Christian Life/Personal Holiness: January 2007 Archives

Traffic and Grace

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Following on my recurrent theme of "you find God in anything," an odd notion occurred to me this evening of the drive home.

I've already explained that I bought a new car that has this neat little gadget that let's you see how your driving affects your gas mileage. This has been a sort of obsession over the past several weeks as I compete with myself in driving to increase the gas mileage. No reason, just want to. Well, my focus is entirely upon the road and making the trip smoother, no lead-foot starts, no screeching stops (pressing the brakes charges the motor battery, so it's good to glide to a stop). What I've discovered in the course of this single-minded pursuit is that things that really bugged me in traffic before don't bother me nearly so much. I don't care about the driver who just has to be ahead of everyone. I no longer have any impulse to race up the ramp just to get in front of someone who I think might go a mile or two too slow to suit me. It's the Nirvana of driving.

So it seems is the life of God. When your entire focus is on Him, the things other people do don't bother you so much. In fact, you may even find that there is more pity than anger as you realize the knots they twist themselves into. Things in the world fall away as you watch that needle climb knowing that you need only cooperate with grace and your "mileage" as it were would increase. There is no competition beyond that you make for yourself--to approach closer and closer to God.

If I get this much relief with the mere hassle of traffic, what must it be like when you off-load all of those extraneous cares and worries. Everything goes by the wayside other than that arrow-straight approach to God. All the other things fall into place and life is more pleasant and perfect. In short, we start to live our Heaven here on Earth.

Lord, let it be so for all those who love you.

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Insight from Brian Moore

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For a lapsed Catholic, Brian Moore has a good deal to tell those of us who remain staunchly within the confines of the Church:

from Cold Heaven
Brian Moore

"I don't believe in God. I am your opposite," Marie said. "Happiness, for me, is knowing that I am in charge of my own life, that I can do as I choose. Don't you see that you're a victim, as I am a victim? What sort of love is it that's withdrawn from someone as good as you, sending you into despair? What sort of love could I possibly feel for a force which has done these things to me and to my husband?"

The room was still. The question hung in the air. Then Mother St. Jude said, "I know nothing of God's intentions. But I can tell you what St. John of the Cross has written. 'I am not made or unmade by the things which happen to me but by my reaction to them. That is all God cares about.' Do you understand, Marie?"

"No," Marie said. "No, I don't."

The old nun took Marie's hand in hers. "If Reverend Mother orders me to do something, I do it, not because I want to, or because I think it is right. I do it because she represents Christ in our community. It is Christ who commands me. St. John tells us that to do things because you want to do them or because you think they are right are simply human considerations. He tells us that obedience influenced by human considerations is almost worthless in the eyes of God. I obey--always--because God commands me." She smiled. "So I am not a victim, Marie. . . ."

In the matter of Church teaching is this our first thought? I have received a word from the Vicar of Christ on Earth--his word requires special consideration for me because it is God speaking through him. Now, it is always possible that in prudential matters a fallible human has misjudged and so might be wrong. However, I find it more likely that one who is truly seeking to follow God is more likely to be attuned to His Will even in prudential matters. That is, one who spends much time with God seems a more trustworthy guide than one who spends very little time.

However, I often see critiques of encyclicals and teachings that seem more designed to deconstruct them and make them a matter of personal preference rather than a matter for obedience. I will admit (again) that I rant and rave, but I take a certain amount of comfort from the parable in which Jesus asks which son has done the Father's will--the one who says yes and stays at home in comfort and leisure, or the one who says no, but goes out to work the fields as his Father requested. I may rant and rave, but by God's will, I am eventually able to say yes and enter those fields once again.

Accepting another's will is not easy, particularly when we've become overly used to "things as they are." But like that mysterious blue guitar of Wallace Stevens, "Things as they are are changed" when the vicar of Christ or those who wield legitimate authority over us in the spiritual realm promulgate a teaching. It is our duty and responsibility to understand a teaching from the magisterium and to the extent possible incorporate that understanding into our own way of living out the Christian vocation. And, there is a certain comfort in knowing that God has laid a special responsibility on the shoulders of those who watch over us:

Ezekiel 33:2-6, KJV

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:

If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;

Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.

If the watchman sees evil and does not identify it and people fall because of it, they fall because of iniquity, but the fault lies with the watchman. However, if he does see and reports it and we choose to ignore what he has reported, then we fail of ourselves, and he is considered innocent.

The shepherds of souls have enormous responsibilities before God. And I have no doubt that this responsibility is always made manifest. Therefore, it is not in their best interest to issue ill-conceived, inappropriate, or miscalculated teachings in the matter of faith and morals. The teachings may be insufficient at times--perhaps unclear. But knowing the terrible responsibility of the shepherding of souls, and knowing that they will account for all those they have lost, I see that the teaching of the Church is to be trusted as a faithful guide. While I may not always understand why the truth is as it is, I know that I can trust it because my obedience is to those in legitimate authority. They speak with God's voice.

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Following in the line of my much "admired" and frequently sited "award-winning" "Devotional Reading of H. P. Lovecraft," I present for your delectation and delight and short excursion into In the Court of the Crimson King. Partly this was driven by the discovery of Robert Fripp's magnificent Pie Jesu album, which is apparently a compilation of other bits and pieces. And there are frequent hints throughout his oeuvre of a religious background if not of a religious feeling. Working on the premise that God uses great art often despite the intentions of the artist, I present this consideration of the first song on In the Court of the Crimson King.

I have no idea who composed the lyrics for this song, but as Fripp was always a leader of the group, no matter how many people swirled around it at a time, and considering that the album is a work of musical genius, we can find in it the fingerprint of the Creator. (All one needs to do is squint and look hard enough.) {Also a caveat: I won't pretend that this is a profound musicological understanding of the work as a whole--I haven't the background for that. I work with words, and so it is the interplay of the words and the music that I shall try to look at and open up for you what I see there.)

For our first class let's consider the first song: "21st Century Schizoid Man." For those who have not heard it, it is a rather grating introduction (as befits the subject matter) to a magnificent album. There is a very astringent guitar line with a voice altered in some way to create the sense of growling or screaming. The song proceeds for the first two verses indicated below in a very rigid, tense semi-melodic line--yes, there's a sort of tune to it, though I don't think one would typify it as hummable.

21st Century Schizoid Man
Robert Fripp/Ian McDonald/Greg Lake/Michael Giles/Peter Sinfield

Cat's foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
At paranoia's poison door
21st century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire
Politician's funeral pyre
Innocence [Innocents?] raped with napalm fire
21st century schizoid man

Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed*
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man

Now, if you haven't heard the song, you need to know that the first three lines of each stanza should be read as accented/stanzaic poetry in which there is a pause in the middle of the line--very common to Celtic Epic Poetry. Thus the effect is

Cat's foot
Iron Claw
Neurosurgeons
Scream for more
at Paranoia's
poisoned door
21st Century Schizoid Man.

This detail merely contributes to the image of the song. In addition, this first stanza (as well as the title) give us the immediate indication that whoever the Crimson King is, his court is not a thing of the past, but a very modern, very relevant occurrence. This is in opposition to some of the songs that follow in which there is a vaguely medieval or ethereal sense to what is happening. "I Talk to the Wind" seems a perfectly appropriate follow-up to this song, because to whom else will a schizoid (who, as we shall see, experiences a total psychotic break) talk to?

After the first two stanzas of this song, the music enters into a instrumental break that initially takes the form of a fugue, mimicking the state of some schizoid patients. The saxophone and guitar take off on their own and begin chasing one another in a free-form jazz mode. Initially the structure is quite tight, but the fugue state breaks down to bring about the musical equivalent of a total psychotic episode.

The patient recovers briefly--long enough for the final stanza, which may be the key stanza of the whole song, and perhaps one of the keys to the entire album:

"Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man"

And within this one line on which hangs much of my thought about this as a fundamentally religious song--"Nothing he's got, he really needs." At once a biting criticism of modern society and the true schizoid state of the person who is a materialist and who has acquired all that he has through the pain and hardship of others and still seeks to fill the emptiness inside. None of it will. Ever. It cannot. You cannot put gold into the hole in your soul. And everything you acquire trying to fill that emptiness only rips the hole wider until it becomes a wound at the surface of the mind--the materialist becomes a schizoid personality, constantly fleeing reality in the pursuit of filling the void that he only succeeds in making larger.

Now, this is just as easily a secular criticism of a plutocratic society in which the pursuit of wealth is regarded not only as laudable but as something nearly holy. However, as I am a Christian, I tend to place a great deal of weight on "Nothing he's got he really needs," which conversely indicates that what he really needs, he does not have. If he does have all this wealth, if he really is within the Court of the Crimson King, what could he possibly be lacking?

Peace--peace that comes when the mind assents to the soul's prompting to look for what really matters. The 21st Century Schizoid Man lacks knowledge of God and desire for God. And what is truly frightening about this is that from my survey of many people within the Church, this is as true of them as of the hard-core materialist. We have surrendered, in many cases, the one-track, express-train pursuit of God for the pursuit of the legitimate, lesser goods of our present life. While we aren't in the full fledged auto-drawing-and-quartering that occurs to the ardent materialist, we have been sufficiently affected by his disease to have lost our own sense of belonging to God and pursuing His ends over our own. I can think of countless examples just from the blogging world, and I think each of you can as well.

Okay, to finish up--the last verse is sung, brought to a resounding screeching, scraping end, and then there is a total break. The interlude between verses two and three are a fugue state--a loss of self-control and self knowledge. The very end of the song, which features every musician flying off on their own riffs--the saxophonist not so much playing notes as torturing the instrument--the schizoid man has gone psychotic. And then, he "talks to the wind."

The ultimate end of pursuing material things is a total break with reality. In our language, were we to die in that state, it is called Hell. Hell is a state of being utterly opposed to the only reality. Hell is the continued anguish of trying to fill up a gaping hole, when all you are is that gaping hole. Hell is what is left of us when all we have done with our lives is to seek to make more of ourselves.

And the music seems to nicely mimic this as well. Hell is cacophony, the cacophony of self in the total absence of boundaries and freedom. Hell is being chained to our own wills for all eternity. "Neuro surgeons SCREAM for more at paranoia's poison door." All because we cannot surrender to love--we seek love from created things and create more pain for ourselves and for others in our pursuit.

In the Court of the Crimson King is a hard album. It has an adamantine brilliance--a high gloss that results both from the genius of the musicians and from the truth they manage to convey so clearly. Whether or not they buy into the truth, God has nevertheless used their music to convey a strong message to the person who takes it seriously. The flaw with the album is that no way out is shown--the Court of the Crimson King is simply the prison entered by the 21st Century Schizoid Man. In the title song, "In the Court of the Crimson King", the last song on the album, there is an initial promise of freedom:

The dance of the puppets
The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.

But that is all done away with by the end of the song:


On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

I cannot say where they were going when they composed this modern masterpiece, but I can say where they go for me. When we surrender to our materialist urges we are made puppets by the things we desire. We will do anything to have them because they will fill the void, or so we think. But that void, unless fill by the One, is a black hole--all that is fed into it strengthens it and enlarges it.

The only way out is to negate "nothing he's got he really needs," and to find the one thing necessary--Our Lord.

*Later Upon rereading this, I found this line very interesting. although it is pronounced

Poets starving
children bleed

I wonder whether it isn't a single thought regarding the starving children of poets? Thus:

Poets' starving children bleed.

Fascinating the way punctuation or lack thereof can lead to a productive and fruitful ambiguity. It works that way in scripture often as well.

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A while back, in another place, I made one of those occasional forays into the wilds of passionate ignorance that mark my journey around God. (I say around because it sometimes seems like a spiral with a very small fractional decrease toward the center.) This particular episode characterized itself by seeming to demean the small-t sense of Catholic tradition.

There were two reasons for this--both of them good; however, what I ended up saying was not really what I intended to say. First, the reasons: we are cautioned against the traditions of men that get in the way of the gospel. And whether or not we like that, it is possible that some of these traditions, which do not fall under the category of sacred tradition can be just such things as throw up a roadblock. In the particular instance I was arguing--the content of the tradition of Church teaching--this was certainly not the case, and thus the point is not germane.

The second and much stronger argument came only after much reflection and refinement of what I was originally trying to say. My argument came down to the fact that the particulars of a church instruction when it was not definitive, dogmatic, or otherwise universal for all times and places, were particulars that related to the time and culture of the place and thus were apt to change as understandings surrounding the circumstances changed. Just as St. Thomas Aquinas is not to be blamed for his opinion about "the quickening" which engendered life--so the Church is blameless in its time and place about a variety of teachings that indeed do constitute tradition. One example of this is the view of the universe that made possible the equitable and just treatment of the incomprehensibly arrogant Galileo. Church tradition in this matter was simply wrong--it was not culpably wrong, but it was required to change as new data entered our understanding--and it did, with time change, because the Church saw that what they taught regarding the structure of the solar system was not, after all, a matter of faith and morals.

So Church teaching and tradition can change--things can fall out of it as the Church's understanding of itself and of the world at large grows and matures through time. But even this point is utterly irrelevant to the argument.

The final place I came to with regard to Church tradition and how it is often invoked to refute, challenge, or subtly alter a definitive teaching was that tradition was not a matter with which I really needed to be engaged at first. Indeed, my initial assumption upon receiving ANY church teaching is that the tradition of the Church's teaching on the matter had already been considered and incorporated into the document at hand. That said, I would give greater weight to "more definitive" documents. That is, I would consider that this tradition had been given a far weightier consideration in the course of the drafting and redrafting of an encyclical than in say a common local pastoral instruction. Which is not to say that the local pastoral instruction is to be immediately scrutinized for errors of tradition.

For myself, the recourse to traditional teaching would mean only one thing--the intrusion of pride, the father and progenitor of all sin. If I find myself questioning a teaching based either upon worldly understanding or my own profound and expansive (not) understanding of tradition, I must see in that merely my own rebellious fleeing from proper instruction. I have related in the past and refer often to my experience with the Encyclical Veratatis Splendor, which I came to question through my understanding of how the world works. I was wrong then, and I have been shown to be wrong in nearly every instance in which I have questioned Church teaching. Most often I am not wrong about what I am saying is true, but rather I am wrong in attributing the "faulty logic" to the Church. Too often I read something and interpret it not in the light of the thought of those who drafted it, but in the light of my own reasoning and interpretation of phrase.

Part of critiquing anything is understanding the statement that is being made in the way it is intended by the person making the statement. For those who venture over to Disputations often, you'll note that when I get engaged in some discussions, I am sometimes simply off-track. I don't fully understand what the person writing is trying to say and so my arguments are not so much counter-arguments to the points being made, but counter-arguments to the ghosts and shadows I have thrown up around the arguments through my own ignorance. I don't necessarily disagree with the real point--I disagree with what I think is the real point.

Which leads back to Church teaching. I have said elsewhere that often upon receiving Church teaching I rant and rave and thunder and moan and lament the vast idiocy of the world that would result in so profoundly ignorant a teaching. I throw myself against the wall of it again and again, seeking to find entrance, battering myself endlessly against the stones of the fortification.

And then, a little later, with some help from some friends and some time for reflection and serious prayer about the matter, I walk around to the other side and go in through the door. It often seems that there are very few people who really disagree with what the Church teaches, but a vast multitude who disagree with what they think it teaches. And very often their recourse is, "Tradition has not taught this." In making such a statement they presume to know tradition and its details better than those who formulate the teaching. Now, this may be the case, I cannot say. But it does seem to me that Jesus promised the protection of the Holy Spirit for the Church and its magisterium, not for every person who thinks they are a theologian.

This is not to say that there can be no disagreement. However, I do believe that the immediate, knee-jerk and continuing disagreement of the rank and file is indicative more or the Ur-sin than it is of the validity of the teaching they are considering. Now that is, I suppose, a form of judgment, which if applied to others certainly applies to me. I rarely question church teaching on the basis of Her tradition, but rather on the basis of the tradition of the reformation and of secular thinkers. When I finally realize which reformation creed or realist philosopher has crept in and guided my thoughts, I can put a filter to screen out that reasoning and suddenly begin seeing the splendor of the truth.

I am so profoundly grateful for the teaching magisterium of our Church. Because of it, it is more difficult for the entire church to go the way of our Episcopalian brothers and sisters. Because of it, I am not left on my own to try to deal with very difficult matters--embryonic stem cell research (although there are perfectly good, reasonable, and scientific reasons to oppose this as well as moral reasons), the problem of the poor, war, the death penalty, and other things on which the Church both advises in the individual instances and gives a profound teaching principle by which to make our own judgments.

Otherwise we are "like sheep without a shepherd." However, for every teaching that I can embrace, there are three I must struggle with to first understand and then, sometimes to force myself into line with. These latter more often fly in the face of personal experience and personal feelings and it takes time to reconcile the teaching with continuing to function as a compassionate and caring person to those whose habits or behavior may come under the scrutiny of the Church in the given teaching.

All that said, the point is simple. When the Church delivers a teaching, it seems both respectful and logical to start with the assumption that the tradition of the Church's teaching on the matter has already been considered and incorporated. If we do not see it, it may be because we are not as profoundly steeped in that tradition and the understanding of it as those who draft the documents.

Questioning is always a good thing--it is a necessary thing to bring about understanding. But a thousand questions are not even a problem, and a thousand problems don't even approach a doubt. And questioning takes two forms--one life-giving, one destructive. "How do I understand this and weave it into my life," is the questioning of obedience that can still sound off-key. "How do I do away with this which does not agree with my mind which is already made up?" is too often the questioning that I see any Church teaching get--this is the questioning of Satan who decided that he knew better how to run things.

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Some interesting maps sent to me by a friend.

I'm pleased to note that I live in a "blue area" of my state--not what you think!

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The Evidentiary Power of Beauty

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No, I don't plan to review the very fine book by Father Thomas Dubay. As with all book by Fr. Dubay, this is a dense, thorough study of its intended subject.

I chose this title because it is, perhaps, the most meaningful to me in my personal encounters with God. I would expand it--The evidentiary and experiential power of beauty.

In beauty, true beauty, we encounter God directly, if sometimes at a distance, masked by the surface. God is, of course, the source of all beauty, goodness, and truth. If there is an aesthetic appeal to an object, a true beauty, it is one way God calls to us.

I read great works of literature, view great art, listen to music, great and otherwise, and I experience God speaking through His people. There are times when I am stunned into a real silence, the silence in which I encounter God in prayer.

We've all had this experience--something so lovely it takes the breath away, we are literally gasping at the sight or experience of it. The divine has intruded momentarily into the senses. We see Him, however dimly, however much at a distance.

And what is most remarkable is that this is despite the intention of the artist. The other day I found a You-Tube video by Gary Numan titled something like "Prayer for a Dead Girl," in which he is obviously lamenting a still-born child or a child lost early-on in development and comes to the conclusion that indeed there is and can be no God. And in coming to that conclusion, he uncloaks for a moment God's face, a face filled with love, compassion, and genuine empathy/sympathy--a face that knows and understands what it is to lose a beloved child.

Beauty isn't God. Art is not God. Music is not God. Literature is not God. Nothing of human or natural creation is God and it is a serious error to suppose that it is. Emerson made this error consistently and stridently. No, none of these things is God; however, if we are looking and listening, we can experience God through great and even not-so-great works of art and beauty.

The senses are where we start this journey--but it is not the end. Beauty is not the end--it is merely the signpost pointing to the end. We start by being engaged, called to Him through whatever it is that we find lovely and attractive. But to find Him, what must leave behind the lesser beauties to find the eternal beauty--the perfection of beauty. We must gaze upon the Face of God through His Son, Jesus Christ who while he may not have been beautiful in human terms was the Incarnation of beauty, and who revealed the meaning of beauty--the love of God given us to remind us to come home.

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Attending to Our Faults

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from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon, OSCO

The predominant fault crystallizes certain aspects of an ego accustomed to act for and of itself. . . . If this egocentricity is not exposed and overcome, it remains like an underground [military group], ready to join hands with the invader in the time of trial, and to betray us into the hands of our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. Just as an underground deserves attention in peacetime, because upon its uprooting depends the future security of the country, so the basic evil tendency of the soul, the head of the organism of sin, requires our attention (discovery and opposition) even though it is in hiding.

You know those things you go to confession week after week after week after week until you're so tired of confessing them you're tempted not to? Well, perhaps many of you have never experienced that; however, let me tell you, it sometimes seems like I should just do an Excel spreadsheet and tick off the usual suspects and turn it in.

It isn't that I don't want to do away with these sins (though on some level, I obviously don't or I would find that they would become less frequent), but they just seem to creep up on me. These sins, then, are the fruit of what Father Simon calls the predominant fault. It isn't as though I don't commit others, but I certainly do not commit some sins with the clockwork regularity of others. It is these recurrent sins that give me the clues to the particular virtues I need to cultivate to combat them.

One way to cultivate them is through the use of a gift that Father Simon described and I blogged a few days ago--self-denial--which in reality is nothing of the sort. A correspondent pointed out that we are incapable of doing anything ourselves, particularly anything good, so that self-denial, while engaged and activated by the will is a gift of God, a sort of grace, that gives us the ability to not do what we are accustomed to doing it. A grave mistake would be to consider this work, at least in the early stages, and perhaps throughout, as some sort of righteousness or good work that we effect. It is not. As I pointed out, self-denial is, in one sense the apotheosis of enlightened self-interest, because it is only in the use of this gift that we begin to see vestiges of the true self that God Himself sees.

Self-denial then, is one step, one positive thing that we can assent to, that leads us away from the predominant fault. We can recognize the pattern, recognize the root, make use of the sacraments and pray for the strength to stay away from that fault. Moreover, we would do well in addition to praying against to pray in the presence of what we seek. Looking at Jesus is probably more efficacious in the fight against sin than putting up arms against a sea of troubles. Because no matter what we think, it is not our own opposition that ends them.

Think of it in the manner you might think of correct a very young child. There are many ways to go about it, but one of the most effective is often to remove the child from the arena of the distraction that is causing harm. That is, as pray-ers, we remove ourselves from immediate concern about the temptation besetting us by focusing on Jesus--Jesus in the Garden, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus among the children--whatever image of Jesus speaks to us in the moment and removes us from the path of destruction. God will give the grace, Jesus will supply the strength and the moment. However, none of this will be efficacious if we do not first seek guidance and understanding about what is tempting us and then (with the strength of the sacraments and Grace) resolutely decide not to give in just this one time. When we do this one-time by one-time, God gradually gives us victory over the sin--often allowing us to go our own way to show just how weak we are on our own. But nevertheless, it is the repeated pattern that will give us the focus and the spirit of clinging to God that will gradually lead us away from our sins.

We can do nothing of ourselves, all is Grace, all is gift. But we can do everything through Him who strengthens each one of us.

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I don't know how many times I may have heard something like this; however, this is the time it finally made sense.

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon OCSO

The angelic intelligence, superior to the human, sees in one glance the alternatives of choice and their consequences. The angelic will is then fixed in its election. When the rebellious angels preferred disobedience they knew that they had made their final choice. It is not so with us, and to us alone God gave a redeemer.

How awful. How terrible to be able to look upon the magnificence of God and choose something else. How inconceivable. We at least have the story of being persuaded to our doom--a poor excuse, but none the less the effort of a tempter. The Angels had no such persuasion; moreover, they could look upon the Glory of God Himself and see it clearly. Simply incomprehensible.

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Trying to Learn

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As usual, Tom has a very interesting post on reaction to church teaching.

In another context, I wrote this this morning:

My passion is for the truth, not for being right--so that even though I run again and again at that brick wall, seeking to knock it down, the reality is that I would rather know the truth than be right. (Obviously to have both at once would be ideal--but as we are dealing "a bear of very little brain," I'll accept that I start off more often wrong that right and acknowledge that I'm willing to conform to the truth when it finally gets through my thick skull. ) All you see are the outward dynamics of trying to force it through my thick skull, and I often worry that I am more aggressive about it that is seemly--but is it really possible to be too aggressive in seeking out the truth?

I wrote over at Tom's that I often rant and rave, kick and scream, fulminate and froth, threaten to leave the Church, cry, wail, howl, and do all sorts of other things when I feel particularly put out. (I live a very histrionic interior life--it's really quite satisfying in a variety of ways.)

But the reality is that in nearly every case that I have taken umbrage at Church teaching, I've been shown time and again just how wrong I am. And when you think about it, that only makes sense. After all the Church has two thousand (and more) years of the collective wisdom of some of the most brilliant people humankind has ever known. By the end of my life (god willing) I will have my threescore-ten, or four or five score. So, let's see, perhaps a million years of humankind's wisdom compared to the less than half-century of one person--what should have the greater weight in my consideration. And it is in this sense that I must respect the tradition of the Church in its teaching--knowing that particulars might change, but that the weight of wisdom and thinking demands attention and, eventually, obedience.

What is true about a matter is far more important that what I think about it. This reality is one of the reasons I need a shepherd in the first place.

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Bowled Over Aagin

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How many times in a day must I be slapped upside the head with something. This from lunchtime reading:

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon OCSO

He has given us means. . .to overcome this weakness and to strengthen our wills. These means include the sacraments, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit--and self-denial. In self-denial in particular, we have the means to overcome the obstacles to happiness; by self-denial our wills are given power over our temperaments and faults; we are made capable of change, we are made free.

Ironically, it is called self-denial, and yet it is nothing of the sort; rather, it is denial of the illusion of self that we live. Until we live completely in the image and context of God, we don't even know self, so it is impossible to deny self. Self-denial is actually the embrace of the real self as manifested in God's image of us. We discover that when we have found our identities in Christ self-denial is impossible because we finally have the properly oriented self that does not see self-denial but Christ-embracing.

We so dread depriving ourselves of anything that we have even a remote notion we might want or need that we cannot see the real efficacy of self-denial--breaking the illusion of Maya and embracing the reality of who we are in the Reality of Him Who Is.

You see how language descends to the utterly inarticulate trying even to explain the joyous discovery that we need not succumb to every vagrant thought and idle want. Today has been a good day indeed.

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Two Passages To Say it All

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Sometimes I don't know why I post these things because we all know them to be true. Knowing them to be true and living them in their truth often seem to be quite different matters; and, perhaps, the bridge between them lies in such reminders as these.

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

The Father is the supreme Reality; all other reality is the effect of HIs will; He alone gives existence to all that is. Only the saint is fully adjusted to reality because only the saint if fully conformed to the Father's will. The materialist, on the other hand, excludes from his or her life happiness and true adjustment to reality, for he or she fails to recognize the primary Reality and its chief effects, the soul, intellect, and will, which are of the spiritual order and hold primacy over the material order.

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It is true that some persons appear, and consider themselves, to be happy whose satisfaction is not in God but in material things--even in certain cases, when they are conscious that they are abiding in mortal sin and are estranged from God. These people are miserable but may not feel miserable. The hatred and malice of the devil are not directed so much at making people miserable in their feelings, as in fact. Then they are more prone to remain in their pitiable condition without taking the necessary steps to become truly happy.

Book available from Zaccheus Press and also through Ignatius Press. And is, so far, highly recommended.

What bears repeating here is that Satan's tactics are not so much to make us feel miserable as to make us be miserable without realizing the misery in which we live. When we are constantly striving for the ephemeral, the vanishing, the unworthy, the empty, the desolate, the finite, and the broken, we cannot expend the energy for the One who corrects all these absences and frailties. Until we admit how materially driven our lives are, we cannot begin to correct that imperfection and allow ourselves to be gathered (not driven) to the True Shepherd whose voice we know in our hearts. We live in a real misery that we do not feel trying to avoid the miserable feeling that may not reflect reality.

O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. . .

ourselves.

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A Word for the Day

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from Union with God
Blessed 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.

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Three Kings and a Fourth

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While doing Lectio yesterday on today's gospel, I received the most interesting and compelling message. Now understand, the messages of Lectio are a kind of private revelation, so I don't claim to speak authoritatively on the matter of meaning in the Gospel passage; however, I did not a rather interesting dynamic.

The story is about the arrival of the three wise men/ kings. First, they go to Herod to ask directions from him and discover that he hasn't a clue. What's more, he's really upset by their arrival. And when Herod is upset, so Jerusalem follows.

The Wise Men go to find the Christ Child and they humble themselves before Him. "They rejoiced with exceeding great joy," and all the heavens and all the humble of Earth through all of time with them.

What then is this dynamic? Each of us, in some little way, can be a Herod or a Wise Man in areas of our own lives. By our choices we can make the lives of those around us resonate with our own emotion. We can choose to eradicate Christ and make everyone around us miserable. We can choose to seek Him out and cause "exceeding great joy" around us. When we look after the things of this world, we inevitable choose the former, but when we divest ourselves of them, giving gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we can find joy, and those around us as well.

That is part of the truth of this gospel tale. Joy or terror, solidarity or disunion, love or hate. We choose bit by bit every day, and turning to this story we can see very clearly the consequences of our choices.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from January 2007.

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