Loving God: March 2004 Archives

"Deliver us from evil,
--and from slavery to the senses, which blinds us to goodness."
(from the intercessions of Morning Prayer--Wednesday 5th Week of Lent)

How providential that our subject from St. Teresa Benedicta this morning is presaged by the intercession from morning prayer.

We don't like to face the truth of Jesusí dictum, but it is important for us to do so. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it " (Matthew 16:25). In short, we can't do it ourselves. Moreover, we should not expect it to be either easy or without unpleasantness--dying isn't a particularly easy process. But dying to self is critically necessary for advancing in real life.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (and St. John of the Cross)

To take up battle against it [the animal spirit] , or to take one's cross upon oneself, means entering into the dark night actively. The saint [John of the Cross] gives several concise directions of which he himself says: "A person who sincerely wants to practice them will need no others since all the others are include in these." These directions are:

"1) Sustain always the desire to imitate Christ in all things and to bring your life into conformity with his. You must therefore study his life in order to imitate it and behave always as he would.

"2) In order to do this well, you must deny yourself every pleasure that presents itself to your senses, keep it far from you if it is not solely directed to the honor and glory of God.

"And in fact you should do this out of love for Jesus who knew no other joy and had no desire in his life other than to fulfill the will of his Father. He called this his food and nourishment [Jn 4:34]. If, for instance, some amusement offers itself to you in hearing of things that do not contribute to the service of God, then you should neither have pleasure in them nor wish to hear them. . . . Likewise, practice renunciation in regard to all your sense for as much as you are able to refuse their impressions readily. Insofar as you are unable to ward them off, it is sufficient that you take no enjoyment when these things approach you. Take care how you mortify your senses and preserve them from being touched by any inordinate desire. Then they will remain alike in darkness and in short time you will make great progress."

"The follow maxims will serve as a thoroughly effective means of mortification and harmoniously ordering the four natural passions: joy, hope, fear, and sorrow. . . . Take care that your inclination is ever directed:

not toward the easier, but toward the more difficult;
not toward the pleasant, but toward the unpleasant;
not toward the restful, but toward the troublesome;
not toward the more, but toward the less;
not toward what brings you more joy, but what brings displeasure;
not toward what prepares consolation for you, but toward what makes you disconsolate;
not toward the higher and more valuable, but toward the lowly and insignificant;
not toward what wants to be something, but toward what wants to be nothing."

. . . No further explanation is necessary to see that this active entry into the dark night of the sense is synonymous with ready willingness to take up the cross, and with persistence in carrying the cross. But one does not die from carrying the cross. And in order to pass completely through the night, a person must die to sin. One can deliver oneself up to crucifixion, but one cannot crucify oneself. Therefore that which the active night has begun must be completed by the passive night, that is, through God himself.

Always remembering that passing through either night is only possible with the generous assistance of Grace.

We don't like to think about these things. We would prefer to squeak into heaven, on a technicality if necessary. Who really wants to die to self--to give up the pleasures of the world, to not find joy in the little things that are around us? But I look at the lives of the Saints who chose to do this and fact of the matter is, their lives were filled constantly with a far greater joy than I can summon up from any created thing (except, perhaps, Samuel--but that's another matter.)

We don't want to do the work of sacrifice. We'll give money, we'll look to buy our way out of real self-giving, but it isn't sufficient. To truly serve God and to claim His greatest gifts for us we must die to self. There is no compromise. If we are to live the life God has for us we must abandon the one by which we protect ourselves from God's agency. We must shed the self-created life and assume the one that God has had for us from the beginning. It will either happen here on Earth or in the life to come. But it will happen. It seems to me that I would rather choose the joys the Saints partook of than the ones that I have daily, the ones that more and more taste of dust and ashes. The joys of eternity are available to us but we must be open to receive them and to receive them, we must love God more than we love ourselves. Loving God is the only thing that makes entry into the active dark night possible. We cannot do it by will, though we might start. We cannot do it by our own power, though we must contribute to it. We cannot do it without grace. And even with grace, if we do not allow grace to feed and fan the fires of love we cannot do it. Only love can draw one through the dark night. God's intense love for us is the magnet and our love for Him must transcend all earthly loves (even while it incorporates a great many of them). If we do not love God most of all, we cannot enter into the night, our strength and our courage will fail. And God wants us to enter this night so He can share how much, how intensely, how completely He Loves us. We cannot know this while senses are dulled by all the glittering attractions of the world. We must abandon our love of it (even as we continue to live in it) and direct all of our devotion and attention to God. In this we purify the senses, and like John of the Cross we will begin to truly love the vistas of creation, not for creation itself but for and by intense love of our creator. Our eyes begin to see what is really there, our ears to hear, our sense to actually touch. The weariness of the world washes away from them and we, like Lazarus are called out of the tomb into the real world--the world "charged with the Glory of God." That is our goal, that is ultimately our destiny. Why would we want to put it off until later? Why would we choose a lesser love over a greater?

But if we would choose this greater way, it will be hard to walk because of our fallen nature. Nevertheless, I, for one, want to open myself to God's call and to find Him here and now. I want to walk in the Garden in the evening and to be reborn into His image of me. He dreamed me into existence from the beginning of time, I want to fulfill His dream. I want to realize His dream for me.

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Sophia Press publishes some very interesting reprints of books from the past. Much of the time I am annoyed by their tendency to abridge, edit, or alter any such text. However, the work is often worth reading. So is the case with the book quoted below:

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

It is quite possible to come to a profound love of God, but it will not be something that comes to us like a flash of lightning. Ordinarily, it will grow with time. For it is a love of friendship--wishing good to another. It grows in proportion as love for self decreases. Self-love decreases only after a difficult battle, but it is a battle that each and every one of us must fight. We have no alternative, for Christ has said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul." Since God does not command the impossible we can fall out of love with ourselves and in love with God. It is never too late to start.

Fr. Kilian's book seems to be a gloss on Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection's Practice of the Presence of God with some hints about how to do it. The back cover blurb promises "simple practical ways to think of God continuously, to converse with Him intimately, and to please Him at all times." I'll let you know.

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Loving God

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The enormous appetite of Love demands all--not merely the mind, nor the body alone, nor the soul--but all that we are, all that we have, all that we do, all that we touch. Love is unsatisfied by half measures. Jesus sings:

"All or nothing at all,
half a love never appealed to me."

Jesus "spits out of his mouth" the church at Laodicea because it is not ardent. It neither loves nor hates, but it rests in the lukewarm waters of its bath and is complacent. Burning love forces the lover into action. Ardent love cannot rest on its laurels. When Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will heed my commands. . ." it isn't merely an injunction. He is telling us how we can recognize the fruits of our love for Him. True love cannot be still until the heart of the Loved One is Satisfied.

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"Understand then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful covenant to the thousandth generation toward those who love Him and keep His commandments." (Deuteronomy 8-9)

"What we have here is a failure to communicate." Cool Hand Luke

Another flare-up of the perennial DaVinci Code virus elsewhere in St. Blogs provoked the thoughts that follow. I have noted a strong tendency to rush toward the apologetic books when this particular virus raises its ugly head. And that is well and good to help people combat the misinformation.

But it led me to the question--why should this be necessary? If someone accused your mother of being a slut would you run for the dictionary, to show that by definition she is not? Or would you simply let love take the lead. This is not to fault those who wish to address and correct the errors that are introduced here. It is to fault whatever mechanism gives rise to so weak a love of Jesus that some are inclined to take seriously any calumny uttered against Him.

It seems to me that much of our apologetics stays in our heads and never percolates down to the heart where it can foster true and lasting love. The only true defense against such idiocy is Jesus Himself. If we truly love Him, then nothing said against Him can convince us of anything other than the truth. The purpose of apologetics is to convince, but after conviction, something must help the truth bloom into love.

Where do we fail as Catholics to foster the love that should be the strongest line of defense against this horror? Obviously, those of us in St. Blogs seem to have no real problem with this; however, it appears that a great many outside the community have a faith that falters when assaulted with clever half-truths and glamorous lies. As I said before, if someone calls your mother a slut, the heart rushes in to battle what we know to be a lie. Where is the heart rushing in to battle the lies uttered against Jesus? What is wrong with our system that we should be so weak?

Yesterday I quoted a passage that said, "The family is the first 'sacrament.'" The more I read of the life of St. Katharine Drexel or St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I realize that their early advantage in life that led to lives of heroic sanctity was a devoted, loving family that focused attention on God as loving Father. The heart of love is fostered in the home. Children learn to love Jesus if they see that there is an obvious, passionate love of Jesus in the hearts of their parents.

All of us know that children will learn more from what we do than from what we say. We cannot instruct a child on the dangers of smoking while puffing on a cigar. We can't tell them the dangers of alcohol consumption while we blithely imbibe. They learn more from example than from speech. We can spend all day every day talking about Jesus and teaching the facts of Church History, Christology, Theology, and any number of other disciplines; however, if our children never witness us turning to God with our problems, if we do not take the time to sit down and pray with our children, they will not know Love. And "if I speak with tongues of angels and have not love, I am as a clanging cymbal," my words are meaningless. If I teach the most vaunted truths, and talk all the time of mystical theology, but I never once retire to pray, I have taught nothing worthwhile. Some of the information may stick in the head, but the heart is unmoved.

This, I think, is the position of most people whose faith is assaulted by such nonsense as The DaVinci Code. They may well know the facts they were taught in CCD, through sermons, or at home. However, the head has never transferred the facts to the heart where they feed love. And this often comes about because there is no strong devotion in the home. Parents do not instruct their children to pray first about any problem before trying to act upon it. They do not teach their children to rush into the Arms of Love. If we are armed merely with the technical facts of hypostatic union and transubstantiation, we will be like deer in the headlights when someone approaches with another intellectual construct--say consubstantiation or "the Church suppressed the fact that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus." Complete balderdash, utter nonsense, and completely believable to one whose heart is not fortified by love of Christ and of His Earthly body, the Church.

Our intellects can be persuaded of any number of idiotic and patently untrue theories. This is what the "fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil" is all about. Knowledge is based on a series of facts chained together in arrays that make some sort of reasonable intellectual construct. But these constructs are subject to attack on any number of grounds. The principles that form them may prove untrue or unstable, the configuration of facts can be changed to create a new, equally likely construct.

Intellect must be fortified by love. Knowledge must be strengthened by prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and most importantly self-giving. And all of these are fostered not by the institutions we erect to teach and lead, but in the home, in the heart of the family. So, save your children this heartache and pain now, while you may, teach them to pray because Love of God is born in talking and listening to Him, not merely in the facts about Him.

When we hear of those challenged by the DaVinci code or by any number of other heresies, let us rush to their aid armed with facts. Let us show them the untruth of what they see. But let's start our assault with a prayer, either together, or before we ever meet with the one who needs help. Let us surround the intellectual battle with an unpierceable mantle of profound love and self-giving to Jesus the Lord. And when the facts have been arrayed, let us stand ready to lead the one attacked into prayer and into love of Jesus Christ. If we love Him, we cannot believe the preposterous things said of Him and of His church on Earth. Start the battle with prayer, continue the battle under the cloud of the Almighty (just as He shielded the Israelites) and end the battle with prayer. Our final goal should be to move the heart as much or more than we move the mind.

Love then is our strongest defense. Absolute abandonment to God protects us, mind and body, heart and soul from all the nonsense uttered by the greatest intellects on Earth. The proper response to an atheistic neo-Freudian is not a refutation of Freudian theory, but "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. . ." The proper response to The DaVinci Code is a presentation of facts followed by , "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

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Truth in Prayer

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from The Art of Praying
Romano Guardini

No hard-and-fast rules can be laid down for this; we shall discuss it more fully later. But whatever routine one may adopt, one should carry it out honestly and conscientiously. In matters of prayer we are only too apt to deceive ourselves because, generally speaking, man does not enjoy praying. He easily experiences boredom, embarrassment, unwillingness, or even hostility. Everything else appears to him more attractive and more important. He persuades himself that he has not got the time, that there are other more urgent things to do; but no sooner has he given up prayer than he applies himself to the most trivial tasks. We should stop lying to God. Better to say openly, "I do not wish to pray," than to make such excuses. Better not to resort to specious justifications such as, for instance, tiredness, but to declare, "I do not feel like praying." This may sound less decorous, but at least it is the truth which leaves the way open, whereas self-deception does not.

A word to the wise is enough. Y'all know who you are, so just stop it. :-) And, of course, I'm a big one to be talking. But it is nice to have someone point out to you a few home truths.

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Y'all just must spend some time with her. See this quote:

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcroft

May Christ bring us into those depths, those abysses where one lives only by Him. Would you like to be united to your little sister in order to become wholly loving, wholly listening, wholly adoring?

To love, to love all the time, to live by love, that is, to be surrendered. (L125)

It really is only one step, but the really hard part is the preliminaries where God prepares you for the step. Our prayer is to Love God and to be Love for God here in the world. As St. Teresa of Avila can be paraphrased, "In the end it is not how much we know, it is how much we love that we shall be judged by." And by "how much," I take St. Teresa to mean both in quantitative (how often it is expressed) and qualitative (the actions by which it is expressed) mode. Some express their love in song and prayer and silence, others express it through strong refutation of error, counsel, and preaching, still others through hospitality. There is no end to the expression of love of God, and it is absolutely necessary for each of us to pursue through grace that end of loving in the particular way that God desires for us. For if we choose to love as we choose, then we do not really love at all.

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I don't know if Tom made this up (I suspect so.) But it is a wonderful distillation of our conversation in fact, I'm going to ask permission to reprint it here so it sticks around in my archives. Thanks Tom.

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"Remember Thou Art Dust"

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The memento mori, the reminder of our own mortality, the whisper in the ear of the Roman Conquerer during a Triumphal Procession--"Remember thou art mortal," is a long, useful reminder of our limited span, the fact that everyone "struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more."

But we must also remember our ultimate value. If we are dust, we are gold dust, or more-infinitely precious to God. So precious that He who was One for whom we are not worthy to untie sandals came and served and died and rose.

"Remember thou art dust. . ." and remember too that you are "The apple of My [God's] eye. Remember the balance between the two. You are not worthy to be loved, but Love Himself raises you to worthiness. God loves us and so makes us worthy of love. In fact, God loved us to death and to new life.

Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return--only this ragged body. Remember thou art dust and by the power of His Gracious Love and through his all pervading Grace to Glory thou shalt return.

Praise God for His endless love that both reminds us of our end and our worth without Him, and raises us to be worthy of Him. God loves us so much.

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The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own. It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your fathers, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed you from the hand of Pharoah, king of Egypt. Understand then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful convenant to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 7: 6, 8-9)

From morning prayer and especially dedicated this morning to M.

It is because the Lord loves us that he leads us out of slavery to ourselves if we allow Him to. We are like small children lost among the racks of all the adult coats in a department store, wandering, crying, looking for mommy or daddy. God comes to us and takes us by the hand and leads us out. He finds us in the secret places we hide and He offers to carry us. God loves us with an everlasting love, a love that cannot be denied, but which can be refused. He will not insist, but He will continue to try.

God loves us. He leads us out of every kind of slavery. He opens the doors to our prisons. He embraces us as a loving Father and He waits on us as the Father of the prodigal son. What stops us from turning to Him? Why would we refuse His compassionate love? Pride--sheer stubborn human cussedness that cannot admit we cannot do anything by our own power.

God showers us with graces simply to keep us alive from moment to moment. How much more He would give us if only we would open our hearts and reach out to Him, not in fear of retribution but in heart-felt love. Follow the little way of St. Thérèse and take the elevator to the top--the elevator of His arms.

God loves you, each of you, as though you were an only child. Stop acting like an only child and presuming on that indulgent love. Return to Him with your whole heart. This season, give Him the only gift that matters--yourself.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Loving God category from March 2004.

Loving God: February 2004 is the previous archive.

Loving God: April 2004 is the next archive.

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