Christian Life/Personal Holiness: December 2006 Archives

"Be faithful in little things. . ."


I don't know that Blessed Dom Columba was particularly influenced by St. Therese, although he did write a notice supporting the cause of her beatification; however, their messages converge at several points. And I must conclude from this convergence that God chose that particular time in history to clarify the path to Him. For what reason, I cannot say, but it appears that these two great directors of souls really found one very simple way which we still have not come to terms with.

from Union with God
Blessed Dom Columba Marmion

Be faithful in little things, not out of meticulousness, but out of love. Do this to prove to Our Lord that you have the love of a spouse for HIm.


It is a question of giving the first moments of the day to Our Lord or to His enemy, and the whole day bears the reflection of this first choice.


Let us labor to give ourselves to Jesus in the person of others. That admits of much interior renunciation.

Although St. Therese remarked very little on the enemy of God, she certainly taught a lot about doing little things with great faithfulness. Extraordinary measures need not be taken--the ordinary round of life provides ample opportunity for holiness and sanctity. And one of our chief services may be a smile at someone who receives very few.

What these two great spiritual guides did was strip away prolixity, method, and the encrustation of routine. They demanded of themselves and of those who would accept the path they showed an authenticity and a presence that some prior spiritualities tended to obscure. These two stand as great servants of God in the present moment under the present circumstances in present company.

This is nothing new. Brother Lawrence taught sanctity among the pots and pans. St. Benedict's rule emphasizes the "ordinariness" of sanctifying the day.

But these two Saints expressed this simple truth in words for the time. Straightforward, direct, uncompromising--the two tell us in no uncertain terms that the path to holiness is not turning our steps a different direction as we go to market, but turning our hearts a different direction whichever way we go. A transformation of the heart and attentiveness to God in the details of the day is all the fuel we need to accept the Grace of God's omnipresence. We need do nothing extraordinary, we just need to be aware of how extraordinary every moment in His presence is; how every opportunity of the day is an opportunity for grace, peace, love, and security in His presence. He is in every second, every moment of every day. And every moment of every day is His special gift to us.

Generations of teachers have taught this, and still we go looking for the extraordinary. While it is exemplary practice to wake early and spend time in Eucharistic adoration, it is just as extraordinary to recognize Jesus in the presence of our coworkers and to greet Him.

Faithfulness in the small things--in preparing lunch for a hungry child, in taking time out to comfort a sorrowing friend, in smiling at a neighbor, in giving way in traffic although you have every right to continue, in letting God be present through you and in you in every encounter and interaction. Surrender, abandonment of self. And in this season, the abandonment of self to the hope of the Incarnation. We have the face of the baby Jesus to look upon and to delight in. We can join the chorus of the angels in His acclaim. We can sing,

"For unto us a son is given
and his name shall be called
wonderful, counselor, prince of peace, mighty god, holy one,

And it is on that last that we should spend a moment in mediation as we practice the direction of Blessed Columba and St. Therese. Emmanuel--"god with us." For indeed He is, in every moment, in every breath, in every person, in every event, in all that comes to us in the course of the day. Jesus, our Emmanuel, ever present, comforter, King and Brother. Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay, we await you moment by moment, let us see your face in each person who greets us, and more importantly let each person see your light shining out from us. Come, Lord Jesus.

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One of the great sins of the Catholic masses--I include myself among them--and one much in evidence in St. Blogs is the sin of presumption, in the ordinary or prideful sense of this word. I don't mean the presumption of God's grace and the assumption that one is somehow entitled to it, but rather the prideful assumption that one understands what is clearly beyond one's understanding.

I think of this particularly with respect to the "suspect theologians," Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner. von Balthasar is often accused, unwarrantedly in my opinion, of supporting a kind of Universalist heresy. Now, in my reading there is only one type of universalism that has incurred any anathema at all--that is sometimes referred to as "origenist." But I am by no means the authority on this or on all the subtleties surrounding it. However, there are many places around St. Blogs where I've read would-be experts condemning von Balthasar on the count of heresy. This seem presumptuous. It strikes me as odd that as intelligent as much of St. Blog's is, anyone here feels a sufficient depth of knowledge to condemn such a theologian. Perhaps it is so, but then it would be presumptuous of me even to be able to decide that much.

The other much maligned theologian is Karl Rahner who has been accused here and elsewhere of denying the real presence in the Eucharist. I'll be honest, I can't read three consecutive sentences of Rahner's in any form without being lulled into a possibly unending trance-like state. After the first sentence an impermeable membrane forms around the dura mater that threatens brain asphyxiation. But I have seen people arguing back and forth with a seeming understanding of the matter, and others standing by the wayside simply taking sides based their fluctuating opinions of the moment. Any such judgment strikes me as presumptuous--at least coming from those who have not been properly trained to read and understand these theologians.

However, we all sit in the place of armchair theologians from time to time. What I've discovered as I have occupied that coveted seat is that my personal likes and dislikes of either the author or perhaps something the author has penned that has nothing to do with the case in point often colors my perception. I think that may be true in broader circles. For example, I hear a lot of people warning others about the later works of Thomas Merton, and while there is a certain "easternization of thought" in the spirituality of the later books, I don't know that he ever abandoned the centrality of Jesus in faith. Even the Asian Journals strike me as clinging to the faith. But then, it would be presumptuous of me to say what his state of mind was one way or the other. Not everything that is written is indicative of the mindset of an individual as he or she struggles with issues.

So I guess I'm in favor of leaving the glorious high-throne of amateur theologizing and trusting the Vatican and their warnings--explicitly issued in the case of Anthony de Mello (although I truly don't understand the nature of the warning), but so far as I am aware, never even whispered in the case of Thomas Merton. We must, each of us, decide what will nurture us and what will lead us astray. It is possible that reading very orthodox, very reliable, very reputable, Saintly figures could just as easily lead some astray as would reading Meister Eckhart and others of the Devotio Moderna school. For example, reading Thomas Aquinas drives me to the point of despairing whether or not I'll ever become Christian much less Catholic. If being a good Catholic requires acceptance of all that, then I am in a lot of trouble. On the other hand, Thomas Merton, even the later, "questionable" Merton, causes hardly a ripple in the pond.

If one makes the assumption that all that is approved is necessarily good for all people, one has stumbled upon the borderlands of presumption. When one asserts it positively, one occupies the throne of the entire realm--at least for a moment.

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"Wachet Auf"


Although it has a certain end-times feel, it is still appropriate for those of us who slumber up to and through the great celebration of the Incarnation.

1. "Sleepers, wake!" the watch cry pealeth,
while slumber deep each eyelid sealeth:
Awake, Jerusalem, awake!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
and seraph-notes are onward rolling;
They call on us our part to take.
Come forth, ye virgins wise:
the Bridegroom comes, arise!
Each lamp be bright
with ready light
to grace the marriage feast tonight.

2. Zion hears the voice that singeth
with sudden joy her glad heart springeth,
at once she wakes, she stands arrayed:
her Light is come, her Star ascending,
lo, girt with truth, with mercy blending,
her Bridegroom there, so long delayed.
All hail! God's glorious Son,
all hail! our joy and crown,
The joyful call
we answer all,
and follow to the bridal hall.

3. Praise to him who goes before us!
Let men and angels join in chorus,
let harp and cymbal add their sound.
Twelve the gates, a pearl each portal:
we haste to join the choir immortal
within the Holy City's bound.
Ear ne'er heard aught like this,
nor heart conceived such bliss.
We raise the song,
we swell the throng,
to praise thee ages all along.
1. Wake, awake, for night is flying:
The watchmen on the heights are crying,
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,
He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.
Rise up, with willing feet,
Go forth, the Bridegroom meet:
Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,
Speed forth to join the marriage rite.

2. Sion hears the watchmen singing,
Her heart with deep delight is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom:
Forth her Bridegroom comes, all glorious,
In grace arrayed, by truth victorious;
Her Star is risen, her Light is come!
All hail, Incarnate Lord,
Our crown, and our reward!
We haste along, in pomp of song,
And gladsome join the marriage throng.

3. Lamb of God, the heavens adore thee,
And men and angels sing before thee,
With harp and cymbal's clearest tone.
By the pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder,
That echoes round thy dazzling throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such bliss and joy:
To raise the song, we swell the throng,
To praise thee ages all along. Amen.


1. Up! awake! from highest steeple
The watchmen cry, Awake, ye people;
O Salem, from thy slumber rise! —
Hear those clarion-voices knelling,
The hour of midnight loud forth-telling;
Say, where are ye, O Virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes; awake!
Up! lamp and lantern take;
With ready light ye must to-night
Go forth to join the marriage-rite.
2. Syon hears the watchmen sounding,
Her heart with deep delight is bounding;
Anon she wakes; away she wends:
Comes her Spouse from heav’n, all glorious,
In grace almight, in truth victorious;
Her light doth shine, her star ascends.
Jesu, our peerless Crown,
Strong Son of God, come down!
Fain will we all obey thy call,
And follow to the bridal-hall.
3. Glory unto thee in heaven
By men and Angel-tongues be given,
With harp and cymbal’s thrilling tone;
Syon hath twelve pearly portals,
Wherein, with Angel-quire, we mortals
On high may stand around thy throne:
Eye ne’er saw aught like this;
Ear ne’er heard tell such bliss;
And we therefore will thee adore,
And hymn thy praises evermore.

1. Wake, o wake! with tidings thrilling
the watchmen all the air are filling,
arise, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight strikes! no more delaying,
"The hour has come!" we hear them saying.
Where are ye all, ye virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes in sight,
raise high your torches bright!
Alleluia! The wedding song
swells long and strong:
go forth and join the festal throng.

2. Zion hears the watchmen shouting,
her heart leaps with joy undoubting,
she stands and waits with eager eyes;
adorned with truth and grace unending!
Her light burns clear, her star doth rise.
Now come, thou precious Crown,
Lord Jesus, God's own Son!
Hosanna! Let us prepare
to follow there,
where in thy supper we may share.

3. Every soul in thee rejoices;
from men and angelic voices
be glory given to thee alone!
Thy presence never more shall leave us,
we stand with angels round thy throne.
Earth cannot give below
the bliss thou dost bestow.
Alleluia! Grant us to raise
to length of days,
the triumph-chorus of thy praise.

No matter which translation, the message is the same. Wake up. Become aware. Rise from sleep. Light the lamps and prepare the feast, the Bridegroom approaches. Indeed, He approaches, soon as a babe in a manger, soon as the Son of Man riding on the clouds in glory. Awake, awake--see the lights that decorate the houses and see in them the One light that decorates each of our houses, that lights our soul from within so that light spills out into all the world. Awake!

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The One True End


from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon O.S.C.O.

From this account of prayer, we can readily understand its subsidiary value as mental hygiene, and for the resolution of certain mental and emotional problems.

. . . It makes us understand how sublime and noble this end is, and how efficacious are the means. From this comes a spirit of security and confidence, based not upon our own strength but upon the omnipotence and mercy of the Father and upon the help of His grace.

Everything in our life and contacts falls within the compass of this purpose without any distortion or unreality. . . because the purpose of our existence and the existence of the universe is the union of our soul with the Father. The wholehearted pursuit of an end that is able to integrate our entire life makes for an integrated personality and mental health.

[boldface is my own emphasis.] (Go tell Tom that you want Hammer and Fire for Christmas)

Our end, the end of every single person is wholehearted love of God. And it is mind-boggling--the universe exists that this end might be achieved. In thinking about the Christ who is to come, and the Child who already sanctified time, it is awe-inspiring to think that all that is is so that we might love Him better.

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Our True End

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It is in forgetting our true end that most people make the most grievous mistakes in the spiritual life.

While I can't say must for Fr. Simon's verbal felicity or style, the home truths he tells are worth hearing again and again:

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon O.C.S.O.

Through persevering mental prayer, the obstacles to our happiness in God are overcome. These are, on the part of the intellect, forgetfulness of our end and purpose, of eternity and the eternal truths, and forgetfulness or ignorance of ourselves, of our motives, desires, and preoccupations, which, more than we may realize are weaning our heart from God and turning hearts unduly to the things of the world.

Besides these obstacle on the part of the intellect, others on the part of the will and affections are also overcome by unremitting mental prayer. Beside the light to know our Supreme Good and ourselves we need the strength to redirect our energies to this Good and away from what is useless, harmful or dangerous to us. We need to overcome worldliness, the undue love of honor, dignity, power, riches, comfort and all forms of selfishness and sin. This mental prayer accomplishes through arousing in us our natural and supernatural powers by directing them to their true ends and objects, and by drawing divine help and strength into our minds and hearts.

In a word, selfishness is the greatest obstacle to peace in God. Selfishness is a very natural condition, a condition in which humanity finds itself not from desire but from uncertainty. It takes a great spiritual maturity to even begin to step away from selfishness. Moreover, even a small step is impossible without the constant aid and support of grace.

The great Saints may have grown to the point where they were able to toddle unaided; but most ordinary people never reach the toddler stage in the spiritual life while here on Earth. That is part of knowing ourselves. Of ourselves we can do nothing, neither stumble nor even crawl toward Grace. We can only choose to fall. But with God all things are possible. He wrought salvation out of a quarrelsome, fragmented, conquered, and humiliated people. He brought a child forth from a Virgin's womb, still preserving in every way her virginity. There is nothing that is beyond Him, and we wait to look upon his face, to see Him as that precious child born more than 2000 years ago in a conquered state amongst an oppressed people.

Come, Lord Jesus. Do not delay.

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I love this reading because of the productive ambiguity that stems from ancient sources having no consistent means of punctuation. Shall we read this

A voice cries out
In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord?

Or shall we read it

A voice cries out in the wilderness
prepare ye the way of the Lord?

Either is a valid way to read it. One more directly refers to the mission of John the Baptist; but the other may be more appropriate for life in the modern world. People in the modern world live in the wilderness of modernism and postmodernism. They live in the wilderness of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion; a wilderness of self. They live in a wilderness, wandering alone, without God.

It is given to those who know God, however slightly, to proclaim Him in this wilderness, to make a way for Him in the midst of selfishness and blight, to prepare souls to receive Him.

This is done by welcoming a child, with all that comes from such a welcome--openness, genuine love, joy, peace, tranquility. In a season that the modern world has come to make the apotheosis of disorder, disunity, and chaos, it is time to recreate the still, calm pool that was that night at Bethlehem when Mary bore us all a son.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.

7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,
upon the throne of David,
and upon his kingdom, to order it,
and to establish it with judgment and with justice
from henceforth even for ever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

We are privileged to be the courtiers of the great King, the servants of the Most High, of this Prince whose reign is over all forever. We have seen the great light, and like mirrors we are called to reflect and multiply it in the darkness that we live in. We do this in His own wisdom and strength, in His own virtue.

We await His coming, we await the little Child and He who is to come in Glory, treading of the clouds and separating sheep from goats, wheat from chaff. He who is to come, who loves and desire all to come to Him. O, Lord Jesus, come swiftly.

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Two Ways of Avoiding Sin

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It seems that there are at least two reasonable ways to avoid sin, one, to my mind more desirable than the other.

This came up as I heard a news story about a young woman who had been arrested for taking small amounts of money as she had access to a company safe. I thought, "I would never do that." But then it occurred to me why I wouldn't--I would fear being caught. If I could do it in the absolute certainty that I would not be caught, I cannot say that I would have so firm a conviction as to my integrity. I'm pretty certain that it wouldn't cross my mind; however, the fact that I could consider it suggests that there is always the possibility.

Fear of being caught is the first means of avoiding sin. It is certainly effective for those things that are public and noticeable, but it is a poor means of combatting sins that are private and known but to oneself and God. Still, it crosses most of the big things off the list for us--murder, theft, adultery, even vandalism.

The better way of avoiding sin is for the desire, temptation, or thought of doing it never to cross one's mind at all. For most of us murder, armed robbery, vandalism, direct theft fall into this category. In my right mind I would never consider any of these things--and for me the concept of adultery is just mind boggling--it's more than I can do to manage and maintain reasonable relations with just one woman, the thought of two or more is simply an enigma beyond consideration for me. I think each of us has these places of natural strength and they differ by person. And they are not impregnable--rather they are simply stronger areas in our defenses. Left on our own, we can fail in ways that we simply can't imagine. Fortunately, God does not leave us on our own. He strengthens our defenses and make the feasible unthinkable.

By far it is better if the very thought of a possible sin never crosses one's mind, if one were, in some sense, innocent of the concept that such an act were possible. However, in the absence of that innocence, fear of the Lord, fear of being caught is a sufficient deterrent when strengthened by Grace.

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The Incarnation--Baptism of History


It is said that when Jesus received baptism, its effect was the obverse of the usual--rather than Jesus being cleansed of sin, because he had none, the waters of the world were made capable of this sacramental ability because of the power that went forth from Him and charged them to do so. In a sense the Baptism of Jesus was in effect, the baptism of the waters for all of us.

Like wise, when Jesus entered time, our linear perception of events, time became baptized in the waters of eternity. That is, time as we understand it and eternity had always existed together. A privileged few were given the ability to "enter into Eternity" and communicate directly with God. In the Old Testament, most of these were noted as "having a portion of His Spirit." In the New Testament, with the birth of Christ, eternity opened up in the here and now for all to enter into. Through Jesus Christ every person has been given the invitation to approach the Father more closely and love Him more dearly. In contemplation, we are given the privilege of entering for a time into God's timelessness and being there with Him. We speak of "spending time with God." In actuality, we "spend timelessness with God"-- in the ordinary realm of things, linear time marches on, but in our prayer, we are engaged in eternity and time has no real meaning.

This is the gift of Jesus Christ in the incarnation. Not the sum total of the gift, but one of the many aspects of the Divine that are now brought to intrude daily into the life of the believer. God no longer communicates only through one or two chosen prophets or priests--although He continues that mode of communication as well. Now God has chosen to open the doors to all--to allow all people to enter into eternity even as they live.

Sadly, most people choose not to do so. They don't really understand the nature of the gift or what it is they are supposed to do with it. But the entry into Eternity, those sublime moments of prayer, be they in private or in the celebration of the Mass, they are revivifying. If we deprive ourselves too long of them, our lives become wan and sere, dominated by the concerns of the only world we choose to know in any detail.

When Jesus entered into history, it can be said that History entered into the heart of Jesus. We all walk a road that leads directly to the Father, if we only choose to allow His grace to be the predominant force in our lives.

So we continued the advent journey and reflect on the manifold mysteries of the incarnation--that what is all Power and all Time chooses to become human so that what is human may become all Power and all Time even for a time while living. Christ entered history so that we might enter through Him into eternity and that we might become His servants and doormen--showing others the way to the Father.

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About this Archive

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

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

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: January 2007 is the next archive.

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