Christian Life/Personal Holiness: December 2005 Archives

The War In Heaven

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The War in Heaven is already won. And yet the battles continue as though we were lone Japanese troops on some Phillipine island, unaware that the war has ended. And the season of advent, the season of waiting is a good time to recall the the war in Heaven is won.

But battles linger on day to day. And the most insidious thing about these battles is that they are waged on the very smallest of decisions. For those of us who count ourselves friends of God, we will rarely be persuaded by some spectacular sin or crime against humanity. While most of us would balk and blanch at the thought of murdering someone, few of us would hesitate to condemn that person to Hell thoughtlessly. They're only words, they have no effect.

But we are taught time and again that it is not what goes into a person that makes them unclean, but what comes out of the fullness of the heart. When we are not being particularly spiritual what do we say and do? What do we say and do when someone takes the last parking space for miles--a space we had been waiting for for ten minutes while an elderly lady and her three sisters bustled around trying to put packages much too big into the trunk in a drizzling rain.

It is on these small actions--the actions of a moment, the actions that reveal the heart that the major battles are fought and lost. It is what my heart is stuffed full with that flows out in the heat of the moment. Yes, God will forgive it, but I've lost that pitched battle. And sometimes, as in the case above (had it occurred) I can lose it without a word being said.

Spiritual combat is sometihng few of us are really prepared for. I may think I'm ready. But what I'm ready for is to resist the temptations I can readily identify--not those that creep up on me in a blind moment. I'm ready to fight what I know to be the enemy not the disguised one, the event that takes me by surprise.

So, how do I fight these battles, the ones I am unprepared for? That is one of the many, many reasons for prayer. Prayer teaches calmness, serenity, and acceptance. Spending time in prayer tames one's own selfishness and need, it puts one in touch with God in a way that transcends the moment. It breaks down the fortress of evil and builds instead the bulwark of love--a shield against which no evil can succeed. Where love grows, evil cannot rest. Evil is nothing less than the constant attack on love. It started with one prideful boast and rebellion and quickly turned into a loathing for anything that looked like Love.

Prayer causes love to grow. Perfect love drives out fear and fear, with its close relative anger, are the sources of much of sin. Yes, there are other causes, but much of what we do that is wrong stems from either fear or anger. Love breaks the back of fear. It puts us in a place where we can truly fight in the spiritual combat that surrounds us--where we can be warriors in the constant spiritual melee, and with Christ as our companion and shield, we can help others.

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Martha or Mary?

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Is it possible to be a contemplative in active life?

Is it possible to live a life of service to others, or merely in the course of life to serve others and yet enter into intimate conversation with God.

Is it possible to combine the best aspects of Martha and Mary?

Mary had the "One thing necessary" however, Martha shows us that faith without works is dead. Often maligned, I don't think it is a question of either or. Rather both/and. However, if a person is not called to straddle this boundary the better way is Mary's.

The Lay Carmelite apostolate exists in large part to say that you can live the life of a normal person in (but not of) the world and still respond to God's invitation to intimacy. But, by the fact that not everyone is a Lay Carmelite, we can conclude that the specifics of this vocation are not for everyone. It is safe to say that the Lay Carmelite apostolate, as the apostolate of the Carmelite Friar is to serve as example--to show the world that what they think impossible is not only possible, but blessed.

Not everyone is called to be a Carmelite, but everyone is invited to the intimacy of the Father. And the vast majority of the forty-or-so regular readers of this blog are people who lead active lives with careers, children, and all of the concomittant busyness that goes with an active life.

How then does one "make the time" to spend in contemplation. Once again, we come back to the theme of the past few days. One need merely want to. The desire to show God some measure of the love that He showers on each of us must be more than a back-of-the-mind thing. When God becomes a priority in life, intimacy is possibility.

It only makes sense. When we wish to grow closer to our spouses and loved ones, we make time to be with them--to play games, watch movies, converse. So too, when we want to grow closer to God, one finds a way to make time for Him.

Following on St. Teresa's comment from yesterday--God will never give us as little as we desire. If we want just a little bit to love and serve Him, He will make it possible in ways we cannot even imagine. If we want just a little bit of His life, He will give it to us entirely,

It is all a simple matter of desire, or reordering our priorities until God shuffles to the top in more than our speech. It is simple, but it is not easy. As with "the Little Way" of St. Therese--it is simple, but it is not easy. But didn't Jesus say, "My yoke is easy, my burden light?" Is it not possible that in the course of life He will bless us with possibility and opportunity?

The way is simple and the means easy when one resorts to all means of grace. God will make the path easier, we must respond by walking it.

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How Do We Train Desire?

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Following on the posts below, one can be led to ask the question--how then does one order disordered desires? How can one fix the compass that points home?

Well, simply, one cannot. Grace does it. But to dispose ourselves to grace--there are any number of ways. The boil down to two words, which themselves are a gift of grace--gratitude and humility.

Until I come to realize that I have nothing of myself--that every gift is a gift from above--every breath is a gift, and riches I have are granted by a gracious Lord, any grace, facility, ability, talent, or gift are His first and given without any merit on my part. Nothing I call "mine" is "mine" by right except my sin. All is gift.

If this is true--if the food I eat, the air I breathe, the gifts I exercise in earning my money, the house I live in, the wife and children I have, everything, everything down to and including this wretched body, everything is a gift unasked for. Some turn this to a bitter turn, but properly seen, these gifts are beyond measure gracious. The only attitude is ecstatic gratitude. Yes, even in the worst times, gratitude is the key to opening the door of riches and grace. I cannot begin to be transformed until I leave off self and self-aggrandizement and turn to Him who is the source of all.

Thus humility and gratitude walk hand-in-hand. When I know am I nothing and nothing I have comes to me through my own efforts, but rather through grace, what can I do but be grateful for everything. And in this gratitude is the beginning of the deepest love. True, human gratitude can sour and become a burden; however, God does not Lord it over us. He does not constantly remind me of how great He is and how small I am. He doesn't constantly crow about how wonderful He is and how small I am. Indeed, He calls me time and again one of His own. I am His dearly beloved child. I am the weaned child, rocked on the breast of the Father (psalm 131). I am loved as if I were His only child. Indeed, each of us is loved with the same prodigality.

When I consider how You say that Your delights are with the children of teh earth, my soul rejoices greatly. O Lord of heaven and erth, what words athese are that no sinner might be wanting in trust! St. Teresa of Avila

His delights are with us! There is no comment, no explanation, no set of words that pierces to the heart of delight centered in those words. You may look each morning in the mirror and say, "You are well and truly the beloved of God--at once one of many and the sole point of all his attention."

God delights in us.
Delights in us--rejoices in us.
As I delight in all the antics of my young son,
so God delights in us--
He is swift to forgive and rich in lovingkindness--
deserving or not, each person is loved as the only person,
each child is loved as an only child.

God's delight is with His people,
to be among them, to be loved by them,
to be present.

God's love knows no bounds
His embrace is limitless
overcoming even our own self-doubt
and our worthlessness.

What have I done to have such a Father?
Nothing--He made me and I am His.\
And He whispers to me:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:
for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave:
the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.

Song of Songs 8:6

Thank you, Lord. Thank you. I wait for you now--hasten and do not tarry. Come Lord Jesus!

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Gifts of the Season

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My Carmelite prayer partner brought me a Christmas gift yesterday--and miraculously, if you can imagine this, she managed to find two books I did not already own. One of these is the subject of today's blog.

from Sermon in a Sentence: Volume 4--St. Teresa of Avila

Our most sacred King has still much to give. He would never want to do anything else than give if He could find receivers. And as I have said often-I want you never to forget daughters--the Lord is never content with giving us as little as we desire.

This quotation followed so beautifully on some things I had written last week that it leapt off the page at me.

God is never content to give us as little as we desire. So we needn't desire all and everything all at once to attain to the store of riches He has for us. Rather we grow into desire. We desire a little, and God rewards us richly, He is the Father of the prodigal, ready at a moment to welcome us home, to invite us in, to ask us to stay.

Of course, we often refuse His hospitality, not realizing our own poverty, our own selfishness. We may say a courteous thank you and back out of the throneroom and return to our own business. Nevertheless, God is not a God who sits on His magnificent throne and waits for us. He is the God of Glory who races after us--not content to give as He has gotten, but ready to shower us in all good things.

Desire is the key. Human desire is the faulty arrow that points home. It is a compass in a shaky hand and all too often, the Devil brings a lodestone near--so the needle is not always reliable. But once our heart is set on the Desire of the Ages, that needle in rock solid--it point home, and only to home. The measure of our desire is infintesimal compared with God's desire for us. Time and again--the prodigal son, the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine for the one, the Father who gave us Incarnate Love--we are reminded of His love for us. We are "the apple of his eye." He is our beloved and we are His.

But God is not content to love as we love. Even a slight motion will bring us into his enduring embrace. He will not force Himself on us, but given the slightest opening, He will overwhelm us with grace.

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Advent is a time of solemn waiting. And yet solemnity and joy are not mutually contradictory. It sounds as though they are, but only if we are under the misconception that joy equals happiness.

We wait during the first half of advent for Christ the King who is to come--we know He will return in His time and then the world will be transformed. But during the second half of advent, we "wait" in eternity, our waiting already fulfilled, but reinforced by the waiting and the preparation we make for Christmas.

What a shame, then, so many very good Christians stress themselves out over the Christmas season. It is hard not to be stressed if you're amidst ten-thousand other people seeking the perfect gift for everyone on their list, if you're busy preparing the menu and the guest list for your Christmas parties and Christmas dinner, if you're caught in the midst of the secular seasonal preparations. None of these are bad things, but they divert the focus from the one thing necessary.

So what is the remedy for Christmas preparation stress? Do what you do for love of Christ and do it with great joy that we have this season to celebrate. Perform a short mental exercise. Put yourself in the time before Christ came, in the Babylonian captivity. Now, translate that same state to today. Suddenly even Christmas shopping stress has become an insignificant trifle.

What else can we do? If you're baking Christmas cookies--bake them with Jesus in mind, remembering each moment what we are celebrating. If you're wrapping Christmas presents, thank God that you have presents to wrap and rejoice in wrapping them for His son. If you're making up menus, remember to invite Jesus to that party in some substantial way.

We are waiting, but what we are waiting for has already arrived (in part). As we wait, we rejoice that God's will has been done and is being done now and every day. Each ornament we hang on the tree, we do for Jesus. Each song that's played, each treat prepared, even cleaning our house, we do in preparation for a Baby who has arrived, is arriving, and will arrive on Christmas Day.

As we journey through each day, let us unite our own antipation with that of the Blessed Mother who, day by day, became more aware that the time was upon her. For those of us who are parents, let us recall the joy, fear, and hope that preceded the arrival of our own children. And this was a most special, most unexpected child. Let us rejoice with her that the time has come and salvation is brought forth in all of His glory.

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Universalism and Truth

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A comment from Psalm 41 on a post below caused a long train of thought that may be worth recording before it derails. It's kind of a personal credo.

I was commenting on the question of universalism and the fallacy of some arguments for and against it. Psalm 41 repeated my oft-invoked recitation of the "soft verses" of the Bible. And I agree entirely with the comment.

However, when we are trying to live God's way, no matter how tantilizing the "truth" of our agenda, there is no ideal that is worth laying aside one iota of the treasury of the Holy Mother Church. (And I do not mean to imply that Psalm 41 thought otherwise--I am here recounting my own thoughts on the matter.) In Gulley and Mulholland's book they first had to set aside Biblical inerrancy, then Biblical Revelation, then the Divinity of Jesus, and finally, it would seem to me, any right to call themselves Christian as classically defined.

If my understanding of universalism entailed dismissing, setting aside, or ignoring any part of the treasury of revelation, I would have to dismiss universalism as a concept. I have done so with a great many lofty, beautiful ideas. No idea of human conception is worth one jot of revelation, one iota of revealed doctrine or dogma.

That might lead one to contend that you could not support universalism at all. Here I would disagree--but that is an argument for another time. But if doing so would require me to reject what is authoratatively taught, then I would have to. Period.

The truth of God's revelation is the foundation of life. I note the progression in many progressives toward discarding first this and then that little notion. (To be just, I also have to note that it occurs amongst the ultra-conservative factions as well--we don't really need Vatican II, it wasn't truly a doctrinal council, it was a pastoral council, nothing said there is binding.) When I begin to chip away at revelation and pick and choose what I like, I make a religion of man, not a religion of God. I left one branch of the faith because I felt that they did not have the fullness of the truth. Why would I cleave to my own truth which is far feebler than the truth of the faith I once held?

Any idea, any human fabrication that requires even a small movement away from Divine truth shows itself in that requirement as falsehood--pure diabolical lie. Surely the devil is clever enough to realize that we aren't going to go whole hog for worshipping Maloch. No indeed, he'll lead us there step by step--small quibble by small quibble, internal reservation by internal reservation, until we are square at the portal. We don't need to take a huge step away. Incremental steps will do just as well--perhaps better because we will not even know by how much we have deviated from the truth.

So, I cling to my hope of universalism with what reason I have and with an intuition that complements reason. I may well be wrong. I will work in this life as though I am wrong in my assumption, that any opportunity offered me to guide souls to God is used to its fullest. If I am wrong, I have worked in the right way, if I am right, I have caused no harm.

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About this Archive

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

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

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: January 2006 is the next archive.

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