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Humility 2


-please click on the image for greater detail

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O my God, help me to know You and to know myself! I know that You are He Who is, and I am he who is not!

MEDITATION

Among all the creatures in which we take pleasure and toward which our nature seems to be attracted the most, self undoubtedly holds the first place. There is no one, no matter how limited in talents and good qualities, who does not love his own excellence, and who does not try, in one way or another, to make it shine forth to himself and to others. It is for this reason that we often spontaneously exaggerate our own worth, and, as a result, are demanding and pretentious. This makes us haughty and arrogant, as well as difficult in our relations with others. Humility is the virtue which keeps within just limits the love of one’s own excellence. Whereas self-esteem often induces us to make ourselves too evident, or to occupy a place which is higher than our due, humility keeps us in our own place. Humility is truth: it tends to establish in truth both our intellect—by making us know ourselves as we really are—and our life, by inclining us to take, in relation to God and to men, our proper place and no other.

Humility makes us realize that, in the sight of God, we are only His little creature, entirely dependent upon Him for our existence and for all our works. Having received life from God, we cannot subsist even one moment independently of Him. He Who gave us existence by His creative action, maintains life in us by His conserving action. In addition we cannot perform the slightest act without God’s cooperation, in the same way that a machine—even a perfect one—cannot make any motion until it is started by the one who made it. It is very true that, unlike the machine, our acts are neither mechanical nor compulsory, but are conscious and free; yet, we cannot move even a finger without the concurrence of the divine Artist.

It follows then that everything we possess in the order of being—qualities, gifts, capacities—and everything we have accomplished in the order of action, is not ours, but all, in one way or another, are gifts of God, all are acts performed with God’s help. “What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

COLLOQUY

“O omnipotent Father, God of truth, God of love, permit me to enter into the cell of self-knowledge. I admit that of myself I am nothing, but that all the being and goodness in me comes solely from You. Show me my faults, that I may detest my malice, and thus I shall flee from self-love and find myself clothed again in the nuptial robe of divine charity, which I must have in order to be admitted to the nuptials of life eternal” (St. Catherine of Siena).

“Give me, O my God, a thorough knowledge of myself! Let me be really convinced that I am nothing and that You are everything! Do not let me think that I am anything more than the nothing I am. Let me do nothing more for myself, but all for You! Grant that no creature may think any more about me, do anything more for me, give me anything more, but let all be done for You and given to You. And may my nothingness be reduced to nothing in the eyes of all creatures and in Yours, my God, that You, the All, may be all, in all and through all.” (St. John Eudes).

Reveal my nothingness to me, O Lord, reveal it so well that, not only shall I understand it, but I shall also have a practical, profound conviction of it. You know how painful that is to my proud nature! My intellect cannot resist the evidence of truth and is obliged to admit that I am nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing without You, yet my ego is always trying to attribute something to itself, to take the credit for this or that and to take as much pleasure in it as if it were its own. Help me, O Lord, to triumph over this pride which, as You see, steals Your gifts and makes my life sterile by preventing me from receiving the abundance of Your graces.

Grant that I may know my nothingness, O Lord, for the more I recognize it with simplicity and humility of heart, the more You will take pleasure in being my All—You are All, I am nothing; You, He Who is and I, he who is not! Glorify Yourself then in my nothingness! May Your love and grace triumph in this nothing, but may Your mercy also triumph, for I am a nothing which has sinned. Peccavi, Domine, miserere mei! [I have sinned, O Lord, have mercy on me!]

Love, Lord, make me humble, but not yet, 🙂
Matthew

The Church

“O Christ, our Lord, You have transmitted to Your Church the sovereign power which You have received. By virtue of Your dignity, You have made her Queen and Spouse. You have given her supreme power over the entire universe. You have commanded all men to submit to her judgment. She is the Mother of all the living, and her dignity increases with the number of her children.

Every day she gives birth to new children by the operation of the Holy Spirit. As a vine, her branches cover the whole world. Her boughs are upheld by the wood of the Cross and they reach up to the Kingdom of heaven.

Your Church, O Christ, is a strong city built on a mountain, visible to all and enlightening all. You are her Founder and foremost Citizen, O Jesus Christ, Son of God and our Lord.

We beseech You, eternal King of souls, Christ our Lord, stretch Your omnipotent Hands over Your holy Church and the holy people who belong to You; defend them, guard them, preserve them; combat, challenge, subdue all their enemies.

May Your Church always remain pure and living! May she chant Your praises under the guidance of the holy angels! We pray to You for all her members; grant them pardon and remission of all their sins; grant that they may sin no more. Be their defense; take away from them all temptation. Have pity on men, women, and children; reveal Yourself to all, and let the knowledge of Your Holy Name be written in their hearts.” (-from an ancient Liturgy).

Love,
Matthew

The Argument from Conscience


-by Peter Kreeft, PhD

“The argument from conscience, Romans 2: 14-16, is one of the only two arguments for the existence of God alluded to in Scripture, the other being the argument from design, Romans 1:18-20. Both arguments are essentially simple natural intuitions. Only when complex, artificial objections are made do these arguments begin to take on a complex appearance.

The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.

Like all arguments for the existence of God, this one proves only a small part of what we know God to be by divine revelation. But this part is significantly more than the arguments from nature reveal about God because this argument has richer data, a richer starting point. Here we have inside information, so to speak: the very will of God speaking, however obscurely and whisperingly, however poorly heard, admitted, and heeded, in the depths of our souls. The arguments from nature begin with data that are like an author’s books; the argument from conscience begins with data that are more like talking with the author directly, live.

The only possible source of absolute authority is an absolutely perfect will.

Before beginning, we should define and clarify the key term conscience. The modern meaning tends to indicate a mere feeling that I did something wrong or am about to do something wrong. The traditional meaning in Catholic theology is the knowledge of what is right and wrong: intellect applied to morality. The meaning of conscience in the argument is knowledge and not just a feeling; but it is intuitive knowledge rather than rational or analytical knowledge, and it is first of all the knowledge that I must always do right and never wrong, the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness, all goodness: justice and charity and virtue and holiness; only in the second place is it the knowledge of which things are right and which things are wrong. This second-place knowledge is a knowledge of moral facts, while the first-place knowledge is a knowledge of my personal moral obligation, a knowledge of the moral law itself and its binding authority over my life. That knowledge forms the basis for the argument from conscience.

If anyone claims he simply does not have that knowledge, if anyone says he simply doesn’t see it, then the argument will not work for him. The question remains, however, whether he honestly doesn’t see it and really has no conscience (or a radically defective conscience) or whether he is repressing the knowledge he really has. Divine revelation (Ed. through Scripture) tells us that he is repressing the knowledge (Rom 1:18b; 2:15). In that case, what is needed before the rational, philosophical argument is some honest introspection to see the data. The data, conscience, is like a bag of gold buried in my backyard. If someone tells me it is there and that this proves some rich man buried it, I must first dig and find the treasure before I can infer anything more about the cause of the treasure’s existence. Before conscience can prove God to anyone, that person must admit the presence of the treasure of conscience in the backyard of his soul.

Nearly everyone will admit the premise, though. They will often explain it differently, interpret it differently, insist it has nothing to do with God. But that is exactly what the argument tries to show: that once you admit the premise of the authority of conscience, you must admit the conclusion of God. How does that work?

Conscience has an absolute authority over me.

Nearly everyone will admit not only the existence of conscience but also its authority. In this age of rebellion against and doubt about nearly every authority, in this age in which the very word authority has changed from a word of respect to a word of scorn, one authority remains: an individual’s conscience. Almost no one will say that one ought to sin against one’s conscience, disobey one’s conscience. Disobey the church, the state, parents, authority figures, but do not disobey your conscience. Thus people usually admit, though not usually in these words, the absolute moral authority and binding obligation of conscience.

Such people are usually surprised and pleased to find out that Saint Thomas Aquinas, of all people, agrees with them to such an extent that he says if a Catholic comes to believe the Church is in error in some essential, officially defined doctrine, it is a mortal sin against conscience, a sin of hypocrisy, for him to remain in the Church and call himself a Catholic, but only a venial sin against knowledge for him to leave the Church in honest but partly culpable error.

So one of the two premises of the argument is established: conscience has an absolute authority over me. The second premise is that the only possible source of absolute authority is an absolutely perfect will, a divine being. The conclusion follows that such a Being exists.

How would someone disagree with the second premise? By finding an alternative basis for conscience besides God. There are four such possibilities:

  1.  something abstract and impersonal, like an idea;
  2. something concrete but less than human, something on the level of animal instinct;
  3. something on the human level but not divine; and
  4. something higher than the human level but not yet divine. In other words, we cover all the possibilities by looking at the abstract, the concrete-less-than-human, the concrete-human, and the concrete-more-than-human.

The first possibility, #1, means that the basis of conscience is a law without a lawgiver. We are obligated absolutely to an abstract ideal, a pattern of behavior. The question then comes up, where does this pattern exist? If it does not exist anywhere, how can a real person be under the authority of something unreal? How can more be subject to “less”? If, however, this pattern or idea exists in the minds of people, then what authority do they have to impose this idea of theirs on me? If the idea is only an idea, it has no personal will behind it; if it is only someone’s idea, it has only that someone behind it. In neither case do we have a sufficient basis for absolute, infallible, no-exceptions authority. But we already admitted that conscience has that authority, that no one should ever disobey his conscience.

The second possibility, #2, means that we trace conscience to a biological instinct. “We must love one another or die”, writes the poet W. H. Auden. We unconsciously know this, says the believer in this second possibility, just as animals unconsciously know that unless they behave in certain ways the species will not survive. That’s why animal mothers sacrifice for their children, and that’s a sufficient explanation for human altruism too. It’s the herd instinct.

The problem with that explanation is that it, like the first, does not account for the absoluteness of conscience’s authority. We believe we ought to disobey an instinct—any instinct—on some occasions. But we do not believe we ought ever to disobey our conscience. You should usually obey instincts like mother love, but not if it means keeping your son back from risking his life to save his country in a just and necessary defensive war, or if it means injustice and lack of charity to other mothers’ sons. There is no instinct that should always be obeyed. The instincts are like the keys on a piano (the illustration comes from C. S. Lewis); the moral law is like sheet music. Different notes are right at different times.

Furthermore, instinct fails to account not only for what we ought to do but also for what we do do. We don’t always follow instinct. Sometimes we follow the weaker instinct, as when we go to the aid of a victim even though we fear for our own safety. The herd instinct here is weaker than the instinct for self-preservation, but our conscience, like sheet music, tells us to play the weak note here rather than the strong one.

Honest introspection will reveal to anyone that conscience is not an instinct. When the alarm wakes you up early and you realize that you promised to help your friend this morning, your instincts pull you back to bed, but something quite different from your instincts tells you you should get out. Even if you feel two instincts pulling you (e.g., you are both hungry and tired), the conflict between those two instincts is quite different, and can be felt and known to be quite different, from the conflict between conscience and either or both of the instincts. Quite simply, conscience tells you that you ought to do or not do something, while instincts simply drive you to do or not do something. Instincts make something attractive or repulsive to your appetites, but conscience makes something obligatory to your choice, no matter how your appetites feel about it. Most people will admit this piece of obvious introspective data if they are honest. If they try to wriggle out of the argument at this point, leave them alone with the question, and if they are honest, they will confront the data when they are alone.

A third possibility, #3, is that other human beings (or society) are the source of the authority of conscience. That is the most popular belief, but it is also the weakest of all the four possibilities. For society does not mean something over and above other human beings, something like God, although many people treat society exactly like God, even in speech, almost lowering the voice to a whisper when the sacred name is mentioned. Society is simply other people like myself. What authority do they have over me? Are they always right? Must I never disobey them? What kind of blind status quo conservatism is this? Should a German have obeyed society in the Nazi era? To say society is the source of conscience is to say that when one prisoner becomes a thousand prisoners, they become the judge. It is to say that mere quantity gives absolute authority; that what the individual has in his soul is nothing, no authoritative conscience, but that what society (i.e., many individuals) has is. That is simply a logical impossibility, like thinking stones can think if only you have enough of them. (Some proponents of artificial intelligence believe exactly that kind of logical fallacy, by the way: that electrons and chips and chunks of metal can think if only you have enough of them in the right geometrical arrangements.)

The fourth possibility, #4, remains, that the source of conscience’s authority is something above me but not God. What could this be? Society is not above me, nor is instinct. An ideal? That is the first possibility we discussed. It looks as though there are simply no candidates in this area.

And that leaves us with God. Not just some sort of God, but the moral God of the Bible, the God at least of Judaism. Among all the ancient peoples, the Jews were the only ones who identified their God with the source of moral obligation. The gods of the pagans demanded ritual worship, inspired fear, designed the universe, or ruled over the events in human life, but none of them ever gave a Ten Commandments or said, “Be ye holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” The Jews saw the origin of nature and the origin of conscience as one, and Christians (and Muslims) have inherited this insight. The Jews’ claim to be God’s chosen people interprets the insight in the humblest possible way: as divine revelation, not human cleverness. But once revealed, the claim can be seen to be utterly logical.

To sum up the argument most simply and essentially, conscience has absolute, exceptionless, binding moral authority over us, demanding unqualified obedience. But only a perfectly good, righteous divine will has this authority and a right to absolute, exceptionless obedience. Therefore conscience is the voice of the will of God.

Of course, we do not always hear that voice aright. Our consciences can err. That is why the first obligation we have, in conscience, is to form our conscience by seeking the truth, especially the truth about whether this God has revealed to us clear moral maps (Scripture and Church). If so, whenever our conscience seems to tell us to disobey those maps, it is not working properly, and we can know that by conscience itself if only we remember that conscience is more than just immediate feeling. If our immediate feelings were the voice of God, we would have to be polytheists or else God would have to be schizophrenic.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

God’s will


-please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – I place myself in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, asking Him to penetrate my soul with His words, “He that does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 7:21).

MEDITATION

The path which leads to sanctity, that is, to God, can be marked out only by God Himself, by His will. Jesus expressed this very strongly when He said, “Not everyone that says to Me “Lord, Lord” shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt 7:21). And to show that the souls who are most closely united to Him, the ones He loves most, are precisely those who do the will of God, He does not hesitate to say: “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father, that is in Heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50).

The saints learned in the school of Jesus. St. Teresa of Avila, after having received the most sublime mystical communications, did not hesitate to declare, “The highest perfection consists not in interior favors, or in great raptures, or in visions, or in the spirit of prophecy, but in the bringing of our wills so closely into conformity with the will of God that, as soon as we realize He wills anything, we desire it ourselves with all our might, and take the bitter with the sweet” (Foundations, 5). St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus echoes this statement, “The more joyfully [souls] do His will, the greater is their perfection” (Story of a Soul, 1).

True love of God consists in adhering perfectly to His holy will, not desiring to do or be other than what God indicates for each of us, to the point of becoming, as it were, “a living will of God.” Seen in this light, sanctity is possible for every soul of good will; it is not impossible that a soul which leads a humble, hidden life, may adhere to the divine will as well and perhaps even better than a “great” saint who has received from God an exterior mission and has been enriched with mystical graces. The perfection of a soul may be measured by the degree to which it does the will of God, and finds its happiness in doing it.

COLLOQUY

O my God, You make me understand that the only thing necessary is Your holy will, that it is my one and only treasure. In this life, what can be more beautiful, more safe, more perfect and more holy than to do Your will? You have given me free will; to what better use can I put it than to make it adhere to Your divine will? If I should perform great works and carry out marvelous undertakings which are not fully in accordance with Your will, they would have no value for eternity and would, therefore, be destined to perish; whereas the slightest works done according to Your will have an eternal value.

O Lord, I know that I am nothing, I acknowledge the weakness of my poor will which now turns to one good, now to another, and considers as good what is really imperfection, fault, sin. But Your will is indefectible; You can desire nothing but the true, sovereign good; hence, You desire only my good, my salvation, my sanctification. Nothing, then, can be more advantageous to me than to consecrate my will to Yours, O my God.

“At this moment, O Lord, I freely consecrate my will to You without reserve…. Grant that Your will may always be fulfilled in me, in the way which is most pleasing to You. If You wish me to do this by means of trials, give me strength and let them come. If by means of persecutions and sickness and dishonor and need, here I am, my Father, I shall not turn my face away.” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 32).

So many times I have made You the offering of my will, consecrating it to You and declaring that I wanted nothing but Your divine will. But an equal number of times, alas, I have taken back my offering, and in my actions, labors, and apostolic works, instead of allowing myself to be guided by You, I have been led more or less by pride and personal satisfaction. How far I am, O Lord, from losing my will in Yours! How attached I still am to my own ideas and tastes! How many things still remain in me which are contrary to Your will! Give me light to recognize them, and strength to free myself from them! I confess that every time I draw away from Your will, even if only in little things, to act according to my own will, I feel remorse, and a lessening of peace in my soul. Only in Your will is my good, my peace, my salvation, my sanctification.

O Lord, hear my poor prayer: once more I offer You my will; take it, keep it a prisoner, so that I shall never be able to withdraw my offering.

With St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, I repeat, “My God … I will not be a saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for You. One thing only do I fear, and that is to follow my own will. Accept, then, the offering I make of it, for I choose all that You will.” (Therésè of the Child Jesus, Story of a Soul, 1).

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Peace

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Holy Spirit, help me to establish my heart in peace.

MEDITATION

A soul who has tasted God, under the influence of the gift of wisdom, looks at the world with the eyes of God, and therefore is able to judge all things “secundum rationes divinae” (St. Thomas IIa IIae, q.45, a.3, ad 3) by divine principles, according to supernatural motives, and not according to limited human reasoning. These are the truly “wise” judgments that we can never formulate without the help of the Holy Spirit. In fact, “the sensual man [the man of the senses and of natural reason] perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined. But the spiritual man [the man of faith guided by the Holy Spirit] judgeth all things” (1 Corinthians 2:14,15). He judges all things in relation to their supreme Cause, God; therefore, he directs all his acts and orders everything in his life according to God. From this order – the only true order – comes peace, the fruit of the wise direction of the gift of wisdom; hence, the man who habitually lives under the influence of this gift is a peaceful man par excellence. His heart is established in peace, there is no longer anything disordered in it; all his affections and desires, all his thoughts and acts, are completely ordered according to God, being wholly submitted and conformed to His laws, to His will, to His good pleasure. One who possesses peace, disseminates peace. A peacemaker, in the etymological sense, is one who makes peace, cultivates peace, and spreads it about him. This is why the gift of wisdom corresponds to the beatitude of peace, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Only one who lives under the influence of this gift can truly judge and regulate everything according to God, so that nothing, not even suffering, can disturb his interior peace, for he knows that even the most painful happenings are permitted and ordered by God for the good of His elect. “To them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Romans 8:28).

In this way the gift of wisdom gives a note of sweetness, not only to our prayer, but also to our practical life:
“Under the influence of this gift,” says St. Thomas, “what is bitter becomes sweet, and weariness becomes repose” (IIa IIae, q.45, a.3, ad 3).

COLLOQUY

“O Holy Spirit, give us Your wisdom to teach and guide us and to bring all things back to You, from whom they came. Oh! if we could really return to You as we came out from You, like waves returning to the ocean whence they came! Oh! if we could only make this complete return to You, we should be in perpetual happiness and perpetual peace!

Your wisdom is the perfection which orders all things in relation to You who are their end. It considers the past, looks at the present and scans the future always in relation to You. From this orientation, peace, the sweet fruit of wisdom, is born in our hearts. He who possesses this peace is always serene: he is not troubled by the past or the present, and he looks peacefully toward the future, because he knows that everything is permitted and arranged by Your sovereign goodness.

O eternal Father, give us light to know this peace, the cause of so many blessings, and without which we fall into so many faults and evils!

Oh! why can I not communicate this peace to every creature? If I were what I should be, I certainly could diffuse it everywhere! O Lord, give me Your peace, the peace of a heart which lives united to You, for of myself I can have no good, and without You, I cannot have peace.” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

“O most benign Jesus, give me above all desires the desire to rest in You, and in You let my heart find peace. You are the true peace of the heart; You are its only refuge; without You, all things are difficult and troubled. In this peace, then, that is, in You, the one sovereign eternal Good, I will sleep and take my rest.”-(Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, III, 15:4).

Love, and the peace only He can give,
Matthew

To love greatly

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Lord, give me a generous heart, capable of undertaking great things for You.

MEDITATION

Whoever aspires to sanctity should have a generous, magnanimous heart, which is not satisfied with doing little things for God, and tiny acts of virtue, but is eager to do great things and give great proofs of love.  Just as there is no sanctity without heroic virtue, so it is impossible to attain to heroism without performing great acts of virtue.

Some think there is pride and delusion of the devil in fostering great desires, or in wanting to do great things for God.  There would be, certainly, if in this we sought honor for ourselves, or praise from others, or if, in trying to do great things, we were to neglect the small details of our daily duties.  The virtue of magnanimity, on the contrary, inclines the soul to do great things for God, but never to the detriment of obedience, humility, or the fulfillment of duty. Generous souls, precisely in this domain, will often meet with arduous, difficult things which call for much virtue, but which usually remain hidden from the eyes of others. In circumstances such as these we are often tempted to give up, under the pretext that it is not necessary to push virtue to such extremes; we excuse ourselves, saying that we are neither angels nor saints. St. Teresa of Jesus says, “We may not be; but what a good thing it is for us to reflect that we can be if we will only try, and if God gives us His hand!” (Way of Perfection, 16).  The Saint strongly insists that those who have dedicated themselves to the spiritual life should not nourish petty desires, but generous ones, nor should they fear to emulate the saints; she affirms with authority, “I have never seen any courageous person hanging back on this road, nor any soul that, under the guise of humility, acted like a coward, go as far in many years as the courageous soul can in a few.”

COLLOQUY

“O strong love of God! I really think that nothing seems impossible to one who loves! O happy soul that has obtained Your peace, O my God! It has become mistress over all the trials and perils of the world, and it fears none of them when there is a question of serving You.

It is a characteristic of the true servant of God, to whom His Majesty has given light to follow the true path, that when beset by these fears, his desire not to stop only increases. Teach me, then, O my God, always to go straight ahead, to fight with courage, and to parry the blows of the devil who is trying to frighten me.

For what can a man accomplish, my Lord, who does not wholly abase himself for Your sake? How far, O, how far, how very far—I could repeat it a thousand times—am I from doing this! How many imperfections do I find in myself! How feebly do I serve You! Sometimes I could really wish I were devoid of sense, for then I should not understand how much evil is in me. May He who is able to do so, grant me succor! We must have great confidence for it is most important that we should not cramp our good desires but should believe that, with God’s help, if we make continual efforts to do so, we shall attain, though perhaps not at once, to that which many saints have reached through His favor.

“How true it is, O Lord, that everything is possible in You; I realize too, that of myself I can do nothing. Therefore, I beseech You with St. Augustine: ‘Give me, Lord, what You command me and then command what You will’” (Teresa of Jesus, Conceptions of the Love of God, 3 – Way of Perfection, 21 – Life, 39 – 13).

Love, greatly,
Matthew

Interior Trials

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Lord, purify me as gold in the crucible; purify me and do not spare me, that I may attain to union with You.

MEDITATION

If Our Lord finds you strong and faithful, humble and patient in accepting exterior trials, He will go on little by little to others that are more inward and spiritual “to purge and cleanse you more inwardly … to give you more interior blessings” (-St John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 2, 28). The passive night of the spirit culminates precisely in these interior sufferings of the soul, by which God “destroys and consumes its spiritual substance and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness” (-St John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul II, 6, 1) in order that it may be completely reborn to divine Life. We are, in fact, so steeped in miseries and faults, which adhere so closely to our nature, that if God Himself did not take our purification in hand, renewing us from head to foot, we should never be delivered from them. Jesus, too, spoke of this total renovation, of this profound spiritual rebirth: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5); the kingdom of God here below is the state of perfect union with Him, to which no one attains if he be not first totally purified.

St. John of the Cross explains at length how this work of purification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who, invading the soul with the living flame of His Love, destroys and consumes all its imperfections. So long as this divine flame purifies and disposes the soul, says the Saint, it “is very oppressive … the flame is not bright to it, but dark, and if it gives any light at all, it is only that the soul may see and feel its own faults and miseries” (John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 1,19). Although the soul finds itself under the direct action of the Holy Spirit, this action is not agreeable but painful, because its first fruit is precisely to show it all its weaknesses and miseries that it may conceive a horror for them, detest them, humble itself for them and be sorry for them. The penetrating light of the “living flame of Love” lifts the thick veil which hides from the soul the roots of its evil habits. The soul suffers at such a sight, not only because it feels humbled, but also because it fears being rejected by God; indeed, seeing itself so miserable, it feels itself dreadfully unworthy of divine love, and, at certain times, it even seems as if God in anger had cast it off from Himself. This is the greatest torment the soul can suffer, but a precious one, because it purifies the soul of all residue of self-love and pride, and deepens within it the profound abyss of humility which calls to and draws down the abyss of divine mercy.

COLLOQUY

“O my soul, if you are wounded by sin, behold your physician, ready to cure you. His mercy is infinitely greater than all your iniquities. This I say, not that you may remain in your misery, but that by doing your utmost to overcome it, you may not despair of His clemency and pardon.

Your God is sweetness itself, mildness itself; whom will you love, whom will you desire except Him?

Let not your imperfections discourage you; your God does not despise you because you are imperfect and infirm; on the contrary, He loves you because you desire to cure your ills. He will come to your assistance and make you more perfect than you would have dared to hope, and adorned by His own hand, your beauty will be unequalled, like His own goodness.

O my Jesus, tender Shepherd, gentle Master, help me, lift up Your dejected sheep, extend Your hand to sustain me, heal my wounds, strengthen my weakness, save me; otherwise I shall perish. I am unworthy of life, I confess, unworthy of Your light and help; for my ingratitude has been so great; Your mercy, however, is greater still. Have pity upon me, then, O God, You who love men so much! Oh, my only hope! Have pity upon me according to the greatness of your mercy.” (-Blessed Louis de Blois).

“One abyss calleth upon another. It is there, my God, at the bottom that I shall meet You: the abyss of my poverty, of my nothingness, will be confronted with the abyss of Your mercy, the immensity of Your All. There I shall find strength to die to myself and, losing every trace of self, I shall be changed into love.” (St Elisabeth of the Trinity, First Retreat [Heaven on Earth] 1).

Love & deepest empathy & affection,
Matthew

No one will take your joy from you. -Jn 16:22


-cf Br. Philip Nolan, OP

“Joy is not the primary goal of the Christian life; rather it is one of the results or “fruits” of that life. Because we cannot fake true joy, the Christian life does not consist of a forced smile and the platitude that “everything will be alright.” This false or forced joy will ultimately let us down. True joy must somehow coexist with the actual circumstances of our lives…

…But our awareness of God’s gaze on us is much more fickle than His love. As St. John Cassian says:

“To cling to God unceasingly and to remain inseparably united to Him in contemplation is . . . impossible for the person who is enclosed in perishable flesh. But we ought to know where we should fix our mind’s attention. . . . And when our mind has been able to seize it, it should rejoice, and when it is distracted from it, it should mourn and sigh, realizing that it has fallen away from the highest good” (Conferences, 1.XIII.1).”

If our attention to God can so easily be distracted, how is it possible to receive this joy that no one, no circumstance or trial, can take away? The answer lies in the source of joy. Joy comes from love. As St. Thomas says, “joy is caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because one’s proper good exists and endures in the thing loved” (Summa theologiae II-II, a. 28, q. 1). …the impermanence of our attention to God will be dwarfed by the permanence of God’s gaze upon us.”

Love & His joy,
Matthew

Sincerity

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Give me, O Lord, an open, sincere heart, loving the truth, seeking and desiring it at any cost.

MEDITATION

“Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest in Thy holy hill?” asks the Psalmist. And he gives the answer: “He that walketh without blemish, and worketh justice” (Ps 15:1,2).

God is truth, and no one can be admitted to His intimacy who does not strive as much as he can, to live in truth and to be sincere in all his actions. First of all, we must seek to possess truth in the depths of our heart, that we may know ourselves as we really are in the eyes of God, stripped of all disguise and artificiality. To do this we must accept, not only the truths which please us, but also those which are painful and wound our pride to the quick, revealing our faults and evil tendencies. A person who is sincere never closes his eyes to these truths, but values them, even if they are humiliating, knowing that humiliation which reveals the truth is worth more than illusion which flatters pride and keeps us in error. Sometimes God permits difficult circumstances which are especially hard and trying for the practice of virtue, that we may see the truth and know ourselves as we really are. Under the onset of contradiction, we experience movements, hitherto unknown, surging up within us: movements of anger, rebellion, selfishness, from which perhaps we had had the illusion that we were free. In such cases, instead of turning our gaze away, it is necessary to have the courage to recognize these faults and confess them, humbly and frankly. St. John of the Cross speaks of certain pious souls who, in confession, “palliate [their sins] and make them appear less evil, and thus … excuse themselves rather than accuse themselves” (cf. Dark Night of the Soul, I, 2, 4). A soul that loves the truth is very far from acting in this way; even if it has only venial sins and imperfections of which to accuse itself in confession, it exposes them all very sincerely, without magnifying or minimizing them, never blaming circumstances, but only itself for all that is faulty. Sincerity in confessing our faults is the first step toward freeing ourselves from them.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, if I wish to reach You, Who are the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I must travel the road of truth, without any pretense or dissimulation, renouncing reason that has been darkened by self-love and human respect. I must act with simplicity, wholly dying to myself and to creatures. Teach me, O eternal Truth, how to act sincerely and frankly. Let my soul, simple as a dove, fly to You to build its nest in Your heart, and nourish itself with the knowledge of You and of itself; thus despising its own malice, it will find nothing in itself to satisfy it, and therefore, it will be unable to stay far away from You, not finding where to repose outside of You. Teach me to walk in the straight path of truth without stopping, but always advancing, hurrying and running swiftly, in order to follow You, eternal Truth, my guide and my way” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

“O Lord, let Thy truth teach me, let Thy truth guard me, and keep me till I come to a happy end. Let the same deliver me from all evil affections. I confess my sins to Thee with great compunction and sorrow; never permit me to esteem myself for my good works. I am indeed a sinner, subject to, and entangled with many passions. I always tend to nothing, I fall quickly, I am quickly overcome, easily disturbed and discouraged. I have nothing in which I can glory, but many things for which I ought to humble myself, for I am much weaker than I am able to comprehend.

“Teach me, O Lord, to admire Thy eternal truth, and to despise my own exceeding vileness” (The Imitation of Christ, III, 4,2-4).”

Love & sincerity,
Matthew

Aspiring Reformed pastor discovers the Catholic Church

Jeremy de Haan was born and raised in the Canadian Reformed Churches, a denomination grounded in the Dutch Reformed tradition. He drifted from his Reformed roots in his early twenties, spending a few years in a Vineyard church but ultimately returned to the Reformed tradition. Sometime later, he decided to pursue the ministry, and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of the Fraser Valley in 2012 and a Master of Divinity at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario in 2016. In his fourth year of seminary, Jeremy discovered that the search for the fullness of the Christian faith that had brought him from the Vineyard back to being Reformed was incomplete. He found that the Reformed faith remained strong insofar as it held to its Catholic roots; and insofar as it was worked out according to its own principles it weakened and became unorthodox. This meant that the final step was to return to the bosom of the Church the Reformers had left, to seek her not with the hardness of hostility and prejudice, but with the softness of a child turning to his mother in loving obedience. He and his wife, Arenda, and three children hope to be received into the Church at Easter, 2017.

“They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.” – Jeremiah 50:5 (KJV).

I.
Mid-September here in British Columbia’s West Kootenays is the season for shoveling bear droppings from your backyard, droppings full of the ripe plums you didn’t get around to harvesting in time (there’s a proverb in there somewhere…). Meanwhile, mid-September back in Hamilton, Ontario, is convocation time for the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, a small but lively seminary tucked away in a neighbourhood on the west mountain. That was where I’d completed my Master of Divinity program in April of this year, having planned for the last six years to be a Reformed pastor. I never could’ve guessed during those years that I’d be absent from my own convocation; that I’d instead be five thousand kilometers away, shovel still smelly in the garage, hollering at the kids so I could watch the ceremony on live-stream from our dinner table. Nor could I have guessed, prior to my fourth and final year at seminary, the reason for my absence: that only a week before convocation, I’d knocked on the door of the local parish church and announced to the surprised priest and secretary our intention to seek communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It no longer seemed right to attend convocation, a celebration of Reformed teaching, when we were in the process of embracing the Catholic faith.

My family and I had driven cross-country in late May, a couple weeks after school was out, settling closer to our roots in the Pacific northwest. We’d been attending Mass at St. Rita’s here in town pretty much since we arrived, and in a congregation of fifty or sixty mostly elderly people you and your three young kids don’t exactly slip in unnoticed. But we’d been attending with a certain amount of distance in our hearts, as we’d arrived with many unanswered questions, and hadn’t introduced ourselves. So when I popped into the office that September morning and sat down with the priest, I explained who we were and where we’d come from. Of course, the fact that I’d recently graduated from a Reformed seminary was an attention grabber, and he asked all sorts of questions.

But if it provokes questions for a Catholic priest, it probably provokes even more for a Reformed person. Probably all the subtle variations of, “What on earth?” I don’t know that I can sufficiently answer that, but it’s worth a shot. While I won’t go into detail here about every doctrinal question, for the sake of space, I will give you the shape of my overall thinking over the last year.

II.
At the close of the summer of 2015 I’d just finished a preaching practicum in Fergus, Ontario. I was looking forward to my fourth and final year at seminary and to the ministry beyond it. Up to this point, my views on the Catholic Church were pretty normal for a Reformed person. I didn’t believe that all Catholics were damned, but if some were going to be with me in heaven it would be in spite of all the rubbish their Church taught – certainly not because of it. After all, in the very name “Reformed” itself was a rebuke of the Catholic Church, for it was the apparent corruptions of that Church that the Reformers had sought to reform. Catholics prayed to dead people, they worshipped Mary, they thought the blood, hair, bones, and organs of a dead saint could be magical, they bowed down to idols, their claims to papal and magisterial infallibility could be debunked by pointing to the many inconsistencies and historical falsehoods; name any teaching of Scripture and Rome had buried it beneath idolatry, superstition, and man-made doctrines. Catholics had mastered the art of erring, and had solemnly festooned their errors with incense, candles, chants, and fancy robes. Considering all that, it never really crossed my mind to take Rome seriously.

But although that was the official view of my mind, at another level those prejudices had been challenged as the years went by. Many of my favourite writers were Catholic, like J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Anthony Esolen; or were from the Catholic wing of Anglicanism, like C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and Roger Scruton. Reformed readers will recognize some of those names, as they’re pretty much the patron saints of hipster Christians of any stripe. But if John Calvin was right to point to the “corruptions by which Satan, in the papacy, has polluted everything God had appointed for our salvation,”1 then how could men who had bought into that satanic pollution have anything worthwhile to say about the Christian faith, and how to understand the world through the lens of that faith?

In fact, in every encounter I had with the Catholic Church, whether through her writers, her music, her philosophy, her prayers, or her actual members, my prejudices were being challenged. I simply left it in the “inexplicable” category as to how so much insight, virtue, and holiness could be present in a Church that had long since given orthodoxy the bum’s rush.

I did have questions, too, about the Reformed faith. I didn’t see how some Reformed doctrines fully squared with the data of Scripture, and there were non-Reformed doctrines that seemed to equally satisfy the evidence. There were questions of Church authority and confessional authority. But none of these posed any real challenge to my thinking, and I never called into question the validity of the Reformation as a whole. Being Reformed was about much more than answering every intellectual question, anyways. I loved the Reformed Church. I loved her history, I loved her teachings, and I loved above all her emphasis on Scripture. If there were loose ends, apparent inconsistencies, and other inexplicable features of my faith, I merely chalked it up to the fact that life was full of these things. No reason to go all funny in the head about them.

III.
And so I began fourth year. But only a couple weeks into the first semester I came across the philosopher Peter Kreeft’s conversion story on YouTube. I’d read a little of Kreeft’s writings before, and they impressed me as being from the pen of a thoughtful and godly man. I knew he was a Catholic, but what I didn’t know until I saw the title of the video was that he had converted to Catholicism from being a Protestant. And when I started watching the video I realized he had converted from a Dutch Reformed background very similar to mine. That fact alone struck me. Here was a man who seemed trustworthy and thorough in his thinking, who grew up very similar to me, yet who had looked seriously at the Catholic faith and was compelled by what he found to leave the Reformed faith. If Rome was so shot through with false teachings, then how could anyone find the truth there? How could anyone leave what was obviously true for what was obviously false?

It was one particular question of his that unsettled me: if a modern Catholic and a modern Protestant could hop in a time machine and travel back to the early Church, which of the two would feel more at home? I’d always just assumed that the Reformation was a return to the early Church, a pressure-washing of papal grime off the pillars of the Christian faith. After all, if the Reformers were recovering the true apostolic teachings, then Reformed churches should at least look like the churches that the Apostles left behind. I’d never looked much into it, but until these assumptions were challenged I didn’t realize how central they were to my thinking. According to Kreeft, it was discovering that the early Church was essentially Catholic that eventually led him into the Catholic Church. I knew then that I had to look into this myself. There is only one faith, as the New Testament makes clear, and if it was not Rome but the Reformers who had departed from that one faith, then I’d be making some serious life changes.

Within a day or two of watching the video, I’d gone downstairs at the seminary library to the Church Fathers section and checked out the letters of Ignatius. Ignatius wrote his letters only a couple decades after the Apostle John died, and tradition has it that Ignatius was one of John’s disciples. Actually, tradition has it that Ignatius was one of the children blessed by Jesus, too.

So I read his letters, and it was evident quite quickly that the faith this man wrote about was not the Reformed faith. He called the bread of the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality”;2 he wrote that “[the heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again”;3 and he wrote, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”.4 This was about twenty years after the last Apostle died.

IV.
It was at this point that all those other questions and challenges that had lazed about near the horizons of my thinking came bearing down in full force. I was deeply moved by it all, to the point where a couple weeks later I was sitting in my mentor professor’s office telling him, “I think I’ve taken the first steps on the road to becoming a Catholic.” I told Arenda, too, and rather unexpectedly she confessed that she also had been drawn of late to the Catholic Church. That’s her story, and I’ll leave it to her to tell it if and how she wants to; but the point here is that we have walked this path together from the beginning.

I didn’t stop preaching or teaching catechism, however. I’d gone through phases before in life and I figured a good headshake was coming, after which all the familiar Reformed constellations would realign in my theological sky. I’d let the inertia of my life carry me along, and perhaps one day I’d chuckle over it all in my study as I worked on a sermon series through the book of Romans. That was my hope, anyways. As I write this, and enter into the frame of mind I had then, I’m reminded how confusing a time it was. I was in my fourth year of seminary, the ministry within reach, and the last possible thing I could ever imagine happening to me, short of becoming the next Joel Osteen, or the frontman of Queen, really was happening.

But despite the confusion, it was as if a crystal clear bell had sounded in my soul. I did not understand it, and dealt with it every way I could think of: by ignoring it, by fighting it, by hating it, by fearing it, by praying about it, by fasting about it, by writing a hundred thousand words about it, and by reading Scripture with its sound reverberating in my shriveled heart. And no matter what I did, it grew.

It grew throughout the semester, and it grew loud and persistent enough that I contacted a local Catholic priest. There were so many questions by that point, mid-November, that I had to sit down with a real-life Catholic and turn out the contents of my heart. Father Adam generously agreed to come over to our house, sit down with Arenda and me, and answer whatever blunt and awkward questions we had for him. So we sat in the living room, Chimay white beers in hand, and Arenda and I interrogated him about everything from praying to saints to the quality of parish life. I will be forever grateful for that conversation, for his sincerity and openness about the state of the Church. It was clear that he was not there to sell Catholicism to us, since he spoke plainly about nominal Catholics and the reality of sometimes meager parish life. Also, he later introduced us to a Catholic couple who got to deal with all the questions we didn’t get around to asking him. Their friendship put a face to devout Catholics – and it was not an unfamiliar face.

I spent all of my spare time, and even time that was not spare, researching the Catholic question. On the Catholic side, I read, among others, the website Called To Communion; I read John Henry Newman, a nineteenth-century convert to Rome from Anglicanism. On the Reformed side, I read The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison, Papa Don’t Pope by Doug Wilson, and Are We Together? by R.C. Sproul. I read Reformed blogs like Green Baggins, Triablogue, and Reformation 500. I reread articles from my old Modern Reformation magazines. I watched YouTube debates. I read Scripture with Catholic eyes and with Reformed eyes. I read some of the more famous works of the Church Fathers.

The result of all this was that I was near despair by the end of the semester. It seemed to me that if someone wanted to build a space ladder, all he had to do was make a stack of all the Reformed and Catholic writings that show why the other is wrong about the sacraments, or justification, or the atonement, or Church government, or the communion of saints, etc. If so many intelligent and amply-informed scholars could not agree on these issues, how could I make a decision either way? It seemed that if I wanted to be a faithful disciple of Christ, it meant dealing with a just-shy-of-infinite amount of baggage first. I knew that this could not be why Christ took on human flesh and entered into human history, but as the first semester of fourth year came to a close, this was what troubled my soul.

V.
I was ready to quit school by this point. I canceled my remaining preaching engagements and stopped teaching catechism, as I realized that no immediate headshake would be forthcoming. I ran some of my specific questions past a couple professors and a pastor friend of mine, but these discussions merely confirmed that I needed the one thing I simply didn’t have: time. I was strongly tempted to walk away from my schooling and spend my time instead pursuing the Catholic question to the full.

It was Father Adam who convinced me not to quit. I met with him one frigid January morning in the Chancery Office next to the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King in downtown Hamilton. He assured me that my eternal salvation did not rest on resolving these questions immediately, which was largely driving my soul ragged; and he reminded me that God is a God of mercy, and all truth is His. I had an opportunity at school to study the Reformed faith in-depth and to ask of it, “is it true?” How could I know if I did not understand it? I might as well take this time, he said, to complete my Masters and to do my best to understand what I was being taught. He advised me to put aside the heavy reading; essentially, to put the whole Catholic question away for the time being.

That was just the advice I needed. I relaxed, once again trusting in God’s mercy rather than in my own efforts to find answers. I devoted myself to my school work, and ignored the world of Catholic vs. Reformed apologetics. I left the whole thing as an open question, one that I could at the moment safely ignore; and embraced Reformed teaching anew for the purpose of understanding and testing it.

But through this all, that bell sounded. It resonated clearly and faithfully in defiance of everything else. It fended off the darkness of despair, and prompted me to bring every question I had before the throne of grace. It acted as the gravitational pull of heaven, fixing me within the orbit of grace and truth. Back in third year I’d written an exegesis paper on Daniel 10, a chapter in which Daniel devotes himself to prayer and fasting. When he’s visited by an awesomely holy angel, the divine messenger tells him, “Fear not Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words” [Dn.10:12 ESV]. I wasn’t in search of a revelation, as Daniel was, but I did badly want understanding. So I devoted myself to fasting and prayer in the hopes of being blessed with at least enough humility to follow the truth when I once again had the time to pursue it.

I returned repeatedly to my baptism: if the Catholics were right, then with the waters of baptism the grace and love of God had been poured into my heart as an infant, I had entered into covenant fellowship with God, and I had the right to call Him Father. If the Reformed were right, then I was part of God’s covenant and I had the right to call Him Father. Either way, I was a baptized child of the Triune God, and I had covenantal grounds on which to appeal to Him. So I pleaded with God as one washed with the waters of the holy sacrament, one ushered into real, covenantal fellowship with my heavenly Father. And when all human answers failed, when all human thoughts failed, when all human emotions failed, then what remained was an inexpressible groaning of the heart. This groaning was my constant companion, my constant prayer. And as I walked with this companion I was comforted, for I knew that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” [Ro.8:26 ESV].

So it was that I stumbled across the finish line back in April. My heart was restless, not with the aimless restlessness of boredom, but with the kind born of yearning for its true home – the thirsting and fainting “as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” [Ps.63:1 ESV]. It was a relief to finally reach what I had looked forward to for months, a time of immersing myself in this question, and a time of opening my thoughts to the analysis of others. I could move again, and it felt good to have the wind on my face.

VI.
This newly-acquired leisure, however, coincided with our move out west. So although I’d hoped to stay in contact with my professors about these questions, this was not to be. On the other hand, moving away brought us some emotional space, some freedom from social pressure. When you are in a community of people who all think the same way, the temptation is to follow suit, even if that means not confronting, and perhaps even distorting, the contents of your own heart and mind when those contents set you at odds with everyone else. Time away can refreshingly de-clutter your inner life, and help you focus the eye of your heart upon God.

So I spent the summer reading, praying, and roughly adventuring my way through the many questions. And if there is one verse that could sum up the whole process, it would be Proverbs 18:17 [ESV]:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

All my life I’d been presented with the Reformed case: the Reformed case for Scripture, the Church, the gospel. I’d also been presented with the Reformed case against the Catholic Church. As a result, I had obviously been critical of Catholic teaching. I didn’t think Catholics knew much about grace, or love, or faith, focused as they were on their own efforts to make things right with God. I perceived their religion as largely external, not touching the heart, locked in submission to a long-since-apostatized authority. In fact, I thought that the Catholic Church must be full of tortured consciences, for I looked at her teachings through the lens of Luther’s experience. Rome, I presumed, placed upon you the burden of earning your own salvation through penances, Hail Mary’s, indulgences, and bowing down before the tongue of St. Anthony of Padua. But because none of these things are able to save, for we are not saved by works (much less by superstition and idolatry!), the soul seeking salvation through them would only find its burden increased, as Luther found. I was under the impression that there must be in the Catholic Church countless souls crying out from beneath the weight of these teachings for the very relief that Luther found in his doctrine of justification.

But the late Bishop Fulton Sheen famously wrote: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” And when I was presented with the case for Catholicism by Catholics, a much different picture emerged. I found a Christ-centred, God-glorifying, Scripture-based faith. In fact, I kept thinking, “This must be a trick. What am I missing? Because what I’m seeing is a Church whose teachings reveal the full dimensions of Christ’s love, God’s glory, and the beauty of Scripture. This love, glory, and beauty are filling the vision of my soul, and thrilling me to my depths – but that can’t be! Hadn’t the Catholic Church abandoned all those things and chased after man-made corruptions?”

All I had seen before was a religion corrupted by human inventions. I had not seen how the whole Catholic faith holds together in Christ, that its unity, energy, and glory are found in the nature of God Himself. I used to wonder why the early Church had fought so tenaciously over the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ while, as our Dogmatics textbook put it, “the earliest Church Fathers . . . had no clear understanding of [justification] and its relation to faith.”5 Why the Trinity and not justification, when Scripture lay so much emphasis on the latter? In the first place, the Church Fathers understood justification quite well – just not the Reformed understanding of it. But secondly, the reason behind all the fighting about Christology and the Trinity was that those doctrines are the interpretive keys to the rest of the Catholic faith. You can’t understand justification, or the sacraments, or the Church, without understanding the nature of God and the reality of God in the flesh. The very essence of Christianity lies in the mystery of the God who is a Triune fellowship of love, and in the mystery of God becoming man in order to bring man into the fellowship of God.

While I had understood this as a Reformed person, it was not until I began studying Catholic theology that the harmony of all these truths struck home. I found that one Catholic doctrine after another was unlocked by asking what it said about Christ and the Trinity. I found that the essence of Catholic teaching lay in seeking after and being formed by the love, mercy, and generosity of a God whose very nature it is to give.

VII.
This greatly simplified things. I had mentioned earlier the tension of being confronted with a space ladder of reading material while at the same time recognizing that such study was not the nature of true discipleship. And it was discovering that the gravity of the Catholic Church drew you toward the Trinitarian Life of God that made the space ladder seem, well, tiny and insignificant. What were all the arguments of man when compared to the infinity-encompassing love of the Father Almighty? In my journal I had copied a quote from the great Church Father, Athanasius:

“But the Savior effects such great things every day – drawing to piety, persuading to virtue, teaching about immortality, leading to a desire for heavenly things, revealing the knowledge of the Father, inspiring power against death, showing himself to each, and purging away the godlessness of idols; yet the gods and the demons of the faithless can do none of these things.”6

According to Athanasius, one could know the power of the living Christ over and against the false gods and demons by the ever-present effects of Christ in our lives. Only Christ could draw men toward holiness and heaven, toward knowing the Father, and away from the fear of death and all the earthly trappings that fear represented. The devil could not do any of this. So if the Catholic faith only made more sense as one contemplated the Trinity and the Incarnate Son of God, then it could not be a deception of the devil. If the deeper you went into the Catholic faith the more your heart was filled with a vision of love – God’s love for man, and man’s love for God and neighbour – then it could not be a deception of the devil.

Another thing that simplified the whole search was the role of faith in seeking understanding. I found that some Reformed theologians made arguments against the Church that were very similar to the arguments of unbelievers against Scripture. Those who find nothing but disunity, inconsistencies, and contradictions in Scripture are not necessarily poor readers – it’s that their reading is not governed by faith in Christ. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” [1Cor.2:14 ESV]. Finding unity in Scripture is not primarily a hermeneutical method. It’s primarily a reaching through the page with our souls to the one true God. We have one Lord and one faith, and it’s through that reality that we read Scripture.

But what is true of the Word of Christ is also true of the Body of Christ. The Church is a supernatural society, a reality that we hold to by faith, as both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds attest. Believers walk by faith, not by sight [2Cor.5:7]; but those who lack faith walk only by sight. Because of that, all they see when they look back across the long ages of the Church and her many documents and teachings, is disunity, inconsistencies, and contradictions. The Church Fathers are read with a focus on their disagreements; the papacy is rejected from a lack of historical evidence; councils are ignored as on the surface they seem to contradict each other. The stress is on the messiness of the teachings of the Church, and thus on her unreliability as an object of faith and source of truth. This perspective sees the Church as governed merely by human teachers ­– redeemed humans, sure, but no less prone to the same trappings as any other human teachers – just as unbelievers look at Scripture as merely a collection of human writings, prone to all the same flaws as other human writings.

Instead, when I started looking at her teachings as those of a supernatural society wrought upon earth by the Spirit of God, and protected by the divine kingly wisdom of Jesus Christ, then the picture dramatically changed. When I looked at her through the unifying eyes of faith, I found remarkable consistency and illumination. The doctrines of Mary, for example, were not opposed to the truth of Christ’s redemptive work, but actually proclaimed the extent and power of His work. The veneration of images was not opposed to the essence of God, but proclaimed the gospel reality of the Christ who is “the image of the invisible God” [Col.1:15]. The Catholic doctrine of justification was not opposed to grace, but proclaimed the fullness of that grace in enabling us to be “partakers of the divine nature” [2Pe.1:4]. And much more, extending back through time and across the world to Christ Himself. This Church demanded that I look at her by faith, not by the sight of evidence; and apart from Christ, and faith in Him, none of it could make any sense. But through faith in the Church, which is faith in the Christ whose fullness the Church is [Eph.1:22-23], the Catholic faith was manifested in its supernatural unity – and I had nothing left to say against it. The bell had won me over, for it was the faithful, persistent, and ringing voice of my Shepherd.

VIII.
Because of all this Arenda and I are no longer of one mind with the Christians who raised us. Through our studies and prayers, we have become convinced that the Roman Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that Jesus Christ founded, that the Reformers erred in not submitting to her, and that it is our duty to submit – even where we do not yet understand. Yet we seek, know, and love Jesus Christ precisely because of those who raised us. We were blessed to be given parents, pastors, elders, and professors who showed us the paths of life that are found only in Christ, and they showed us the beauty and significance of the redemptive work that He purchased with His life on Calvary. They showed us the Scriptures, and taught us to study and cherish them, and to submit to them in all things. We are eternally grateful for these gifts, and carry those gifts forward in our hearts. It has been our joy to find, not a repudiation of any of these things, but the fullness of them as we’ve journeyed toward the Catholic Church. We hope to be received into communion with her come Easter.

1. Calvin, Institutes 4.1.1
2. Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 20
3. Ignatius, To the Smyrneans, 7
4. Ignatius, To the Smyrneans, 8
5. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 511.
6. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 31. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2802.htm, accessed October 17, 2016.

Love,
Matthew