Christian Life/Personal Holiness: November 2006 Archives

What We Owe God, and Why

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From Fr. Luis of Granada:

from The Sinner's Guide
Fr. Luis of Granada

The design of this book being to win men to virtue, we shall begin by showing our obligation to practice virtue because of the duty we owe to God. God being essentially goodness and beauty, there is nothing more pleasing to Him than virtue, nothing He more earnestly requires. Let us first seriously consider upon what grounds God demands this tribute from us.

But as these are innumerable, we shall only treat of the six principal motives which claim for God all that man is or all that man can do. The first; the greatest, and the most inexplicable is the very essence of God, embracing His infinite majesty, goodness, mercy, justice, wisdom, omnipotence, excellence, beauty, fidelity, immutability, sweetness, truth, beatitude, and all the inexhaustible riches and perfections which are contained in the Divine Being.

This quotation came to me today in a time of struggling to focus, and it made sense for the day, this being Christ the King.

It's an odd thing but the through and through American Baptist Church always seemed to me to have a better sense of what this feast is about than does most of the Catholic Church. Baptists seem to understand the concept of absolute sovereignty with noblesse oblige. Protestants in general tend, if anything, to overemphasize the concept of sovereignty, neglecting the fact that we always have the right to reject His rule, possibly for eternity. Nevertheless, if there's anything a Calvinist knows and responds to it is the sovereignty of God. Catholics, oddly considering all their ritual, seem to be a more casual people God may be sovereign, but that doesn't really mean much of anything. We are more on the terms of the importunate widow--and as a general thing, that's probably a good thing because it is a closer and more reasonable approach to the God who loves us. But it is also good to have a day to remind us of His Kingship and what that means for us.

So I'm grateful today for Luis of Granada and his reminder that we should not sin firstly because it offends justice, the justice of the God he goes on to describe. Now, why in the world would we even consider such an offense?

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Could there be any more pathetic image than sheep without a shepherd? Sheep are a true example of the herd-mind, not one of them can do anything if all of them do not decide to do it and because they are sheep none of them has the sense to decide anything at all. Even cows are smarter than sheep who will stand and be plucked off one by one by a predator because they simply don't know any better.

Add "sheep without a shepherd" to the answer to the question "Am I my brother's keeper?" and you have the point of compassion. In fact, each of us is responsible for the people around us. We are all the images of Christ. Each of us an image in miniature. If so, then we are each shepherds of a small flock, a small number of people with whom we come in contact and interact every day. It is part of our vocation to holiness to the the shepherds, the tenders, the ones who care for, feed, and guide to the extent possible our brothers and sisters. And like the Good Shepherd we need to do so in truth and in love.

Love is not love without the truth. Compassion is telling the truth in love. Part of this truth-telling is a matter of timing. We don't sit down with the woman who is mourning her divorce and tell her that if she hadn't slept around before marriage, she would have had a better chance. We don't scold the woman who is mourning the abortion that made her sterile by reminding her of the sin--she's already learned the truth, now it is time for compassion and support.

The truths of Christianity can sometimes be very hard truths. Sometimes it is difficult to understand that one cannot do evil that good might come of it. It seems reasonable and logical that if by breaking one person you can save twenty-thousand it is something you ought to do. But "the good of the many exceeds the good of the one," is a principle that may only be chosen, not forced upon a person. If my personal sacrifice might save twenty-thousand, then it is legitimate--but I may not choose to sacrifice another that the twenty-thousand are saved. These are hard truths.

Compassion is about loving our brothers and sisters and speaking the truth in love. More often than not, we need not use words to speak the truth. With a sympathetic ear and a loving heart, they will often work out for themselves where and what went wrong. And our duty and privilege is to be there to help them live through the consequences and set out on a new path where similar things will not happen.

Compassion also extends to loving those who haven't the means or opportunities we have. Some desperate situations are not the choice of the person involved, but the result of societal conditions prevelant in the area. The starving poor of Bombay, Calcutta, or Appalachia do not choose this situation for themselves. In a sense, there is no truth to speak here except that they are beloved children of God. To speak that truth, we must find a way to feed and care for those who do not have enough for themselves. Some theories of government suggest that this is a governmental enterprise. But the Christian truth is that it is our responsibility. The sad truth is that most of us, regardless of our view of the government, do rely upon the government to support these people. As a result, the people never really feel compassion, merely obligation.

We are each sheep and shepherds. Those who know a bit more and understand a bit better are obligated in a greater way--"To those to whom much has been given, much will be expected in return." That means most of us at St. Blogs have a greater obligation than the majority of humankind. Most of us living in the wealthiest and most privileged nation on Earth are required to give of that wealth to help our brothers and sisters. And this giving should not come through the involuntary redistribution of wealth that is our tax-and-spend government system, but through our direct encounter with the needs of those around us who have less.

Compassion is reaching out in love. Shepherding requires sacrifice--sacrifice of time, energy, money, even of self in some sense--that the sheep may prosper grow and follow the right path. Think of our obligation as a kind of peer shepherding. Responding to the call of the One Good Shepherd we, though sheep ourselves, take upon us the duty to shepherd those even less aware of the divine. It is a hard job and not one that is particularly well-paying or recompensed in any way. Indeed, we are often despised and hated for doing it. Nevertheless, it does not remove from us the obligation to serve as we have been served, to be Christ for brother and sister, and to do it personally in whatever way God has given us the strength and wisdom to do.

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The Saddest Story I Ever Heard

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Okay, so it's an exaggeration. But not much of one.

Overheard in the office this morning, a young lady who had just returned from her honeymoon:

"So, how is it?"

"It's great. You know, it isn't any different."

This is a sad, sad statement. Married life IS different, or at least it should be. And if it is not, it is not because our society has given us license so that it might not be so. What happened to the excitement of getting and being married? Is it any wonder that wedded bliss amongst those who live together before marriage is much more likely to come to an end through divorce?

Marriage is not a cornucopia of bliss, but neither is it "the same as it ever was." If the marriage is sacramental, the two become one and it is in that yoking that both strive to live the life God has envisioned for them.

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Praise God in His Holy Places

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I wrote what is below for a blogger depressed by election results, I thought it bore repeating, though I've already said much the same thing here today.

My point was that we may have precisely what we deserve; however, even in this God's will is done. And even though it is not His perfect and Ordained will, I will rejoice in His hand in this and in all things because we do not know how He will turn it to good.

To see it as anything other than God's will is the road to being depressed, but there's nothing to be depressed about--if things turn out as you say, then they will change with the changing of the times. If they do not, then we've spent today in tears over a tomorrow that never comes.

All I want to say, is don't lose heart, turn to God, pray and restore what was lost in the process. I wasn't faulting you for an opinion, nor do I fault the attitude, I just want to point out what a waste it is. This is the moment for prayer, the perfect time to turn to God and say, "So what's up with that, Lord? Nevertheless, not my will, but thy will be done--show me what I can do to ameliorate the consequences."

I know, you don't want to hear it at this time, but that's the time you most need to hear it. Prayer heals all wounds, even these great ones. It heals all ills. God is God alone and Lord of All--what He has fashioned we cannot undo and what He undoes we strive in vain to renew. But we can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

That's my message to depressed Christians today. Pray, pray, pray. Remember this and pray that God raises up Godly leaders who will lead us rather than be led by us.

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On my way into work this morning I was listening to a "Christian Music Station." I've developed this habit after hearing just too much on nearly every other station that I didn't want to try to explain to Sam and growing tired of the same CDs and being made agitated by the road noises.

Now, the Christian Music station is solidly evangelical with a very cordial relationship with Catholic listeners. But I noticed that certain things about the language and bearing of the station chafed. For example, they were talking much this morning about how a new station out on the East Coast joined their family of stations and how they were growing the ministry and they had prayed and prayed and prayed for a station out in Brevard County.

As I listened to this I thought, "Yeah, yeah. Like God cares if there's a new Christian Music station out in Palm Bay or wherever the heck it is." And "God really wants us to pray for a new radio station. That's a really good use of our time."

And then I thought about it. How arrogant and shortsighted it is of me to consider these things unworthy of prayer or unworthy of the work of people. If I believe that many at the station regard this as a real ministry--and it's hard to judge sincerity, but I do believe that they honestly mean what they're saying--then why wouldn't God want to intervene there as well as in the personal life of an individual or the political life of a country. There is nothing that is beneath His interest, nothing that passes out of His concern. All that is is because He allows it to be so.

What came from this chain of thought is that I need to radically alter my view of God's involvement in the life of the world. He is intimately entangled in every matter, completely involved in every matter that concerns us. His motions are visible in the things that happen around us and there is nothing, nothing whatsoever that He is not interested in if we are interested in it. There may be things He would rather us not be interested in and part of surrender is giving those over; however, every matter is a matter for prayer, and every motion is better determined by a length of prayer beforehand. Yes, God did care about "growing the music ministry of the radio station" and yes, God does care about the constitution of the House and Senate, and yes, God does care if we add a swimming pool to our house or plant daisies and tulips. Not all matters rise to top priority, but as a Good Father, a loving Father, He is interested by the little baubles we show Him. He is interested ultimately in each of us coming and talking about whatever is on our minds--childish though it may seem. And unlike us, He is infinitely patient with our scattered, wandering selves, infinitely interested, infinitely loving, oohing and ahhing over all that we present, occasionally taking from our hands the jellyfish or scorpion we were stupid enough to pick up and bring to Him.

God does care. About us, about everything that concerns us. He cares, intimately, infinitely, eternally. Because God is simple, He cares about everything with all that He is--no matter is too small or too unimportant to talk to Him about. And He is always waiting, patiently waiting for us to come to Him, with fingerpaintings or with the booboos we get from trying to do what we ought not. A loving father with an infinite heart of goodness. Talk to Him.

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The Election

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Listening to Bohislav Martinu's (pardon--don't even know the name of the accent mark over the "U" to try to reproduce) symphony No. 3 put me in mind of what most people are going through today. And it matches the Florida weather. Grey, somewhat oppressive, rising to a joy here and there that is brought back down to Earth and to its formative elements.

Zippy's reasoning provided ample justification for not voting; however, we are guided in part by our consciences and it simply isn't possible for me not to assume my part in the franchise. It is too terrible an abdication of responsibility. Moreover, I would have missed out on the opportunity to at least register my intention to give the boot to four supreme court justices who saw as the highest good the absolute sovereignty of husband over wife in the absence of any documentary evidence to support his assertions.

However, I did reconcile my doubts because in some races I simply didn't vote, and in others, the new touch-screen system has made it very easy to write in alternatives. NOTA won't mean much to very many, but it will register the fact that we need new and real choices--real men and women capable of leadership, not merely of kowtowing to the demands of a society that has lost its mind.

And I've spent time in prayer for all those going to make a choice today that they may be guided by the Holy Spirit. This afternoon, with the Divine Mercy, I intend to add to those intention the desire of my heart in politics--that God should give us worthy leaders, not the leadership we have come to deserve.

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The Wages of Sin


One of the things that isn't said often enough about the effects of sin is the effect sin has on the will.

Habitual sinning, even when one is unaware of the action as a sin, has the dual effect of warping and hence weakening the will. In a sense, sinning is the Christian equivalent of being a couch-potato. The will is strengthened in its capacity when it operates in accordance with the grace given it to act in the manner God has commanded. When a person sins the will is struck a blow and weakened. Grace prevails in the sacrament of reconciliation and the will can be restored through careful and prayerful practice and discipline within the strengthening grace of God.

However, when one falls into habitual sin, one refuses to exercise the faculties of the will in the manner they are meant to be. One in effect resigns oneself to life on the couch in front of the TE. But worse, like a tapeworm, habitual sin leads to a lassitude (in spiritual terms sometimes referred to as Sloth) that makes one torpid and, in fact, virtually unable to do anything to find one's way out of the pit. So lax has the reliance upon grace grown that one forgets that it even exists and that it is indeed the only way out.

I can't imagine that this is a problem for most St. Bloggers, but it is a problem with most of society. Society does not exist as an entity, but were it so, we could accuse it of this sloth. However, the zeitgeist does directly influence the individual and the weltanschauung established by that same spirit of the times is also highly influential. Societal sin does not accrue to the individual but it does shape the environment in which a person forms and from which a person derives essential understandings.

None of which is to excuse the person who abandons the practice of will in the light of grace for the pursuit of pleasure, which often means following ones own desires. Practicing will in the light of Grace is weightlifting; pursuing one's desires is shifting from one buttock to another as the seat cushions get uncomfortable--certainly not formative exercise.

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Praying for our Representation


Following on the post below, and thinking about Zippy's reflections on voting and participatory government, it occurs to me that we may have precisely the government we deserve and precisely the set of laws and occurrences we have merited.

How many people actually pray before voting? More importantly, how many make it a daily offering to pray for better representation, for people who will support the fullness of Catholic doctrine in every decision they make?

Zippy points out, or someone did, that so long as we are constantly choosing the lesser of two evils, we are still choosing evil and constantly lowering the bar. Once upon a time our elected officials had the decency to make the attempt to cover up their extra-marital affairs, at least they were truly and properly ashamed of them. With Mr. Clinton we reached a new low of someone who was ashamed and abashed at having been caught. And so it goes, onward and downward.

And so it will continue until we all take very seriously our responsibility to pray God to raise us up men of virtue and strength who will take "unpopular" positions and make them popular. That is, after all, what leadership is about. It is about uniting the refractory. I think of Ronald Reagan who is reviled ex post facto by all and sundry, but during his Presidency one heard nary a peep--a few words about Voodoo economics, but not much else. Unfortunately, he didn't use that charisma to greatest effect, but he did momentarily slow the slide down the slippery slope.

Now is the time to pray for God to raise up ardent, believing, Christian politicians--a veritable hoard of Mr. Smith's who will go and stand in Washington against the cultural slide that is all but pervasive.

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From Evil Comes Evil


From, A Penitent Blogger, a useful reminder:

The scary truth is that evil actions always have evil results even when there was not evil intent or when there was an impeccable excuse.

It should therefore be no surprise that the world around us is piled high with the evil effects of innumerable evil deeds - ours and others. Both the deliberate and the well-intentioned evils of humanity have woven a web of evil consequences that a thousand years of altruism alone could not undo.

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On Spiritual Gluttony

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Being a Carmelite can be difficult. Heck, let's face it, it is difficult. The dedication to a life of prayer is all well and good, but it is ethereal and a matter of grace overcoming the tendency one might have to seek more sensible satisfaction.

from Dark Night of the Soul Book 1 Chapter 6
St. John of the Cross

[On Spiritual Gluttony]

2. Such individuals are unreasonable and most imperfect. They subordinate submissiveness and obedience (which is a penance of reason and discretion, and consequently a sacrifice more pleasing and acceptable to God) to corporeal penance. But corporeal penance without obedience is no more than a penance of beasts. And like beasts, they are motivated in these penances by an appetite for the pleasure they find in them. Since all extremes are vicious and since by such behavior these persons are doing their own will, they grow in vice rather than in virtue. For through this conduct they at least become spiritually gluttonous and proud, since they do not tread the path of obedience. The devil, increasing the delights and appetites of these beginners and thereby stirring up this gluttony in them, so impels many of them that when they are unable to avoid obedience they either add to, change, or modify what was commanded. Any obedience in this matter is distasteful to them. Some reach such a point that the mere obligation of obedience to perform their spiritual exercises makes them lose all desire and devotion. Their only yearning and satisfaction is to do what they feel inclined to do, whereas it would be better in all likelihood for them not to do this at all.

3. Some are very insistent that their spiritual director allow them to do what they themselves want to do, and finally almost force the permission from him. And if they do not get what they want, they become sad and go about like testy children. They are under the impression that they do not serve God when they are not allowed to do what they want. Since they take gratification and their own will as their support and their god, they become sad, weak, and discouraged when their director takes these from them and desires that they do God's will. They think that gratifying and satisfying themselves is serving and satisfying God. . . .

6. They have the same defect in their prayer, for they think the whole matter of prayer consists in looking for sensory satisfaction and devotion. They strive to procure this by their own efforts, and tire and weary their heads and their faculties. When they do not get this sensible comfort, they become very disconsolate and think they have done nothing. Because of their aim they lose true devotion and spirit, which lie in distrust of self and in humble and patient perseverance so as to please God. Once they do not find delight in prayer, or in any other spiritual exercise, they feel extreme reluctance and repugnance in returning to it and sometimes even give it up. For after all, as was mentioned,1 they are like children who are prompted to act not by reason but by pleasure. All their time is spent looking for satisfaction and spiritual consolation; they can never read enough spiritual books, and one minute they are meditating on one subject and the next on another, always hunting for some gratification in the things of God. God very rightly and discreetly and lovingly denies this satisfaction to these beginners. If he did not, they would fall into innumerable evils because of their spiritual gluttony and craving for sweetness. This is why it is important for these beginners to enter the dark night and be purged of this childishness.2

Perhaps everyone longs for some surety of the effectiveness of communication; looks for some sign that the message has been received and acknowledged; looks for some hint that love sent out is returned.

In the matter of prayer, such longings are not to be trusted. In fact, in the matter of prayer, such longings are a temptation away from prayer. If one enters prayer with the notion that one needs to "get something out of it," one will fail every time because there will come a time when nothing sensible does come out of it.

But there are several reasons why this attitude is wrong. If someone were invited to a friend's house for a quiet cup of tea (coffee) and a sit out on the back porch watching the world go by, most would not immediately ask, "What will I get out of it?" This simply isn't the way most people look at friendship. Time is spent because it is profitable, in ways untold, to spend the time. If one's fiancé said, "Let's go for a walk" most people would not ask, "What can I expect from it? Will I know that you love me more by the end of it?" Why then, when it comes to prayer, are expectations so different? In prayer, one is invited to spend time with the Bridegroom of the Soul, the closest, most intimate friend anyone will ever have. But the attitude many, if not most, strike is, "Show me how this will be good for me."

Or think of the matter in another way. When one has been spending a great deal of time in physical training, one doesn't enter the weight room with the expectation that there will be any sensible difference by the time one leaves. In fact, if one is wise, one doesn't really desire any sensible difference because the difference one is more likely than not to sense will be pain. So with prayer, the constant practice of which is remotely analogous to weight-training, one does it to maintain one's grace-won place in the Kingdom, not to "be promoted" to Sainthood. The purpose of prayer is not to earn a place at the right hand of God, but to remain in the place that God's grace has fashioned for one. That, in itself, is the life of heroic sanctity--to advance in holiness, to advance in being what God would have one be, to weed out all imperfection from life and to move as God would have one move. These are achieved not through the sensible satisfactions of prayer, but through simple and humble obedience, humility, and gratitude. One advances not by advancing, but by remaining precisely where God would have one be and not questioning one's station but accepting the will of God in the matter of one's place in the kingdom.

Spiritual Gluttony, the desire to sniff out the sensible consolations of prayer and focus on them, stands in the way of accepting God's will. It amounts to saying, "So long as you do what I like, I shall visit. But as soon as you stop paying out the wealth of your generosity, I shall seek other venues for satisfaction." The desire for sensation overpowers the desire to serve and to be with Our Lord to the detriment of each person who succumbs and of all the people that surround them. Prayer is not about sensible consolation, but about obedience, humility, gratitude, and joy in the presence of an intimate friend.

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About this Archive

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

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

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