Category Archives: Saints

Sep 8 – Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


-“The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, by Giotto, in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy (circa 1305 AD)

I was privileged in my volunteer work with hospice to sit vigil this morning with Frederick “Fred” J. from 4am to 8am, my preferred shift. My new friend Fred is 89, an orphan, no family, and one female friend. I said my Lauds/Morning Office for him and with him this morning. I am blessed. This was the hymn for Morning Office today.

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose Blood-red!
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

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

Presence of God – O Mary, my Mother, teach me to live hidden with you in the shadow of God.

MEDITATION

The liturgy enthusiastically celebrates Mary’s Nativity and makes it one of the most appealing feasts of Marian devotion. We sing in today’s Office: “Thy Nativity, O Virgin Mother of God, brings joy to the whole world, because from you came forth the Sun of Justice, Christ, our God.” Mary’s birth is a prelude to the birth of Jesus because it is the initial point of the realization of the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God for the salvation of mankind. How could the birthday of the Mother of the Redeemer pass unnoticed in the hearts of the redeemed? The Mother proclaims the Son, making it known that He is about to come, that the divine promises, made centuries before, are to be fulfilled. The birth of Mary is the dawn of our redemption; her appearance projects a new light over all the human race: a light of innocence, of purity, of grace, a resplendent presage of the great light which will inundate the world when Christ, “lux mundi,” the Light of the World, appears. Mary, preserved from sin in anticipation of Christ’s merits, not only announces that the Redemption is at hand, but she bears the firstfruits of it within herself; she is the first one redeemed by her divine Son. Through her, all-pure and full of grace, the Blessed Trinity at last fixes on earth a look of complacency, finding in her alone a creature in whom the infinite beauty of the Godhead can be reflected.

The birth of Jesus excepted, no other was so important in God’s eyes or so fruitful for the good of humanity, as was the birth of Mary. Yet it has remained in complete obscurity. There is no mention of it in Sacred Scriptures and when we look for the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel, we find only what refers to Joseph; we find nothing explicit about Mary’s ancestry except the allusion to her descent from David. Our Lady’s origin is wrapped in silence, as was her whole life. Thus, her birth speaks to us of humility. The more we desire to grow in God’s eyes, the more we should hide ourselves from the eyes of creatures. The more we wish to do great things for God, the more we should labor in silence and obscurity.

COLLOQUY

“When I feel myself tossed about in the sea of this world amidst storms and tempests, I keep my eyes fixed on you, O Mary, shining star, lest I be swallowed up by the waves.

“When the winds of temptation arise, when I dash against the reefs of tribulations, I raise my eyes to you and call upon you, O Mary. When I am agitated by the billows of pride, ambition, slander or jealousy, I look to you and I invoke you, O Mary; when anger or avarice or the seductions of the flesh rock the fragile little barque of my soul, I always look to you, O Mary. And if I am troubled by the enormity of my sins, troubled in conscience, frightened at the severity of judgment, and if I should feel myself engulfed in sadness or drawn into the abyss of despair, again I raise my eyes to you, always calling on you, O Mary.

“In dangers, in difficulties, in doubts, I will always think of you, O Mary, I will always call on you. May your name, O Virgin Mary, be always on my lips and never leave my heart; in order that I may obtain the help of your prayers, grant that I may never lose sight of the example of your life. Following you, O Mary, I shall not go astray, thinking of you I shall not err, if you support me I shall not fall, if you protect me I shall have nothing to fear, if you accompany me I shall not grow weary, if you look upon me with favor, I shall reach the port” (cf. St. Bernard).

Love,
Matthew

Aug 28 – St Augustine & the heretics


-St Augustine icon, by Joseph Brown, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, ~2009

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“A heresy is never totally wrong. Its just that it is never totally right. A heresy is a half truth or a truth twisted. The reason a heresy is attractive is that it always seems to make perfect sense. A heresy is a religious truth you would make up if you were making up a religion. However, Catholic truth is stranger and subtler than that, and it takes sound teaching to expose and battle the heresy.

Heresies are persistent because they are attractive, and they are persistent because they usually console the heretic in some way. In other words, it is easier to believe the heresy than the fullness of the Catholic truth. The fullness of the Catholic truth is either difficult to believe or difficult to obey or both. The heresy always offers an easy way out–either an easier way of believing or an easier way of behaving.

The first heresy Augustine battled was Donatism. The Donatists were a schism in the North African Church that were sort of like Puritanical Protestant or Jansenists. They thought the church should be pure, and should be a church of saints, not sinners. They were unwilling to accept back those Christians who, out of weakness, compromised their faith during the persecutions and they insisted that for sacraments to be valid the priest had to be faultless.

While this sort of rigorism is understandable, it doesn’t take much to see where it leads. It leads to unbearable self righteousness. “We few, we holy few. We are the remnant, the true church, the only real Christians…” Nonsense. If you think the core error of Donatism does not exist today, look a little harder. Although the name “Donatism” is now a footnote of church history there are plenty of rigorist schisms and sects and plenty of the attitude within individuals and groups in many different churches.

The fact is, most heresies, while seeming attractive, can be countered very easily with a passage from the gospel. Donatists should read the parable of the wheat and tares. The sinners and the saints grow together and God will sort it out.

The second heresy Augustine battled was Manicheanism. This false religion was started by a Persian prophet named Mani (274 AD). He blended elements of occult Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity and came up with a complicated New Age kind of religion. His core heresy was dualism. He taught that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world was good. Manicheanism had a huge influence in the 3-4 centuries. We can see it in the harsh asceticism of the early monks for example.

Augustine’s teachings on the nature of evil countered this. He taught that the created world is good because God does not make evil. Instead evil is good twisted, distorted or destroyed.

While Manicheanism is also a footnote in church history, the idea that the physical world is bad and the spiritual world is good continues today. It is present in some New Age teachings and in Eastern religions and philosophies. It also lingers like an echo in elements of Christianity. It is tempting to look down on physical pleasures, and the right embrace of holy poverty can be twisted into a hatred or disgust or guilt about the goodness of the physical world.

The third heresy is Pelagianism. This is named for the British monk Pelagius (d. 420) His teaching was probably misunderstood, but if so, the misunderstanding was that he taught that the human will was not so tainted by original sin that it lost its power to do good. In other words, you can do good without God’s help. This led to the conclusion that you can get into heaven through good works.

Augustine corrected this heresy with his teachings on grace. It is God’s grace, continually working in and through creation and in and through our own lives that empowers our faith, empowers our good works and empowers the supernatural transformation of our lives.

These three heresies do us the service of bringing to light the true Catholic teaching. The created world is beautiful, good and true. If this is true, then we also, created in God’s image are good. However, that goodness is wounded by original sin. While we don’t have to be perfect at once, that is our destiny, our calling and the hard adventure on which we must embark. God’s good grace gives us the power to do this. Without his grace we are paralyzed by sin and locked in darkness. With his grace we can be free.”

Love, & His grace,
Matthew

Aug 28 – “To praise You is the desire of man…”, Augustine’s ‘Confessions’


-Joos van Wassenhove, 1474, St Augustine, oil on wood, 119 x 62 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

For my ‘Wisdom of the Saints, Part I of II” class through the Avila Institute, I had to read Augustine’s Confessions; and in a previous life, write an autobiography for the Dominicans and Jesuits. You’ll see.


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

““Know thyself,” proclaimed the oracle at Delphi.

St Catherine of Siena echoed this teaching with her emphasis on the importance of the “cell of self-knowledge” to the spiritual life. But how can I know myself? This question became especially pertinent when I sat down to write the autobiography required for my application to the Dominican Order. “Know thyself” became “write an accurate autobiography of your life”—a daunting task.

Autobiography as a spiritual exercise takes its highest form in the writings of the saint we celebrate today, St. Augustine. His Confessions reveals an extremely self-reflective person attempting to wrestle with and understand his past decisions and current disposition. But before recounting tales from his own infancy, early education, and on and on until the moment of writing, St. Augustine first begins by declaring that his aim is to praise God—“To praise you is the desire of man.” It seems counterintuitive. In an attempt to praise God, he writes his own life story.

But this approach makes a certain sense. Because lives overlap, we can talk about others and ourselves in the same breath. A best man will tell of experiences he has shared with the groom in order to explain what is admirable and praiseworthy about his friend. And we can tell the story of God’s work in our lives in a similar way. We can recount moments in which we became particularly aware of God’s goodness and providential care. We can name the gifts and talents God has given us and the crosses he has allowed us in order that we may draw closer to him. This is part of what St. Augustine does in the Confessions. Praying, “What are you to me?” he seeks to remember and recount those times when he grew in knowledge of God.

But St. Augustine does not stop there. He continues, “What am I to You that You command me to love You?” He realizes that while we can tell our side of the story—how we became aware of God—the fullest explanation of our lives is God’s side of the story. He acknowledges to God, “I would have no being if I were not in You,” and asks Him, “Lord God, judge of my conscience, is my memory correct?” He asks God, “Have mercy so that I can find words.”

Autobiography for St. Augustine is thus neither self-definition nor simply a timeline. He only undertakes to tell the story of his life because it is a story that he has been given to tell—as St. John puts it, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you now” (1 Jn 1:3). God is the author of his life. God first thought of him, brought him to life, fleshed him out and developed his character, and then, in a step beyond the abilities of even the best human author, invited him to share in the understanding and freedom of the divine. With this new knowledge of his place in the world, St. Augustine writes his autobiography as an act of praise to the One Who gave him this life to live.

For Christians, the path to self-knowledge and the path to knowledge of God blur together. Sitting down to write a journal entry or a short autobiography can train our eyes to see more as God sees and to know more as God knows. With St. Augustine we pray, “May I know You, Who know me. May I know as I also am known.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 23 – St Rose of Lima, OP, (1586-1617), mystic, virgin & penitent


-Anonymous, Cusco School (1680 – 1700), Saint Rose of Lima with Child Jesus, oil on canvas, Height: 1,880 mm (74.02 in). Width: 1,250 mm (49.21 in), Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.

Thinker: The Mystic Rose of Lima

Rose was not an academic and had little in the way of formal education, although she did learn to read. Among her favorite books were biographies of Saint Catherine of Siena and the spiritual guidebooks of another notable Dominican, Venerable Louis of Granada. In fact, his Book of Prayer and Meditation became Saint Rose’s favorite book, as prayer and meditation themselves were to become her favorite activities, forming the core and shaping the periphery of every aspect of her short life.

Rose’s life of prayer and contemplation started very early from the time of her early childhood when she would find herself drawn to stare at a picture of Christ crowned in thorns. She also had a special devotion to the Child Jesus and to his Blessed Mother. Saints drawn to prayer and contemplation seek to follow Christ’s instruction to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). They seek communion with the Father and not the eyes and the praise of others. When circumstances allow it, some go out into the desert, up into the mountains, or within some densely wooded glen. Others, like Saints Catherine and Rose, must seek their sanctuary of prayer, exactly as Christ explained it, from within the confines of their room.

Enclosed in her private hermitage, Rose read books on meditative prayer, especially, as mentioned, those of Venerable Louis of Granada. She devoutly prayed the Rosary and used many other vocal and mental forms of prayer. She would meditate for hours simply on the multitude of graces she had received through God’s mercy.
Christ said of those who pray to the Father in secret that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6), and Saint Rose was rewarded with many ecstatic visions, including, like Saint Catherine, a divine espousal with Christ.

Doer: The Rose Takes Up Her Cross

Rose was not a doer in the grand sense of a Saint Dominic, who founded an order, or Saint Catherine, who influenced popes, although she was admired by her saintly archbishop. Most of what Rose did was done on a smaller, although most arduous scale. She knew well that Christ has said that those who would follow Him will need to deny themselves daily and take up their cross (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23). These are hard words of holy advice that she heeded like few before her or since.

Saint Thomas wrote that the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence pertain to the active life, but they also prepare us to rein in our passions and focus our intellect and will so that we might rise undisturbed to the heights of contemplation. Saint Rose displayed those cardinal virtues in the most heroic degree, and she is probably best known for her unusual degree of both temperance and fortitude as displayed in the many extreme and most difficult ways she contrived to take up Christ’s cross through her own daily (and nightly) acts of self-denial and self-mortification.

Temperance reins in our sensual desires for bodily pleasures, and few pulled in their reins tighter than young Rose. As for the senses of the palate, she gave up meat as a child, as well as the succulent fruits of Peru. She would often deprive herself of cold water, and of any water at all, and would live on things such as bread crusts and simple bitter herbs. As for the sensual pleasures of the body, although Rose would at times be tormented by visions of temptations toward vanity and toward bodily pleasures, through God’s grace she never consented to such sins and persevered in her vows of chastity and purity.

Fortitude calls forth our “irascible” powers, whereby we hate evil things and fire up our courage to overcome evil obstacles to obtain difficult goods, even if those obstacles should threaten our life and limb. This, of all virtues, but for the love of charity, was perhaps the strongest of all within the sturdy soul of this ostensibly delicate Rose. She hated the thought of any demon, any sensation, any wicked thought or intention that might stir her will against the will of God, and in her personal war against any possible vice or sin, she devised self-mortifications that may well boggle the modern mind, and prompted some of her own confessors to command her to tone some of them down.

Sacrifices: Saint Rose’s Self-Mortification

To provide but a few examples of Saint Rose’s self-imposed penances and mortifications, she so fought against sleep that would deprive her of time for prayer that she devised a bed for herself that was a little wooden box with a mattress stuffed with hard, gnarled pieces of wood and broken pottery chards that allowed for but a few hours of sleep when she was very tired. At times in her garden, she would literally take up a heavy wooden cross, in imitation of Christ’s Passion.

Saint Rose’s mortifications may seem very strange to us today, but they still may hold valuable lessons. In Saint Dominic’s “third way of prayer,” he employed the discipline of striking himself with an iron chain while repeating (translated) from the Latin Vulgate Bible “Your discipline has set me straight towards my goal” (Psalm 17:36).

Some today might wonder if Rose’s self-mortifications were a sign of scrupulosity or mental instability, and this was also considered in her time. Due to the unusual manner of her penitential life, Rose was once questioned by several theologians and a medical doctor of the Inquisition, but these learned men concluded that hers was a life unusually graced by God.

Although we may not be called to such extreme acts of conquering our wills, can we not still learn something from them? Can they inspire us to pamper our own bodies a little less, to mortify our sensual desires a little more, so that our thoughts can rise to higher things? Even the noble pagan philosophers saw the need for self-discipline in order to acquire virtue. The Stoic Epictetus, for example, encouraged those who would love wisdom to discipline their bodies, not by “hugging statues,” an action some Cynics would perform while bare-chested in the winter’s cold — public statues, of course, so that others might see them. In advice prescient in some ways of one of Saint Rose’s little disciplines some fourteen hundred years later, Epictetus suggested instead to fill one’s mouth with water when thirsty, but then to spit it out — when no one is looking. (The Father, of course, knows what we do in secret.)

Justice means rendering to each person his due, and this Rose always rendered, and then some. In the last years of her life, Rose persuaded her mother to allow her to care for the poor, the homeless, the elderly, and the sick in empty rooms of their house, and her actions are considered, along with those of Saint Martin de Porres, among the foundations of social work in Peru.

Prudence is that practical wisdom that finds the right means to get things done, and in this virtue Rose also shined. We see her prudence in the way she was always able to incorporate deeds of the active life while immersed in a life of solitude, prayer, and contemplation, as she prayed while she cleaned, embroidered, gardened, and made and sold flower arrangements. We saw it toward the end of her life when, failing in health and deep in contemplation, she made those practical arrangements to tend to the bodily and spiritual needs of those who needed them the most.”

Love,
Matthew

Summer Theologiae

If you are not familiar with Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, or not been formally trained how to read/understand it properly, don’t.  It’s one of the denser, less accessible, “academic” tomes, although, in his time, St Thomas considered it a reference for beginners in the study of theology.  It has less to do with your or my abilities dear reader.  It simply was written for a medieval audience in a form of instruction or lecture we no longer use.  

Medieval teachers, traditionally, would pose a statement or question, which you will recognize if you read an authentic copy of the Summa, as the first sentence in any given section, or question, the Summa tackles.  The order of these questions is very logical and methodical.  It makes sense.  So far, so good.  

Once the professor had posed the statement to the class, their homework was to go home and think up “objections” to the statement/question, or why it could not be true.  Students would return to class the next time and pose their objection to the instructor.  

Having been trained/educated himself, the instructor was familiar with the most popular or reoccurring objections, and during class, in his lecture, he would go on to address each objection or concern, and this is how medieval students learned.  

So, the Summa, written in the 13th century, is still in this format, but is and can be a difficult read in the 21st century, to the untrained eye and mind.  I warned you.  Below is a lighthearted and humorous play on words, Summer instead of Summa, and using the joys of the beach to help us better understand the thirty thousand foot view of what St Thomas accomplished.  I can definitely relate! Enjoy!!!


-by Br Ignatius Weiss, OP

Having been practically raised on the beach, I delight in the smell of salt air, the sighing of the waves, and the feel of sand between my toes. The shore remains the site of some of my favorite memories, as well as the world’s most beautiful sights, yet too often people miss the beach for the sand.

While I don’t imagine many people tote their copies of the Summa Theologiæ or the commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics to the shoreline (it isn’t what most would consider “light reading”), I do see some similarities between the thought of St. Thomas and the beach:

  1. Sands on the Seashore. As the vast field of sand is composed of thousands of grains deposited by nature’s currents, so Thomism draws together a number of varied sources in a new way. St. Thomas’ genius drew together the wisdom of Scripture, pagan philosophers, and his own contemporaries into a cohesive expression of reality. Each of these sources brings elements from its origins and adds its particular hue to his theology.
  2. Playing in the Sand. The beach is the world’s greatest sandbox. A few scoops of sand, a bucket of water, and a little handiwork can turn a formless plot into a beautiful sand castle. Thomas’ grand collection of wisdom is always open for continued creativity. The centuries-old wisdom of Thomas continues to inspire people to seek answers to today’s questions.
  3. Thomistic Sunbathing. The beach is home to the sun bather and the oceanologist alike. There are many scientists who comb the coastline examining land, sea, and sky. Most people, however, come to the sea with coolers and beach chairs. Similarly, the main way people encounter Thomism is through Aquinas’ Eucharistic poetry like the “O Salutaris” and “Tantum Ergo,” sung at Adoration. Basking in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, we are also exposed to the penetrating theology and elegant lyricism of St. Thomas Aquinas (no sunscreen required).
  4. The Perfect Perspective. Thomism offers a privileged perspective for beholding God’s glory in this life. The sunset can be seen from anywhere with a glimpse of the horizon, but from the shore we can look out on an unhindered vision of the horizon. Here our sight is limited most by the weakness of our frail, human eyes, but this perspective is undoubtedly better than through the city’s blocky skyline. Thomism shares a similarly open vantage point with its clarity and simplicity. It is easy to get distracted by the broad field of questions, articles, and distinctions presented in Thomism, but the incredible vantage point it provides to behold the glory of God on the shores of this life is unmatched.

The coarse sand and bright sun deter some people from enjoying a summer at the beach. Don’t miss the shore for the sand, don’t dismiss Thomism for its technicality.

Love & thought,
Matthew

Jesuit emotion…

-by Professor Yasmin Haskell

“Jorge Mario Bergoglio has chosen the papal name ‘Francis’, which will suggest to most Catholics the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis’ gentle and unassuming style, his poverty – if catching the bus and cooking one’s own meals really qualifies as poverty in the Latin American context … – point to the medieval Italian saint who preached to the common people, and legendarily, to the birds. But Francis was also half the name of one of the Jesuits’ earliest saints, Francis-Xavier (1506-1552), the fervent and restless ‘Apostle to the Indes’, who took Catholic Christianity to India, Japan, and the East Indes in the early modern period, dying of a fever just fourteen kilometres from the shore of mainland China. Perhaps Pope Francis quietly gestures to this sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, too, who has come to represent the global reach of the Catholic Church, and embodies the evangelical zeal for ‘harvesting souls’ which fired so many members of his order in the early modern period.

So who were the Jesuits? The Society or Company of Jesus was a Catholic Reformation order founded in 1540 by Basque nobleman and former soldier, Ignatius of Loyola, and a bunch of his student friends (among them Francis-Xavier). They quickly earned a formidable and paradoxical reputation. The Pope’s crack troops were deployed from Messina to Macao, Paris to Paraguay, recruiting converts, fighting the spread of Protestantism, and educating the élites of Catholic Europe and her New World colonies. They conducted diplomatic business and scientific research, composed music and poetry, and shocked and awed audiences with theatre and pyrotechnics, art and architecture. Jesuits were prepared to die for their beliefs in faraway missions, but they were also accused of being slippery and self-serving. They championed native Indian rights, but enslaved Africans. In their ranks were to be found hard-nosed heretic hunters, as well as defenders of the rights of ‘witches’, and believers in ‘natural magic’. Renowned for their chameleon-like ability to adapt to local circumstances – dressing as mandarins in China or brahmins in India – the proud and powerful ‘black robes’ couldn’t help but stand out on Catholic home turf. Victims of their own success, the Jesuits were hounded out of France, Spain, Portugal, and the New World. The ‘Old’ Society of Jesus was shut down by the Pope in 1773.

The Society of Jesus was restored in 1814 and has regrown to become the single largest order of the Catholic Church. The ‘New’ Society has produced its fair share of arch-conservatives, but also Nazi-resisters, freedom-fighters, and liberation theologians. It retains its former reputation for education and intellectual sophistication: the profile of a twentieth-century polymath such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (philosopher, mathematician, palaeontologist, and evolutionary biologist) would not look out of place alongside those of Athanasius Kircher (speculative vulcanologist, biologist, orientalist …) or Roger Boscovich (poet, physicist, astronomer, diplomat …) in Carlos Sommervogel’s great bio-bibliographical dictionary of the Old Society (Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus).

But the heart has always been just as if not more important than the head in Jesuit theology. Much of the order’s thinking, historically, has gone into questions of how to rouse, channel and discipline the emotions. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises remains to this day the beating heart of the Society of Jesus, anticipating some of the techniques of modern psychotherapy in its guided visualisations; its call for attention to and daily written reckoning of our desires and defects; its rules for ‘discernment of spirits’ (in effect, how to listen to our emotions before making important life choices). In conjuring up in detail the agonies of the Passion, however, not to mention a sense-by-sense experience of the torments of Hell, Ignatius is a world away from modern secular philosophers of emotional well-being and intelligence, and from mental health regimes that seek to eliminate anxiety and depression from our lives. The exercitant of the Spiritual Exercises moves inevitably between states of ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’ with no more human control over this process than that of preparing him/herself in advance for the next turn of the wheel.”

Love,
Matthew

Faith is an intellectual virtue…

2/6/14
-by David G Bonagura, Jr., teaches at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York.

“I don’t feel anything when I pray.” “I am bored at Mass.” “When I talk to God, I do not sense that someone is listening.” These laments, experienced at one time or another by both the pious and the lost, rise from the very heart of Christian praxis. They express the natural human desire for vibrant emotion and feeling in prayer, a reality that many often lack, especially as the faith is lived over the years.

Emotion, as a reality of the human experience, has a role within the life of faith. The Scriptures themselves express the full pantheon of human sentiment: joy and sorrow, gratitude and jealousy, trust and doubt, hope and fear, love and hate are all part of the divine economy of salvation because they, in their different ways, bring us into contact with God. But it is critical for believers to understand their emotions as one aspect within the broader context of their faith and their relationship with God – not as constitutive of their faith.

Because of the prevalence and power of sentiment, there has always existed a temptation, often well intentioned, to reduce faith to emotion and experience. In the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schleiermacher declared, “faith is nothing other than the incipient experience of a satisfaction of that spiritual need by Christ.” Today “youth Masses” attempt to make Schleiermacher’s definition a reality among young people through excited cheering and contemporary music. Other Masses border on sentimentality with overly sappy hymns such as “Here I am Lord” and “You Are Mine.” We are then supposed to feel the presence of Christ and respond to Him in faith.

These personal experiences and feelings can indeed kindle faith, but they cannot be the sole pillars of our spiritual lives, because emotions are not the essence of faith. Rather faith rests upon a loving God Who is not the product of our subjective longings, but a real independent Being Who calls us into union with Him through the revelation of His Son. Faith requires us to acknowledge and accept revelation. The response we make to God may be spurred and accompanied by an array of sentiments, but it is with the intellect that we assent to God and His will.

For this reason St. Thomas Aquinas classified faith as an intellectual virtue: “[T]o believe is an act of the intellect assenting to the truth at the command of the will.” The intellect has priority because it accepts what comes from God, yet it does so at the insistence of the will, which can be moved by the power of religious experiences. These experiences, when properly integrated within the contours of faith, can contribute to the further development of our relationship with God.

But because faith is the province of the intellect, we need not worry or doubt when emotion and religious sentiment ebb or even disappear from our lives, as they inevitably do. Spiritual aridity – the absence of feeling from the life of faith – is a normal occurrence in the spiritual life, and it can be temporary or prolonged. The saints, many of whom endured painful spiritual aridity for decades, teach us that the absence of religious feelings is God’s way of purifying our faith, which rests ultimately not on emotion, but on our trust in the authority of God’s word.

Often faith is stirred within us due to some profound experience that propels us forward joyfully in our relationship with God. But as the power of these experiences wanes over time, we are forced to trust that we remain in communion with God even as His presence seemingly vanishes. Our situation is akin to that of the apostles: for three years they experienced directly the presence of Christ, and the attendant joy and security that came with it. But after His death and resurrection, they learned, courtesy of Thomas, that it is not feeling but raw trust that constitutes faith. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)

Because God is real and not the product of our emotions, we know He hears our prayers and is present to us even if we do not “feel” Him. Our restless hearts must continue to reach toward God, knowing that He alone is their end and fulfillment.

Contrasts are often drawn between Catholics’ more stoic worship with the energy of certain Protestant services. The different styles are pathways to faith; religious feeling of itself neither constitutes nor measures the faith present within the community or the individual. Faith’s true vibrancy depends on the degree to which we trust in God and assent to His revelation. When our trust and assent is strong enough that we give ourselves wholly to God, then we have the love of God in our hearts. And love is not merely sentiment: it is action and commitment as well.

Carmelite Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen writes that “the enkindling of love does not consist in the joy the soul may experience, but rather in the firm determination of the will to give itself entirely to God.” Faith puts us in union with the love of God. We need not fret over lack of religious emotion in our lives, and we need not think our preferred religious experience should be shared by everyone else. True love withstands the flux of all emotions because it is anchored in the certain hope of the God who made us for Himself.”

Love,
Matthew

Reason & emotion

-by David Nolan

“The Scottish philosopher David Hume famously claimed, “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” In recent years, growing public awareness of the centrality of the emotions and desires to the human experience has superseded an earlier emphasis on emotional restraint. From psychoanalytical therapy to the emergence of a therapeutic direction in our justice system, the effects of this revolution in thinking are hard to overestimate. In many ways the changes are positive. Empathy, mutual understanding, and self-reflection now receive a healthy emphasis. Our culture encourages us to tolerate others and see alternative points of view as we try to appreciate each person’s background and emotional experiences. However, there is a major problem in the usual application of this ethos. Desires, we have come to believe, justify themselves. When asked why we do something, we say, “Because it feels good;” when asked what our opinions are on a political matter, we reply, “I feel…” Yet we need only to look at the example of emotionally motivated murder to realize desires are not self-justifying. St Thomas Aquinas, writing nearly 800 years ago, built upon Aristotelian notions of the passions and the appetites to develop a corrective picture of the human psyche. He demonstrates why desires cannot be self-justified and how we can positively proceed, neither denigrating human emotion below its rightful place nor exalting it to heights that can only precede a fall.

Aquinas’s passiones animae, translated as “emotions,” do not only refer to passions in the modern sense of overwhelming and perhaps incapacitating feelings. Instead, they refer to our reaction to the nature of every object or situation. He thinks we react in two ways, either to the object itself or to the difficulty we face in trying to obtain or avoid the object. For example, as a child I desired a dog. Dogs are naturally lovable, so I loved them and desired one for myself. This is the first type of emotion— what Aquinas calls concupiscible emotions—which entails having an emotional response to an object because of that object’s inherent nature. My parents, on the other hand, were not so amenable to my idea, and prevented me from fulfilling my desire for an adorable dog. Frustrated, I courageously fought for a puppy but eventually gave up hope and despaired of ever having one. Because my parents had stopped me from obtaining my goal, I was angry with them. Anger, courage, hope, despair—these are all emotions of the second sort, the irascible emotions; they describe our reaction to our perceived ability to obtain an object of desire. Aquinas thinks that both types of emotions have a close relationship with reason. In fact, he thinks our reason in a way rules our emotions, “not by a ‘despotic supremacy,’ which is that of a master over his slave; but by a “politic and royal supremacy,’ whereby the free are governed who are not wholly subject to command.” Eventually, I realized that a lasting anger at my parents was unreasonable and that I should probably encourage my anger to subside— and it eventually did.

Reason and emotions, then, enforce each other day by day. Aquinas grounds his understanding of emotions in the infinitude of little impulses that arise spontaneously throughout our normal experience. Focusing too heavily on extreme cases has largely skewed popular culture’s conversation on the relationship of emotions to reason. Usually, the impulses of our sensory appetite (emotions and passions) align quite closely with our reasoning abilities and our intellectual apprehensions. For example, in a given day, we desire to eat food, we want to complete tasks, and we try to care for our friends. While there are cases of overwhelming emotions, most of our life is more accurately described in little impulses of joy or sorrow, hope or despair, that we can encourage or check with our intellect and reason. The question remains, however: what impulses ought we to encourage?

Well, passions must be appropriate to their objects. In order for this to be true, apprehension must precede desire: we must know what something is before we want it. For example, I must know about cake before I can want cake. Once I have apprehended that the cake is sweet and delicious, I will then desire it. If I thought it was a pile of mud rather than chocolate cake, I would believe it to be distasteful and undesirable. Clearly, correct apprehension leads us to experience passions appropriate to the object. Only in light of the ‘appropriate’ can we understand the greater value and purpose of passions.

Emotions and desires, as aspects of the everyday, carry moral weight. We can make judgments as to the appropriateness, the goodness or badness, of our emotions. Aquinas writes, “in so far as they are voluntary, [passions can] be called morally good or evil. And they are said to be voluntary either from being commanded by the will, or from not being checked by the will.” Before competing in a race or a game, we can voluntarily work up positive emotions; in response to someone cutting us off while we drive, we can discourage our anger and try to remain levelheaded. Emotions are both reactive and willed, and their origin need not necessarily describe how we then respond to them.

Measures of good or bad can refer only to voluntary impulses. But when, if ever, are emotions voluntary? Our lives are a history of partially voluntary actions and reactions. Humans learn many things through experience, and as an essential part of this experience, the emotions help develop our habits. Even our instinctual drives, like the drive for food, can become more and more voluntary as we get older. Not only do we learn to like a broader range of foods (I learned to like onions only as an older teenager), but we also learn to have “will-power” in to restrain our consumption of some foods. As one of Aquinas’s commentators has said, by deciding which impulses we encourage and discourage, which emotions we try to check, we “tell our life story.” The choices we make now both reveal our current preferences, and encourage specific future preferences and future choices. Thus, it is impossible to be sure that an emotion is voluntary or otherwise in the moment: we have to understand ourselves as beings progressing through time. We do know, however, that emotions can be scrutinized according to moral standards.

If we can judge our emotions, how should we do this? We judge emotions based upon their relation to the person about which they arise and in relation to their object. Our emotional response must be appropriate to the context in order for it to be good. By our will, which we inform with our reason, our desires, and our emotion, we plan our path of action. Reason informs us when our path is contradictory— when our plan will not bring us to the goal that we willed. For example, competitive sports highly prize the quality of being a good loser. An overreaction to a loss comes off as immature. On the other hand, athletes who are apathetic to winning not only are less likely to succeed, but do not have enough emotion invested in the sport. Our reason must balance these many impulses, neither neglecting self-control nor suppressing a healthy passion. Over time, reasoned responses discourage inappropriate emotions and encourage appropriate ones. Eventually, I might not even have to really focus to keep my temper—it may start to come naturally. The joy of competition does not contradict a healthy appreciation for sportsmanship. Reason can balance our particular goals with our particular situation.

But there is a more fundamental way that the will, the reason, and desire all work together. One particular desire underlies all our other impulses: the desire for the good, for happiness. We cannot help to desire to be happy— it is our nature. If we ask ourselves why we wish to be happy, there is no answer other than “because.” Nothing transient, passing, or temporal can actually fulfill this most fundamental of desires. When we plan paths of action with our will, we are trying to fulfill this desire. Our will, as it aims at the universal good, ideally aligns the sensitive appetite (the source of desires and emotions) with the larger goal.

Aquinas recognizes the universal Good in the Incarnation— God is the ultimate object of desire, the source of happiness, and the greatest good. Our nature, to use modern terms, is programmed towards God, and in so far as we either pursue or reject God, we expand or limit our opportunity for real fulfillment in this world and the next. Against the measure of the ultimate good, our desires and emotions begin to fall into place. Slowly, through the building of good habits, we can desire objects and guide emotions appropriately. This is not to deny the many layers of emotional complexity. Emotional complication is part of growing up in the world, but through a growing awareness of self, we can begin to understand our emotional impulses. Through the practice of self control combined with the contemplation of God, our highest desire, we can hope to develop a greater internal unity. Our goal is to desire particular goods as the goods themselves deserve, and through the practice of virtue we begin to experience intense love and joy and desire towards objects that actually deserve that intensity of feeling.

Emotions are incredibly valuable, and the therapeutic insight of self-discovery through the examination of emotions is helpful. But as we understand ourselves and see extreme emotions in the light of many everyday impulses, we need to cultivate emotions that align with our intellect, reason, and that most fundamental desire, the desire that God implemented within us for Himself.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 8 – St Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD, (1880-1906) – Religious, “Mystic of Dijon”, Religious Writer

The Church celebrates St. Elizabeth of the Trinity — canonized Oct. 16, 2016 — on her feast day of Nov. 8, often election day in the US. Her spiritual mission is to help us pass through the difficulties of our time with a certain greatness of soul. Feel me?

In her own words, “We must be mindful of how God is in us in the most intimate way and go about everything with Him. Then life is never banal. Even in ordinary tasks, because you do not live for these things, you will go beyond them.”

On Nov. 9, 1906, at the age of 26, she succumbed to the final stages of Addison’s disease, an adrenal disorder which, at the time, was incurable. Her death came amid great social uncertainty for the Church and her Carmelite community in Dijon, France. Earlier that spring, the French government turned against the Church, by advancing a more aggressive secularism. The local Church was already racked with scandal, the local bishop having been removed from office by the Holy See. The state was taking legal action to confiscate Church property and put the Carmelites in exile. Anxiety over social concerns affected daily life for many — except for, perhaps, St. Elizabeth, her Carmel and those to whom she wrote.

When everything seemed to be falling down around her, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity witnessed to the power of the presence of God to establish deep peace in souls. In every lucid moment before her death, even if it was just for a moment, she did everything she could to encourage those she loved. Whether in whispered conversations or responding to letters she received, her messages were tender and filled with compassion. She managed to write a retreat for her sister, a young mother, a second retreat for her Carmelite community and numerous letters.

In the midst of their own questions and concerns, Elizabeth helped her friends discover the mysterious and transforming ways God discloses himself even surrounded by distress. As she explained, “Everything is a sacrament that gives us God.”

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity first discovered the transforming power of God’s presence through her parents and first holy Communion. Hailing from a military family and the elder of two sisters, she was born and baptized at a military camp in 1880. Afterward, the family moved to Dijon, where she grew up and entered a Carmelite monastery.

Joseph Catez, her father, a self-made decorated officer and former POW, died in 1887, when Elizabeth was still a child, but left her with a desire for heaven. Her mother, Marie Rolland, had a profound conversion before her marriage and deeply influenced her husband’s piety.

As a widow with two young girls, Marie moved to an affordable part of town, a few blocks from the parish church of Saint-Michel and across the street from the Carmel that Elizabeth would someday join. Together with her sister, Marguerite, piano, prayer and pilgrimages were important parts of Elizabeth’s upbringing. Also important were vacations with friends and family.

Young Elizabeth had a fiery temper. In a special way, her parent’s faith helped her gain a degree of self-mastery, and this was especially true at her first Communion. Witnesses testified to a profound change after Mass. The mystery of Christ’s presence drew her to prayer. In St. Elizabeth’s own words, she was no longer hungry because “God has fed me.”

Her deep prayerfulness impressed the nuns of her community even before she entered. As a teenager, she self-identified with Teresa of Avila’s descriptions of the prayer of union. She was also among the first to read an early version of Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul. After reading this work, she resolved to be a Carmelite nun even over the objections of her mother. She had come to see herself as a bride of Christ.

This devotion to Christ moved her to be very involved with her parish before she entered Carmel. She catechized troubled children, first by befriending them and then by teaching them how to draw close to God in prayer. In Dijon, she is honored as much for this work as she is for her spiritual writings.

According to one of the former pastors of Saint-Michel, some of the descendants of the young people that she instructed helped to build a private school now named after her.

In her final days, Addison’s disease had emaciated Elizabeth, rendering her unable to eat or drink except for a few drops of water. Difficult thoughts sometimes tormented her as her whole body burned with pain. Yet, throughout everything, she remained devoted to Christ crucified and was completely focused on others. She promised that it would increase her joy in heaven if her friends asked for her help. She was convinced that her mission would be to help souls get out of self-occupation and enter into deep silence in order to encounter the Lord in a transformative way. To this end, she advocated faith in “the all-loving God dwelling in our souls.”

Elizabeth regarded the Trinity as the furnace of an excessive love. When her prayer evokes “My God, My Three,” she invites us to take personal possession of the Trinity. The Trinity is, for her, an interpersonal and dynamic mystery: the Father beholding the Son in the fire of the Holy Spirit. She insisted that, in silent stillness before God, the loving gaze of the Father shines within our hearts until God contemplates the likeness of His Son in the soul. Through the creative action of the Holy Spirit, the more the soul accepts the Father’s gaze of love, the more it is transformed into the likeness of the Word made flesh.

Tradition calls this loving awareness and silent surrender to the gaze of the Father mental prayer or contemplation. Elizabeth roots this in adoration and recollection and advocates its fruitfulness. Through this prayer, we gain access to our true home, the dwelling place of love for which we are created — and this is not in some future moment, but already in the present moment of time, which Elizabeth calls “eternity begun and still in progress.”

Such prayer not only sets the soul apart and makes it holy, but it glorifies the Father and even extends the saving work of Christ in the world. She called this “the praise of Glory” and understood this to be her great vocation.

By canonizing Elizabeth of the Trinity, the Church has not only validated her mission, but re-proposed the importance of silent prayer for our time. While she was not engaged in politics, St. Elizabeth was certainly concerned for her friends who were immersed in it. There is power in her prayer. Her community was never evicted or exiled, but moved years later only because it outgrew its original location. The Carmel remains a place of spiritual refreshment to this day.

Through the witness of St. Elizabeth, the Carmelites and her friends chose to allow God to establish them “immovable” in His presence. No political or cultural power deserves an absolute claim over our existence. If we call on St. Elizabeth, the Church affirms that the “Mystic of Dijon” can also help us become “the Praise of Glory,” a sign of hope for others even in the midst of social rancor.

Love,
Matthew

Aquinas on Work


-by Br Jonah Teller, OP

“The necessity of meat.” Certainly a pithy and memorable way to describe the principal object of manual labor. This is the first of four objects, or reasons, that St. Thomas gives for manual labor (STh., II-II q.187 a.3). The other three objects are as follows: for the sake of staving off idleness, so as to avoid all of the evils that can spring out of the sheer fact of nothing-to-do; for the sake of corralling one’s concupiscence, driving one’s body and training it in penance; and finally, manual labor is directed to almsgiving, working so as to have some way to support materially those who are less fortunate.

Here in this ordering a gradual progression emerges. The four objects of manual labor form four steps of ascent in the spiritual life, as it were. The first object—to obtain food—terminates in the body. We must eat to stay alive. There’s no way to phrase that, it seems, without sounding simple, but there it is. This action stays in the body and on the level of the physical.

The second object—the removal of idleness so as to avoid evil—moves beyond the purely physical realm, taking on a spiritual concern. This second object seems to be a privative or preventative one: stay occupied with work so as to avoid the expanses of time in which temptation creeps in. An image comes to mind: filling a container to its brim so that there’s no room for anything undesired. While this second object progresses from the purely physical nature of the first, it is still mostly negative in character.

The third object—curbing concupiscence by penance—is like the second but with important developments. It is concerned with conquering evil, but here things take on a more direct approach. Whereas the second object of labor focused only on keeping oneself occupied so as to avoid the evils attendant to idleness, this third object of work gives to labor an active quality in which it can be used as an instrument for spiritual purification.

Almsgiving—the fourth object of manual labor—marks an important shift in St. Thomas’ consideration of the question. Up to this point, the objects of labor have been focused on the self of the worker. They are turned inward, though not improperly so, to be sure. Here, however, in viewing manual work as a means by which one can help one’s neighbor, there is a turn outward to facing the other and allowing lives to intersect with each other. The second and third objects of work have a spiritual dimension, but as was noted earlier, they are either privative or combatting some evil. Here, with almsgiving, the spiritual work is positive: a work of charity towards another fellow human.

In all of these objects taken together (and there is no reason that they could not all be combined in the same act of work; indeed it seems that they should be combined), we can see a spectrum of spiritual progress delineated. Work begins as a way to sustain our animal life; it keeps us from many temptations; it addresses evils present within us; and it opens our hearts to our neighbors.”

Ora et Labora,
Matthew