Christian Life/Personal Holiness: June 2006 Archives

An Unsurprising Thought


Giving something to God means that one has no rights to it anymore, neither to worry about it, nor to think about it, nor to call it one's own. To take back a gift is, at best, ungracious, and at worst an offense. And everything given to God is regarded by Him as a gift. There's a lot of comfort to be had in such a thought.

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Private Revelation. . .

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is not the Faith. But it sure provides some interesting highlights.

A must read here

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The Dual Abyss


When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you
--Friedrich Nietzsche

What is an abyss? Simply, it is a yawning chasm, a seemingly infinite and certainly unfathomable depth. For a variety of reasons, perhaps this aphorism among them, the abyss has taken on a negative connotation that it need not have.

The threat or the promise of the aphorism (if true) depends upon which abyss one looks into. Humanity represents a dual abyss--there is an abyss of malice--out of which comes all the depths of evil, thoughtlessness, selfishness, and all the products of fallen humanity. And then there is the abyss of generosity--filled by grace and love, it is the abyss from which all the saints and Saints who do God's will drink their fill. It is an abyss of light, grace, hope, and love. It is the abyss that was opened when the side of Christ, the infinite was opened. It is the abyss that engulfs and swallows the lesser (though still vast) abyss of malice and darkness. It is the abyss of which St. John speaks when he says in John 1: 4-5:

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The abyss of light is the light of humanity which is Jesus Christ. The darkness cannot encompass. The promise of this light was first seen in the harrowing of Hell in which the dates of darkness were burst asunder and the light of the Lord shone for those who long lay in the darkness of death.

So, perhaps the aphorism is not so much a threat as a law. When one looks into the abyss, the abyss looks back; it would be wise to assure that the abyss one looks into is filled with the light of Jesus Christ. For few things could be better than to have that abyss look back into oneself.

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On Habits


Montaigne's Essays

Essay XXII--Of Custom
Michel de Montaigne

MY opinion is that hee conceived aright of the force of custome that first invented this tale; how a country woman having enured herselfe to cherish and beare a young calfe in her armes, which continuing, shee got such a custome, that when he grew to be a great oxe, shee carried him still in her armes. For truly Custome is a violent and deceiving schoole-mistris. She by little and little, and as it were by stealth, establisheth the foot of her authoritie in us; by which mild and gentle beginning, if once by the aid of time it have setled and planted the same in us, it will soone discover a furious and tyrannicall countenance unto us; against which we have no more the libertie to lift so much as our eies; wee may plainly see her upon every occasion to force the rules of Nature: Vsus efficacissimus rerum omnium magister: (PLIN. Epist. xx) Use is the most effectuall master of all things.

In more recent, albeit still antiquated but lovely, language:

HE seems to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of custom, who first invented the story of a countrywoman who, having accustomed herself to play with and carry, a young calf in her arms, and daily continuing to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that, when grown to be a great ox, she was still able to bear it. For, in truth, custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by little and little, slily and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes. We see her, at every turn, forcing and violating the rules of nature: "Usus efficacissimus rerum omnium magister."

(More here.)

However it may be said, the endpoint is the same. What we practice we come to be. What we do, we become. We do not so much form habits as our habits form us.

It is from the forms of crucifixion that we impose upon ourselves that Jesus suffered the one crucifixion that makes all things right.

Our habits make us and Jesus frees us from them. Our habits are lovely and soft and kind until it comes time to abandon them; then they are ravening harpies that pluck and shriek and call us back to that sweet slumber that marked our wakeless lives, our lives of aimless drifting.

Through Jesus all of these things are transformed and we are awakened--as frightening and as difficult as it may sound, it is the freedom we are promised--free to be the watchkeepers in a world slumbering to its doom. But first we must allow Him to break the bonds of habit.

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The First Degree of Conversion


from Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer
Fr. Thomas Dubay

The first degree of conversion, therefore, is a 180-degree reversal:"I renounce my idol, Lord; I want you instead. I am very, very sorry. With your grace I am going to change my life. I freely choose to repent. I shall receive your sacrament of reconciliation." The perfect portrayal of this basic conversion is found in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). The fundamental friendship with God is restored.

Some books are not really meant to be read through, even though they CAN be read through quite easily. From the beginning, this book has seemed one of those. One could read it easily, in an hour, perhaps two. But were one to do so, there are a great many things that would be lost and a great deal that could help one's prayer life that would be overlooked.

The passage noted above is fundamental Catholic doctrine; indeed, fundamental doctrine for all Christians worthy of the name. The world is a fallen place, fallen because of our ancestors' sin and each person takes his or her place in that fallen world. Every person who chooses to abandon his or her place in the fallen world and take up the gift of a place in heaven participates in the salvation of the entire world. Such people can say with Paul that they make up in their own bodies what was lacking in the sacrifice of Christ.

Perhaps one can think of it as a shift in the center of gravity. For every person who chooses to take up the Christian life, the balance is shifted toward heaven. Everyone who determines to do more than the mere minimum adds the mass of grace to the position held in the kingdom, the center of gravity shifts more. Those who choose to live truly heroic lives of virtue become so great an attraction that they draw more into the life of grace. The intercession of the saints is an enormous force. There is a constant shifting of mass in this balancing of the center of gravity--writers of old have called this "The War in Heaven," the enormous battle waged for each soul in which all of the might of the Angels and Saints is mustered against the Fallen Ones over each soul. And all of that massing becomes evident in the choice a person makes for or against God.

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from Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer
Fr. Thomas Dubay

But for now we need to emphasize how tenaciously, even stubbornly, many people cling to the preferences and sympathies of their own way of life even in the face of strong evidences against these preferences. Elemental truths, the way things actually are, leave little impact on most persons' consciousness and routine decisions. This is especially the case with moral and ultimate realities. People love their desires. Newman made this point in his usual penetrating manner, but other careful observers have also noted the following common assumptions of egocentrism: "i am right because this is my preference. I need not consider your reasons and arguments seriously." This is why many married couples (say the experts) argue and fight over and over again about the same disagreements and often with no happy solutions and healing. Egocentrism is the main root of human conflicts. Hence, Jesus is saying "love truth, the way things objectively are; do not cling to your preferences when they clash with reality."

Love truth--the way things objectively are. The problem is to see with an objective eye. It is not impossible, for with God all things are possible; however, neither is it easy, for with humanity all things are impossible. Many people, perhaps most people, have a vested interest in reality they way they perceive or rather wish it to be. This is an extremely difficult point. How does one begin to see objectively when one is so allied to the pleasant unreality created by oneself? In one sense, this is the question the movie The Matrix asks--is it better to live in subjectively loveliness or face the truth no matter how unpleasant and ugly?

What most seem not to know is that objective reality, truth, is part of the Platonic triad, a kind of trinity of values that perforce exist together--truth, beauty, and goodness. Thus objective truth, ultimate truth, eternal truth, is objectively, ultimately, and eternally beautiful and good. It can be no other way. There may be additional attributes to the triad, but these three go hand in hand. So, in addition to the hard question The Matrix poses, there is an easier question. Suppose you could wake up from the waking dream/nightmare you have created for yourself by your choices of what to do and believe, and suppose upon waking that you would find yourself in a realm far more beautiful, perfect, and peaceful than any you could imagine--would you choose to wake?

If so, now is the acceptable time. God, patient Father, has long waited for each one to wake and come stumbling out of the bedroom in our "footy" pajamas rubbing our eyes and suddenly seeing that every morning is Christmas morning. Every day, no matter what the course of the day, is a gift beyond measure.

Sleeper awake, for night is flying
the time of the dream approaches the end,
open your eyes, wake up, arise
this waking nightmare shall come to an end.

"Wacheft auf ruft uns die stimme
Philipp Nocolai 1599
tr. Catherine Winkworth

Wake, awake, for night is flying,
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem at last!
And at the thrilling cry rejoices:
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past!
The Bridegroom comes, awake.
Your lamps with gladness take;
And for his marriage feast prepare,
For ye must go to meet him there.

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
The Strong in grace, in truth Victorious.
Her Star is risen, her light is come!
Ah, come Thou blessed Lord,
O Jesu, Son of God,
We follow till the halls we see
Where Thou hast bid us sup with Thee.

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The Cold Equations

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Gas prices, it has been shown, are not by any means extraordinary given the times and the rather slow climb in price up until recently. My experience of this price climb probably parallels that of most of you. It is most painful at the gas station and in the monthly budgeting. But once you cut the grocery bill and the clothing and a bit of slack here and there, it can be picked up. You might have noticed a spike in food prices and in the prices of goods whose delivery depends upon the price of fuel.

The price of fuel has meant economies, mostly not terribly painful, in my own house. What about those households in which there is no slack whatever? I think about a woman I know who lives as a single mother with a somewhat troubled child. She works as a waitress in a local restaurant and before the surge in prices wasn't quite keeping it together in terms of finances. A dollar stretches only so far--an the painful reality is that things that are really necessary must eventually be given up. Perhaps one does without electricity for a while as one scrapes together the money to pay off the amount due. Perhaps one's diet is trimmed just a little bit more. I don't know what measures are taken in such situations--I don't live there. What I do know are the deepening lines on the faces of people who live in these situations.

What then are we called to do in the face of the trials that are daily part of the lives of the people who have to face these price increases? We all shoulder, each one, his or her own part of the burden. And there is a legitimacy to this burden that goes beyond profit into the realm of the need to preserve, conserve, and find alternatives for our dependency.

No matter what argument might be made in support of the present situation, the impact, as usual falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor. Those who were able to live in a home, however briefly, now find themselves living out of their cars once again.

Surely it is not so extreme as that? I've seen no reports on the impact, I cannot say what is happening nationally. All I can report are the burdens of those I know personally, the stories that come to me daily from a variety of sources. Since the poor are invisible to most of us anyway, there is a tendency to remain ignorant of the impact of these things. I become profoundly concerned when the attempt to understand the mathematical reality of a situation becomes divorced from the human impact of it.

I have no solution to this perceived problem except, perhaps, that whenever anyone advances any arguments justifying "things as they are" we keep before our eyes the faces of those who are most affected by the way things are.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from June 2006.

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