Christian Life/Personal Holiness: November 2007 Archives



Whether or not Wasichu actually means "eaters of fat" or "the ones who take the fat," the myth of the meaning provides entry into today's brief exploration of Fr. Beck's book. The "eaters of fat" were those who were so all consuming that they ate at the expense of everyone else--immoderately and seemingly all-consuming, taking even the last, most precious of ther reserves.

from Soul Provider
Father Edward L. Beck

Gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins, can kill us not only physically, but spiritually as well. Saint John Climacus says: "Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach. Filled, it moans about scarcity; stuffed and crammed, it wails about hunger. Glutton thinks up seasonings, creates sweet recipes. Stop one urge and another bursts out; stop that one and you unleash yet another. Gluttony has a deceptive appearance: it eats moderately but wants to gobble everything at the same time."

The sin here is not only in the doing, it is is the inordinate desire even when the impulse is controlled.

I have a friend who has lost a large amount of weight; she has adhered especially closely to one particularly program of eating. She is justifiably pleased with how well she has done and she claims that food no longer possesses her. But in actual fact, it merely possesses her in a different way. Everything is oriented toward eating in this way--all thought is about the next meal or this meal and whether it conforms in every particular to the ideal. This isn't gluttony--but it is similar to how gluttony works. And gluttony, hasn't only to do with food. It has to do with any inordinate appetite for goods of any sort. Gluttony is when we rise from the breakfast table asking "What's for lunch."

A later quote from C.S. Lewis in Father Beck's book makes the point more clearly:

"Anyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating will admit that we can ignore even pleasure."

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Sloth and Acedia

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One of the worst things we face is a sense of boredom or the uselessness of doing anything at all. Father Beck addresses this:

from Soul Provider
Father Edward L. Beck

Someone's boring me. I think it's me.
--Dylan Thomas. . . .

In his famous 1978 Harvard commencement address, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned of the West's "spiritual exhaustion": "In the United States the difficulties are not a Minotaur or a dragon--not imprisonment, hard labor, death, government harassment and censorship--but cupidity, boredom, sloppiness, indifference. Not the acts of a might all-prevading repressive government but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright." If we are indeed a listless public, what has made us so, and what can we do to infuse our lives with new vigor?

We can do a few things. The authors I have just quoted suggest that boredom is an evil to be conquers it if leads to despondency, hopelessness, and ingratitude. Sloth is clearly the result of a refusal to celebrate the gift and potential of life. But there is another way to look at it. We can embrace boredom, hoping to transform it into something not boring at all. We have been convinced that we always need to be doing something to be happy, usually something other than what we are doing. So if we are driving, we can't simply be driving. We must also be listening to the radio or talking on the cell phone or doing both. Perhaps we are even listening to our 10,000-song iPod, the contents of which could last us our lifetime. What about simply listening to nothing instead?

The "art of doing nothing" has long been extolled by religious traditions. Nothing becomes something when nothing produces results that something cannot.The power of meditation is rooted in the power of nothingness. . . The reason for stillness in the midst of chaos is so that the chaos does not consume us. Stillness gives us distance from what we cannot see when trapped in the never-ending swirl of diversion. . . .

My only response is "guilty." We credit ourselves with "multitasking" when, what is actually happening is that we are not accomplishing any one thing with anything approaching the attention it requires. While I belong to an order that looks to cultivating silence, it seems that we've all bought into the idea of silence while doing something.

Silence, stillness, the embrace of the moment in which there is nothing in particular required of us is an art. We have difficulty, convinced by some inner prompting that such moments are "wasting time." But perhaps it is our railing against them that is the waste of time. Were we to realize that we are bored precisely because nothing is required of us at this time and rather than seek solace in a book, television, or endless iPod, we should seek solace in the silence, perhaps then we might make of boredom the gift that God intends for us.

Limitless diversion leads to limitless ennui, but a few moments of stillness, of letting the swirl and twirl of existence settle down--these have limitless potential--I need to become better at exploiting it.

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Bearing Our Crosses


I don't do this often, and probably should not do it even as often as I do; however, this notion has been on my mind a great deal in recent months. This is a meditation composed for another web site.

My thanks to Joachim who maintains the site and who gets a really good proof-reader/copyeditor to help improve each meditation.

Whoever does not carry his cross and come after me . . .
(Luke 14:27)

This passage may contain some of the most difficult words that Jesus shared with us. Hating father and mother, carrying crosses, renouncing possessions--what does it all mean, what sense can we make of it? There is such richness here it's impossible to encompass it all, but what I hear almost every time I go back is "whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." And I am always encouraged to remember that crosses are not "one size fits all."

Sometimes we look at others in our religious and secular lives and wonder, "Why is it so easy for them? What cross are they carrying?" It does us well to remember that what is a cross for one may not be a cross for another. Crosses are not one-size-fits-all. They are individually tailored to the person we are, and they are excruciating (literally) precisely because they are designed to straighten out what we have made crooked--they are designed to rectify what we have corrupted through our poor choices. Sometimes they are to help others bear their own burdens because we all participate in the economy of salvation--what another cannot carry, we help to bear so that we all advance together.

We must always bear in mind that, like Simon of Cyrene, we do bear the cross, but we bear it for the One who takes away all sin, the One who makes the crooked straight and the lame walk. Jesus doesn't say we need to be nailed to it in the way He was. Rather, He tells us that our job, like that of Simon, is to bear part of the burden for all of humanity. We carry our crosses, but ultimately it was and is Jesus who is nailed to it. We bring the burden of sin--He takes it all away.

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A friend sent this link to a very interesting article on the prayer life of Clarence Thomas.

In the course of it, there is a litany from Cardinal Merry del Val, that struck my friend as a hard teaching:

Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should...

My friend noted that to take it seriously seemed to invite despair. But I pointed out that it was a detailed version of St. John of the Cross' todo y nada. That is, the litany does not prohibit one from accepting such graces as come to one, but asks God to grant us the freedom from fear or desire of these things, because such fear and/or desire was distracting from the "one thing necessary." It isn't that the objects mentioned are not legitimate things to desire or to fear, but rather that in either desire or fear of them we may find ourselves doing things that are not part of our particular vocation--going out of our way to seek or avoid things.

But this seems to be an interesting point and I'd love to hear what others think of the article and especially of the Litany.

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I particularly cherished the following experience recounted by Fr. Beck. It spoke to me intimately and provoked a line of thought that I had never really considered. We start as Father Beck is trying to avoid the eye of a modern-day John the Baptist in Time's Square:

from Soul Provider
Fr. Edward L. Beck

I maneuvered to get around him, but, seeming to sense that I was an unwilling convert, he would have none of it. He made a bee-line for me as I lowered my head and tried to get lost in the crowd that I now appreciated. He held a tattered black Bible that he massaged gently with his thumb.

"Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, young man?"

He was standing right in front of me, blocking my passage. (At least he called me young.) I didn't answer, pretending I thought he was talking to someone else.

"You, sir, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" he persisted.

I looked up, unable to ignore him any longer.

"What?" I said, though I'm not sure why, since I had clearly heard the question.

"Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" he repeated more forcefully. A woman bumped me from behind letting me know in her own not-so-gentle way that I was blocking the path.

"Yes, I do," I said. "I do, thank you." I walked around him and started to make my way down the street.

"Hey," he called to me. I looked back. "Isn't it wonderful?" His eyes were glowing.

"Not always," I answered truthfully.

I continued walking and was about a hundred feet from him when he shouted, "Well, then, repent, blue eyes, and it will always be.

I don't necessarily take the street-corner prophet at his literal word here, but it occurred to me that with a good deal more repentance, and a good deal less Steven, that personal relationship might be made more manifest to those around me. And a personal relationship with Jesus is next to useless if it isn't influencing the world around us. Perhaps what I need more of, then, is a spirit of continual repentance--heaven knows there isn't a day I go through that doesn't encourage me to confession before participation in Mass. I'm one of those who wishes that confession were offered moments before Mass so there would be some likelihood of making it to Mass before needing to get to confession again. I often wonder whether I've ever really managed to gain a plenary indulgence for any of the poor souls because the conditions are so rigorous. If Mass immediately follows confession and/or the action that merits the plenary indulgence, there is a remote possibility. Otherwise. . .

Repentance, it's not just a seasonal thing--it's a way to live, really live, a life.

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With merely the title of this post I have chased away half of the small audience that might drop by on a regular basis. Renunciation is not a popular subject--most often because it is not fully understood.

However, renunciation is one step on the road to union with God that we all can consider and that with God's grace we all can effect.

There is such a wealth of possibility in Father Edward Beck's Soul Provider, it is difficult to choose among the possibilities; however, for the purposes of supporting the main contention of the chapter, perhaps the conclusion would be most useful:

from Soul Provider
Fr. Edward L. Beck

Renunciation is therefore a kind of purification and asceticism that does not exist for its own sake but rather for the sake of higher goods. Thus, I renounce excessive use of alcohol so that I don't destroy my marriage or my work. Or I renounce consumerism so that I don't lose my soul to what money can buy. . . .

In view of John Climacus's Ladder of Divine Ascent renunciation lights us and frees us so that we can climb less encumbered, ascending without restraint toward the good. Renunciation exists for the sake of freedom. It liberates us and ultimately allows us to love more wholeheartedly. Who of us doesn't want that?

The man who renounces the world because of fear is like burning incense, which begins with fragrance and ends in smoke. . . . but the man who leaves the world for love of God has taken fire from the start, and like fire set to fuel, it soon creates a conflagration.

(Climacus Step 1)

Fr. Beck's book seems to be a very hard-headed, light-hearted, full-spirited survey of how to improve one's life with God. The advice given is solid, orthodox and complemented by insights from other religious traditions that both inform and help to bring out implicit aspects of each topic. Each chapter ends with a set of very hard, very pointed questions that allow the reader to reflect upon his or her own state with respect to the Ascent to God.

In coming days I hope to quote more from this book and to share more of Fr. Beck's insights. In the meantime, if this excerpt interests you, you might do well to seek the book out on your own and not wait for what small portions I might share.

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About this Archive

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

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: October 2007 is the previous archive.

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