Loving God: May 2004 Archives

Once again from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. I suppose that by the time I finish reading this book, those of you who are patient with me will almost have it read it yourselves.

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

Very genergous souls ought normally to suffer their purgatory on earth while meriting, rather than after death without meriting. If we go to purgatory after death, it will be our own fault, it will be because we have neglected graces that were granted us or offered us during life. Purgatory after death, frequent though it may be, is not according to the order arranged by God for the full development of the supernatural life, since immediately after death it is radical to the order established by Him that the soul should possess God by the beatific vision. Hence the precise reason why the soul suffers so great in purgatory is because it does not see God.

Purgatory is not God's intended or normative way. It is there through His great mercy to give those who are uninterested or not sufficiently interested in pursuing Him in this life the opportunity to eventually experience Him in the next. If we make it to purgatory, we shall, in His good time, experience the beatific vision. But the reality is that no one needs to experience purgatory. It exists because of the hardness of the human heart and head. It is not there because God thinks it's a particularly good idea. It is there because it is a training ground for detaching from ourselves so that we can live the charitable life of heaven. How could I possibly live a charitable life or lead a charitable existence in the afterlife if all I can think about is myself and my concerns? People who imagine heaven as endless conversations with the great minds of the past or as a vast library of great works of literature are sorely mistaken. Outside of the vision of God, there is no heaven. That is the reality that either this life or purgatory prepares me for. So, I thank Father Reginald for confirming a deep intuition I had regarding the various "dark nights" but which I had not seen spelled out elsewhere. What I learn to give up in this life, I need not learn to part from in the next. If I cannot do away with my own purgatory, I can certainly make great inroads and decrease its duration both by act of will (strengthened by baptismal grace) and by properly disposing myself to the actual works of grace.

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Just when you thought it was safe another burst of reading Garrigou-Lagrange gives us this tender morsel to chew upon:

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

On the contrary, in the supernatural life whatever belongs to the normal way of sanctity and in the majority of cases is absolutely or morally necessary to attain it, is essentially ordinary. In other words, whatever in the supernatural life is accomplished in accordance with even the superior laws of full development, is ordinary in itself, though these laws are infintely more elevated than those of our nature. . . .

Likewise here on earth, the summit in the normal development of the life of grace, no matter how elevated, should not be called essentially estraordinary (per se) altlhough it may be rare or extraordinary in fact, like the perfect generosity it supposes. The summit is called sanctity, even lofty sanctity, which implies heroic virtues. . . .

It follows, then, that whatever in the majority of cases is either absolutely or morally necessary to attain this summit is not essentially extraordinry. On the contrary, these things belong to and make up the plenitude of the normal order willed by God. In studying this point, we must take care not to confound what is eminently useful for reaching sanctity in the majority of cases with what is observed in the majority of pious souls, with what is common among them; for many of these are still far from the goal. Consequently, without admitting that the mystical prayers are essentially extraordiary, we can distinguish them from the common forms of prayer, because the former suppose in fact an eminent or superior grace.

The passive purifications of the senses and of the spirit (a mystical state) and infused contemplation, even in its highest degree, which is realized in the transforming union, are, as St. Joh of the Cross teaches, generally necessary to the perfect purification and sanctification of the soul. Therefore they should not be called essentially extraordinary, although in fact they may be quite rare because of the common mediocrity of souls.

"Because of the common mediocrity of souls." What an indictment. As I read it, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says that, in essence, a person does not achieve Union because they don't really want to. I do not approach God more closely because I have other, more important things to do with my time. My soul languishes in mediocrity, not because I haven't received the calling, but because I've decided to let the answering machine pick up and I'll get around to it when I have more time.

I hate that! I hate to admit it! I deny it! I rail at it! I despise it! And more than anything else I know it is true. I do not approach God more closely, not because He holds me at arm's length, but because I have chosen not to do so. Oh yes, I make excuses and I can think of ten-thousand and more reasons why I need to prepare myself and do other things first. But they are all a fabrication. They are designed specifically to keep me from finding my way to where God wants me to be, and, in fact, I have no one to blame but myself. How humbling to realize that you are one of the "mediocre souls." And by this, I don't think Garrigou-Lagrange means to say that some souls are greater and some smaller (although that may be true as well). But rather, I thnk he implies that there are those who care about the state of their soul more than they care about their finances, their wardrobe, their car, or what have you. And then there are those like me, who find something else more important to care about for a while.

O Lord, what a mess.

Fr. Reginald, pray for me. Your words have awakened me to a fever-pitch state and now I cast about, caught in the net, knowing that I am the only cause of my failure. Pray to obtain for me the graces and virtues necessary--the docility, the humility, the charity, the patience, and the strength of will--to ascend to God as far as will can take me. And then pray for me that I might remain open to God's action and ascend to where He is calling me.

Oh Father, obtain for me these graces through the hand of our most Holy Mother, and even if not, thank you so much for your obedience and your determination to serve God's people. In so doing, you have served me best of all. Thank you. Lord Jesus Christ, if there is anything lacking in this good man's stores, by virtue of the good he has done for me in turning me back to you, please make it up for him and make it overflow with riches. Thank you Lord for such good servants, may I become one as well.


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My beloved is mine, and I am his; He feedeth among the lilies
Francis Quarles (1592–1644)

EV’N like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang’d and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

Ev’n so we met; and after long pursuit,
Ev’n so we joyn’d; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax and he was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

If all those glitt’ring Monarchs that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine.

Nay, more; If the fair Thespian Ladies all
Should heap together their diviner treasure:
That treasure should be deem’d a price too small
To buy a minute’s lease of half my pleasure;
’Tis not the sacred wealth of all the nine
Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine.

Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine,
Thus I my best-beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He is my Altar; I, his Holy Place;
I am his guest; and he, my living food;
I’m his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I’m his by purchase; he is mine, by blood;
He’s my supporting elm; and I his vine;
Thus I my best beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He gives me wealth; I give him all my vows:
I give him songs; he gives me length of dayes;
With wreaths of grace he crowns my conqu’ring brows,
And I his temples with a crown of Praise,
Which he accepts as an everlasting signe,
That I my best-beloved’s am; that he is mine.

It is not by accident that nearly every great mystic has at one time or another made a commentary on the Song of Songs which is the Song of Solomon. It is not only an earthy and "slightly torrid" love poem, but it is the passionate Song of God for His People Israel and for all of those called to love Him in the special intimacy of Union. The sexual congress of marriage is an insufficient metaphor for the intimacy of those who come to know God in Union, but it is close enough and familiar enough to many for it to provide some understanding of what Union is about. As in the liturgy of Marriage, "The two become one."

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Poetry of St. Robert Southwell


I dye alive
Robert Southwell  (?1561–1595)

O LIFE! what letts thee from a quicke decease?
  O death! what drawes thee from a present praye?
My feast is done, my soule would be at ease,
  My grace is saide; O death! come take awaye.
I live, but such a life as ever dyes;       
  I dye, but such a death as never endes;
My death to end my dying life denyes,
  And life my living death no whitt amends.
Thus still I dye, yet still I do revive;
  My living death by dying life is fedd;       
Grace more then nature kepes my hart alive,
  Whose idle hopes and vayne desires are deade.
Not where I breath, but where I love, I live;
  Not where I love, but where I am, I die;
The life I wish, must future glory give,        
  The deaths I feele in present daungers lye.

I do well to remind myself that I live in a privileged era and a privileged place. No matter that the media are unrelentingly hostile toward my belief, no matter that prejudice still is rampant in some places. I nevertheless can live a life of relative comfort and freedom compared to those who came before. The poetry of this great martyr for the faith ever puts me in mind of how very good I have it despite facing some difficulties. I am thankful before God for what He has granted, and despite all that is less than it should be, I rejoice in my relative freedom to work for Him. As He said with His own lips, "To whom much is given, much is expected in return."

Lord Jesus Christ, grant that I may return even a small part of the many blessings and graces that have come to me from God the Father through the hands of your Blessed Mother. Let the Holy Spirit guide me in all that I do, and awaken my deadened senses to better heed His promptings. Let me work for the good of your church, for the salvation of your people, and for my own good ever heedful of your divine mercy and love.


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It is interesting to me how there is sometimes a Zeitgeist that pervades portions of blogdom. Yesterday I elided this passage from the quote from Father Healey because I felt it needed further discussion by itself. At the same time Tom, at Disputations is talking about a topic that touches on this peripherally.

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

Now we can understand why it is so helpful to meditate on the life of Jesus and why St. Teresa of Avila could suggest this method to her nuns: "The soul can picture itself in the presence of Christ, and accustom itself to become enkindled with great love for His sacred humanity and to have Him ever with it and speak with Him, ask Him for the things it has need of, make complaints to Him of its trials, rejoice with Him in its joys, and yet never allow its joys to make it forgetful of Him. It has no need to think out set prayers but can use just such words as suit its desires and needs."

Another quotation from St. Teresa:

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that is we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

and this quote from an interesting Oratorian Essay on St. Teresa:

St Teresa insists that assimilating the truths of our faith through meditation, especially on the sacred humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, should always be part of our life of prayer. When they become a part of ourselves, they will make us grow in love of God and love of neighbour. Only then are we able to offer a 'real assent' to the faith as opposed to a mere 'notional assent', as John Henry Cardinal Newman put it so well. Even in the Sixth Mansions of the Interior Castle, a state which is close to the highest degree of the spiritual life, we must never abandon the humanity of Christ, especially his passion and death which won the price of salvation for us: 'the last thing we should do is to withdraw of set purpose from the greatest help and blessing, which is the most sacred Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.' Christ is our guide and without him we would be lost even if we had made much spiritual progress: 'For the Lord Himself says that He is the Way; the Lord also says that He is light and that no one can come to the Father save by Him; and he that seeth Me seeth my Father.'

What does all this mean? To be honest, I am uncertain, but it speaks to me and to a certain error I am prone to. I acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I pray to Him as God incarnate, but I often overlook the fact of His humanity. That is, while I believe that he was fully human and fully God, I behave more as though He were only fully God. While I acknowledge what the theologians say about His humanity and His divinity, I am too often caught up in the Divinity and pay little attention to the humanity. Understand that I am talking about the real conduct of my devotional life. Yes, I acknowledge the nativity, and often when I think about it, I think about it as "God Incarnate." The focus of the nativity for me is not the "sacred humanity" of Jesus, but His divinity. So too with much of His life. If anything, I may be prone to the error opposite that noted by Tom, in which love of the humanity is equated with love of God Himself. I asked about this error because it boggles my mind.

So, for me, and perhaps for many, the necessary corrective isn't to move from the humanity to the divinity, but not to forget the humanity in the course of devotion. Now, very honestly, I'm not quite certain what this means or what the implications are. When I meditate upon passages of sacred Scripture, I think I encounter Jesus in His sacred humanity, but much has to do I suppose with attitude of heart. I must admit that I don't necessarily regard Jesus as the kind of friend St. Teresa notes above. I love Him as Lord and Savior, I am only just beginning to know Him as friend and confidant (as it were.) I think I am so much in awe of Him that it would be similar to being invited to dine and converse with Queen Elizabeth, only a million times more difficult in every way. I guess there is enough of the protestant left in me that I tremble in awe at the Divinity. I wonder at people who so casually regard and partake of the Eucharist, of those jaunty genuflectors who never make it even halfway to the floor but give a kind of bob. Would it not cause scandal and sheer chaos, I would throw myself down before the tabernacle and the altar. For this reason I have long loved the profound bow practiced by the Byzantine rite.

All that said, my "problem" in devotional life is to really get down to Jesus as friend and conversationalist. I do reach that point, I have experienced it, but I am not in the continual intimate communion that St. Teresa implies is possible if one has the proper grasp of both the sacred humanity and the divinity of Jesus.

All of that said, I also trust Him to correct what errors I have in my devotional and religious life as He sees fit. I trust Him to draw me closer through such interchanges and readings and practice of what I learn. I trust Him because I know that He wants what is best for me, and the long, hard trek to His sacred humanity has a purpose that I may not be able to divine at the moment (or ever), but I trust it to be purposeful and the path for my life.

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Union with God

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

Since Jesus is one with God the Father, union with Jesus --even in this world--is the purpose of our life. He is the One whom we must love most deeply, so that we may reach the perfection nature and find true happiness. To love Jesus of Nazareth with an intimate, personal love is to love God with an intimate, personal love, for Jesus is God.

Therefore, if we have Jesus in His sacred humanity ever before our eyes, if we look upon Him with love and try to live a life of personal friendship with Him, pleasing Him in all things, we will have already attained to some degree, an intimate love of God. . . .

If we are just a beginner, we might find it advantageous to perform our daily work in the presence of Christ, imagining Him to be nearby, using some holy card or painting for our image of Him.

If we have learned to pray and live a virtuous life, this simple imaginary presence will not satisfy us. We will want to read and reread the Gospels, make a study of Christ, and then try to walk in His footsteps--even to the Cross. Only the continual study of Christ can make us consicious of His presence.

I am too often away from Jesus--off in the airy land of speculative theology or ruminations about spiritual things. It is better always to come back to the concrete center of existence. Through the Gospels, I am given light for life. I am shown the exemplary model of how to conduct myself. And when I read and pray these same Gospels, part of what they say becomes a part of me.

Yesterday's Gospel reading for mass reminded me, "If you have my commandments and practice them, then you love me." So I ask myself, where can I find this commandments? Surely in the Bible--in perfection in the gospels, but throughout all revealed truth.

And then I ask the harder question--do I keep them, do I practice them? I don't think I am alone when I say truthfully that I do not practice them nearly so well as I would wish. I want to love Jesus and He has told me how. But I'm not sure I want to love Him so much that I can give up my favorite obsession of the hour. Jesus is important, but my house, my car, my petiole collection, my _________ (fill in the blank), is presently more time consuming and more important.

So I simply pray,


I do want to love you. I want to love you more than anything else. But I do not. I fail at every turn to show my love by the practice of love--your commandments. Lord turn my heart toward you. Step by step draw me closer and let me do as you would have me do for your people and for myself. Let your commandments be at the very center of my life so that when I wake I breath and do them, and when I sleep, I live them nevertheless. Banish the idols I have placed in your way, and give me the strength never to miss them.

O sweet Jesus, make me yours entirely--body and soul, heart and mind, to every fiber to every inch. Help me, O Lord to be your loyal and loving servant and by my actions to make you real to the world around me.

Father guide my steps, strengthen within me the abode of the Holy Spirit that I may better imitate and become your Son to this world in darkness.

Through the same Christ, Our Lord, who lives in love and eternity with the Father who begot Him and the Holy Spirit, born of love.


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One Secret to a Happy Life


from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

The virtue of gratitude forms a real bond among men and reveals fairly clearly the interior quality of the person. As popular wisdom puts it: breeding and thankfulness go together. Human relationships suffer in the absence of this virtue. . . .

Whoever is thankful to God is thankful to those around him. He is more prompt to appreciate and be thanful for any small favours. The proud person who is always absorbed with ihis own things cannot be thankful; he feels that everything is his due.

To quote Father O'Holohan, a very holy, very wise, wonderful Jesuit priest who served out community for a long time, "You cannot be grateful and unhappy." I believe him. The grateful heart is a happy heart. How can we be at once thankful and unhappy? I suppose it is possible, but I cannot imagine the two states coexisting in the same person.

Gratitude has as its concomittant happiness, and perhaps even joy. I truly believe that if we could cultivate the habit of gratitude and live a life truly grateful for what we have and what God grants us day after day, we would be a people more full of the joy of the Christian life. We would be naturally buoyed up. We could do worse than to pray for an overabundance of gratitude. Gratitude feeds charity and self-giving. The grateful person is always seeking a way to repay the good that has been done him. We would, in short, bear strong witness to why it is worthwhile to be a Christian. Presently, that witness is far too uncommon--our internal squabbles are aired along with the battle reports from Iraq. We spend too much time in judging and not enough in thanking.

Or perhaps not. But I know that when I am truly grateful, I am at my happiest.

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Intimacy with Christ


Some of what has appeared here over the last several weeks has been pretty heavy going. I do intend to continue my series about contemplation as an essential part of the life of the lay Catholic and how ordinary people can lead contemplative lives. But I thought a more gentle and measured introduction might be in order.

from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of Christ
Fr. Kilian Healey, O.Carm.

Since Jesus in one with God the Father, union with Jesus--even in this world--is the purpose of our life. He is the One whom we must love most deeply, so that we may reach the perfection of nature and find true happiness. To love Jesus of Nazareth with an intimate, personal love is to love God with an intimate, personal love, for Jesus is God.

Therefore, if we have Jesus in His sacred humanity ever before our eyes, if we look upon Him with love and try to live a life of personal friendship with Him, pleasing Him in all things, we will have already attained, to some degree, an intimate love of God.

Now we can understand why it is so helpful to meditate on the life of Jesus and why St. Teresa of Avila could suggest this method to her nuns: "The soul can picture itself in the presence of Christ, and accustom itself to become enkindled with great love for His sacred humaity and to have Him ever with it and speak with Him, ask Him for the things it has need of, make complaints to Him of its trials, rejoice with Him in its joys, and yet never allow its joys to make it forgetful of HIm. It has no need to think out set prayers, but can use just such words as suit its desires and needs."

I suppose this could start as a form of meditation, deliberately placing yourself before Jesus Christ in His humanity and talking to Him as one would talk to a friend. The practice of this meditation would eventually have transforming effects upon the soul itself. It would become a habit, to take the title of Flannery O'Connor's book of Letters, "a habit of being." But in this habit is a kernel, a core of reality that exists nowhere else. Because my identity is in Christ alone, so it is in Christ alone that I am really who I am--in whom I have my being. So it is only in and through Him that I can attain a "habit of being." Outside of Jesus I have the tendency to falsify who I am, to present the "company face" to the world at large; I wear one of several masks that depend upon the role I may be playing at the time. Obviously this is not always true, but it is true often enough that I should seek to base my identity and my life (if it is to be authentic) upon who I am in Jesus Christ. The only way I can do this is to spend time talking to Him and discovering who He says I am. It's interesting that Jesus asked Peter "Who do you say I am?" Once again, He gave us the model for what we should do. When I go before Him in prayer one of the things I should seek to discover is who Jesus says I am. Then, with His grace and love, I should seek to live out that reality. If more of us really sought our identities in Christ and lived them out, the transformation in society would be apocalyptic and wonderful. But it is both scary and difficult to look in that mirror. So we need a companion, once again the reason to stand or sit with Christ in prayer and talk. He is our companion, the One who can help us be.

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The Furrow--182
St. Josemaria Escriva

What compassion you feel for them! ... You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time ... Why are they so blind, and why can't they perceive what you — a miserable creature — have seen? Why don't they go for the best?

Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them — also one by one — that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

This second paragraph is the key and it is a key to the entire mission of Opus Dei. You can find a divine way without going out into the desert and living there for months on end. You can find a divine way right where you live now. God is present here and now and all around us. When we were a people of darkness and walking without light, we had good reason for not seeing how to move toward God even as we went about our daily tasks. But through the merciful intercession and sacrifice of our Gracious Lord, the light of God's light flares out through all the world. We are a people who walk in that light and it is our duty and our great joy to be able to show the world how to be holy even as we tend to the workaday world.

I feel called to reach out to all of those who do not know Christ's love as the intimate interior experience that it should be and to show them the way (even if I preach better than I practice). I know the truth and the truth is light, life, and joy. And it is my great privilege as a Christian to point out the way to those who do not know it. If God truly is the source of my happiness and the font of joy, isn't it incumbent upon me by the strict rule of Charity that I share the source of my joy? For heaven rejoices over ever lost sheep that straggles back to the fold and in some sense we are all shepherds serving the one Good Shepherd. It is His voice the sheep hear even if it is spoken from my mouth.

I will rejoice always in my service to the Lord and I will take my joy from his own hand as a life-giving stream and as the strength to do the work of the day. For it is in the accomplishment of all of that work with joy and excellence that the glory of the Lord shines out--for without Him I can do nothing. (The flip side of "For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.")

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About this Archive

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

Loving God: April 2004 is the previous archive.

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