true and abiding witness to the truth, their prayer for their country, their intercession in bringing about the end of the reign of terror

St. Maximilian Kolbe--his imitation of Christ, his example of love

St. (Blessed?) Nils Stensen--his perfect combination of pastoral ministry as bishop and profound exploration of science. (We have him to thank for the principle of superposition, the principle of original horizontality, his Prodromus--all of which paved the way for the scientific pursuit of paleontology; and Steno's law, or the first law of crystolography [the angles between corresponding faces of a crystal remain constant and characteristic.

St. Paul--his intellect, his will, and his sheer vision and power and his ability to make some of the most complex things simple (and some of the simplest things complex).

St. Teresa of Avila--her down-to-earth humor, her practicality, her rich spirituality.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross--her love for her people, her intellect, and her passion.

St. Teresa Margaret Redi--Her pure and simple love of God, her self-sacrificing service

St. Teresa of the Andes--her pure and abiding love and drive toward God

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta--her joy, her simplicity, her example of service

St. Therese of Lisieux--her strength, her simplicity, her deep love

St. Thomas More--his integrity, his consistency, his nobility, his love of wife and family

My, what a lot of Teresas and derivitives!

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From St. Ephrem the Syrian

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A friend sent this to me and it really spoke, so I share it.

Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

Who will not lament for me, who have renounced the eternal kingdom for the sake of meager pleasures, ignoring the eternal fire?

Having surrendered myself to the passions, I have destroyed the integrity of my soul and become like the unreasoning beasts.

At one time I found myself rich with gifts, but now I have come to love the poverty of the passions. I have become a stranger to the virtues and departed for the distant land of corruption. I am half dead; I have only a tiny remnant of life in me.

Because I am this way by mine own free choice, I cannot even raise mine eyes to the kindhearted Lord.

Lament, O blessed and righteous ones, for me who am caught in the embrace of passions and sin.

Lament, O ascetics, for me who am a glutton and voluptuary.

Lament, O merciful and condescending ones, for me who am hardhearted and cause much grief.

Lament, O God-pleasers, for me who strives to please men (and women).

Lament, O you who have attained meekness, for me who am irritable and wrathful.

Lament, O humble ones, for me who am pompous and arrogant.

Lament, O you who have attained the nonacquisitiveness of the apostles, for me who, burdened by my love for possessions, cling to material things.

Lament, O you who have loved lamentation and hated laughter, for me who have loved laughter and hated lamentation.

Lament, you who contemplate the judgement that will come after death, for me who affirms that I remember the judgement but act to the contrary.

Pray, O saints of God, for my soul which is convulsed by all manner of passions. Inasmuch as you are able, help me, O saints of God.

For I know that if you beseech God, the Lover of mankind, all will be granted to you from the sea of His kindness. And, like our man-befriending God, so also when I, a sinner, beseech you, do not despise my supplication; for I have not the boldness to pray to Him myself because of the multitude of my sins.

Your role is is, O saints, to intercede for sinners; God's role it is to have mercy on those who despair.

O saints of God, pray to the King on behalf of the prisoner. Pray to the Pastor on behalf of the sheep. Pray to Life on behalf of the corpse, that He might lend His hand to aid me and strengthen my humble soul in its feebleness.

So appropriate for All Saints Day.

Note that even as we implore their lamentation, we encourage their joy because, "There is as much joy in heaven over the return of one sinner. . ."

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An End to Anger?



Tom has been posting a beautiful series of posts on anger. An excerpt of one of the most recent appears below:

from Disputations

We are, of course, obliged to pray for our enemies, an obligation that would seem to extend to those who aren't our enemies so much as people we flat don't like. It is, I find, a very liberating experience -- animosity and anger being what we're liberated from -- to simply pray that God give them the graces they need to fulfill God's will for them, without reminding God what His will for them is. That is, to pray, "Fill his heart with Your love," without adding, "so that he'll finally stop being such an idjit."

Haloscan appeared to have problems communicating with my browser this morning. I had left the message that follows as a comment in the thread, but I don't know if it ever took. so I take the liberty of posting a response here.

Dear Tom,

Perhaps the best way of avoiding anger--and here I'm talking about the general disseminated anger that is so debilitating--is to cultivate a more immediate response that is not anger.

Often anger emerges from fear. We are angry because it gives us a more "proactive" approach to what we fear. People angry about the liturgy fear the loss of meaning that they perceive. People angry about this or that abuse fear the destruction such abuses may cause. Not all anger stems from fear, but much does.

We turn to the Bible and see that "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment." (1 John 4:18 KJV) Perfect love casts out fear--the same fear that can give rise to this dissipative, poisonous anger. When we look at Jesus in the temple, we can see the difference between His anger and our own. His anger is "zeal for the House of His Father." There is no touch of fear or dread. When His fear was greatest and nearly overwhelming, He poured out His love as drops of blood and was able to do His Father's will in perfect forgiveness, joy, and peace. There is no trace of anger in the passion--though He certainly had cause.

So perhaps if we cultivate this perfect love in prayer, if we spend time with Jesus in the Scriptures, if we learn to trust Him and hold Him up as our example, if, in short we learn to Love Him as perfect Love demands, then anger will become an "also-ran," a secondary recourse, a support from the framework of love--rare, zealous, and perfecting.



I just felt it went with the theme of the day, and the theme on which I hope to rebuild much of my faith and devotion.

God bless and keep everyone who visits here today. And may He bless you especially with the blessings of His Joy, Peace, and Love. May the joy of the Lord be your strength and shield from this day forward.

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Perfect Peace Brings Forth Joy


And who, you may ask, has perfect peace?

Ah, there is an answer:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Isaiah 26:3

Perfect peace blossoms forth from trusting God. From love blossoms trust; from trust unfolds peace; from peace flows joy; and on joy the Kingdom of God is built. We make it real when we love, trust, and rejoice. We emerge from the tomb with Lazarus and put on real life when we learn to rejoice.

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Joy for the Day


A couple of favorite verses to get the day started:

Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our LORD: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. --Nehemiah 8:10, KJV

And, from the prophet who brought you Lamentations and weeping:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11 KJV

For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 RSV

All our joy is in the Lord here and now in the eternal present. When we lift ourselves beyond the mere passage of time and join Him, however briefly, then we experience joy.

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Love's Last Letter


Love's Last Letter

If I could wish for one thing, I would wish that under similar circumstances, I would have the strength to write such a letter as the one referenced above. Reminiscent of St. Thomas More's great final letters and admonitions, this is the work of Christopher Love, convicted and executed for opposition to Cromwell's government. An excerpt follows.

from Christopher Love's Last Letter to His Wife

11. Rejoice in my joy. To mourn for me inordinately argues, that you either envy or suspect my happiness. The joy of the Lord is my strength; Oh! Let it be yours also! Dear wife, farewell: I will call thee wife no more: I shall see thy face no more: yet I am not much troubled, for now I am going to meet the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, to whom I shall be eternally married.

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A Resource for Inspiration

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About this Archive

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

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

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