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October Begins

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You all know by now that I love October. I really love October. A Lot.

Today St. Thèr&ecute;se, tomorrow Guardian Angels, October 7, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St Teresa of Avila on October 15th. I know, I know, there are others, but this is just a sampling.

In addition, we get peak color in the Northern states, and in my home states, all of those birds that have migrated north, return to roost in the trees so that you see thousands and thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds. The trees look like they're decorated already for Christmas. This month really makes my heart sing.

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The Thorn in the Flesh

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Reading Dark Night of the Soul one encounters a passage in which St. John of the Cross gives the fairly traditional view of St. Paul's "thorn in the flesh." During a recent community meeting, one of the community members asked me, "How did he (St. John of the Cross) know that St. Paul's thorn in the flesh was lust? I'd never heard that before."

I responded, perhaps vaguely, but appropriately, "Because he was male." The ambiguity here is which he I was referring to, but it works for both. St. John of the Cross understood because he was male, and the thorn in St. Paul's flesh being lust was perfectly understandable to any other male.

The human male is a very, very simple animal. If two simple needs/desires are satisfied (one of them is food), we tend to be a pretty contented lot. Upset the schedule of one or the other, we tend to get out of sorts.

Yes, it's a vast simplification, but when I think of the capital vices/capital sins and I look at much of human history and human legend, one crops up more often than any other, and it isn't pride. In fact, if one considers the idiotic things done in the name of "love," one can readily conclude that for most men pride takes a far distant second place to lust as the most common besetting sins. For example, Helen of Troy (admittedly legend), the rape of the Sabine women, the reign of Henry VIII, the reign of W J Clinton and role model JFK--the roll call goes on and on.

Judging by the state of society today, it is fairly evident that everything is set to keep that particular vice at a fever pitch. Now, this is not to say that the impulses in this direction cannot be subdued or with the aid of grace resisted. But one glance at the present state of society which, whether feminists like it or not, is a male-construct to which "liberated women" have foolishly consented in their desire to become more and more like men, shows the basis on which almost everything is done, sold, or considered. Again, I'll grant that it is a simplification, but there is an element of truth to it. That element is sometimes expressed in the outrage against celibacy and its native chastity. Some are outraged over the celibacy requirement, calling it unnatural, unrealistic, and gravely disordered. When I look at the same state, I do see something that is not natural--rather it is supernatural--a state exalted above that of most of us and preserved purely by grace. When a priest from time to time fails at maintaining this state of life, that too is likely in God's grace--a lesson in humility, because his fall is a matter of public notice. He cannot do what many in society do casually without causing scandal. But society at large is threatened by it because it is a sign that the thorn in the flesh can be removed or at least made subservient to the person who experiences it. Presently, one would think that the thorn was, in fact, the entire flesh and that such was a normative existence.

St.Anthony of the Desert heroically fought off the demons of lust throughout his time in the desert. St. Augustine, Blessed (?) Charles Foucault, and a great many others, perhaps many we do not know, spent a great deal of energy fighting those impulses that comprised for them "the thorn in the flesh."

In our conversation, I did go on to confide that I honestly didn't know what might form the most common or besetting sin among female kind. (Some women, exhibiting the need and desire to be more like men, have foolishly accepted the male vision of the world and see promiscuous and untethered sexual conduct as normative, rather than as the degrading objectification of persons that it actually is. Sexual congress outside of the sacrament of matrimony is sinful precisely because of its tendency to turn an person into a object. And, in fact, this can be a problem even within the sacramental union.)

Oh, and by the way, I still refuse to speculate. I'll tend my house, thank you, it's far more than I'm capable of on a day-to-day basis anyway.

Now, there is a theory that pride is more an ur-sin rather than a capital sin. That is pride is considered the source of all the other sins.

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as explicated by St. John of the Cross:

from Dark Night of the Soul I:11:11-12
St. John of the Cross

11. Finally, insofar as these person are purged of their sensory affections and appetites, they obtain freedom of spirit in which they acquire the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.

They are also wondrously liberated from the hand of their enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh. For when the sensory delight delight and gratification regarding things is quenched, neither the devil, nor the world, nor sensuality has arms or power against the spirit.

12. These aridities, then, make people walk with purity in the love of God. No longer are they moved to act by the delight and satisfaction they find in a work, as perhaps they were when the derived this from their deeds, but by the desire of pleasing God. They are neither presumptuous nor self-satisfied, as was their custom int he time of their prosperity, but fearful and disquieted about themselves and lacking in any self-satisfaction. This is the holy fear that preserves and gives increase to the virtues.

I am not original in claiming that the dark night had for Blessed Mother Teresa a protective effect, an effect all the more necessary in a world where the entire world is at your doorstep and scrutinizing every action.

This deep and unsatisfied longing for God's presence has the unique attribute of taking away from her the many temptations that come as a result of success in the world. Satan's most effective ploy in dealing with someone like Mother Teresa would be to have them change their focus from serving and saving souls to better the lives of people. These two sound like hand in glove; however, they are as different in focus as a microscope and a telescope.

What if Mother Teresa, not wandering in a dark night of spirit had started to pay more attention to things that mattered, but were no the One Thing. What if she suddenly started to say to herself, "With a few dollars more, I could build a house for twenty more people." What is the focus of her effort became the betterment of lives through better buildings, more technology, what have you, rather than helping people to get what they needed to live a life and leave a life with dignity. No matter how holy the motive, when the focus slips from, "For God and God alone, a gift of His people," to "Look what we can do if we only try," Satan has won.

But the dark night has a paradoxical effect. The longing for and the apparent absence of God in a life, increases the focus on serving Him. It cocoons the person away from some of the yammerings of the world and helps them to see life as it should be seen.

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A New Prior General


The General Chapter has met and the Carmelite family welcomes a new Prior General. May God guide him and help him. With all these Carmelites running around, he'll need all the help he can get!

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Carmelite Convocation

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A weekend in Chicago that started on Friday morning with, naturally enough, a walk from the Hotel (the very lovely Palmer House Hilton, located two blocks from the lake) to the Field Museum--a trek of about a mile. The temperature was in the high sixties, or thereabouts, and the vistas, once you reached the lake, quite lovely. Getting to the lake entailed passing by the "Taste of Chicago" festival, which closes down a number of near-lake streets for a week or more. Must be a trial to native Chicagoans, but those at the festival seemed to enjoy themselves.

The Field was as I remembered it with a magnificent display of Egyptian artifacts and one of the best dinosaur collections in the country. Predictably annoying were the various signs that announced global warming. Several were annoying in a way that only condescending, agenda-driven curatorial signs can be. For example, heading up the entrance to an Ancient Americas exhibit hall was a sign that said something like, "Diversity and change, NOT progress." And all i could think to myself is--yes--not progress--Native Americans no longer die of small-pox--no progress. Mexican natives no longer pull the beating hearts out of living people and tumble bodies down the steps of the pyramid--NOT progress: I could go on, but you can make up your own points. Additionally, the signs were all politically correct in chronicling the disaster of European colonization; the truth is ugly enough without falling all over ourselves with other supposed depredations. Somehow, I just don't see the sidelining of cannibalism (in some places) and torture as particular negative. However, handing over blankets infected with small pox and some of the other European tricks are not matters to be passed over lightly either. However, to say that life in the Americas has only changed, not progressed is evidence of a kind of post-modern sensibility that makes nonsense of the word sensibility.

The second provocative sign was one upstairs near the hall of evolution which stated that 27 (or 24) species on Earth had become extinct since that morning. Who was counting and watching so carefully? This is another example of pseudo-science and statistics masking itself as environmentally correct wisdom. Sheer and utter nonsense--how do they know? On what basis is this statement made? Once again, unsubstantiated nonsense. It was followed by some statistic that noted that the "typical pattern" of extinction was one species in four years. Once again, on what basis is that decided. There should be a commission put together to prohibit wayward curators from broadcasting their appalling and unsupported agendas to a public with insufficient scientific literacy to question the pseudo-facts that are presented to them. However, even questioning these facts puts me in the camp of the eco-destoyers and fundamentalist conservative "stewards of the Earth." TSO, among others, would be willing to tell you how close that is to reality--as I've annoyed many with my ecological ruminations and thoughts.

But Sue was there--body downstairs, overweight head upstairs in an annoying high-reflectivity plastic case which made getting a decent photograph nearly impossible. Fortunately, I had been able to spend some time relatively close up while the fossil was being prepared in Dinoland, Animal Kingdom, Disney World.

The other dinosaurs were spectacular. Equally wonderfully, but unfortunately not bruited as much as it could have been were fossils from the Solnhofen limestone (most famous for the seven extant Archaeopteryx fossils--the fossils included some fish and some invertebrates. However, appropriately given the close proximity of the fossil site to Chicago, the Mazon Creek Fossils got a great deal of play and I was able to linger over Tullymonstrum gregarium for a good fifteen minutes.

Returning to the Hotel, I passed through the noise, sounds and smells of "Taste of Chicago" and enjoyed the ambience greatly.

But to the point--why I'm here in the first place. The Convocation occurs about every two years. This is a particularly important one because during it the Lay Carmelites have been able to bid farewell to our present Prior General, who will be leaving office as soon as the General Chapter votes in a new Prior General. Fr. Joseph Chalmers has been a great prior general and a real friend and spiritual guide to the Lay Carmelites. He saw us through a very difficult period of redirection and refocusing, and continue to encourage us to our vocations. His keynote address was at once witty and touching given that it will be the last he will give as Prior General to the Lay Carmelites of the Provinces of The Most Pure Heart of Mary and St. Elias.

I have to say that the first talks on Saturday morning put me off a bit. They continued the very important theme of social justice that has begun to be made much of in recent years; however, they were more like scoldings or lectures than they were helpful guides as to how to enact social justice. However, the workshops were extremely helpful in thinking through ways in which we can enact social justice without merely haranguing those around us.

Today is the end of the convocation. There are two major talks about Carmelite Prayer and the final Mass of the convocation. I leave with unalloyed good feelings. The first two talks, initially disorienting and perhaps off-putting, have been placed in a reasonable and coherent context, and the final talks promise to be useful guides to continuing our Carmelite journey. One of them will be given by Dr. Keith Egan, who yesterday led a brilliant workshop on Silence and Solitude.

I probably will not report more about this; however, I wanted to say how pleasantly surprised I have been by the friendliness and pleasantness of the city of Chicago, how very much I've enjoyed my stay in the city, and how wonderful, worthwhile, necessary, helpful, and fulfilling the convocation has been. Perhaps the experience will provoke me to post some of the fruits of the convocation in later days.

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Sayings of Light and Love


45. Blessed are they who, setting aside their own pleasure and inclination, consider things according to reason and justice before doing them.

57. It is not God's will that a soul be disturbed by anything or suffer trials, for if one suffers trials in the adversities of the world it is because of a weakness in virtue. The perfect soul rejoices in what afflicts the imperfect one.

73. What does it profit you to give God one thing if he asks of you another? Consider what it is God wants, and then do it. You will as a result satisfy your heart better than with something toward which you yourself are inclined. (for kobj, particularly)

137. To lose always and let everyone else win is a trait of valiant souls, generous spirits, and unselfish hearts; it is their manner to give rather than receive even to the extent of giving themselves. They consider it a heavy burden to possess themselves, and it pleases them more to be possessed by others and withdrawn from themselves, since we belong more to that infinite Good than we do to ourselves.

147. Never listen to talk about the weaknesses of others, and if someone complains of another, you can tell her humbly to say nothing of it to you

From the translaiton by Fr. Kiernan Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez.

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Okay, before we even get fully started, yes, we can say both/and.

However, one of the statements Father made during the retreat caused a great deal less controversy than I had anticipated and it has been the food for much thought for the last several days. He pointed out that Judaism and Islam are religions of Orthopraxy, whereas Christianity tends to be a religion of orthodox.

Now, before I continue down this path, I should make very clear my own stand and the stand that I believe was held by Father Patrick, although I cannot speak for him. Orthodoxy is very important--doctrine defines the boundaries and contours of faith. As such it is the road-map, the landscape, and the surroundings for anything we do within the faith. Improper articulation of the truths of the faith can lead the faithful astray and dissuade those who might otherwise be attracted by the Splendor of the Truth. So I have no gripe with orthodoxy and would like to think that I try to remain clearly within the bounds of those attempting to think with the Church. (Even saying this I realize that I often fail, but I pray to be more successful even in those instances.)

However, the focus on orthodoxy often leads us off-track. If we're so concerned about whether or not someone is holding hands during the Our Father (which, I guess properly is a matter of orthodox orthopraxy) that we fail to make that person welcome in the Church, we have failed in our mission as a Christian. If we stand so firm on doctrine that we tend to drive off all visitors, we're doing something wrong.

When you think about it, as important as doctrine is, it is not in itself salvation. It can lead to salvation--but it is no guarantee.

I think about the parable of Jesus in which he talks about the two sons told by their father to go out and work the fields. The one son says,"No, I won't do it," and then either repents his hastiness or overcomes himself and goes out to work. The other son says, "Yes, I'll be right there," and never shows up. Who has done the Father's will?

As a former Baptist I used to fret about doctrine a lot; but then I was reminded of the final exam. We won't be asked to define hyperdulia and its proper object, nor to give details of the hypostatic union. But we will be separated into the sheep and the goats on a question not of doctrine but of practice: "When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; thirsty, you gave me to drink; naked, you clothed me." God isn't going to be too worried about how we interpret the Vatican documents on Ecumenical dialogue nor its fundamental teachings on interreligious dialogue with nonChristian faiths. These are all important matters. But more important is that if we see our Muslim brother ill, hurting, or wanting and we can do something about it, do we? If we see our Catholic sister in need, do we help her, or do we quiz her first about how Catholic she actually is?

I personally can't imagine any Catholic I know administering some sort of grueling orthodoxy test as a prerequisite for aid. Nor any Christian I know for that matter. But sometimes if you hear us talk among ourselves, we sound as though we would.

I don't need to work on my orthodoxy. But I will admit that I often fail in my orthopraxy and I fail most often because of my lack of compassion and my lack of comprehension of what can be done and what part I can play in it. I hide my head in the sand and pretend not to know what to do. You all may be aware that we have a major problem with citizens of other countries occupying American Domiciles without proper authorization. I struggle with the political question of what we need to do about these people. And yet I consistently refuse to vote for any measure that would deprive them of health care or access to education for their children. I support the organizations that visit them with medical care and food and clothing. But I have never helped one of these people myself--perhaps because the opportunity has not presented itself. But I often think--perhaps I would not do so because I haven't the depth of courage to live out the convictions of my faith in the face of the hostility of my neighbors. And yes, I think my faith would call me to see to it that regardless of the status of their paperwork, these people are treated with the dignity of human beings. Now, this does not prevent me from holding whatever view I care to hold with regard to how we "deal with" such people--I haven't made my mind up on this matter yet. The Bishops clearly teach that we have a right and an obligation to protect the interests of the people of our own country by whatever laws we should happen to make.

My point is not to challenge political boundaries here. I don't know what to do about people who are in this country illegally--except what compassion demands from one human being to another. Should they be returned home? I don't know. What I do know is that so long as they are here they should be fed and their children educated to the best of our ability to do so. Is it a drain on our resources? Yes. But I heard (and haven't yet confirmed) that most of us in the blog world are among the top 5% of the richest people in the world. Perhaps we have resources that could be shared. Perhaps we could live with a little less so that others who have not had our advantages might have a little more. This is an opinion, not a teaching of the Church,but it is an opinion born out of compassion. Every time I look at my son's face, I think about the children of Dafur or the horrendous picture I saw the other day of the children of Zimbabwe picking through the garbage to collect enough to eat. Are they any less precious than we are?

So suddenly, I find myself thinking about compassion and the demand and necessity for me to share in the suffering of others--share in it so as to alleviate it, not simply to make myself miserable as well. That, it seems to me, is the sacrificial love we are called to.

Do we give away everything? No. Do we give away what we are not entitled to give away--the security of our neighbors and of our children's children? No. There are bounds and reasonable bounds. But is there more we can do for others. I think yes, and I don't think it necessarily has to do with money.

Orthopraxy--do I share in the sorrows and the toils of my brothers and sisters in the Lord in such a way as I carry part of the burden? In this Lenten season I realize that I do not do nearly enough. This is a place for transformation that comes only with transformation of the heart,

As I said, nothing provocative, nothing controversial, but much very challenging to the way I presently live my life. Giving money is not enough. Who would be first in the kingdom of heaven must be last among the sisters and brothers on earth--the servant of the servants of God. Now there's a goal to strive for--to allow myself to become such a servant.

Only through prayer. Prayer alone can make so distant a goal even a remote possibility. And when I see that I see how far I am from the Father's love. Not that He is distant from me, but I place the distance between us because like the rich young man. . .

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Distractions in Prayer

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True consolation and encouragement from a friend of God.

from Essence of Prayer
Sr. Ruth Burrows, OCD

. . . I do not think readers would want to be bored to tears by an account of what goes on in my head during prayer! Distractions are my unfailing companions at prayer; but I have learned that prayer doesn't go on in the head, in the brain-box, but in that secret heart that is choosing to pray and to remain in prayer no matter what it feels like or seem like to me. I am totally convinced that our God, the God we see in Jesus, is all-Love, all-Compassion and, what is more, is all-Gift; is always offering God's own Self as our perfect fulfilment. I believe, through Jesus, that we were made for this and that it is divine Love's passion to bring it to perfect fulfilment in us. So when I set myself t pray I am basing myself on this faith and refuse to let it go. I just take it for granted that, because God is the God of Jesus, all-Love, who fulfils every promise, this work of love is going on, purifying and gradually transforming me. What I actually experience on my conscious level is quite unimportant. In fact, I experience nothing except my poor, distracted self.

If one lives in close acquaintance with silence and has time set aside for prayer and contemplation and still goes to find distraction, it would seem that distraction is the human condition of prayer. I suspect there isn't a person in the world, saint or sinner, who goes to prayer without distractions. Distractions are part of our nature--they are the rambunctious child who lives on within us even when we have outgrown that child's body. They are not a sign of deficiency, but they are an evidence of our utter dependence upon God to accomplish prayer in us. We must go willing and mindful of the fact that we will accomplish nothing whatsoever on our own. We go nevertheless, not because we are setting out to accomplish, but because we are obedient to the discipline that will foster the growth that the Father wishes to accomplish in us.

So, instead of worrying about distraction in prayer, focus instead upon being present in the prayer, letting the distractions play around us and letting God encounter us as we are--distracted, weak, and child-like. He will not fail us, this great God of Love and Father of us all. When our will is His, however weakly, He will make the best of it and the best of us.

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