Category Archives: Spirituality

Holiness is more than being nice

holiness_thorns

msgr_charles_pope
-by Msgr. Charles Pope

“We live in a time that has tended to reduce holiness to merely being nice and agreeable. In this manner of thinking holiness tends to be variously thought of as: getting along well with everyone, being kind, agreeable, helpful, likable, generous, pleasant, mild mannered, amiable, good humored, middle of the road, even tempered, placid, benevolent, friendly, forbearing, tolerant, thoughtful, and the like. It can all be summed up by saying that “so-and-so” is “basically a nice person.” And thus the goal seems more to be nice than holy.

If you think this isn’t so, listen to how people talk at funerals. “Wow, Joe was a great guy!….We’re all gonna miss his jokes….Joe liked everybody! Joe would do anything for you!” Now all this is fine. But did Joe pray? Did Joe raise his kids in the fear of the Lord? Did Joe set a moral example that summoned others to holiness? Maybe he did but people don’t usually talk about that at the wake service. All that seems to matter is that Joe was a “great guy.” But the goal in life is not just to be a great guy, it is to be holy.

Now, none of the qualities listed above the previous paragraphs are wrong or bad. But the problem is that we have largely reduced holiness to these sorts of qualities, to being “basically a nice person.” Oh sure, holy people will be known to pray and that sort of stuff but God forbid that some one might exhibit righteous anger or rebuke sin. No, that wouldn’t be nice at all! It’s wrong to upset people isn’t it? And thus we tend to limit what holiness should be like.

But true holiness, while it does not seek a fight, does not easily fit into this world’s schemes and categories. It tends to run against the grain and upset the status quo. Jesus could surely be kind, merciful and forgiving. But he was also holy. And true holiness does not compromise the truth, does not go along to get along. It does not remain silent just so everyone can be happy and unoffended. Jesus did not end up on the Cross because he was “basically a nice person.” He spoke the truth in love. He prophetically denounced hypocrisy, duplicity, sin and injustice. It is true He also blessed children and repentant sinners found refuge in Him and a strong advocate. But Jesus was no fool, and He didn’t just go around slapping every one’s back and being nice. Jesus was holy. And holiness is hot to the touch. It is not easily endured by the tepid and worldly minded. They killed Him for it.

Too many Christians have substituted niceness for holiness and hence endure almost no hostility from the world. Too many Christians think that getting along and being popular is their main task. Having enemies is somehow “unchristian.” Never mind that Jesus told us to love our enemies (which presupposes we have some). No, having enemies is surely a sign that we are not getting along with people and that is not very nice (err….”holy”).

Now this attitude is deadly to living a prophetic Christian witness. Of course the word “witness” is Biblically tied to the word “martyr.” Martyrs do not end up dead by being nice. They usually end up dead or at least persecuted by running afoul of the world’s norms and priorities. And when told to be nice and go along to get along, they declined and continued as an irritant to a world that demands compromise with evil, approval of sin, and silence about faith. But this is our call, not to be nice, to be holy. Holy means “set apart,” “distinct from what is around it.”

There is a place for niceness and ordinary human kindness. But the point is that holiness cannot be reduced to this. There are times where holiness demands that we speak out strongly and unambiguously. True holiness will lead us increasingly to live in a way that others will often find an irritant. Perhaps our radical simplicity and generosity will prick their conscience. Perhaps our deep devotion to God will cause them to feel uneasy. Perhaps our moral positions will offend their politics or worldly ethics. Our mentioning of a day of judgment that looms may incite their anger. And so forth…. We do not seek conflict, but conflict finds us. The world demands that we back down and be nice, that we get along better.

Holiness is not of this world. True holiness brings an increasingly radical transformation that makes the recipient seem to be a foreigner in this world who speaks with a strange accent and has foreign ways. He does not fit into simple political distinctions, does not conform to worldly categories. True holiness ignites a fire in the recipient and fire changes everything it touches. In the end no one remains neutral to a truly holy person. Either they complain of the heat or draw warmth, but no one is neutral.

Holiness is a lot more than being nice.”

Love,
Matthew

Holy Indifference

holyindifference

drtomneal

-by Dr Thomas Neal

There is a quote from St. John of the Cross that I have referenced here many times over the years, and I’d like to reference it again today.

Over the last ten years, I have many times offered it to people who have come to me for advice about a difficult set of circumstances in their life. For me, it offers a universally applicable insight for those who are seeking to define their lives as disciples of Jesus, desirous to abandon themselves entirely to the His will, but believing they face seemingly innumerable and insuperable obstacles along the way. “If only,” we say, “this person or that circumstance were not there, then I could really advance in my life of faith; grow in prayer; trust in God; forgive my father; love my spouse.”

I recall once using the “if only” argument with my very first spiritual director, saying that “if only I had not experienced X and Y, I’d be so much better off and able to do what God is asking of me.” He responded (thank God for journals that preserve such wisdom!):

“But don’t you see that your ‘if onlys’ are rejecting the precise shape of the cross Jesus is offering you now. If you simply accept what is, you can truly say, “I have been crucified with Christ” (cf. Gal 2:20). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced his supreme ‘if only’ temptation, but he triumphed over it by accepting the gnarled wood of the cross. From the cross and the grave, joined to his obedience, love, trust, surrender to the Father, came the re-creation of all things. Jesus turns ‘If only I didn’t have this cross’ into ‘only if you take up your cross and follow me…’ You don’t become a saint by constantly seeking freedom from all of your uncomfortable constraints and irritations. As with any good work of art, edges and limits give life its beautiful form. And holiness is all about the right edges and the right form. Think: grace transforms, conforms, reforms, informs our life with the form of Christ’s cross. Your ‘if onlys’ are the hemmed in frame within which God can paint his masterpiece — you! You’ll become holy by allowing God to frame your life, cut your edges and paint away. Even in the starvation bunker at Auschwitz, Maximillian Kolbe was able to create a work of art the church later canonized.”

But as not all hardships and sufferings are willed by God for our life, he taught me to discern which were which (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). “Much of discernment,” he said, “is the art of discerning limits; of judging what the proper limits are that are needed to protect your primary vocational commitments. And when you face trials and hardships, you need to learn your limits. That’s one of the great gifts of life’s crosses, they expose our weaknesses and limits. It’s what I think, in part, Jesus means when he said to St. Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient; for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Power is made perfect because in our exposed weaknesses — our limits, exposed by trials — we learn the what are the delimiting borders of the ‘holy land’ within which we are to live out God’s will. The river runs swift and powerful and clean because it has sharp edges that define it. Without them, your life diffuses out into a murky swamp filled with deadly and poisonous creatures.”

Having worked as a chaplain with Alcoholics Anonymous, he would frequently refer to the Reinhold Neibuhr prayer to help me sort through which hardships in my life I should seek freedom from and which I had to make peace with:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

“That serenity,” he commented, “is what St. Ignatius called ‘holy indifference.’ You want God to help you learn to not simply be resigned to, but to embrace your life’s limitations. If you learn to embrace, nothing will touch you — neither praise nor criticism, success or failure, because you know what you are.”

An even deeper transformation of mindset, though, came to me when years later I discovered this quote from St. John in his Counsels to Religious as I was preparing for my dissertation research. I immediately copied and framed it, bracketing his specific references to “monastic life” so that, on any given day, I would remember to replace “monastery” or “religious life” with my job, my marriage and family life, my parish, and so on. It has allowed me to grow in a vision of every space and time in my life as a potential “theater of redemption” within which God can forms me to be a man “worthy of heaven.” It allows me to see more clearly that, in the words of St. Teresa, “all the way to heaven is heaven,” if I can see God’s hand at work in every detail of life.

My hope is that one day I won’t simply believe this to be true, but I will come to see the world this way. May it be so for us all.

“To practice the second counsel, which concerns mortification, and profit by it, you should engrave this truth on your heart. And it is that you have not come to [the monastery] for any other reason than to be worked and tried in virtue; you are like the stone that must be chiseled and fashioned before being set in the building. Thus you should understand that those who are in [the monastery] are craftsmen placed there by God to mortify you by working and chiseling at you. Some will chisel with words, telling you what you would rather not hear; others by deed, doing against you what you would rather not endure; others by their temperament, being in their person and in their actions a bother and annoyance to you; and others by their thoughts, neither esteeming nor feeling love for you. You ought to suffer these mortifications and annoyances with inner patience, being silent for love of God and understanding that you did not enter [the religious life] for any other reason than for others to work you in this way, and so you become worthy of heaven. If this was not your reason for entering [the religious state,] you should not have done so, but should have remained in the world to seek your comfort, honor, reputation, and ease.”

As the poet Dante expressed it: “In God’s will is our peace.”

With respect to Ignatian Holy Indifference, St Ignatius divides it into four separate categories. “Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed by free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short. The same holds for all other things.” (Spiritual Exercises # 23)

To arrive at this lofty spiritual disposition requires extraordinary grace, limitless patience, as well as firm purpose and determination of the will. However, if understood, willed and assumed as an interior disposition of mind and will, the fruits of striving for “Holy Indifference” in one’s life are innumerable! Among the most important blessings is that of peace of mind, heart, soul, and an unreserved trust in God’s loving and constant guiding Divine Providence. As St. Paul reminds us, “If God is with us who can be against us.” Jesus Himself calls us to trust with the comforting words: “My Father has you in the palm of His hand and nobody can snatch you from His hand.” Let us offer a few examples of Holy Indifference taken from those who strived to live it out best— the saints!

http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/should-we-be-indifferent-to-everything-but-god

Love & loving holy indifference,
Matthew

America: Sissy Nation

sissy nation

bill_lumbergh

We have now sunk to a depth in which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
—George Orwell

Ain_t-No-Sissy-Town-01010029330-charcoal-flat

Safety_zone

john_strasbaugh
-by John Strausbaugh

America has become a Sissy Nation. A culture of fat, soft, stupid, fearful, whiny, infantile, narcissistic, fatalistic, groupthinking victims. Once we were warriors. Now we’re just worriers.

Not all Americans are Sissies. But we all swim in the same Sea of Sissiness, and none of us is unaffected by it. Most all of us have some Sissy in us now. We’re not the only Sissy Nation on the planet, and in fact, as I’ll explain, ultimately our salvation may lie in sissifying the whole world.

Let’s be clear at the start: I don’t mean sissy as in gay vs. straight, or girly man vs. manly man. This is not about big biceps. It’s about tiny, shrinking balls. And brains. And guts. The American Sissy is gay and straight, male and female and whatever-you-are, and comes in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and faiths.

But yes, we are sissifying our gay men, too. A couple of generations ago, what self-respecting gay man would rally to the Rainbow Flag? It looks like it was designed by an eight-year-old with a My Little Pony fixation. Jeez, if there was one thing you could always rely on a gay man for, it was a sense of style.

And yes, I’m a Sissy. Of course. I’m an American, aren’t I?

One thing all Sissies have in common is fear. Americans used to be known around the world for their adventurous spirit, their bold individualism, their brashness and ballsiness. We live now in a culture of fear, anxiety, paranoia and insecurity. We’re afraid, literally, of everything. We’re afraid of sickness, afraid of death, and afraid to really live. We’re afraid of sex. We’re afraid of food. We’re afraid of the air, the water, the soil, the weather. We’re afraid that the planet itself is rejecting us.

We’re afraid of strangers, outsiders and “aliens.” That they’re infecting us with their bombs, their bodies, their beliefs. Not just foreign terrorists, but even poor Mexican migrants — the “little brown ones,” in George Herbert Walker Bush’s immortal words. They come here to do the work we think is beneath us — mow our lawns, make our beds, watch our kids while we’re off doing more important things — but throughout much of the West and Southwest American Sissies are in a hysterical panic about them, as though they were a viral infection. Before long we’ll have completed our own Berlin Wall, our Tex-Mex Maginot Line, to keep them out. God only knows who’ll blow our leaves around then.

But we’re also afraid that our neighbors are predators, afraid that our children are sex-crazed, and afraid of ourselves — our own bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our urges. We’re afraid of our own individuality. No Sissy is an independent individual, but only a member of an “identity group,” usually one that sees itself as somehow victimized or threatened. Individuality itself is suspect. We don’t have the courage of our own convictions. We have only the herd mentality.

We’re afraid of the real world, of reality itself, so we do whatever we can to ignore it, to insulate ourselves from it, to guard and protect ourselves against it, and to escape from it. We loll in a safely-padded, rounded-corners virtual fantasy world, our seatbelts tightly secured and our helmets strapped on, fighting virtual fights, having on-line relationships and sex. We’re a lot more familiar and comfortable with this escapist fantasy world and the fantastic creatures that inhabit it — the celebrities and celebutards, MySpace and Facebook friendsters — than with the real world outside the bubble. We are quickly transforming our cities — the last zones of wild, unplanned, messy, chaotic human interaction — into safe, clean, playland replicas where everyone, visitor or resident, is a tourist. If we could we’d expand the bubble until the whole world was a virtual version of itself, World World. If a little reality should somehow seep into the bubble — a death, disaster, or just simple sadness — we’d medicate.

Our fears and anxieties have infantilized us. Not for nothing do we call our homes “cribs.” We’ve turned our children into Sissies, too. We’re so concerned with not bruising their self-esteem that we teach them nothing about self-reliance or self-respect. We supervise and schedulize their every moment. We’ve medicated them to the eyeballs, too. What kind of behavior is your kid manifesting? Oh yeah, we’ve got a scrip for that.

The American pioneer spirit simply pooped out. We had our few centuries of westward ho, outward bound, eat my dust, don’t tread on my dick, gung-ho can-do adventures. We pushed the bubble as far as we could. Now we’re just going to lie down in it for a little nap. You Chinese and Russians and Arab Emirates and all the rest of you go ahead without us. We’ll catch up later.

Space really was the final frontier. Fewer and fewer Americans can remember the space race. Now that was a hell of a time to be an American. Or at least a white American male. Those big white hard-ons thrusting up into the sky, spurting their seed into the vast, dark womb of the universe, and inside every seed a white American astronaut curled up like a homunculus. Yeah baby. We were banging the solar system.

It’s true that the cosmonauts always looked more manly than we did. Their rockets were longer, fatter. They had a big head at the top and a huge ballsack at the bottom. Ours were all dick, no balls. And when they came back cosmonauts didn’t float gently down into the sea like sissies. They didn’t splash down, they crashed down on solid earth like real men.

Still, we beat them to the Moon, didn’t we. Get back, Ivan, the Moon’s our bitch.

And that’s when we lost it. All we’d ever been doing was crossing swords with Ivan.

“Man, space is cold.”

“Yeah, and deep too.”

When we got to the Moon we didn’t really know what to do with her, so we just dry-humped her and came home. Knocked a few golf balls around the Sea of Tranquility, saw that it looked pretty much like Arizona, and said, “Gotta go. I’ll call ya.” Lost her number on the way back to Earth. The Moon was a giant sand trap, there were no vodka tonics waiting at the 19th hole, and we lost interest. That was the end of the American manned space program, right there, the first golf ball on the Moon, 1971. A few years later, NASA made it official when it announced that we would not be fertilizing the Moon anytime soon, much less heading off to Mars or anywhere else in the solar system. No, we were just going to putter around here at home taking the Space Shuttle in and out of the garage.

The.

Space.

Shuttle.

I knew it was over the first time I read those words. A shuttle bus in space. You don’t explore the cosmos in a shuttle bus. Shuttle buses are for trundling handicapped children to physical therapy and senior citizens to the early bird special.

You know who’s the real pioneer of manned space flight now? Kazakhstan. That’s right. While we were sitting here inside our bubble, yukking it up over Borat and his fake Kazakhstan, the real Kazakhstan was selling space rides to American billionaires at $25 million a ticket. There’s golf in space again, only now it’s entrepreneurial Russian cosmonauts knocking balls into orbit as publicity stunts. They won’t say how much they get paid, but I bet you it’s more than the $65,000 to $100,000 a year astronauts get for peeing in a baggy on the shuttle.

No wonder astronauts go stir crazy and fire up soap opera romances. What the hell else they gonna do piddling around in their shuttle bus for days on end, while the real space jockeys are out playing golf? But even the Russians aren’t exactly blazing a trail for Mars. What should have happened, what would have been best for both sides, was for Ivan to get to the Moon first. Oh it woulda been on, baby.

“Get off her, Ivan. We saw her first.”

“Back off, Yankee. Go fuck Uranus.”

The entire surface of the Moon would have been paved over with New New Yorks and Laikaburgs by 1990, and we’d be on Mars.

Stuck with one another back down here on the ground, all we can do is whine and spit and carp like kitties in a burlap sack. Nowhere is our Sissitude more evident than in our politics. Fear rules our politics. Our politicians don’t offer us many space races anymore. They don’t even try to appeal to our courage, our industriousness, our hopes and dreams for the future. They’ve become just as fearful and fatalistic as the rest of us. They don’t have faith in us or themselves anymore than we do. Negativity and futility have invaded the way politicians think, and inform the way they speak to us. Opposing parties don’t offer us alternative paths to a better tomorrow anymore; they present us with alternative threats and ask us to vote according to which scares us more — to choose between, say, Global Terrorism or Global Warming. The language of politics has become almost entirely a sissy language, a language of fear.

Being a nation of Sissy sheep, it makes perfect sense that we have Sissy leaders. I give you George W. Bush. A pampered, draft-dodging, drug-addled Sissy in his youth, incapable of independent thought or action, he came to power in the classic Sissy way: Daddy gave it to him. Give a Sissy power, and what does he become? A bully. A bully is just a Sissy in tough-guy drag. What do bullies do? They lash out at the world around them, destroying and disordering, making others as miserable as they are. I give you George Bush’s wars. I mean it in no way as a denigration of America’s men and women in uniform when I say that America, as a culture, fights like a Sissy now.

This is not a partisan rant. Left wing, right wing, it’s all chicken. George Bush was a classic American Sissy who happened to be a Republican and conservative, but his liberal predecessor was also a draft-dodging baby boomer who acted like a Sissy as commander-in-chief. Clinton’s most Sissy act was to look us right in the eye and lie to us about the blowjobs, then drag us all down with him through the impeachment proceedings. To this day, many liberals insist that the blowjobs demonstrate what a manly and macho man he was. As though a Sissy in power would never coerce a young employee to give him sexual favors at the office. Americans being perpetual adolescents when it comes to sex, both liberals and conservatives failed to understand that the issue wasn’t the blowjobs themselves, it was the craven lying about them when he was caught, and the willingness to make the entire nation suffer and pay for his idiotic indiscretions. There was a time when every child in America was taught a parable about another president and a cherry tree, the lesson of which was that a real American hero owns up to his mistakes and transgressions… at least when he’s caught. President Buster Cherry must have been absent from school that day.

Americans have become complete Sissies about politics anyway. We speak of “the vast right-wing conspiracy” and “the radical left” as though we actually have either. We don’t have a real right or a real left in this country. All we have is Republicans and Democrats, Middle of the Roadum and Middle of the Roadee. For the last few years no pundit or hack can comment on American presidential politics without mentioning the red state/blue state thing. As though there were two Americas, one deeply conservative and uniformly Republican, the other loony liberal and totally Democrat. Like the Red Sox v. the Yankees. The truth is there is only Sissy Nation, and most states aren’t really red or blue, they’re muddy, mixed-up, gun-control-and-gay-rights purple.

Americans act like the two-party system was created by God on the eighth day, and respond to any hint of deviation from his Divine Plan with moral panic. Any candidate who shows the slightest independence or freedom of thought is greeted with horror, even if he’s just a crypto-Democrat like Ralph Nader. You’d have thought he was the Antichrist.

You’d know some of this if you knew a little history. But Americans don’t study their history. They only “celebrate” their sistory — those select bits and pieces of the past that serve them today, usually only as a way to pimp their “heritage” or their victimhood, to claim some entitlement they think they’re owed or force some false respect they haven’t earned. College students who couldn’t tell you who fought the Spanish-American War or when the War of 1812 was can rattle off rote grievances explaining how their identity group was sistorically victimized and why you owe them a living to compensate for the transgenerational psychic scars. Just don’t ask them to spell “transgenerational.” You might damage their self-esteem.”

“IT TAKES A REAL MAN TO SAY ‘I LOVE YOU!’ NOT BLINK, FLINCH, OR AVERT HIS EYES, PUPIL-A-PUPIL, DEAD-ON, FULL-TILT, FULL METAL JACKET!!!  AND THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!!!!!!!”, REAL MEN LOVE JESUS!!!!! AND SAY SO “OUT BLANKING LOUD!!!!!!!!!!!!”!!!!! PRAISE HIM, CHURCH!!! PRAISE HIM!!!!
Matthew

Dark Night of the Soul & Senses

Dr. Benedict Nguyen is the new Diocese of Venice Director of Communications and Office of Worship. He began his position on June 30 and comes from the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisc.
Dr. Benedict Nguyen is the new Diocese of Venice Director of Communications and Office of Worship. He began his position on June 30 and comes from the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisc.

Dr. BENEDICT NGUYEN
B.A., M.T.S., J.D./J.C.L., D.Min (ABD)

Benedict Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam and grew up in Wichita, Kansas. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liturgical Musicology from the University of Kansas; a Master of Theological Studies from the University of Dallas-Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies; and a Pontifical Licentiate degree in Canon Law from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He began his legal studies at the Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. and completed his law degree at the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was a three-time recipient of the CALI Award for academic excellence in corporate law, non-profit law and critical studies in law and region. He is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Biblical Exposition at the Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Delafield, Wisconsin.

For eight years he served as the Chancellor for the Diocese of La Crosse where he was a canon lawyer for the Diocese, the Diocesan Director of Communications & Media Relations, the Diocesan Director of Catholic Cemeteries, a Defender of the Bond in the Matrimonial Tribunal, and was a five-term Chairman of the Board for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse. He has also held the positions of Director of Communications and Director of the Office of Sacred Worship for the Diocese of Venice in Florida.

In academics, he served as an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Institute for Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University where he taught courses in canon law, liturgy, morality, ecclesiology, social ethics, and pastoral theology. For several years, he was the Upper School Dean at Providence Classical Academy in La Crosse, WI, where he was also as an instructor in religion, music, Latin, Greek, classical Aristotelian logic, and rhetoric. He has also taught as a Visiting Lecturer and instructor for the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.

Currently, he is the Canonical Counsel & Theological Advisor for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, TX. He continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor for the Avila Institute For Spiritual Formation.

As a licensed attorney with the Wisconsin Bar Association and an active canon lawyer, he continues to practice as a legal and canonical consultant to various dioceses, religious institutions, apostolates, non-profit organizations, schools and individuals across the country.

He is a national lecturer and has published in several publications including Catholic World Report, the National Catholic Register, Xaire, The Catholic Education Resource Center, Regina Magazine, The Catholic Herald in London, as well as numerous diocesan newspapers and magazines.

He and his wife Beth have five children.

http://dioceseofvenice.org/new-director-of-communications-and-office-of-worship/

http://soul-candy.info/2012/11/dec-14-st-john-of-the-cross-1541-1591-doctor-of-the-church-doctor-of-mystical-theology/

http://soul-candy.info/2015/01/dec-14-st-john-of-the-cross-the-darkness-of-unknowing/

SESSION_7_PDF_Slides_Fall_2015

Love,
Matthew

We come to the beginning…

XIR84999 Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) oil on canvas Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France Lauros / Giraudon French, out of copyright
XIR84999 Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922)
oil on canvas
Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France
Lauros / Giraudon
French, out of copyright

maryproffitkimmel

-by Mary Proffit Kimmel

“When Job cries out against God in his suffering, God questions Job, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?” Job answers, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You, therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” His arrogance brings him shame, and he places his hope in mercy.

Orual realizes at the end of Till We Have Faces, “The complaint was the answer.” She finds only silence after all her raging. Job and Orual feel small in the presence of the Almighty. Will the potter say to the clay, “Why have you made me?” Will the man who is dust question, “Why did you breathe life into me?” Will the woman formed from the rib say to the creator, “Why did you knit me?”

Job and Orual realize a truth they have always known when they recant their defiance. The come to themselves. T. S. Eliot prophesies that “the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time” (Little Gidding). In God we discover our true selves, the end who is our beginning. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in him,” Saint Augustine cries from experience. Blaise Pascal echoes, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?” We long for a homecoming to heaven, a return to the place we have never seen.

The longing for heaven cannot be spoken just as the reproaches on Job’s and Orual’s tongues fail. Wonder leads to silence. All beauty mixes itself with sadness: death and birth, funeral and marriage, loss and gain. Francois Mauriac muses, “All I know is that beauty troubles the senses, for all that it concerns the spirit, that it breeds in one a sort of despairing happiness, leads to a contemplation that never wholly finds its object but is worth a world of kisses” (The Woman of the Pharisees). Beauty deserves more than we can give it, and our helplessness finds voice only in love.

As beauty presents a mystery to be sought but not grasped, so suffering presents a mystery to be endured but not understood. Lear gives Cordelia this vision: “So we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh / At gilded butterflies . . . And take upon ‘s the mystery of things, / As if we were God’s spies” (King Lear). We know that God works although we do not see how. And so we pray for patience. While we are thirsting for heaven, we are also resigning ourselves to God’s timing.

When we see that beauty must perish, we revolt against the injustice of it. Shakespeare connects the fading of spring to the fading of features: “When I behold the violet past prime / And sable curls all silvered o’er with white . . . Then of thy beauty do I question make / That thou among the wastes of time must go” (Sonnet 12). Beauty seems to deserve to last throughout time. How can something so lovely decay? Hopkins provides the answer: “Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maidengear, gallantry and gaiety and grace . . . deliver it, early now, long before death / Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God beauty’s self and beauty’s giver” (The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo). This investment reaps eternal rewards where thieves do not break in and steal. Whoever loses his life will save it.”

Love,
Matthew

Encouragement

therefore-encourage

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

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-by Liana Mueller

“If you’ve experienced encouragement at the just the right time, you know the truth of the verse above. A word of encouragement is truly a grace, giving one strength to carry on. Sometimes a simple phrase is what will give somebody the courage to keep moving on. This spiritual gift, sometimes also called “exhortation,” is one that we have the opportunity to practice daily, and we may take for granted how powerful it can be.

From the time a child is young, she needs encouragement; words of encouragement are like building blocks for a child’s self-esteem. Even as adults, we still need to hear encouragement. Even if someone appears to be doing well on the surface, you never know if he is ready to throw in the towel. A word of encouragement is like a spark that can set a fire blazing again, giving someone the force to carry on. In the book of James, chapter 3, the tongue is said to be a member that can set fires. I venture that, if used as intended, the tongue can set off sparks in a positive way and spread to others as well.

Your words have the power to build up others every day. Affirm your spouse. Talk to your children about the things they are doing well. At work, find ways to compliment your colleagues. It can be easy to take for granted those in our daily lives, but we must also remember that we are placed in each other’s lives for a reason. Don’t forget to be mindful of the opportunities that arise to encourage others. I venture that encouragement can take other forms. For example, a friend buying you a cup of coffee when you’re having a tough day can be a source of encouragement. Lending your ear to listen to someone who is undergoing a hardship or simply needs to talk can also encourage her. Offering to pray for someone (and following through) can also be a huge dose of encouragement.

Try to be mindful about the opportunities to encourage others each day. Whether you are married and the parent of many, or a single person enmeshed in your career, opportunities abound. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can encourage others. It is often simple words of encouragement that gives someone else the ability to carry on. Exhorting others can also strengthen their faith. Take the time to build up others. You never know how it will affect them, now and forever.”

Love,
Matthew

“Offer it up!” -Redemptive Suffering

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God’s Infinite Wisdom, Love, & Plan for Mercy for Whole World:  Christ on the Cross!  There is no other way!!  There is nothing more necessary, nothing more sufficient!!!  Nothing more pleasing to the Father-God; the Creator of Heaven & Earth, the Great I AM!!!  The Author of all Life!!!  Yes, Jesus!!!  Yes, Jesus!!!  I say:  Yes, Lord!!!  Amen.  Amen.

However elegantly constructed, something seems missing in our explanations of suffering. That missing thing is Someone.

Excerpted from “The Truth of Catholicism” with permission of HarperCollins.

“Offer it up to God, for the souls in purgatory or in reparation for your own sins.” That stock answer (which is almost never heard these days) strikes many Catholics today as lying somewhere between quaint and cruel. Perhaps there was something more going on here, though. For that answer attempted to link our suffering here and now to the redemptive suffering of Christ, and to the purification that the grace of Christ can work in our own lives and the lives of our dead friends and relatives. That is no small thing. Besides, as a famous Catholic writer of liberal disposition once said in criticizing the contemporary Catholic loss of a sense of redemptive suffering, “What else are you going to tell the kid as the dentist comes at him with that drill?”

Suffering, in the Catholic view of things, is a mystery. By “mystery,” Catholic theology means not a puzzle to be solved as Sherlock Holmes would do, but a reality that can only be grasped and comprehended in an act of love. There is no “answer” to the problem of suffering in the sense that there are answers to questions like “Was Alger Hiss guilty?” or “What is two plus two?” The Church has always believed and taught that there is a different kind of answer to the question “Why do we suffer?” That answer takes us directly into the heart of the Church, which is Jesus Christ.

That Jesus Christ is a suffering redeemer has been a shock and an offense since the first days of Christianity. The challenge of belief in a redeemer whose victorious strength is displayed in his weakness may be greater today than at any other time in the past two thousand years, given our culture’s resistance to the idea that suffering is the necessary path to beatitude or human flourishing.

But that is the mystery — the profoundly human mystery — of suffering. Dogs and cats and pandas feel pain. Only human beings suffer. That fact should suggest that there is a link between suffering and the essence of our humanity. Pondering that link is an opening into the entire Catholic story about the world and about us. In that story we meet an even more astonishing proposal. God’s answer to suffering is not to avoid it, or deny it, or blame it on human folly. God’s answer to suffering is to embrace it — to enter the world in the person of his Son, to redeem suffering through suffering.

Redemptive Suffering

The Bible, Pope John Paul II notes in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, is a “great book about suffering.” In it we encounter many instances of that “pain of the soul” which is the worst form of human suffering: the death of one’s children, one’s spouse, loved ones, the fear of annihilation, barrenness, exile, persecution and mockery, loneliness and betrayal, the prosperity of the wicked amid the misery of the just, unfaithfulness and ingratitude. Suffering, in the biblical world, clearly has to do with evil. We suffer when we experience evil.

Still, the Christian conviction, drawn from the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible, is that creation is essentially good. Evil is not a coprinciple of creation, as in other ancient religious systems. If the world God created is essentially good and yet there is evil in the world, evil and good must be somehow related. Evil, John Paul writes, “is a certain lack, limitation, or distortion of good.” Illness is a deprivation of health; a lie is a distortion of the truth. We suffer, the Pope suggests, because of evil, but that very suffering points us toward a good. Suffering is caught up in the interplay of good and evil in the world. Suffering is enmeshed in the mystery of human freedom.

The Bible sometimes describes suffering as a punishment for the evil we do, but that punishment, the Pope suggests, is also linked to good. The punishment “creates the possibility of rebuilding goodness” in the person who suffers. This, John Paul underlines, “is an extremely important aspect of suffering.” Suffering opens up possibilities for the breakthrough of good, for “conversion,” for our becoming the kind of people who can enjoy beatitude with God, because we “recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance.”  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!!!  Praise Him!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Praise Him!!!!!  Let the Earth resound with the Glory of God!!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!!  AMEN!!!

Still, the Pope suggests, the mystery of suffering is not ultimately susceptible to rational explanation. However elegantly constructed, our explanations leave us dissatisfied. Something seems missing. That missing something, the Pope suggests, is in fact someone: Jesus Christ.

God’s love, which was so great that it burst the boundaries of God’s inner life and poured itself forth in creation, is “the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists,” including, of course, the meaning of suffering. Learning that “love is…the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering” requires not a rational argument, but a demonstration. That is what God has “given…in the cross of Jesus Christ.”

The entire life of Christ points inexorably toward the cross. Jesus’ human life is a growth into the world of suffering to which he responds by his healings. Those healings, both physical and psychological, are signs that the Kingdom of God, a world beyond suffering, is breaking into this world. Yet even as he heals the suffering, Christ suffers. He experiences exhaustion, homelessness, the misunderstanding of those closest to Him. When Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer, Jesus turns on the fisherman and calls him “Satan” (Matthew 16.23). Slowly, relentlessly, the net of hostility closes around Jesus, and the crux of the matter is at hand: the moment in which to link suffering to love in the passion of the cross.

Christ’s was an “incomparable depth and intensity of suffering.” Christ suffers as a man, but “insofar as the man who suffers is in person the only begotten Son himself,” John Paul writes, Christ’s suffering has a cosmic and divine density that is “capable of embracing the measure of evil” contained in the whole of human history. As the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it in almost frightening language, we cannot imagine what agonies that entailed. What it would mean to “bear the burden of the world’s guilt, to experience in oneself the inner perversion of a humankind that refuses any sort of service, any sort of respect, to God” is beyond our comprehension. We cannot imagine the suffering involved when the Son takes on himself all that the Father finds abominable. Yet that is what Christ suffers on the cross.

In Christ on the cross, we meet the triune God’s “eternal…plan…to clear out all the refuse of the world’s sin by burning it in the fire of suffering love.” Christ’s passion is the embodiment in history of “the fire that has burned eternally in God as [a] blazing passion,” the passion of resolute and radical love. God burns for the world to enter into this divine passion. For that to happen, the burning love of God in himself must reach out to the world and redeem it by consuming everything in the world that is incapable of love, including evil and suffering.

That is what happens on the cross when, in obedience to the Father and in the most profound act of self-giving love, the Son takes all the world’s evil upon Himself, including the evil of death. On the cross, Balthasar writes, two eternal realities meet: “God’s fury, which will make no compromises with sin but can only reject it and burn it to ashes, and God’s love, which begins to reveal itself precisely at the place of this inexorable confrontation.” The cross is not the end of the story. On the cross, evil and death are overcome through redemptive suffering. Christ conquers suffering by his “obedience unto death,” which the Father vindicates in the resurrection.

In the mystery of God’s love, burning its way through the world and through history, the moment of catastrophe is, in truth, the moment of liberation.”

Love,
Matthew

Offering the Lord our poverty of time…

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Creator of life, time, and all things,
You have gifted all to all.
There is great irony, and even tragedy, in our poverty of time for You.
If You should suddenly appear,
the world would drop everything
to come and see and hear You.
It need not be that dramatic.
You are here. You told us You would be with us, always.

If we couldn’t afford to spend any time with the most important other person in the world,
our relationship with them would wither and die.
We know this.
We grow or fail in our relationship with You, as with another.
You are God.
With You all things are possible.
Help us in our poverty of time.
Help we Marthas grow in holy jealousy of our sister, Mary.
Who has chosen better.
Help us remember, as you told Martha “few things are needed, indeed only one”.
Help us to understand why that pearl of great price, why that treasure in a field,
should be and is all consuming.
You tell us, in the end, You will say to those You do not know, “Away from me! I do not know you.”
Know me, Lord. Help me to know You.
Help me choose that one necessary thing,
not in debate or negotiation,
but in holy, loving surrender, to You.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Love of Simplicity

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If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind,
with the same love,
united in heart,
thinking one thing.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but everyone for those of others.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though He was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.

Rather, He emptied Himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men;
He was found to be of human estate,

Thus He humbled Himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
-Philippians 2:1-8

God is simple.

“Among those who make profession of following the maxims of Christ, simplicity ought to be held in great esteem; for, among the wise of this world there is nothing more contemptible or despicable than this. Yet it is a virtue most worthy of love, because it leads us straight to the kingdom of God, and, at the same time, wins for us the affection of men; since one who is regarded as upright, sincere, and an enemy to tricks and fraud, is loved by all, even by those who only seek from morning till night to cheat and deceive others.” -St. V. de Paul.

“The office of simplicity is to make us go straight to God, without regard to human respect or our own interests. It leads us to tell things candidly, and just as they exist in our hearts. It leads us to act simply, without admixture of hypocrisy and artifice, and finally, keeps us at a distance from every kind of deceit and double-dealing.” -St. V. de Paul.

St. Francis de Sales, also, was full of respect and love for this virtue, as he once declared to a confidential friend, in these words: “I do not know what that poor virtue of prudence has done to me, that I find so much difficulty in loving it. And if I love it, it is only from necessity, inasmuch as it is the support and guiding light of this life. But the beauty of simplicity completely fascinates me. It is true that the Gospel recommends to us both the simplicity of the dove and the prudence of the serpent; but I would give a hundred serpents for one dove. I know that both are useful when they are united, but I think that it should be in the proportion observed in compounding some medicines, in which a little poison is mixed with a quantity of wholesome drugs. Let the world, then, be angry, let the prudence of the world rage, and the flesh perish; for it is always better to be good and simple, than to be subtle and malicious.”

“Simplicity is nothing but an act of charity pure and simple, which has but one sole end, that of gaining the love of God. Our soul is then truly simple, when we have no aim at all but this, in all we do. -St. F. de Sales.

God loves the simple, and converses with them willingly, and communicates to them the understanding of His truths, because He disposes of these at his pleasure. He does not deal thus with lofty and subtle spirits.-St. F. de Sales.

“True simplicity is like that of children, who think, speak, and act candidly and without craftiness. They believe whatever is told them; they have no care or thought for themselves, especially when with their parents; they cling to them, without going to seek their own satisfactions and consolations, which they take in good faith, and enjoy with simplicity, without any curiosity about their causes and effects.” -St. F. de Sales

“Astuteness is nothing but a mass of artifices, inventions, craft, and deceit, by which we endeavor to mislead the minds of those with whom we are dealing, and make them believe that we have no knowledge or sentiment as to the matter in question, except what we manifest by our words. This is wholly contrary to simplicity, which requires our exterior to be perfectly in conformity with our interior.” -St. F. de Sales.

WYSIWIG – “What you see, is what you get!”

When Francis de Sales was told, by a friend, that he would have been successful in politics, “No,” he replied, “the mere name of prudence and policy frightens me, and I understand little or nothing about it. I do not know how to lie, to invent, or dissimulate, without embarrassment, and political business is wholly made up of these things. What I have in my heart, I have upon my tongue; and I hate duplicity like death, for I know how abominable it is to God.”

“When a simple soul is to act, it considers only what it is suitable to do or say, and then immediately begins the action, without losing time in thinking what others will do or say about it. And after doing what seemed right, it dismisses the subject; or if, perhaps, any thought of what others may say or do should arise, it instantly cuts short such reflections, for it has no other aim than to please God, and not creatures, except as the love of God requires it. Therefore, it cannot bear to be turned aside from its purpose of keeping close to God, and winning more and more of His love for itself.” -St. F. de Sales.

In the Catholic mind, simplicity refers to both our material possessions, both in quantity and type, maintaining only those things which are essential to life’s daily functions, given the age we live in and our particular circumstances;  also, it refers to manner, the way in which we present ourselves to and interact with all others in Christian love.  And, finally, particularly in this age, in terms of priorities and activity.  Where is prayer in our lives and our day?  Priorities.  Priorities.  Priorities.

NOBODY EVER said it would be easy. (Don’t you sometimes wish just somebody, no matter how foolish and mad, would/would have? Just so we could counter that maxim? 🙂 The discipline of simplicity is just critically necessary, for sanity’s sake, et al.  It is an invigorating discipline.  Discipline does not weaken, it strengthens.  Strength training for the journey.

Heb 12:12-13.  Christians NEED to be TUFF!!!!  TUFF LOVE!!!  “Yes, Sister!  Right away, Sister.”  Obedience to rightful, moral, just authority & acceptance of God’s will are forms of simplicity.  Simplicity of the will, in marriage and in faith.

Love,
Matthew

What the Soul Desires

Born in London, England in 1823 to an Anglican family, Augusta Theodosia Drane converted to Roman Catholicism in 1850 and shortly thereafter entered the Dominican Sisters of Stone, where she received the name Sister Francis Raphael. Since Drane was already an established author when she entered the congregation she continued to publish under her former name. She served as mistress of novices, mistress of studies and then prioress general. Sister Francis Raphael produced nineteen books of catechetics, history, biography, drama and poetry. Among her works are a two volume definitive biography of Saint Catherine of Siena and a biography of Saint Dominic. She died in 1894.

What the Soul Desires is from Drane’s collection of poems, Songs in the Night. In the poem the author expresses her frustration and sorrow about a fleeting mystical experience that never recurred. The poem was reprinted in The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse.

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http://www.amazon.com/Augusta-Theodosia-Drane/e/B00J1UDTUI

-by Augusta Theodosia Drane (1823–1894), aka Mother Francis Raphael, OP
-Nicholson & Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.

There Thou wilt show me what my soul desired;
There Thou wilt give at once, O my Life, what Thou gavest me the other day!
(St. John of the Cross. Spiritual Canticle, Stanza xxxviii)

“THERE is a rapture that my soul desires,
There is a something that I cannot name;
I know not after what my soul aspires,
Nor guess from whence the restless longing came;
But ever from my childhood have I felt it,
In all things beautiful and all things gay,
And ever has its gentle, unseen presence
Fallen, like a shadow-cloud, across my way

It is the melody of all sweet music,
In all fair forms it is the hidden grace;
In all I love, a something that escapes me,
Flies my pursuit, and ever veils its face.
I see it in the woodland’s summer beauty,
I hear it in the breathing of the air;
I stretch my hands to feel for it, and grasp it,
But ah! too well I know, it is not there.

In sunset-hours, when all the earth is golden,
And rosy clouds are hastening to the west,
I catch a waving gleam, and then ’tis vanished,
And the old longing once more fills my breast.

It is not pain, although the fire consumes me,
Bound up with memories of my happiest years;
It steals into my deepest joys—O mystery!
It mingles, too, with all my saddest tears.

Once, only once, there rose the heavy curtain,
The clouds rolled back, and for too brief a space
I drank in joy as from a living fountain,
And seemed to gaze upon it, face to face:
But of that day and hour who shall venture
With lips untouched by seraph’s fire to tell?
I saw Thee, O my Life! I heard, I touched Thee,—
Then o’er my soul once more the darkness fell.

The darkness fell, and all the glory vanished;
I strove to call it back, but all in vain:
O rapture! to have seen it for a moment!
O anguish! that it never came again!
That lightning-flash of joy that seemed eternal,
Was it indeed but wandering fancy’s dream?
Ah, surely no! that day the heavens opened,
And on my soul there fell a golden gleam.

O Thou, my Life, give me what then Thou gavest!
No angel vision do I ask to see,
I seek no ecstasy of mystic rapture,
Naught, naught, my Lord, my Life, but only Thee!
That golden gleam hath purged my sight, revealing,
In the fair ray reflected from above,
Thyself, beyond all sight, beyond all feeling,
The hidden Beauty, and the hidden Love.

As the hart panteth for the water-brooks,
And seeks the shades whence cooling fountains burst;
Even so for Thee, O Lord, my spirit fainteth,
Thyself alone hath power to quench its thirst.

Give me what then Thou gavest, for I seek it
No longer in Thy creatures, as of old,
I strive no more to grasp the empty shadow,
The secret of my life is found and told!”

Love,
Matthew