Commonplace Book: January 2006 Archives

A Timely Continuation

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from Listen to the Silence: A Retreat with Père Jacques
Tr/Ed Francis J. Murphy

Whatever brings us to this point [obedience[ be it a superior or a sorrow, a sickness or a job, it is alway God who comes and speaks to us. When we embrace obedience, we embrace God. When we obey with a smile, we smile at God and welcome him joyfully into our home. To dream of profound prayer, like that of the saints, while withholding the obedience of the saints, is a contradiction.

It's remarkably simple. We cannot pray like saints if we do not live like saints. Or more simply stated, one cannot be a saint without being a saint. Period. One can't hope for deep, profound, unitive prayer while one is chasing every idle pleasure that passes by. Every licit pleasure is not necessarily something to be pursued or obtained. Licit pleasures should be used as a means to the end, which is God. A hike in the mountains should have as its end, a closer walk with God. A cruise in the Caribbean should have as its destination close communication with God. There may be any number of intermediate "ends," for example strengthening and revivifying the relationship one has with one's spouse; however, this in intself becomes a further means to closeness with God. All service, all leisure, all joy, and all sorrow should lead inevitably to the All in All. And one of the ways this happens is when we humbly obey.

What this leads me to is to ask myself, where am I lacking in obedience? Where do I fail God? He alone knows how many ways I fail in obedience, and in my prayer, if He is willing, He will show them to me one by one. Disobedience isn't always obvious. I have many clever ploys to protect myself and my habits from change. But if I wish to live in God, I must ask Him to reveal to me all these places where I fail in obedience.

Obedience is a critical means to the most important of Ends. What we start in obedience ends in growing love.

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I Love Sobering Thoughts

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So here's another. Sobering and at the same time uplifting and joyful.

Listen to the Silence: A Retreat with Père Jacques
TR/Ed Francis J. Murphy

We follow the opposite path. Christ started out from contemplation to come to the perfection of obedience. We must start out from the perfection of obedience to arrive at contemplation. This is the reverse route we must follow. In the depths of our being our prayer is worth what our obedience is worth. Our embrace of God will be in accordance with our embrace of his will.

This follows from the discussion of the other day. If God is simple and uniate, His will is not separable from Himself. We cannot find a way to God without embracing all of God. This includes his will. Thus, the measure of our prayer and embrace of God is the obedience and humility we show in following His will completely.

This said, there is always some difficulty knowing exactly what His will is for us because we see now "as in a glass darkly." We certainly know the outlines of His will for us, and we can discern the "danger areas," the arenas of temptation. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether God wants us to do this one thing or this equally worthy other thing. Obedience consists of praying it through, seeking the counsel of a wise spiritual director, and listening with all our might before one makes a choice. When one does this, one has done everything within one's power to discern the proper end. God will either direct us, or, as I often think the case, leave us to choose, desiring both ends and giving us the delight of choosing the end that most suits us.

Obedience is so important that St. Teresa of Avila advised the sisters in her foundations to follow instructions they knew to be "wrong" (I assume this meant interior knowledge of their impropriety) so long as they were not sinful. For example, if a spiritual director told you to do something you were not inclined to do and that you knew was not something you should do (speaking only prudentially)--it would better to do it anyway and demonstrate obedience to those God has put in authority over you AND at the same time to show humility and meekness in your approach to God. St. Teresa pointed out that if God wanted the circumstances to change, he would cause the director's mind to change, or would replace the director with one who better understood the circumstances.

This is radical obedience--the perfection of obedience that is demanded from those who would embrace God's will. What does this mean in practice? Well, let's take a simple, but controversial example. Let us say you go to a parish where the Priest, in contradiction to one understanding of the rubrics tells the congregation to hold hands during the Our Father. Our immediate obedience is owed to the most immediate director. St. Teresa did not contradict her own director because her Bishop or the prior general said she could do otherwise. Perfect obedience would require that we obey the immediate authority.

Fortunately, I have almost never heard a Priest tell everyone to join hands, even if he does so as example on the altar. This isn't usually an issue. But it is a test of your willingness to be obedient. We understand it to be technically wrong, but we are told to do it anyway.

The measure of our prayer is the obedience we show to those whom God has placed in legitimate authority over us. This is scary and very, very difficult. But it is also liberating. If I know that it is not sinful, even if it seems wrong to me, I do better to follow the instruction than to follow my own lead. It is a training ground for humility, patience, meekness, and obedience and it is a very direct way of saying "I love you," to God.

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Twice in Two Days. . .

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For the second time in two days, I've encountered the following:

"You will catch more flies,” Saint Francis deSales used to say, “with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar."

Once in my own reading, once at TSO's blog. I wonder what the Holy Spirit is trying to convey to me. I tend to think most of the time I am more honey than vinegar, in fact, some might liken me to treacle at times. But perhaps it's time to look again at how I approach things. Again, related to mortification, perhaps I see myself as St. Thérèse and the rest of the world is busy avoiding St. Jerome.

Or perhaps I should be seeing under what circumstances St. Francis was provoked to write or say this. Anyway, two times so rapidly, two different sources--there are no coincidences. If I'm paying proper attention, I should address this bit of providence.

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REALLY Hard Instructions


from Listen to the Silence: A Retreat With Pere Jacques
Tr./Ed. Francis J. Murphy

Then, between them, with a quick stroke, he drew what must be the way of our retreat; a direct, exacting road on which one hears the refrain, "Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing but God alone." Not this little personal matter, not this slight comfort we cling to, not this tiny curiosity that seems so trivial, but "nothing, absolutely nothing"--John of the Cross is speaking. You see, this retreat we are making must have direction. When Saint Bernard arrive at the monastery he too asked himself frequently, "Bernard, what did you come to the monastery to do?"

I hear the call of nothing--attachment to nothing, cleaving to nothing, being nothing. And my heart wants to follow it, but my body has ideas of its own. And my reason, tricky little devil that it is says things like, "Well the joy you take in this or that minor pleasure is eutrepalia legitimate, and legitimate use of God's goods.

But I've come to the point where I must say, "No, it isn't." And I need to leave behind the things that attract me and keep me away from the serious pursuit of the one thing that matters. I need to discipline myself so that nothing ever interferes with Everything.

And you know, the thought isn't chilling, frightening, or even daunting. It is enthralling. It is the most exciting thing in the world. So, why is it I never make it beyond the first few steps?

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from January 2006.

Commonplace Book: December 2005 is the previous archive.

Commonplace Book: February 2006 is the next archive.

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