Christian Life/Personal Holiness: August 2006 Archives

"Lazarus, Come Out!"

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Too many are dead in their faith. And there are so many ways to be dead. This is part of what Jesus meant when He said, "Narrow is the way and strait is the gate that leads unto salvation." For indeed, the way of living faith is narrow indeed.

Some are dead in their political faith. While politics should always be informed by religious sensibility, the spiritual life should never be informed by politics. When it becomes so, it goes astray, looking for secular solutions to eternal problems and straying from the narrow way. That is not to say that those with a political faith do not know Jesus, but they do not know Him in His fullness. They have chosen their own way to know Him rather than His way to know Him.

However, the form of dead faith and half-life that is most insidious and most hidden is regret--either conscious or unconscious over things done or left undone. Regret is another killer of faith because regret always lives in the past and faith is the eternal present. The person of faith is informed and formed by his or her past, but that person is not slave to their past. We don't see St. Teresa of Avila dwelling on her past even as she struggles to write her life. There is the constant infusion and interjection of the person St. Teresa is now, and a kind of irritation about talking about the past and all of its dead things.

So too with St. Therese, who wrote of the past in obedience, but whose past and present constantly fuse and intermingle. The past is only important as it exists in who we are now. What we did not choose, what we did not do is part of who we are, but it is not to be dwelt on, merely learned from.

When we enter the land of regret, we enter the tomb. And interestingly, regret is one of Satan's slyest weapons, because often the regret might be over vocations not pursued, spiritual opportunities not embraced, good paths not taken. All of these things can be very good things if they help us to make the right choices for the future. But more often than not regret is a form of creeping paralysis. What I did not do in the past I cannot choose to do now. That opportunity is gone and will never come again and I cannot be whole unless I can go back and undo it. And because I cannot, I am not who I could be and I cannot make the choices I would make.

What utter nonsense! What we did not do in the past, what we rue today, we can choose to undo in different ways. Let the past become present and remember the incorrect choice and use it as a guide, a signpost to make the correct choice. The Road to Joy is marked by many, many self-created sorrows. If we let Satan have control, we can continue down that long dark path, Orpheus descending. But as soon as we learned how to use the past to inform the present, as soon as we push regret out the door and call upon God in faith, Jesus says to us, "Lazarus, come out!" We, who were the people Christ wept over when He learned that we were dead, return to Him, live and vibrant and complete in Him.

But to do this requires complete surrender. It requires us to say, "Je ne regrette rein." I am who I am because of what has gone before. My choices made this person, and even this person is one whom God loves beyond all telling. This person can choose life, can choose God at any moment. This person can shed the dead past and enter into the vibrant, living present. This person can come alive in Christ.

Are there things in your past that you would choose now not to have? Are there things, experiences you would choose to undertake? If so, turn regret into joy by recalling these things and using them as guides. God gave us signposts in His interactions with us. It is time that we came to understand His signposts and used them to move toward Him. Pull off the shroud and join the living. Give up regret, for Lent and forever. Live in light and joy--turn the past darkness into a beacon for the present and thank God for all that you have learned as a result of what has happened in the past.

Narrow is the way and strait is the gate that leads unto salvation. But that narrow way is Jesus Christ, the vast eternity of Incarnate Love. And that straight gate is love of Him and embrace of his life, death, and resurrection. Hardly what we would think of as narrow or strait in comparison to the small prison of self that we choose when we choose regret, greed, politics, or anything other than God. Jesus speaks of a narrow way, but I see a passage the size of a world, the size of a galaxy, the size of the Heart of God. It is narrow because there is only one way to it--surrender.

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Images in Christian Life


from Renovation of the Heart
Dallas Willard

There are many things we need not see and are better off not seeing--thought, if you wish, you have a "right" to see them. Anyone who thinks that if I have a right to do X it is good for me to do X, simply hasn't thought deeply about the matter. Paul's wise counsel, by contrast, was, "Whatever is true, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let you mind dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8)> Make no mistake; this is a fundamental and indispensable part of our spiritual formation in Christ.

Images, in particular are motivational far beyond our conscious mind and they are not under rational control. We must take care that we are nourished constantly on good and godly ones, without necessarily being able to see and say what is wrong with the others. "What is wrong" with them well may be something we cannot bring before our consciousness, but which works in the depths of our soul and body as an instrument of feces beyond ourselves.

Beauty is essential in spiritual formation. Beauty is not beauty without truth and goodness--it is "as an Angel of Light" whose heart is complete darkness. The most beautiful image in the world that denies God only seems beautiful--it is a seed of darkness. This is probably similar to what Savonarola taught the people of his day, only he made the mistake of assuming that anything suggestive of the beauty of the human form was somehow tainted and evil. There are the Venus de Milo La Primavera and La Trionofo di Aphrodite, all of which portray the female body in its splendor without necessarily provoking the prurient. When one approaches works like The Naked Maja and such like, the question becomes more nebulous, and for some of us none of these images in any amount is licit. That is the individual way and path. Nevertheless, it is part of spiritual formation to dwell upon the beautiful because it bypasses the eternal censor and tells us something that mere intellect cannot tell us about God. God cannot be apprehended, much less embraced by intellect alone but only through the union of intellect and emotion that make up the mind of the person. Certainly our senses feed the mind, but it is ultimately the mind that is the primary gatekeeper and the spirit within us that says, "Let it be done unto me," to God. And these things may only happen when we have surrendered all to God.

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Leaning against the Master's Breast


There is a certain kind of person who makes me nearly nauseated with envy; a kind of person from whom I would rob what they have, were it robbable and take it for myself. This isn't laudable, but I may as well admit it. The type of person is one of those who has never for a moment been more than a step away from Jesus. You know them--you really want to believe that all their nicey-nice God-talk is all made up because then you'd have a little surcease from your own inner kvetching--but you also know that it's authentic. You want to think of it as a put-on because that makes it easier for you to pretend that this isn't a real state, the real state that people are called to.

I say you and I mean me. I was born to perpetual rebellion. Jesus lifts me up in His arms and like a recalcitrant two-year-old, I throw myself back in one of those fits trying to escape that prison that threatens to keep me from whatever it is I want--only, of course, I don't know what it is I want. I circle round and round Him, never coming at the front, but hoping to sneak up like the woman with an issue of blood and claim the prize and run away. What a terrible state!

I know full well what I should do, but I also know I cannot do it on my own. I'll never be able to be one of those people who look like they're about to swoon when they speak of the Blessed Mother, or who piously and gently touch the feet of all the Holy Statues in the Church they pass by; people whose faith and devotion sears me because my own is so weak.

That's the angst. But the assurance is that God made me the way I am and He will bring me to Him in the way He wishes me to come. I am not piety and grace embodied--I am not the poster child for the Christian way. Rather, I'm one of those battered circle-with-a-bar in it signs warning everyone else to find a different way. My example is more often than not negative rather than positive. And I know that through the grace of God in time that will change also. But in the meantime, I look upon those who seem constantly leaning against the Master's breast and ask Him, why can't that be me? Why must I go by this other road thick with brambles and barely marked out? What have I done to merit this hard way?

Of course, I don't know how hard the way is of those I look on with envy. It may be even harder. Oh, but this will of mine, unruly, constantly trying to assert its own dominance, constantly singing with the famous atheist poet:

William Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

What lies! What falsehoods! But my pride draws me back again and again--and at times I think of Calvin and how some are elect and wonder if I have fallen out of that group. But I remember, no longer Calvinist, I'm free to believe that the elect are those who despite themselves long to be and face that fight and continue to move forward despite themselves. Christ died for all, not for some, not for many. That all do not come to Him is the choice of the all, not His preferred plan. There is no elect separate from humanity, all of humanity has the calling and the possibility. Some of us just don't seem to get it very well.

And so the struggle goes on. The comfort comes from Jesus' words, "To whom much is given, much is expected." And I have been given much and more. I have been blessed beyond reasonable blessing, and I am treasured and cherished as a Child of God. I hold onto this hope even as I struggle with obedience, pride, willfulness, lack of charity, lack of discipline, and anger. God will, in His time and way, bring me home. I trust that, I know that, I rely upon that. He is the Father who loves all of His children, and even when I feel very distant, I know He is near always waiting for the prodigal.

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From The Devil's Advocate


I may have much to say about this book when I am finished, as I have very mixed reactions to much that is in it. However, for the time being, I thought the following passage nicely said it all.

"It's not the opinion that worries me, Meredith. It's the tendency: the tendency to elaborate so much by commentary, glossary, and hypothesis that the rigid simplicity of the essential faith is obscured, not only for the faithful but also for honest inquirers outside it. I deplore this. I deplore it greatly because I find it raises barriers between the pastor and soul he is trying to reach.

It is possible to think too much about faith--to think it into a dryness and an austerity that it does not essentially have. To my mind, this is what some very faithful Catholics do. By the time they are finished with the faith it is a dry and useless husk of rules, regulations, injunctions, restrictions, subtle equivocations, and circumlocutions--anything that might once have been said about Christ in the course of it is completely obscured. This tends to be a fault amongst a certain kind of ill-prepared apologist who, rather than coming back time and again to the well and the source of the faith, spends too much time poking about the obscurities of the Second Vatican Council documents and delineating why, exactly, they are in conformity with all that has gone before. While there is some good in this, there is a great deal more in prayer and in turning to the God who gave us Vatican II.

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Why it even appears that some Jesuits remain Catholic:

Torture is an affront to the dignity of the individual. And belief in this dignity is supposed to be cherished by the same politicians who proclaim their support of the “culture of life,” especially during election years. But respect for life does not end at birth; it should continue unbroken from birth to natural death.

From, of all the odd places The Baptist Standard A Texas Baptist Newspaper.

This reference and the one below were courtesy of The Western Confucian--would that there were more such Western, Catholic, Confucians.

Later I just realized that what I wrote above could easily be misunderstood--I don't consider The Baptist Standard an "odd place" just an odd place for a Jesuit to show up.

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Another Day to Remember

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The sixth of August is bad enough, often forgotten are the horrors of the ninth of August with the near obliteration of the largest Christian community of Japan.

Such means are never just and never justified--no matter how one argues for the case for potentially shortening the war. And we must stop to consider why these weapons were deployed in Japan and not in Germany--one is led to suspect that it may have been that we didn't really regard the Japanese as fully human.

And are there people that we look upon that way today? Perhaps Arabs? Perhaps Muslims? If so, shame on us--it is time to learn that one cannot abstract a person. One cannot rely upon that abstraction to provide distance from the persons harmed. We owe it to ourselves to live the life of those mothers whose children have been taken from them, those husbands and wives who have lost their spouses. These are personal moments, personal tragedies, intimate and horrifying moments of human destruction and loss. Abstracting a person for a principle results in far too many such moments. The devil is in the details--the details of lives sundered and destroyed, that too often in our comfort we choose to ignore, or more culpably, we choose to explain away or try to justify.

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A Useful Definition of Happiness


from The Saints' Guide to Happiness
Robert Ellsberg

But what if happiness is not subjective, a question of how we feel, or a matter of chance, something that simply happens? What if it is more like an objective condition, something analogous to bodily health? Aristotle took this view. The word he used for happiness, eudaimonia, is not a matter of feelings but a way of being, a certain fullness of life. Happiness, for Aristotle, has to do with living in accordance with the rational and moral order of the universe. It is more like the flourishing of a healthy plant than like Freud's pleasure principle. Because it is rooted in habits of the soul, it is the fruit of considerable striving. But for the same reason it is not subject to the vagaries of fortune.

The Greek-writing authors of the New Testament did not use Aristotle's word for happiness. The drew on another word, makarios, which refers to the happiness of the gods in Elysium. In the Gospel of Matthew this is the word that Jesus uses to introduce his Sermon on the Mount, "Happy are the poor in spirit. . . . Happy are the meek. . . . Happy are they who mourn. . . ." St. Jerome, who prepared the Latin translation in the fourth century, used beatus, a word the combines the connotations of being happy and blessed. Hence these verses are known as the Beatitudes. Forced to choose, most English translators have opted--probably wisely--for the more familiar "Blessed are. . . " The Beatitudes, after all, are not about "smiley faces" or feeling happy. They are not about feelings at all. They are about sharing in the life and spirit--the happiness--of God. In that spirit a disciple (like Jesus himself) could experience mourning, suffering, and loss while remaining "blessed"--happy, that is, in the most fundamental sense.

Happiness, as spoken of in the gospels and in the Bible is not of the moment. It isn't an instant of good feeling. Rather, happiness is the way of living as God would have us live. Outside of God everything is ephemeral, fleeting. Ecclesiastes would tell us that all is vanity, vanity. "If the Lord does not build a house, then in vain do the builders labor."

Happiness comes from what we do, not how we feel. That elation or good-feeling we sometimes experience is a pale shadow of true happiness that becomes apparent only in the light of eternity. Striving after anything else is in vain--only in obedience to His commandments and His word is happiness to be found.

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The One Thing Necessary


delightfully exposed.

from The Saints' Guide to Happiness
Robert Ellsberg

What is the "one thing necessary"? Its form is different for each person, though its content is always the same. It is "to fulfill our own destiny according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be."

Tomorrow, if there's time, I'll copy out the passage about happiness itself.

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Farewell to Theology


I tire of theologians who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Those who go on and on about how masturbation is a sin and anyone engaging in it is going to Hell, but then come up with terms to justify the slaughter of the innocents. Theology is supposed to be the divine science, but it is a deeply flawed human endeavor that more often than not seeks to justify the ways of humankind to God.

No more with "just wars" and debates about prudential judgments and subtleties about who can be killed under what circumstances. All justifications for continuing as we have always done, hard of heart and head. No more--I will have no more of it. Tiresome and puffed up like a blowfish and ultimately empty of anything not already revealed, but tricked out to look like a king's wardrobe--indeed, the very Emperor's New Clothes themselves.

Theology--the science of straining at a gnat to swallow a camel. If I thought that great love of God resulted from it, it would have some use. But what I find more often than not is greater love of self and greater love of knowledge. Those who pursue theology often do so as a means of fleeing God.

A pox on it all. Holy Mother church teaches and her word informs more often despite her theologians than because of them. The Church teaches through the Holy Spirit and through the inspired scripture, but when we start dragging in the inventions of the theologians--annulments and just war and original sin and limbo, one quickly loses one's way in the thicket. A fog of confusion, doubt, and questions that lead to no real end.

The more I read of them, the less I need to read of them and the weaker any faith I may have grows. My faith survives despite the theologian's best attempts to extinguish it entirely--to fill my head with the God who allows the slaughter of children and of innocents to further the goals of any particular regime.

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Who better does the Father's will--the one who knows all manner of doctrine and all the subtlety thereof and who can explain it and argue its fine points with other and who completely assents to it, but lives a life in direct contradiction to every one of its tenets?


The person completely ignorant of doctrine, unable to discern or explain the divine hypostatic union, completely unaware of predestination and justification, unable to make an intelligible statement about doctrine, who yet lives it to the hilt--feeding the hungry and giving to the poor?

Too much knowledge stuffs the head and the ego--it fills us not with knowledge of the Divine, but with knowledge of our own self-importance. Knowledge stored in the head but never acted upon is less than useless. And action in complete ignorance of the whys and wherefores, the rules and the statutes governing it, that action which is within God's will is the action of love, the action of the saving Christ, shown in a way no words will every tell.

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and the horror of the disfigurement.

from Hiroshima Diary
Michihiko Hadhiya, M.D.

[From the entry for August 6]

Clad in drawers and undershirt, I was sprawled on the living room floor exhausted because I had just spent a sleepless night on duty as an air warden in my hospital.

Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me--and then another. So well does one recall little things that I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became brilliantly lit and I debated whether this light was caused by a magnesium flare or sparks from a passing trolley.

Garden shadows disappeared. The view where a moment before all had been so bright and sunny was now dark and hazy. Through swirling dust I could barely discern a wooden column that had supported one corner of my house. It was leaning crazily and the roof sagged dangerously.

Moving instinctively, I tried to escape, but rubble and fallen timbers barred the way. By picking my way cautiously I managed to reach the roka and stepped down into my garden. A profound weakness overcame me, so I stopped to regain my strength. To my surprise I discovered that I was completely naked. How odd! Where were my drawers and undershirt?

What had happened?

All over the right side of my body I was cut and bleeding. A large splinter was protruding from a mangled wound in my thigh, and something warm trickled into my mouth. My cheek was torn, I discovered as I felt it gingerly, with the lower lip laid wide open. Embedded in my neck was a sizable fragment of glass which I matter-of-factly dislodged, and with the detachment of one stunned and shocked I studied it and my blood-stained hand.

Where was my wife?

A small memorial to a monumental folly that we still try to think of reasons and ways to justify. We had entered into the age of almost unimaginable cruelty at the beginning of the century, but this marked a new plateau, a plateau that has stayed with us from that day to our own. A plateau that it were better had it never been reached.

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Authentic Religion

from Hammer and Fire Father Raphael Simon, OCSO

The human personality can only be transformed by truth, goodness, and beauty. Everyone seeks a real or apparent goodness. Everyone has an ultimate end which actuates his or her life, be it pleasure, self-enhancement, a career, service or goodness itself: God. This ultimate end is the person's religion. But there are false religions and true ones, authentic religions and inauthentic, a complete religion and incomplete religions. . . .

This book is about the authentic, the true, the beautiful and goodness itself--the true ultimate ground of human existence and development. That is known by true philosophy which has the full use of reason and is harmonious with science, but it is known even more by the Revelation of God, Who Himself is the sure ground of truth and goodness. Moreover He has the power to make known to humankind His own inner life, which He has done in sending us His Own Son, Jesus Christ and His Spirit.

The goal of the book is to outline a plan of transforming union with God and thus human happiness. The effectiveness of the book depends upon how well disposed one is to hear and implement the plan despite one's own inclinations to read another book on the same subject or watch another film on any subject in preference to what one really ought to be doing. Nevertheless, it is in the constant remember that one hears His voice and is brought back around to doing what one ought to do. Books such as this one serve the extremely important role of being border collies responding sensitively to the commands of the One True Shepherd. They harry one and nip at one's heels and assure one of the passage to home and safety--the way back to the Shepherd.

May it be so for me as I read it and for all of you who pick it up to try to follow the way back.

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Nuance and Ambiguity

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I have thought a bit about my tendency to overgeneralize, to leap to conclusions and I have concluded that it comes from my excessively strong "J" aspect personality. I like rules. I like black and white. I don't have much use for the myriad shades of grey, though I admit they exist. I don't care much for nuance in living.

Which is odd because in art I admire fruitful ambiguity--an ambiguity that is deliberate and which gives rise to multiple layers of meaning. But Art is not life, it is not about fashioning a rule-book. Properly done, Art is about discovering the rule-book, uncovering what has always been known through revelation, but making it new again. Art is mimetic, but it is ambiguous in a way that gets us to think and to consider.

There again, I go with the generalizations. Art is probably none of that, but great Art gets at that. Whatever the case may be, I love Art because of the insight I get into God and his mercy through it. I despise nuance because I see it too often misused to side-step the unpleasantness of moral requirements. If one spins it just right. . .

But it is useless to pretend that nuance does not exist and that every rule is always and everywhere exactly the same. It is comforting, but useless. But my role, as artist and even as poor thinker that I am, is to articulate the black and white and leave it up to better thinkers to fill in the shades of grey. We all have our roles, and mine the most humble, but it is mine and it is how I am constructed. No matter how I try, I will be looking for the black and white in everything--and I will accept gladly notification of the shades of grey others discover in between.

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About this Archive

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

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: July 2006 is the previous archive.

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