Commonplace Book: April 2004 Archives

Spiritual Dwarfism

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from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

The analogy is evident. To belong to the human race, it is enough to be a child, but that is not sufficient to be a fully developed man. Further, by virtue of a necessary law, a child must grow under pain not of remaining a child but of becoming a deformed dwarf. Likewise it suffices to have a very low degree of charity in order to avoid the transgression of the precept of love, but that does not suffice for the perfect fulfillment of this first precept, which is superior to all the others and to all the counsels. Moreover, if the beginner does not grow in charity, he will not remain a beginner, but will become an abnormal creature and, as it were, a dwarf from the spiritual point of view. For example, he has faith and piety which are, so to speak, embryonic, coupled with highly developed literary, scientific, or progessinal culture. . . . For lack of development, the divine seed which is in the soul runs the risk of dying, as we learn in the parable of the sower.

Two thoughts occurred to me while reading this. The first was, "Of course. One doesn't remain a child forever, time marches one. If one doesn't grow it becomes abnormal." I thought of the hero (was it Oskar?) of The Tin Drum who refuses to grow after the age of three. A deliberate dwarf as it were. I thought too of the grotesque in The Passion of the Christ, the small, aged, hairy, dwarfish baby--the sluggishly selfish soul withholding himself from growth, deliberately remaining small in charity.

My second thought, as always upon reading something of this sort was the uncomfortable realization that Garrigou-Lagrange had held up a mirror and I was reflected perfectly in it. It was as though he looked out his window while writing those words and happened upon my image. Again, the Holy Spirit speaks and convicts when we are prepared to listen. This is a hard thing to listen to, and yet to not hear it would be to remain in the deplorable state I already occupy. A word to the wise is sufficient.

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via Garrigou-Lagrange:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

This is why Abbot Moses says: "Fasts, vigils, meditation on Holy Scripture, nudity, and the privation of external goods are not perfections, but instruments or means of perfection. It is not in them that perfection consists, but by them that one obtains it.

Sometimes I know I am inclined to substitute the means for the end. That is, prayer becomes an end in itself because it is a time of quiet with or without God. Prayer is an important means of communication which should result in the end of loving God more. Or so I interpret this passage.

Human life seems filled with this kind of substitution. How many people substitute excessive alcohol, eating, spending, movies, sex, or anything else for the real and true End that will fill all of that vast and empty interior space. We are incapable of keeping ends and means straight; what is more, we often substitute poor means for good ones. I know that I need to be thinking a lot more about the End and the means that I suppose employ to try to get there. These means are often my own works and they can advance me only so far down that path. It is time to trust a great deal more in Divine Providence and to listen for the "still, small voice," that tells us very clearly what we ought to be doing, if we only give it the time.

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Reading Garrigou-Lagrange Again


And in the course of a long and interesting article on the precept of the love of God, this wonderful quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Ia IIae, q. 64, 2.4):

We can never love God as much as He ought to be loved, nor believe and hope in Him as much as we should.

Then, I happened across this gem. It's one of those rare occasions on which Garrigou-Lagrange leaves the realm of nearly perfect opacity and wanders into the realm of the pellucid.

Dinally, another erason why the precept of love has no limit is that our charity ought always to grow even until death, for we are travelers on the road to eternity. The way to eternity is not made to be used as a place of rest and sleep, but rather to be traveled. The lazy are those who rest along the road instead of pushing on to their goal. The traveler who has not yet reached the fixed term ofhis pilgrimage is commanded and not only counseled to advance, just as the child must grow according to the law of nature until he has reached maturity. . .

Both of these from Christian Perfection and Contemplation. I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but. . . recommended, indeed, highly recommended.

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"One may doubtless be very happy in Venice without reading at all—without criticising or analysing or thinking a strenuous thought." Henry James Italian Hours

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"These latter [artistic and social atrocities]are numerous and deeply to be deplored; but to admit that they have spoiled Venice would be to admit that Venice may be spoiled—an admission pregnant, as it seems to us, with disloyalty."--Henry James, Italian Hours

Its odd the way God speaks to us. I read this little passage in a break between tasks and it occurred to me that he summarized the way I feel about the Church. Despite the clanking old apparatus, filled with all manner of cantankerous and quarreling human beings with all of their foibles, to speak ill of it, or to give ear to ill-speaking smacks of disloyalty. And how can I be disloyal to the Mother who nurtures and guides me?

As I said, when you're of a mind to listen, God strikes up conversation in the oddest places.

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A Delightful View of the Canals


"It is not forbidden, however, to speak of familiar things, and I hold that for the true Venice-lover Venice is always in order. There is nothing new to be said about her certainly, but the old is better than any novelty. It would be a sad day indeed when there should be something new to say. "--Henry James, Italian Hours

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Many accuse James of being prolix, abstruse, and obtuse. They mistake elegance and stateliness in prose for meandering and they do not give their minds to the subtle currents that pervade the deep waters of his short stories, novels, and, yes, even travel writing. Take for example this excerpt:

from Italian Hours--"The Autumn in Florence"
Henry James

Florence too has its “season,” not less than Rome, and I have been rejoicing for the past six weeks in the fact that this comparatively crowded parenthesis hasn't yet been opened. Coming here in the first days of October I found the summer still in almost unmenaced possession, and ever since, till within a day or two, the weight of its hand has been sensible. Properly enough, as the city of flowers, Florence mingles the elements most artfully in the spring—during the divine crescendo of March and April, the weeks when six months of steady shiver have still not shaken New York and Boston free of the long Polar reach. But the very quality of the decline of the year as we at present here feel it suits peculiarly the mood in which an undiscourageable gatherer of the sense of things, or taster at least of “charm,” moves through these many-memoried streets and galleries and churches. Old things, old places, old people, or at least old races, ever strike us as giving out their secrets most freely in such moist, grey, melancholy days as have formed the complexion of the past fortnight. With Christmas arrives the opera, the only opera worth speaking of—which indeed often means in Florence the only opera worth talking through; the gaiety, the gossip, the reminders in fine of the cosmopolite and watering-place character to which the city of the Medici long ago began to bend her antique temper.

The refinement of the piece in its final form (present here in its entirety) is only known from acquaintance with its earlier incarnation as a piece in either The Independent or The Nation (The website that yielded these originals has subsequently vanished along with the wonderful texts. I have preserved the memory of it in the form of an e-book for PDA). The subtle twists of phrase and the delicate irony and humor that are so prominent here stand out from the rather more bold reportorial front that shows up in the articles. One can spend time with James and come to know Italy very little, but have a profound knowledge of a man of great sensibility and sense. Too bad as a society we spend so little time with those who have so much to tell us about how to observe, how to write, how to go about thinking, and how to analyze. It is unfortunate that we are often in too great a hurry for the majestic pace at which James moves. But given my druthers, I'd rather tour Italy with James or Hawthorne than with Michelin. What companionable company, what rare insights, and what refined humor. I have come to love Henry James more and more as I read more of the work. It is not for one who needs to come to the point, but rather for the person who relishes the journey as much or perhaps even more than the destination. Surely that is the first lesson in how to travel.

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Psalm Prayer


I have prayed this some two-hundred times (or thereabouts) since I began recitation of the Liturgy of hours and this morning it spoke to me:

Psalm Prayer for the Third Psalm of Morning Prayer, Thursday Week III

God, you are the source of all holines. Though no one can see yu and live, you give life most generously and in an even greater way restore it. Sanctify your priests through your life-giving Word, and consecrate your people in his blood until our eyes see your face.

What broke through my early-morning haze was that last phrase "and consecrate your people in his blood until our eyes see your face." There is something about the notion of "our eyes" seeing "your face" that engages the imagination and stirs sluggish hope to rouse Charity to ardor. That is the goal, ultimately. In Heaven we shall see His Holy face and we shall rejoice in it knowing that we are in His presence for all eternity, that we will not fall like the angels, because we've already been given our chance at that in this lifetime. We shall know God, talk to Him face to face. Think of that. In Isaiah we see that not even the great Seraphim do so; we are destined through the grace and the salvific gift of Christ on the Cross to see God face to face and to call Him Father. What joy, what utter joy. Words fail.

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from the Online Catholic Encyclopedia, 1914

from the article on Contemplation

St. Alphonsus Liguori, echoing his predecessors, defines it thus: "At the end of a certain time ordinary meditation produces what is called acquired contemplation, which consists in seeing at a simple glance the truths which could previously be discovered only through prolonged discourse" (Homo apostolicus, Appendix I, No. 7).

Higher contemplation

To distinguish it from acquired contemplation mystical union is called intuitive, passive, extraordinary, or higher contemplation. St. Teresa designates it simply as contemplation, without any qualification. Mystical graces may be divided into two groups, according to the nature of the object contemplated. The states of the first group are characterized by the fact that it is God, and God only, who manifests Himself; these are called mystical union. In the second group the manifestation is of a created object, as, for example, when one beholds the humanity of Christ or an angel or a future event, etc. These are visions (of created things) and revelations. To these belong miraculous bodily phenomena which are sometimes observed in ecstatics.

Here we have the beginnings of the distinction between acquired contemplation and infused contemplation. You can see that the matter of definitions is not nearly so clear-cut, neat and precise as it might be. However, all of these senses of contemplation are necessary to understand what might be meant by the statement that "everyone is called to contemplation."

To be completely honest, it is my personal belief that a great many more people might achieve both infused contemplation and even mystical Union and spiritual marriage were they inclined to accept the invitation and graces offered toward these ends. Obviously, I cannot know this; however, St. John of the Cross seems also to think it true because many times he addresses those who are "stuck" in a level of prayer and who do not advance because of lack of knowledge about how to effect this advance. But I get ahead of myself. This must all be dealt with in turn, and first we need to complete the definitions. However, this evening or tomorrow I may do a combined treatement of the thrid and fourth questions. The nature of these questions lends itself to such a combined consideration.

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Now we approach formal definitions that come closer to the heart of what we are talking about.

I start with the least formal of these, but one that gives a very good intuitive feel for what it is about. This is Tom of Disputations paraphrase of Fr. William McNamara. Comtemplation is "a long, lingering, loving look at the real."

An excellent start, if a little nebulous.

Here is a portion of Evelyn Underhill's magistgerial discussion. We have here not so much a definition but a delineation of what contemplation is NOT.

from Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness
Evelyn Underhill

Here, the most important work has been done in France; and especially by the Abbé Bremond, whose “Prière et Poésie” and “Introduction a la Philosophie de la Prière”—based on a vast acquaintance with mystical literature—mark, I believe, the beginning of a new understanding of the character of contemplation. The Thomist philosophy of Maritain, and the psychological researches of Maréchal, tend to support this developing view of the mystical experience, even in its elementary forms, as an activity of the transcendental self; genuinely supernatural, yet not necessarily involving any abnormal manifestations, and linked by the ascending “degrees of prayer” with the subject’s “ordinary” religious life. This disentangling of the substance of mysticism from the psycho-physical accidents of trance, ecstasy, vision and other abnormal phenomena which often accompany it, and its vindication as something which gives the self a genuine knowledge of transcendental Reality—with its accompanying demonstration of the soberness and sanity of the greatest contemplative saints—is the last of the beneficent changes which have transformed our study of the mystics.

Later in the same work we find this:

This act of perfect concentration, 49 the passionate focussing of the self upon one point, when it is applied “with a naked intent” to real and transcendental things, constitutes in the technical language of mysticism the state of recollection: 64 a condition which is peculiarly characteristic of the mystical consciousness, and is the necessary prelude of pure contemplation, that state in which the mystic enters into communion with Reality.

(Emphasis added to accentuate what I thnk Underhill's "definition" of contemplation entails.) In the following paragraphs, quoted at length here for future reference, Underhill has some interesting points to make regarding the contemplative and the goal of contemplation.

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I think the best way for me to approach this question is to give some quotes from others that begin to describe at least subjectively what contemplation is and cap it with a formal definition. Then I will try to say what I mean when I use the word--a combination of subjective experience and formal definition.

Once again, Neil's quotations below provide and nice beginning to our discussion. Coming from Protestant writers, they show that the experience of contemplation is not confined to vowed religious or even to Catholics alone; not that anyone implied they were. But sometimes I think that these forms of prayer are seen as so abstruse as to transcend any ordinary individual's ability. Well, of course they do, because they come from God; however, I do believe God invites everyone into at least some aspects of this form of prayer.

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Before I have even started, I discover four questions or clarifications necessary--an ample demonstration of the drawbacks of the blog for something of this nature. Neverhteless, the questions asked are both intriguing and important. Because I have time to answer only one, and because Neil's comment in the post below goes a long way toward answering it (even though the quotes are about contemplation, they also seem to speak of Union) --I will start with Rob's question about "What do I mean when I say Union with God."

This is an incredibly complex and difficult question. I may only get to start to answer it. If so, I'll start with the succinct version of the most persuasive definition I know: when we reach Divine Union, we "become God by participation."

Now let me extend the explanation by a quote of some length from St. John of the Cross who explains far better what is meant by this. Please forgive the rather difficult E. Allison Peers translation (the only one presently available on the web) and pay particular attention to paragraph six. I reproduce the entire chapter in the extended entry to avoid long scrolling for those who are just looking for an overview.

(I know the text is long, but it is worth your attention. If too much, just focus on paragraph six.)

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A poet for whom prolixity is often a byword: the veritable apotheoisis of what happens when a poet succumbs to hypergraphia. But there are moments when what he says is said perfectly and captures the mind and heart. So it is with the following sonnet for me today.

CCLXXVIII. "The world is too much with us"
William Wordsworth

THE World is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn,—
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

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I share the thoughts below because they have much troubled me the past several days. I have cast about for ways of saying what I would like to say and what I believe needs to be said, but this interior monologue expressed exteriorly is the best I could manage.

Tom of Disputations has stated that it is his belief that the teachings of St. John of the Cross do not comprise a universal call to holiness, that, in fact, they are really only for Carmelites and those inclined to Carmelite spirituality--not everyone is called to union nor to the contemplative life.

IF I believed that, I would have to discontinue blogging, because the only purpose to blogging is to share the NOT-EXCLUSIVELY Carmelite message of the call to Union with God. There would be no point in writing about these matters for the seven or eight Carmelites who are already on the boards, they already know this stuff as well or better than I do. I cannot say better than St. John of the Cross what he himself said.

However, I don't feel it to be true for several reasons. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux are all Doctors of the Universal Church. Not doctors of the Carmelites, not merely great sainted leaders of the Carmelites. Now, there have been a good many founders of orders who are also Doctors of the Church, but many, as well who are not. It is not the founding of an order (which Teresa and John did not do) that makes one a Doctor of the Church. It is the articulation of a universal truth of the Church recognized as such. Thus what they have to say isn't spoken merely to Carmelites, or, for that matter merely to those inclined to mystical experience. Just as what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say is not confined to Dominicans or to those inclined to the exercise of intellect in Church matters.

For example, I quote John Paul II letter on St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Divini Amoris Scientia:

In these three different manuscripts, which converge in a thematic unity and in a progressive description of her life and spiritual way, Thérèse has left us an original autobiography which is the story of her soul. It shows how in her life God has offered the world a precise message, indicating an evangelical way, the "little way", which everyone can take, because everyone is called to holiness.

In fact, St. Thérèse's teaching is a distillation of the work of St. John of the Cross. Following His direction and that of St. Teresa of Avila, the Little flower concentrated their writings into the very concise, very small, very precise "little way."

from Divini Amoris Scientia
His Holiness John Paul II

From careful study of the writings of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and from the resonance they have had in the Church, salient aspects can be noted of her "eminent doctrine", which is the fundamental element for conferring the title of Doctor of the Church.

First of all, we find a special charism of wisdom. This young Carmelite, without any particular theological training, but illumined by the light of the Gospel, feels she is being taught by the divine Teacher who, as she says, is "the Doctor of Doctors" (Ms A, 83v), and from him she receives "divine teachings" (Ms B, 1r). She feels that the words of Scripture are fulfilled in her: "Whoever is a little one, let him come to me.... For to him that is little, mercy shall be shown" (Ms B, 1v; cf. Prv 9:4; Wis 6:6) and she knows she is being instructed in the science of love, hidden from the wise and prudent, which the divine Teacher deigned to reveal to her, as to babes (Ms A, 49r; cf. Lk 10:21-22).

Pius XI, who considered Thérèse of Lisieux the "Star of his pontificate", did not hesitate to assert in his homily on the day of her canonization, 17 May 1925: "The Spirit of truth opened and made known to her what he usually hides from the wise and prudent and reveals to little ones; thus she enjoyed such knowledge of the things above - as Our immediate Predecessor attests - that she shows everyone else the sure way of salvation" (AAS 17 [1925], p. 213).

Her teaching not only conforms to Scripture and the Catholic faith, but excels ("eminet") for the depth and wise synthesis it achieved. Her doctrine is at once a confession of the Church's faith, an experience of the Christian mystery and a way to holiness. Thérèse offers a mature synthesis of Christian spirituality: she combines theology and the spiritual life; she expresses herself with strength and authority, with a great ability to persuade and communicate, as is shown by the reception and dissemination of her message among the People of God.

Thérèse's teaching expresses with coherence and harmonious unity the dogmas of the Christian faith as a doctrine of truth and an experience of life. In this regard it should not be forgotten that the understanding of the deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, makes progress in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit: "There is growth in insight into the realities and words that are passed on... through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts (cf. Lk 2:19 and 51). It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth" (Dei Verbum, n. 8).

In the writings of Thérèse of Lisieux we do not find perhaps, as in other Doctors, a scholarly presentation of the things of God, but we can discern an enlightened witness of faith which, while accepting with trusting love God's merciful condescension and salvation in Christ, reveals the mystery and holiness of the Church.

Thus we can rightly recognize in the Saint of Lisieux the charism of a Doctor of the Church, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit she received for living and expressing her experience of faith, and because of her particular understanding of the mystery of Christ. In her are found the gifts of the new law, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit, who manifests himself in living faith working through charity (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., I-II, q. 106, art. 1; q. 108, art. 1).

We can apply to Thérèse of Lisieux what my Predecessor Paul VI said of another young Saint and Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena: "What strikes us most about the Saint is her infused wisdom, that is to say, her lucid, profound and inebriating absorption of the divine truths and mysteries of faith.... That assimilation was certainly favoured by the most singular natural gifts, but it was also evidently something prodigious, due to a charism of wisdom from the Holy Spirit" (AAS 62 [1970], p. 675).

8. With her distinctive doctrine and unmistakable style, Thérèse appears as an authentic teacher of faith and the Christian life. In her writings, as in the sayings of the Holy Fathers, is found that lifegiving presence of Catholic tradition whose riches, as the Second Vatican Council again says, "are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and prayer" (Dei Verbum, n. 8).

If considered in its literary genre, corresponding to her education and culture, and if evaluated according to the particular circumstances of her era, the doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux appears in providential harmony with the Church's most authentic tradition, both for its confession of the Catholic faith and for its promotion of the most genuine spiritual life, presented to all the faithful in a living, accessible language. . . .

10. The spiritual doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux has helped extend the kingdom of God. By her example of holiness, of perfect fidelity to Mother Church, of full communion with the See of Peter, as well as by the special graces obtained by her for many missionary brothers and sisters, she has rendered a particular service to the renewed proclamation and experience of Christ's Gospel and to the extension of the Catholic faith in every nation on earth.

There is no need to dwell at length on the universality of Thérèse's doctrine and on the broad reception of her message during the century since her death: it has been well documented in the studies made in view of conferring on her the title of Doctor of the Church.

A particularly important fact in this regard is that the Church's Magisterium has not only recognized Thérèse's holiness, but has also highlighted the wisdom of her doctrine. Pius X had already said that she was "the greatest saint of modern times". On joyfully receiving the first Italian edition of the Story of a Soul, he extolled the fruits that had resulted from Thérèse's spirituality. Benedict XV, on the occasion of proclaiming the Servant of God's heroic virtues, explained the way of spiritual childhood and praised the knowledge of divine realities which God granted to Thérèse in order to teach others the ways of salvation (cf. AAS 13 [1921], pp. 449-452). On the occasion of both her beatification and canonization, Pius XI wished to expound and recommend the Saint's doctrine, underscoring her special divine enlightenment (Discorsi di Pio XI, vol. I, Turin 1959, p. 91) and describing her as a teacher of life (cf. AAS 17 [1925], pp. 211-214). When the Basilica of Lisieux was consecrated in 1954, Pius XII said, among other things, that Thérèse penetrated to the very heart of the Gospel with her doctrine (cf. AAS 46 [1954], pp. 404-408). Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, visited Lisieux several times, especially when he was Nuncio in Paris. On various occasions during his pontificate he showed his devotion to the Saint and explained the relationship between the doctrine of the Saint of Avila and her daughter, Thérèse of Lisieux (Discorsi, Messaggi, Colloqui, vol. II [1959-1960], pp. 771-772). Many times during the celebration of the Second Vatican Council, the Fathers recalled her example and doctrine. On the centenary of her birth, Paul VI addressed a Letter on 2 January 1973 to the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, in which he extolled Thérèse's example in the search for God, offered her as a teacher of prayer and theological virtue of hope, and a model of communion with the Church, calling the attention of teachers, educators, pastors and theologians themselves to the study of her doctrine (cf. AAS 65 [1973], pp. 12-15). I myself on various occasions have had the joy of recalling the person and doctrine of the Saint, especially during my unforgettable visit to Lisieux on 2 June 1980, when I wished to remind everyone: "One can say with conviction about Thérèse of Lisieux that the Spirit of God allowed her heart to reveal directly to the people of our time the fundamental mystery, the reality of the Gospel.... Her 'little way' is the way of 'holy childhood'. There is something unique in this way, the genius of St Thérèse of Lisieux. At the same time there is the confirmation and renewal of the most basic and most universal truth. What truth of the Gospel message is really more basic and more universal than this: God is our Father and we are his children?" (Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, vol. III/1 [1980], p. 1659).

These simple references to an uninterrupted series of testimonies from the Popes of this century on the holiness and doctrine of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and to the universal dissemination of her message clearly express to what extent the Church, in her pastors and her faithful, has accepted the spiritual doctrine of this young Saint.

A sign of the ecclesial reception of the Saint's teaching is the appeal to her doctrine in many documents of the Church's ordinary Magisterium, especially when speaking of the contemplative and missionary vocation, of trust in the just and merciful God, of Christian joy and of the call to holiness. Evidence of this fact is the presence of her doctrine in the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 127, 826, 956, 1011, 2011, 2558). She who so loved to learn the truths of the faith in the catechism deserved to be included among the authoritative witnesses of Catholic doctrine.

Thérèse possesses an exceptional universality. Her person, the Gospel message of the "little way" of trust and spiritual childhood have received and continue to receive a remarkable welcome, which has transcended every border.

The influence of her message extends first of all to men and women whose holiness and heroic virtues the Church herself has recognized, to the Church's pastors, to experts in theology and spirituality, to priests and seminarians, to men and women religious, to ecclesial movements and new communities, to men and women of every condition and every continent. To everyone Thérèse gives her personal confirmation that the Christian mystery, whose witness and apostle she became by making herself in prayer "the apostle of the apostles", as she boldly calls herself (Ms A, 56r), must be taken literally, with the greatest possible realism, because it has a value for every time and place. The power of her message lies in its concrete explanation of how all Jesus' promises are fulfilled in the believer who knows how confidently to welcome in his own life the saving presence of the Redeemer.

I'm sorry to quote at such length, but I think it is time to put this whole question to rest. There can be no question that John Paul II and one assumes much of the Church from the time of the Saint's beatification has regarded here doctrine as sound and universal and her doctrine is nothing other than that handed down from the Bible and from the riches of her mother and father in faith, St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.

Regarding St. John of the Cross, another opinion supporting my own from Doctors of the Church.

John's words are for all creatures and especially members of the Church. They do not have to live in monasteries or secluded settings or be contemplative. For John, God wants to transform each and everyone regardless of their lifestyle. All have to give the payback. We are "bandits". Intentionally or unintentionally we keep or are stingy with God who wants our loving thoughts, feelings, aspirations and desperations. John understood that to give up these for God results in a giving back to Him. John always reminds us that love is only repaid by love alone. We are spiritual thieves. We have imprisoned the Word made Flesh in God's many sanctuaries. God is more entrapped by His love for us than by our "stealing" him away from the celestial court. The kingdom of the heavenly court dwells in our midst, mystically and physically. Faith and love grasp this truth.

There is a mystic in each of us. It's God dwelling in us in a marvelous and invisible manner. God is absolute Mystery. God told Moses "I am who I am" One can not say more about God's presence than what God told Moses. The mystical apostle, St John, described God's nature: God is love. The mystical doctor's message is where there is no love, put love and you will find love. He was absolutely convinced that nothing is obtained from God except through love.

(I apologize that I was unable to find the document of Pius XI declaring him a Doctor of the Universal Church.

In my opinion, the fact that St. John of the Cross was a Carmelite in no way narrows the scope of his advise merely to those who are Carmelite. He is a teacher of the Universal Church--not without flaw or error, but certainly on a par with other Doctors of the Church. Just as St. Francis, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and all of the great saints are not teachers of one small sector of the Church alone, neither is St. John of the Cross. One need not be Carmelite to heed his advice. Moreover, John of the Cross can be viewed simply as a synthesist of Doctrine up to his time. Finally, John spent more time as a director than as a teacher. Much of his teaching is really about teaching one to understand where one is on the spiritual path. He did very little direct teaching about a "method" or a "mode" of praying--he simply marked the path and told us how to recognize signs that tell us we need to progress and move on.

So I don't think the blog is in any danger. I stand on firm ground when I categorically state that St. John's teaching, like St. Therese's and St. Teresa's and St. Catherine of Siena is meant for all. If one chooses not to follow it, that is one's own business, but to suggest that because one does not choose to follow it, it necessarily follows that the teaching is not for all is, in my opinion and the opinion of a great many others whose thought means a great deal more than my own, erroneous. St. John advises all of us, Carmelites and Catholics of no order. What he has to say is not for a select few, the "chosen" or the called. Nor is meant only for the Carmelite order. This, in point of fact, is part of what is meant when one is declared a Doctor of the Universal Church. To object that his saying is difficult and therefore not required of us can be legitimately compared (in a far lesser degree) to stating that Jesus' teaching is hard and therefore not required of us. Truly St. John's teaching is not a requirement of salvation (whereas Jesus’ is); however, the difficulty it presents in no way abrogates its efficacy in achieving a life of holiness.

Are there other ways to do the same thing? Perhaps, but they all come to the same thing: "Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and then come follow me." "You cannot serve God and Mammon" (or God and Venus, or God and Ceres, or God and Nature, or God and . . .) it is God alone. This is the core of the doctrine of St. John of the Cross and his call to contemplation and union is meant for all, either now, or in the life to come. There is no getting around it. The vocation of Christian life is perfection in charity that can only come about through stripping oneself (through grace and the Holy Spirit) from all attachments to things less than God. Hard, but true, and stated time and again in the teaching of the Church from the lips of Jesus to the present day.

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Saying Nada in Dominican


Elsewhere Tom and I have been carrying on an extended dialogue about whether everyone is called to the contemplative life, and IF that is true, is it possible for persons with vocations that require a great deal of preoccupation with everyday matters to fulfill the call.

I quote here from a lesser known work of St. Thomas Aquinas:

from The Ways of God: for meditation and prayer
St. Thomas Aquinas

And last and above all, let us take tender care of God Himself, doing everywhere and always that which He most desires us to do and that for which He has particularly predestined us.

We must, therefore, as much as possible, flee all that disturbs us, for grace cannot dwell in an agitated soul. But to keep inner peace we need ardent devotion to God and love "as strong as death," because these have in us an effect like death, so that, seeing the evil deeds of our neighbor, we do not see them; hearing words that could harm us or that are said against us, we do not hear them; and so our heart is not occupied with these things.

We must, in imitation of David, be like the blind, the deaf, and the dumb, and like men without feeling. "But I as a deaf man heard not, and as a dumb man not opening his mouth."

Let us, then, give ourselves up faithfully and with fervor to the things of God. . .

(much later)

We also should take every care to conduct each of our activities as well as we can, doing them by the virtue of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the desire of the Church Triumphant and Militant, and in the name of our Creator, as though our entire salvation and the praise of God and the welfare of all creation depended upon a single act that we do, as if we should never again do a like act, or never again do another act at all afterward.

For each time that an extraneous thought, a turning of the soul toward something else, intoduces itself into our actions, the spirit relaxes in its present work.

Tell me that the middle two paragraphs don't prefigure St. John of the Cross's discussions of "nights of the soul!" It is quite clear that St. Thomas enunciated and described the doctrine, at least in outline. I don't know his work well enough to know if this is expanded upon elsewhere. But here, he very clearly describes what "nada" means. Do not care for the things of the world, but for God Himself alone, and demonstrate that care by living out His will in the particular vocation to which you were called from before time.

Union with God proceeds from three main streams. The most important of these is Charity because it is the source and the strength of the other two. The other are humility and obedience. We cannot achieve union with God as married persons by abandoning our spouses and children and living on a mountain top--this is grave sin and disobedience, and kind of spiritual pride and avarice. Instead, the only path for sanctity is the path that God has laid out for us within our vocation. We must serve and love our families. Now, we know that God makes possible to everyone the closest possible approach. So it follows that union with God is possible within the vocation of marriage. That the living out of abandonment will necessarily present a different face than that of living out a religious vocation goes without saying. But because God calls us to perfection from within our lives and vocations, perfection must perforce be possible from that place. It is the responsibility and the privilege of each of us to attain perfection. Jesus commanded it, it is possible through grace and the merits given us for our works within our vocation.

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For those "head of the household" types some strong words from Richard Baxter:


by Richard Baxter

He that will expect duty or comfort from his wife, must be faithful in doing the duty of a husband. The failing of yourselves in your own duty, may cause the failing of another to you, or at least in some other way as much afflict you, and will be bitterer to you in the end, than if a hundred failed their duty to you. A good husband will either make a good wife, or easily and profitably endure a bad one. I shall therefore give you directions for your own part of duty, as that which your happiness is most concerned in.

Direct. I. The husband must undertake the principal part of the government of the whole family, even of the wife herself. And therefore, I. He must labor to be fit and able for that government which he undertakes. This ability consists, 1. In holiness and spiritual wisdom, that he may be acquainted with the end to which he is to conduct them, and the rule by which he is to guide them, and the principal works which they are to do. An ungodly, irreligious man is both a stranger and an enemy to the chief part of family government. 2. His ability consists in a due acquaintance with the works of his calling, and the labors in which his servants are to be employed. For he that is utterly unacquainted with their business, will be very unfit to govern them in it: unless he commit that part of their government to his wife, or a steward that is acquainted with it. 3. And he must be acquainted both with the common temper and infirmities of mankind, that he may know how much is to be borne with, and also with the particular temper, and faults, and virtues of those whom he is to govern. 4. And he must have prudence, to direct himself in all his carriage to them; and justice, to deal with everyone as they deserve; and love, to do them all the good he can, for soul and body. II. And being thus able, he must make it his daily work, and especially be sure to govern himself well, that his example may be part of his government of others.

Direct. II. The husband must so unite authority and love, that neither of them be omitted or concealed, but both be exercised and maintained. Love must not be exercised so imprudently as to destroy the exercise of authority; and authority must not be exercised over a wife so magisterially and imperiously, as to destroy the exercise of love. As your love must be a governing love, so your commands must all be loving commands. Lose not your authority; for that will but disable you from doing the office of a husband to your wife, or of a master to your servants. Yet must it be maintained by no means inconsistent with conjugal love; and therefore not by fierceness or cruelty, by threats or stripes (unless by distraction or loss of reason, the cease to be capable of the carriage otherwise due to a wife). There are many cases of equality in which authority is not to be exercised; but there is no case of inequality or unworthiness so great, in which conjugal love is not to be exercised; and therefore nothing must exclude it.

Direct. III. It is the duty of husbands to preserve the authority of their wives, over the children and servants of the family. For they are joint governors with them over all the inferiors. And the infirmities of women are apt many times to expose them to contempt: so that servants and children will be apt to slight them, and disobey them, if the husband interpose not to preserve their honor and authority. Yet this must be done with cautions as these: 1. Justify not any error, vice, or weakness of your wives. They may be concealed or excused as far as may be, but never owned or defended. 2. Urge not obedience to any unlawful of theirs. No one hath authority to contradict the law of God, or disoblige any form of his government. You will but diminish your own authority with persons of any understanding, if you justify any thing that is against God's authority. But if the thing commanded be lawful, though it may have some inconveniences, you must rebuke the disobedience of inferiors, and not suffer them to slight the commands of your wives, nor to set their own reason and wills against them, and say, We will not do it. How can they help you in government, if you suffer them to be disobeyed?

I don't know how much of this I agree with, but I do profoundly agree that if a man is to be the head of the household he must earn the respect due that head and not demand it without having demonstrated that he is worthy of it. Too many houses are led by bullying, brutish, unkind men who view wives and children as little more than objects and obstacles. Either trophies or burdens. I know that isn't true among St. Blog's men, but too much of this strain still comes through from the culture. What I like about Baxter's writing is that he doesn't posit up-front that respect is due a tyrant and a bully. He says in a straightforward way, men should lead the household both in domestic matters and in spiritual matters.

If one is of this opinion (and I don't know where I stand) I consider it essential to remember not just the "privileges of power" but the duties and responsibilities of a loving husband and father. If we are to take upon ourselves the leadership of family it should be with an undersanding of what family is and what that leadership entails.

For those interested, the complete excerpt may be found here.

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From Thomas Goodwin (a Puritan)

"Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayers and won with thanks."

"Grace" is more than mercy and love, it superadds to them. It denotes, not simply love, but the love of a sovereign, transcendly superior, one that may do what he will, that may wholly choose whether he will love or no. There may be love between equals, and an inferior may love a superior; but love in a superior, and so superior as he may do what he will, in such a one love is called grace: and therefore grace is attributed to princes; they are said to be gracious to their subjects, whereas subjects cannot be gracious to princes. Now God, who is an infinite Sovereign, who might have chosen whether ever He would love us or no, for Him to love us, this is grace."

"I am going to the three Persons with whom I have had communion: They have taken me, I did not take Them. I shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye; all my lusts and corruptions I shall be rid of, which I could not be here; those croaking toads will fall off in a moment." (Doctrinally, I think he is wrong here, but he has the right idea about the end of Christian Life)

From Thomas Watson:

"How shall we do to draw near to God?

Let us contemplate the excellencies of God. He is the ‘God of glory,’ Psalm xxix. 3. full of orient beauty: in comparison of whom both angels and men are but as the ‘small dust of the balance.’ He is the ‘God of love,’ 2 Cor. xiii. 11. who triumphs in acts of mercy. Well may this encourage us in our approaches to him who delights to display the banner of free grace to sinners. If we should hear of a person of honour who was of a lovely disposition, obliging all that came to him by acts of kindness and civility, it would make us ambitiously desirous to ingratiate ourselves with him and to obtain his acquaintance. God is the most sovereign good, the wonder of love, ready to diffuse the silver streams of his bounty to indigent creatures. This, if anything, will make us willing to draw near to him and acquiesce in him as the centre of felicity.

If we would draw near to God, let us study our own wants. Let us consider in what need we stand for God and that we cannot be happy without him. The prodigal never drew near to his father, until he ‘began to be in want,’ Luke xv. A proud sinner, who was never convinced of his want, minds not to come near God; he hath a stock of his own to live upon, Jer ii. 31. ‘We are Lords; we will come no more unto thee.’ -- A full stomach despises the honey-comb. -- It is the sense of want which brings us near to God. Why did so many lame and paralytical resort to Christ, but because they wanted a cure. Why doth the thirsty man draw near to a fountain but because he wants water. Why doth a condemned man draw near his prince but because he wants a pardon. -- When a poor soul reviews its wants; I want grace; I want the favour of God, I am damned without Christ; this makes him draw near to God, and be an earnest supplicant for mercy.

If we would draw near to God, let us be careful to clear our interest in God, Heb. x. 22. ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.’ When we know him to be our God, then we draw near to him. The spouse, by virtue of the conjugal union, draws near to her husband, Psalm xlviii. 14. ‘This God is our God.’

Let us beg the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God hath a magnetical virtue. Corruption draws the heart from God; the Spirit draws it to him, Cant. i. 4. ‘Draw me, we will run after thee.’ The Spirit, by his omnipotent grace, draws the heart to God not only sweetly, but powerfully.

Let us get our hearts fired with love to God: whichever way love goes, that way the heart is drawn. If God be the treasure delighted in, our hearts will be drawn to him. Servile fear makes the soul fly from God; sacred love makes it fly to him. "
More to come.

The point, however, is to show that we all know, either instinctively or through scripture what is required. Many choose not to follow the path in this life. This is neither vocation nor holy activity in most cases, it is merely waywardness.

Contemplation feeds holy action. Contemplation is not an either/or, it is a both/and. St. Teresa of Avila founded thirty-two or more foundations--this is a life of intense activity, made possible only by her constant turning to God. So with all the great saints. Where there is a life of intense activity, there is also a life of drawing closer to God. Intense activity alone does nothing to make one Holy. We do not earn salvation by works, but works are merits that flow from a soul properly oriented toward God.

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Father Lagrange's book is one of those in which the footnotes occasionally exceed the length of the text above. And in a passage regarding how to find union with God, we find this remarkable excerpt from a letter:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange O.P.

[here quoting an anonymous Novice mistress]

". . . In my opinion, many souls remain at the door of the true life because they lack instruction and are deluded in believing that meditation alone is a sure state. Ordinarily when one enters our monasteries with the required dispositions. . . and when one strives seriously to acquire the virtues, the soul is, in a very short time, subjected by God to aridity and powerlessness, the prelude of the passive purifications. It is almost impossible to make those who have been trained according to the method of reasoned meditation believe that this state is good, and that it is made to lead them to the divine union. They do not understand the teaching of St. John of the Cross: 'To apply oneself at this time to the comprehension and consideration of particular objects, were they ever so spiritual, would be to place an obstacle int he way of the general, subtle, and simple light of the spirit.; it would be to overcloud one's spirit. . . .'

"Those who cling to meditation are still waiting after thirty years and more of religious life for someone to lift them up and show them what they are still seeking. They lead a colorless and dull spiritual life. In the contemplative life the secret of happiness is in knowng how to live this life under the eye of God.. . .

Every soul that is even slightly contemplative, instinctively seeks to rid itself of everything personal and places no value on it. . . ."

I have three reasons for quoting this passage. The first is to show that spiritual direction is almost essential at some point along the way. Perhaps one can struggle through much of the experience by oneself, but eventually there comes a time when one requires help to man the rudder and keep the ship on course.

The second is to note that the contemplative life seems to come very rapidly (to the cloistered) who have the proper disposition and desire. I think this extends to the lay life, but perhaps requires more time given that one has other repsonsibilities and vocations to attend to. Persons who are married and who have children have a primary responsibility to their spouses and children. This is their primary vocation and one better "achieves perfection" through obedience to the necessity of one's calling than through all the straining at the bit with concomittant neglect of one's spouse and child. Obedience and humility seem to be virtues very highly prized by God, possibly because they foster a greater life of charity. Thus, in the married state, one sacrifices to some extent, what one would rather do (direct ascent to God) to what one is required (and in my case, at least, priveleged and overjoyed) to do. So those attending to families should feel no remorse at this temporary delay. The prayer of responsibly iiving out one's vocation will ultimately further union when the time comes.

The third reason for quoting the passage is in the last sentence. It seems natural and right that the contemplative soul, the soul seeking constant communion and communication with God, would naturally move toward shedding the obstacles that stand in the way of that Union. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange goes through a great deal of effort to show that this has been the teaching from St. Paul on; that St. John of the Cross is perhaps a more precise articulator of the mechanisms and the meanings of some of the stages of prayer, but that the doctrine springs from the wells of Sacred Scripture itself, and thus, ultimately the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I find this interesting to reflect upon because it verifies my own observations regarding this. And it seems to be true of every Christian tradition.

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from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

We shall demonstrate that this doctrine of St. John of the Cross, [concerning the unitive way as uniate and the perfection of Christian Charity, hence the destination of all Christians] while clarifying that of the great doctors who preceded him, remains perfectly conformable to their teaching, and that it is contained in the evangelical beatitudes. These propose to us Christian perfection in all its grandeur, and are certainly not inferior in elevation to what the author of The Spiritual Canticle has written. . . .

Is a special vocation necessary to reach the mystical life? In principle no. "The grace of the virtues and of the gifts" suffices in itself by its normal development to dispose us to the mystical life, and mystical contemplation is necessary for the full perfection of Christian life. But in fact, for lack of certain condo\itions which at times are independent of our will, even generous souls would attain contemplation only after a longer space of time than the ordinary span of life; just as some minds, which are capable of a superior intellectual development, never reach it for lack of certain conditions.

Now, it remains to be seen if Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange actually accomplishes what he sets out to do; however, his evidences thus far have been persuasive, if not conclusive.

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Who'd have thought that the person who penned these immortal lyrics:

Because the Night
Patty Smith

Take me now baby here as I am
Hold me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed

Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I'm in your hands
Take my hand come undercover
They can't hurt you now,
Can't hurt you now, can't hurt you now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us

started her work because of the man who penned this:

from "Le Bateau Ivre"
Arthur Rimbaud

Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles,
Je ne me sentais plus tiré par les haleurs :
Des Peaux-Rouges criards les avaient pris pour cibles
Les ayant cloués nus aux poteaux de couleurs.

J'étais insoucieux de tous les équipages,
Porteur de blés flamands et de cotons anglais.
Quand avec mes haleurs ont fini ces tapages
Les Fleuves m'ont laissé descendre où je voulais.

Dans les clapotements furieux des marées,
Moi, l'autre hiver, plus sourd que les cerveaux d'enfants,
Je courus ! Et les Péninsules démarrées
N'ont pas subi tohu-bohus plus triomphants.

La tempête a béni mes éveils maritimes.
Plus léger qu'un bouchon j'ai dansé sur les flots
Qu'on appelle rouleurs éternels de victimes,
Dix nuits, sans regretter l'oeil niais des falots !

Plus douce qu'aux enfants la chair des pommes sûres,
L'eau verte pénétra ma coque de sapin
Et des taches de vins bleus et des vomissures
Me lava, dispersant gouvernail et grappin.

"The Drunken Boat" [Le Bateau ivre] (1871)

As I was floating down impassive Rivers,
I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers:
gaudy Redskins had taken them for targets,
nailing them naked to coloured stakes.

I cared nothing for all my crews,
carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton.
When, along with my haulers, those uproars stopped,
the Rivers let me sail downstream where I pleased.

Into the ferocious tide-rips, last winter,
more absorbed than the minds of children, I ran!
And the unmoored Peninsulas never
endured more triumphant clamourings.

The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings.
Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves
which men call the eternal rollers of victims,
for ten nights, without once missing the foolish eye of the harbor lights!

Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,
the green water penetrated my pinewood hull
and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains
and the splashes of vomit, carrying away both rudder and anchor.

And what would either the poet laureate of the punks or the premier French poet claimed by the GLB have to teach us about Jesus?

I wouldn't think they would have much to say. However, as I was listening to an interview this morning on NPR, Ms. Smith had something very thought-provoking to say. She said that she started writing her poetry and doing her work because she wanted to do for others what Arthur Rimbaud and Bob Dylan had done for her. She consciously set about providing for others a role-model. Not for everyone mind, but for a small portion of the population.

It occurred to me, what if every Christian thought that way? What if each of us set about deliberately becoming for others what Jesus is to us? In other words, what might happen if we were to live out our baptismal promises and our Easter gift? We could serve as Jesus served us. We could bring people to knowledge of God. (Mind you all of this through grace, but nevertheless with us as active and willing partiipants.)

Wouldn't that transform the world? Rather than bickering and dickering and criticizing and complaining, what if we set about doing something to change the way things were? What if we helped only one person a day? What if we were of service only to a single person in our whole lives? Still, we would have done part of what we are here to do. Our first vocation is to love God most of all. But after that, we are called to bring others to this same love.

So, what if we were to be like Patty Smith and delibereately set about changing the world through imitating our role model. What might happen if we were to behave as though we had internalized the reality of His resurrection? It is precisely the answer to this question that causes nearly every totalatarian regime to crack down on Christianity. If we were to live our belief rather than just talking it to death, we would change the world in a revolutionary way. A revolution of God's love, not of blood and violence.

Now, that is not to say that we would ever change human nature or solve all of te problems that face us. However, we'd be a lot closer than we are now.

So perhaps we should give just a little thought to letting Jesus be not only our guide but our model. And perhaps we should consider each day how we can reflect just a little bit more of Him and a little bit less of ourselves.

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On Prayer--From Thomas Watson


from Renovation of the Heart
Ballas Willard

The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. "When I awake, I am still with thee" (Ps. 139:18). The thoughts are as travellers in the mind. David's thought kept heaven-road, "I am still with Thee." God is the treasure and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are the fled aloft? Do we contmplate Christ and glory? Oh, how far are they from being lovers of Gof, who scarcely ever think of God! (Ps. 10:4). A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts. He never thinks of God unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge.

For more of Thomas Watson, visit this site. You'll be pleased to note that Rev. Watson is yet another of the Puritan divines. Like many, mystical in his approach to prayer and God.

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Good Friday Meditation


As I am at present uncertain of my availability tomorrow, I leave you with this lengthy meditation.

from Love of Eternal Wisdom
St. Louis de Montfort



[1. The most convincing reason for loving Wisdom]

154. Among all the motives impelling us to love Jesus Christ, the Wisdom incarnate, the strongest, in my opinion, is the sufferings he chose to endure to prove his love for us. "There is," says St Bernard, "one motive which excels all others which I feel most keenly and which urges me to love Jesus. It is, dear Jesus, the bitter chalice which you drank for our sakes, and the great work of our Redemption which makes you so lovable to us. Indeed this supreme blessing and incomparable proof of your love makes us want to return your love. This motive attracts us more agreeably, makes most just demands upon us, moves us more pressingly and influences us more forcibly." And he gives the reason in a few words, "Our dear Saviour has laboured and suffered much to accomplish our redemption. What pain and anguish he has endured!"

[2. The circumstances of his Passion]

155. But what makes us realise more clearly the infinite love of eternal Wisdom for us is the circumstances surrounding his sufferings.
(a) The first of these is the perfection of his person. Being infinite he gave infinite value to all the sufferings of his passion. Had God sent a seraph or an angel of the lowest order to become man and die for us, it would have been a stupendous thing and worthy of our eternal gratitude. But that the Creator of heaven and earth, the only Son of God, eternal Wisdom himself should come and offer up his life! This is inconceivable charity, for, compared with his life, the lives of all angels and all men and all creatures together are of infinitely less value than say, the life of a gnat when compared with the lives of the kings of this earth. Such an excess of love is shown to us in this mystery that our admiration and our gratitude should be great indeed.

156. (b) A second circumstance is the condition of the people for whom he suffered. They were human beings – unworthy creatures and his enemies, from whom he has nothing to fear nor anything to hope for. We sometimes hear of people dying for their friends; but are we ever likely to hear of anyone but the Son of God dying for his enemies? But Jesus Christ proved how well he loved us because though we were sinners - and consequently his enemies – he died for us.

157. (c) The third circumstance is the amount, the grievousness and the duration of his sufferings. Their extent was so great that he is called "Man of sorrows". "A man of every sorrow in whom there is no soundness from the sole of the foot to the top of the head." (Is 53.3) This dear friend of our souls suffered in every way exteriorly and inwardly, in body and soul.

158. He suffered even in material things, apart from the poverty of his birth, of his flight into Egypt and his stay there, and the poverty of his entire life; during his passion he was stripped of his garments by soldiers who shared them among themselves, and then fastened him naked to a cross without as much as a rag to cover his body.

159. He suffered in honour and reputation, for he was overwhelmed with insults and called a blasphemer, a revolutionary, a drunkard, a glutton and a possessed person. He suffered in his wisdom when they classed him as an ignorant man and an imposter, and treated him as a fool and a madman. He suffered in his power, for his enemies considered him a sorcerer and a magician who worked false miracles through a compact with the devil. He suffered in his disciples, one of whom bartered him for money and betrayed him; another, their leader, denied him; and the rest abandoned him.

160. He suffered from all kinds of people; from kings, governors, judges, courtiers, soldiers, pontiffs, priests, officials of the temple and lay members; from Jews and gentiles, from men and women; in fact, from everyone. Even his Blessed Mother's presence added painfully to his sufferings for, as he was dying, he saw her standing at the foot of the cross engulfed in a sea of sorrow.

161. Moreover, our dear Saviour suffered in every member of his body. His head was pierced with a crown of thorns. His hair and beard were torn out; his cheeks were buffeted; his face covered with spittle; his neck and arms bound with cords; his shoulders weighed down and bruised by the weight of the cross. His hands and feet were pierced by the nails, his side and heart opened by a lance; his whole body lacerated by more then five thousand strokes of the scourge, so that his almost fleshless bones became visible. All his senses were almost immersed in a sea of sufferings. He suffered in his sight as he beheld the mocking faces of his enemies and the tears of grief of his friends. He suffered in his hearing as he listened to insulting words, false testimonies, calumnious statements and horrible blasphemies which evil tongues vomited against him. He suffered in his sense of smell by the foulness of the filth they spat into his face. He suffered in his sense of taste by a feverish thirst in which he was only given gall and vinegar to drink. He suffered in his sense of touch by the excruciating pain of the lashes, thorns and nails.

162. His most holy soul was grievously tormented because every sin committed by man was an outrage against his Father whom he loved infinitely; because sin was the cause of the damnation of so many souls who would be lost despite his passion and death; and because he had compassion not only for all men in general but for each one in particular, as he knew them all individually. All these torments were much increased by the length of time they lasted, that is, from the first instance of his conception to the moment of his death, because all the sufferings he was to endure were, in the timeless view of his wisdom, always distinctly present to his mind. To all these torments we must add the most cruel and the most fearful one, namely his abandonment upon the cross which caused him to cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

[3. The great love with which he suffered]

163. From all this we must conclude with St. Thomas and the Fathers of the Church that our good Jesus suffered more than all the martyrs both those of past ages and those of the future up to the end of the world. Now if the smallest pain of the Son of God is more precious and more likely to stir our hearts than all the sufferings of angels and men together had they died and given up everything for us, how deep then should be our grief, our love and our gratitude for our Lord who endured for our sakes freely and with the utmost love all that a man could possibly suffer. "For the joy set before him, he endured the cross." (Heb 12.2) According to the Fathers of the Church, these words mean that Jesus Christ, Eternal Wisdom, could have remained in his heavenly glory, infinitely distant from our misfortunes. But he chose on our account to come down upon earth, take the nature of man and be crucified. Even when he had become man he could have imparted to his body the same joy, the same immortality, the same blessedness which he now enjoys. But he did not choose this because he wanted to be free to suffer.

164. Rupert adds to this that at the Incarnation, the eternal Father proposed to his Son the saving of the world either by joyful means or by suffering, by acquiring honours or by suffering contempt, by richness or by poverty, by living or by dying. Hence while remaining himself glorious and triumphant, he could have redeemed men and taken them with him along a way paved with joys, delights, honours and riches had he wished to do so. But he chose rather to endure the cross and sufferings in order to give to God his Father greater glory and to men a proof of greater love.

165. Further, he loved us so much that instead of shortening his sufferings he chose to prolong them and to suffer even more. That is why when he was hanging on the cross, covered with opprobrium and plunged deep in sorrow, as if not suffering enough, he cried out, "I thirst." For what was he thirsting? St. Laurence Justinian gives us the answer. "His thirst arose from the ardour of his love, from the depth and abundance of his charity. He was thirsting for us, thirsting to give himself to us and suffer for us."

[4. Conclusion]

166. Knowing all this are we not right in exclaiming with St. Francis of Paula, "O God who is love, what excesses of love you have shown us in suffering and in dying!" Or with St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, kissing the crucifix, "O Love, how little are you known!" Or St. Francis of Assisi, trudging along the dusty streets, "Jesus, my crucified Love, is not loved." Holy Church makes us repeat every day, "The world does not know Jesus Christ," (Jn 1.10) incarnate Wisdom; and in truth, to know what our Lord has endured for us, and yet like the world not to love him ardently, is morally impossible.

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from A Letter of the Holy Father to His Brother Priests, 2004

2. We were born from the Eucharist. If we can truly say that the whole Church lives from the Eucharist (“Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit”), as I reaffirmed in my recent Encyclical, we can say the same thing about the ministerial priesthood: it is born, lives, works and bears fruit “de Eucharistia”(cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, canon 2: DS 1752). “There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist” (cf. Gift and Mystery. On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination, New York, 1996, pp.77-78).

The ordained ministry, which may never be reduced to its merely functional aspect since it belongs on the level of “being”, enables the priest to act in persona Christi and culminates in the moment when he consecrates the bread and wine, repeating the actions and words of Jesus during the Last Supper.

Before this extraordinary reality we find ourselves amazed and overwhelmed, so deep is the humility by which God “stoops” in order to unite himself with man! If we feel moved before the Christmas crib, when we contemplate the Incarnation of the Word, what must we feel before the altar where, by the poor hands of the priest, Christ makes his Sacrifice present in time? We can only fall to our knees and silently adore this supreme mystery of faith.

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Rejecting the Extraordinary


from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

The darkness that leads to God is, as we already know, faith. It is the only means that leads to union because it sets God before our eyes as he is: as infinite, as triune. Faith resembles God in that both blind the intellect and appear to it as darkness. "The greater one's faith the closer is one's union with God." Its darkness is indicated in sacred Scripture by the image of the cloud, in which God concealed himself in the Old Testament revelations: to Moses on the mount, in Solomon's temple. The light of truth is concealed in this darkness. It will "at once appear when faith reaches its end. . . by the ending of this mortal life."

Temporarily, though, we are totally dependent on faith. What it gives us -- contemplation-- is a dark and general knowledge; it stands in contrast not only to natural cognition but also to the various ways in which the intellect receives distinct and particular supernatural knowledge: visions, revelations, locutions, and spiritual feelings. The bodily eyes may be shown images and person from the other world: angels or saints, or unusual shining lights. One can hear extraordinary words, smell the sweetest fragrances, savor exquisite tastes, or feel extreme delight through the sense of touch. A person should refuse to attend to this, without seeking to examine whether it is good or bad. To be sure these things may come from God but there is no certainty about that. "God's self-communication is more appropriately given to the spirit than to the senses, and the soul finds greater security and make greater progress for through what is received by the sense, as a rule, great danger of deception exists. For the senses then believe they can arbitrate and judge spiritual matters, whereas they are as ignorant of them as a beast of burden is of rational matters."

Two points here: first, the image of the cloud occurs throughout all of mystical literature. One of the great early classics of English Spirituality is called The Cloud of Unknowing. This is a common inheritance.

Second: while God communicates to the soul all that the soul needs, because we are integrated creatures there is some fall-out perceived by the senses. That is, one may have visions or other extraordinary manifestations of what God is doing within. The best practice and soundest policy is to ignore the extraordinary without considering for a moment whether it is a sign of good or bad. Let go of it, let it slip by. The only important thing is continual focus on and ardent love of God. All of these things are extraneous, potential distractions; indeed, they are potential derailers of all the good that has come thus far. If one follows the senses and pays attention to these things as they occur, one strays once again from the giver and ends up pursuing the gift. The gift, as magnificent as it may be, is always less than the giver. The gift is merely a means to an end (or sometimes even less--a sign of the means), the Giver Himself is the end.

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from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healy, O.Carm

You must desire to live in God's Presence

Many people remain strangers to God because they love unwisely the pleasures of the flesh and the world. They would love God, but they want the inordinate love of cretures, too. Having known the pleasures of this life, they find it almost impossible to give them up. They fear, and how foolishly, that nothing can take the place of human loves, money, sports, and carnal pleasures. But, if they were to set out to love God, to live in His presence, they would find their love of creatures gradually diminishing. To one who sees God, all created things are small. having loved a greater good, it is easy to forget the lesser: "If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing."

In this exercise, as in all progress in prayer, it is most important to persevere. We must have the desire to want to live in the presence of God. We must pray for this desire. We must not be satisfied only to be in the state of grace. We must continually bestir ourselves to realize that is is possible to come to deep love of God.

This is detachment from "the other side" as it were. It is the way to properly look at the process of detachment. I do not seek to leave the things of the world behind as a sort of arbitrary exercise in self-control. I love God first, most, always, and everything else falls away. It isn't as though I do not live in the world, but rather that my primary preoccupation is with God alone, the things of the world fall into perspective and are not nearly so important.

This is the way to view detachment. Increasing love of God causes the love of creatures to fade in importance. I love the giver and all of His gifts assume their proper dignity as created things, but they no longer control me or have sway over me.

Thus, the exercise of detachment isn't one to be performed for its own sake, but rather it is the natural outcome of a growing love of what is truly important. We all know the truth of this. In ordinary life as a hobby or occupation consumes more time, other things, formally quite prepossessing, fade into the background. How much more true when our central preoccupation is love of the Creator of all.

Detachment is the abstract ideal arrived at not by seeking to be detached, but by seeking God first, most, and always. I don't have to work at detachment; I must work at loving God through His grace. This leads quite naturally to separation from things of lesser importance. I will have found "the pearl of great price" and everything I have is too little to pay for it.

Father Kilian will go on to offer us five ways of detecting and loving God in our ordinary lives. These are all ways of communicating with God and, in a sense we are probably not used to, praying to Him.

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A Question for the Day

| | Comments (9)

And I am asking for insight and opinions:

from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

There is a third way of carrying the cross. Jesus embraces the saving wood and teaches us how we ought to carry our own cross: with love, co-redeeming all souls with him, making reparation at the same time for our own sins. Our Lord has conferred on human suffering a deep meaning. Being able, as he was, to redeem us in a multitude of ways, he chose to do so through suffering. . .

Do we co-redeem with Christ? Is this truly church teaching? I don't ask because it sounds bad, but because it sounds big and odd. I accept it as the truth and I struggle to understand how what I do contributes to the redemption of anyone. I could lead someone to Christ, but Christ is the redeemer. Am I co-redeemer in that capacity or in something more? This whole statement puzzles and excites me. To be a co-redeemer is such an opportunity and a challenge. At the same time I must truly understand what it means if I am to undertake and do it properly.

Any thoughts on this matter? Any insights? I'd appreciate anything anyone has to add to this--theological, spiritual, or just casual. Thanks.

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Disputations has a nicely timed meditation on the Cross and Stigmata to which I add three notes, one my own and two from my reading.

Of greatest importance in assuming the burdens of our daily crosses is that we seek to conform to them and we do not seek to make them conformable to us. A cross that is comfortable and suits my image of myself isn't really so much a cross that trains in holiness as it is a display piece.

from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

[Quoting J. Aldewicz] Veronica responded to Christ's love with reparation; a reaparation especially admirable because it came from a helpless woman who did not fear the ire of the enemies of Christ. . . Will the image of Christ's face be imprinted on my soul s on the veil of Veronica?

from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

[Quoting St. Josemaria Escriva] It is not too late; nor is everything lost. . . even though to you it may seems so -- even though a thousand doom-laden voices keep saying so. Even though you are beseiged by the furious faces of mocking and jeering onlookers. You have come at a good time to take up the Cross: the Redemption is taking place now! And Jesus needs many more Simons like the man from Cyrene!

You might also spend some time with this during the week.

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Loving the God Who Loves Us


from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healy, O.Carm

Love arises from awareness of God's presence

It would be a mistake to think that recollection of God and belief in His presence are sufficient to make us His friend. For it is possible to think of God and hate Him. It is possible to study about God, learn all about His divine nature, believe all the divine truths, yet never raise our hearts to love Him. Our relationship with God would be like that of people who live in the same apartment house and remain total strangers. They know each other, talk about each other, but never speak to each other.

Therefore, if the practice of living in God's presence is to unite us to Him in love, it must do more than teach us to think of Him. It must teach us to be attracted to Him, to love and speak intimately with Him, as a child with his father. In other words, it must include acts of the will, affections, by which we long for God and speak to Him in short, affectionate prayers.

The exercise of the presence of God leads us to intimate love of God, and indirectly leads us away from sin and worldliness. The more we grow in this practice the less power the pleasures of the world have over us.

. . . Carried on by enthusiasm like that of Christ with His face set toward Jerusalem and Calvary, outstripping His Apostles on the road, [Cf. Mark 10:32] the soul that has learned to live in God's presence looks continually toward God, unperturbed by the allurements of the passing pleasures of life.

Father Kilian speaks of Brother Lawrence's practice of the presence of God. As yet he has not given clear guidelines about how to do this on a regular basis, but he has laid out the principles by which we should WANT to do this.

God loves us. We cannot hear that enough, nor can we possibly make it real enough in our lives and in the lives of those around us. It is too important a reality to dismiss easily. Every passage of the Bible, every word, breathes out His love to us. The voices of the Saints remind us endlessly that God loves us. But we often feel too unlovable for anyone to pay special attention to us. We feel too small, too immersed in sin, too dirty. But what father or mother ceases to love an infant because she or he has a dirty diaper? So too our Father loves us despite how we may feel about ourselves.

Another important part of what Fr. Kilian is doing here is his approach to detachment. He doesn't even mention the word, but he tells us that by setting our eyes on God and making love of Him our goal, we will very naturally leave behind the things of the world. This isn't an innovation nor a new teaching. St. John of the Cross would agree whole-heartedly. This, in fact, is what almost all Carmelite teaching boils down to. Love God with the focused intensity of a laser beam and all other things fall into place.

If we love God first, most, and always, we will be driven by that love out into the world to demonstrate and carry it to our brothers and sisters. In fact, St. Teresa Benedicta citing St. John of the Cross describes it in this way:

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The divine light, then, already dwells in the soul by nature. But only when for God's sake she divests herself of all that is not God--that is what is called love!--will the soul be illumined by and transformed in God. "God will so communicate his supernatural being to the soul that she will appear to be God himself and will possess what God himself possesses." So great a union is caused "that all the things of both God and the soul become one in participant transformation, and the soul appears to be God more than a soul. Indeed, she is God by participation. Yet, truly, her being (even though transformed) is naturally as distinct from God's as it was before."

What does this mean? First, let's properly understand the passage and then examine its implications. The best way to understand what St. John of the Cross said in the quoted passage is to remember his famous metaphor of the light and the pane of glass. When the pane of glass is dirty (the soul in the state of sin and attachment) one readily notices the glass and hardly notices the light at all. As the pane of glass is cleaned more and more thoroughly, more and more of the light shines through until, when the glass is perfectly clean, one no longer sees the glass but only perceives the light that illuminates it. Nevertheless, the glass never becomes light even though it "participates" in light by allowing it through.

If the soul "becomes God by participation" and everything we believe of God is indeed true, then the person to whom this happens cannot help but do things in the world that help to make God more present. Feeding the hungry, tending the sick, preaching to those who do not know God, etc. God's first impulse is ever to reach out to all of His creation in compassionate, serving love. When we participate in God, we become His hands, His feet, His voice to those who may not know Him.

Thus loving the God who loves us demands that the love be expressed. A love that remains entirely interior was never much of a love to start with. If our spouse says he or she loves us, but never lifts a finger to show it, we might, quite rightly, begin to doubt after a while the truth of that expression. So love expresses itself in everyday compassionate concern for the needs of those loved. By loving the God who loves us, we cannot help but love and care for His creation, starting with humankind and continuing with the entire wonder of creation.

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from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange, O.P.

Not without difficulty does one succeed in completely conquering selfishness, sensuality, laziness, impatience, envy, unjust judgment, impulses of nature, natural haste, self-love, foolish pretensions, and also self-seeking in piety, the immoderate desire for sensible consolations, intellectual and spiritual pride; in a word, all that is opposed to the spirit of faith and confidence in God; that one may succeed in loving God perfectly with all one's heart, soul, stength, and mind, and one's neighbor (enemies are included under this title) as oneself; in short, to remain firm and patient and to persevere in charity, whatever may happen, when the expression of the Apostle is verified, that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12)

The only problem with the good father's work is the tendency to repeat himself in precisely the same words, three, four, five, or more times in the course of the study. It becomes somewhat more easy to pick out unique passages such as this one. Such a passage offers much food for thought and prayer and much fuel for transformation of life.

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A Prayer Too Beautiful


from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

He is King of my heart. He is the King to that intimate interior world of mine where no one can enter and where I alone am master. Here in my heart Jesus is King. This you well know, O Lord.

(quotation from J. Leclercq, A Year With the Liturgy

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On Being a Friend of God


from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healy O. Carm.

The vocation to be an intimate friend of God is not beyond our reach. It is obligatory, to a degree, and God would not hold something out to us, beckon us to receive it, and then gradually withdraw it.

How are we to acquire it? Is there a short, practical way within our power by which we can come to a deep, tender love of God?

To this last question, the answer must be yes, or Fr. Kilian would have no book to write.

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As it is probably more profitable for a Dominican to address a Dominican's concerns; and, as those concerns pertain to us all, it seems wise to take a look at what Garrigou-Lagrange has to say about the mystical life in general and ultimately about St. John of the Cross. Throughout the bolded emphases are mine.

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

We shall note two important consequence of this doctrine.

1) Since sanctifying grace is the beginning of eternal life and since every just soul enjoys habitual union with the Blessed Trinity dwelling in it, the mystical union, or the actual, intimate, and almost continual union with God, such as is found here on earth in holy souls appears as the culminating point on earth of the development of the grace of the virtues and of the gifts and as the normal, even though rather infrequent, prelude to the life of heaven. This mystical union belongs, in fact to the order of sanctifying grace; it proceeds essentially from "the grace of the virtues and of the gifts" and not from graces gratis datae, which are transitory and in a sense exterior (as miracles and prophecy) and which may accompany it. The mystical life is Christian life, which has, so to speak, become conscious of itself. It does not give us the absolute certainty that we are in the state of grace, a certitude which, according to the Council of Trent, would presuppose a special revelation, but as St. Paul says: "The Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God." He makes us know this, observes St. Thomas, "by the filial love which He produces in us."

2) As the life of grace is essentially ordained to that of glory, the normal, although in fact quite rare, summit of its development should be a very perfect disposition to receive the light of glory immediately after death without passing through purgatory; for it is only through our own fault that we will be detained in that place of expiation, where the soul can no longer merit. Now this very perfect disposition to immediate glorification can be nothing other than an intense charity coupled with the ardent desire of the beatific vision, such as we find them particularly in the transforming union, after the painful passive purifications which have delivered the soul from its blemishes. Since nothing unclean can enter heaven, in principle a soul must undergo these passive purifications at least in a measure before death while meriting and progressing, or after death without meriting or progressing.

These consequences to which we will return, disclose the grandeur of the Christian perfection which can be realized on earth, and they contain the loftiest and most practical teaching. (p. 127-129)

Now, it would seem if we were not all called to perfection, this doctrine would be lofty, but certainly not practical. Nor, it would seem would the "normal, though quite rare summit" would be the direct ascent into Heaven. By normal, one would postulate that this is the way things are supposed to occur. If so, then it would seem that Christians are called to operate in such a way as this would be the normal and less that quite rare result of a Christian life.

Lagrange will go on in the work.

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

As regards the word "call" or "vocation," we will attempt to distinguish in this work the different meanings it may have according as it concerns a general and remote call of all just souls to mystical contemplation or, on the contrary, an individual and proximate call. (p. 46)

One final note:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

Therefore it seems certain that the mystical life, characterized by the predominance of the gifts of the holy Ghost is required for the full perfection of the Christian life. Is this likewise true of mystical contemplation, properly so called?. . . As we have already stated, the gifts of contemplation may as yet intervene in these souls only in a diffuse manner; the mystical life is still imperfect in them. It may be accompanied by a great generosity, which merits the name of perfection without, however, being the full perfection of the Christian life. (p. 367)

The saint [Teresa of Jesus] says in chapter 21 [of The Way of Perfection]: "I maintain that this is the chief point; in fact, the everything depends on their having a great and a most resolute determination never to halt until they reach their journey's end, happen what may, whatever the consequence are, cost what it will, let who will blame them. . . whether the Earth itself goes to pieces beneath their feet." The general call of souls to mystical life could not be more clearly affirmed. (p. 371)

Now, none of this establishes that all souls are called to one order; however, they are all called to the same end--attain it however they may. But it seems that St. Thomas Aquinas and a great many others bear out the words of St. John of the Cross regarding the steps necessary to attaining Christian Perfection and that the attainment of Christian Perfection is a necessary part of the beatific vision and that we are all called to this in our lives here on Earth; however, very few of us answer that call.

Now I am at an end of saying whether or not what St. John of the Cross teaches is for everyone. I believe that it is so. That the path marked up to the summit of Mount Carmel is the path that everyone will eventually tread even if they follow other means to do so and even if such treading is actually being dragged after death up the slopes through the good works and prayers for those left behind. The Ascent of Mount Carmel seems to be a necessary and universal part of Christian life (according to the teaching of the Saints). The only question is whether or not St. John's way is the only way. And my answer there is that I do not know. I assume that it is not, and yet I cannot know because I have read of no other means of ascent, which is negative evidence. It means only that I have not yet encountered anything that suggests another substantially different way.

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For thus says the Lord,
the creator of the heavens,
who is God,
the designer and maker of the earth
who established it,
not creating it to be a waste,
but designing it to be lived in. (Isaiah 45: 18)

For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. (Isaiah 45: 18-19)

I thought a pause in our headlong rush through St. Teresa Benedicta and St. John of the Cross was called for. A momentary pause, or to quote the poet:

A Moment's Halt--a momentary taste
Of Being from the Well amid the Waste--
And Lo!--the phantom Caravan has reach'd
The Nothing it set out from--Oh, make haste!

The purpose of the pause is to clarify what St. John of the Cross teaches and what he does not. This was inspired by an e-mail exchange with a friend in which the friend brought up some points I thought he might have inferred from reading these posts. It turns out rather that he got them from a mission given by Opus Dei priests in his community. Here is his summary of impressions:

For example, the priest last night kept talking about finding ways to make ourselves more uncomfortable, to constantly deny ourselves even basic needs, such as a glass of water when we're thirsty (the priest even make a crack about people who constantly carry around what he called "baby bottles", to ensure that they're never without water), in order to please God. This is why I made the comment I did about fasting until my prayers are answered: if we're called upon to actively cause ourselves pain, then there can be no end to it until we die. Escriva sounds to me like a modern day flagellant. The priest even mentioned that he would try not to see the beautiful, which you counseled against, by averting his eyes when riding through a countryside.

[here follows an excerpt of my reply]
I find the view you describe repugnant, Jansenistic, and very nearly manichean. It suggests a hatred of physicality that is unhealthy. . .I'd like to talk about what St. Teresa Benedicta and St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila were NOT talking about, and what you describe is precisely it. I think if you view it in the way St. John of the Cross does you find a much more faithful way of approaching creation. We do need to mortify the senses by choosing the less appealing rather than the more appealing, but we needn't shut our eyes to the glory through which God speaks to us. That strikes me as just short of sinful--a denial of the [essential] goodness in creation.

As much as I respect the works of Josemaria Escriva and other followers of the Opus Dei prefecture, I've always been a bit cautious regarding their personal approaches to the world. If this priest represents mainline Opus Dei teaching, then indeed caution is called for. I rather hope he expresses extremes of the view. The reason for this is that it strikes me that such suggestions and actions come very close to blasphemy.

The Lord made the world and made it good. He made it to be a world to be lived in. And throughout all creation is the imprint of the Maker. His signature can be found everywhere in nature--in running streams, in sweet grapes, in the scent of orange blossoms or the sea, in the touch of spring-warm breeze, in sunsets, in the sound of the wind in the trees, etc. The Franciscans were well aware that the glories of the Creator were signs of Him and means of access.

To go out of one's way to deny oneself basic needs, to make oneself miserable in the world redounds to whose glory? It is one thing to undertake basic mortifications (the fast prescribed by the church, or such small fasts as we are called to make in the world) but to deliberately shut your eyes so that you cannot see the glories of creations. While this is a severe mortification, if also approaches Manicheeism. It seems to suggest that there is something wrong with participation in the world. And what I quotes from Isaiah above indicates clearly what the Lord thinks about the world--He made it to be lived in, not fled from. We are not called to make ourselves miserable or full of pain. The world will do enough of that for us, and when it happens, we are called to joyfully accept it. However, why go looking for trouble--living presents enough pain and suffering as it is?

No, it strikes me as foolish not to acknowledge what is around you. I don't think the good Lord calls us to make ourselves hurt every day as some sort of memorial to him. In fact, elsewhere in Isaiah don't we hear about the kind of fast the Lord wants?

5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.

(Isaiah 58:5-8, KJV--sorry Bible Gateway doesn't offer Douay Rheims)

There, the Lord speaks through His own prophet saying we should feed the hungry. Well, why should we do that if the Lord wants us all to suffer for Him? Wouldn't it be far wiser to leave them to be hungry because they are already suffering? So too with the yoke of oppression--why throw it off? Just let those who are under oppression throw it off. In fact, if we take the doctrine above to an extreme, we could say that it is our duty to oppress so that there can be greater suffering for all.

Nonsense. This seems, as I said, at best suspect, and at worst something that should be suppressed. I have no interest in administering "the discipline." I have no desire to return to the glory days of mortifications unto sickness.

Nor do the Carmelite Saints. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross do not teach this and roundly teach against it. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity said that if we suffer and can find some alleviation from it, then it is right to do so; but if the suffering is irremediable, we should accept it gladly and unite it for the betterment of all to the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross.

Carmelite teaching is not that the things of the world are bad, but, in fact that they are so good we tend to want them too much. We need to mortify the senses. And by that I believe St. John to mean that we must not seek out sensation, not that we are to blind and deafen ourselves, but that we are to accept the things of the world without taking delight in them. That is to say, we don't seek to linger in the sensation, but we let them pass on by and we continue our pursuit of the path of God. We don't deliberately not look, but we also don't seek to look. This is a world apart from deliberately not looking at God's glorious creation. It may seem subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world.

To be fair to Opus Dei, I've never seen any hint in the writings that we are called to make ourselves miserable. St. Josemaria is said to have administered the discipline frequently, but I don't know if that is the rumor of detractors or what it really means. Nor does it mean we are necessarily to follow his example. Saints can be unhinged and still be Saints--St. Dymphna comes to mind, as do certain actions of St. Rose of Lima (quicklime on the face and broken glass to mar her beauty and prevent vanity). And I do believe that the deliberate infliction of inordinate pain is a sign of illness, not of health in mind and body. A fast, a small mortification, fine; but to daily seek to live a life of misery and pain--that is a definition of mental illness and you can find it clearly delineated in the diagnostic manual.

We need to remember St. Teresa of Avila danced with her nuns at recreation and played tambourine. St. John of the Cross is said to have dearly loved the scenic vistas of Medina del Campo and the Spanish Countryside. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was a master pianist, awarded a number of awards at her school. St. Thérèse's sister was an accomplished photographer. John Henry Newman an accomplished poet. These are all joys and creations of the world, and so long as we do not make them the end-all be-all of existence, participation in them and delight in them is a good thing. We learn again about God.

So, lest there were any apprehension about what one is called to in the Carmelite way, I thought I would make this clear distinction. It is one thing to "see without seeing" it is another to deny yourself water because you can suffer more. As Christine said elsewhere, the call to suffering is a gift of the Lord that not all receive and I don't think it should be considered a universal salutary practice. The acceptance of such suffering as comes (and cannot be avoided) with equanimity and with joy, on the other hand, is a practice that leads to wholeness.

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From St. Teresa Benedicta, again. (Please, restrain the applause, the wild hoots of enthusiasm, I only do my humble best as does she.)

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The peace God produces in the spirit through the dryness of the sensory being is "spiritual and most precious" and its "fruit is quiet, delicate, solitary, satisfying, and peaceful, and far removed from all earlier gratifications which were more palpable and sensory." So one understands that only the dying of the sensory being is felt and nothing is experienced of the beginning of the new life that is concealed beneath it.

It is no exaggeration when we call the suffering of the souls in this state a crucifixion. In their inability to make use of their own faculties they are as though nailed fast. And to the dryness is added the torment of fear that they are on the wrong path. "The live in the belief that they will have no more spiritual blessing and that God has abandoned them." Then they strive to act in the former manner, but as unable to achieve anything and only disturb the peace that God is working in them.

They should do absolutely nothing other than "perservere patiently in prayer without any activity whatsoever; all that is required of them here is freedom of soul, that they liberate themselves from the impediment and fatigue of ideas and thoughts, and care not about thinking and meditating. They must be content simply with a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God, and live without the concern, without the effort, and without the desire to taste or feel him." Instead of doing this, because they lack competent guidance, they strive in vain, and possibly plague themselves with the thought that they are only wasting time with their prayer and ought to give it up.

Were they to remain peacefully surrendered to this dark contemplation they would soon experience what the second line of the song of the Night calls the inflaming love. "For contemplation is nothing else than a secret and peaceful loving inflow of God, which, if not hampered, fires the soul in the spirit of love."

There you have it. That's where I want to be. That is what I long for, what I desire above all desires. And, of course, that is part of the problem, because the process of detachment means that I must learn not to desire this in order to attain it. I long for union with God and a loving, intimate living with Him, and if I wait upon Him without longing, then it will be happen. But so long as I seek the consolations of His presence the sweet delight of intimacy, I can know nothing other than my own desire. Our desires blind us to God's will. This is the theme St. John and St. Teresa Benedicta continually center around. We must come to terms with our desires, slay them and remain faithful and true servants of Our Lord. Only in this is the path up Mt. Carmel and the presence of heaven on Earth. But to get there we must pass through Earthly purgatory (only possible with His grace and help.) But such is our goal and to achieve it, we should set our hearts not on the goal, but on loving Jesus and proclaiming the love of Jesus throughout the world. This love comes at a cost. People are frightened of it. Witness the lack of comments regarding this--and yet I know that people are visiting. I do not lament the silence, but I cherish it, because I believe it means that the words are sinking in, and they are hard. Hard words are frightening and there isn't much to say about them. So I accept what is not said as a tribute to the Truth of them. God is good.

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From In Conversation with God


We should read our Lord's Passion constantly, said St. John Chrysostom; what great benefit we will gain by doing so. Even if you are as hard as stone, when you contemplate that He was sarcastically adorned, then ridiculed, beaten and subjected to the final agonies, you will be moved to cast all pride from your soul.. . .

One day while he was visiting St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas asked him where he had acquired such good doctrine. . . It is said that St. Bonaventure showed him a crucifix which was blackened from all the kisses he had given it, and explained This is the book that tells me what I should write; the little I know I have learned from it.

How much have I learned from this book? How much does it show? Do I have a crucifix that has been so much as smudged, much less blackened, by the attentions shown it? Do we even pay attention any more in the presence of the Crucified? There is a tendency to take for granted what we see too often. Perhaps we should be more attentive, in our homes and at church. If this is the book that taught St. Bonaventure, how much might we also learn from it? Perhaps the greater part of wisdom is the humility to be taught by what we no longer pay attention to.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from April 2004.

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