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

liana_mueller

-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

Offering the Lord our poverty of time…

timeflies

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

Simple

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.

theodosia_drane

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

“Be perfect…” -Mt 5:48

Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount Gustave Dore
Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount
Gustave Dore

ralphmartin

-by Ralph Martin, STD

“Perfect in purity of heart, perfect in compassion and love, perfect in obedience, perfect in conformity to the will of the Father, perfect in holiness — when we hear these words we can be understandably tempted to discouragement, thinking that perfection for us is impossible. And indeed, left to our own resources, it certainly is — just as impossible as it is for rich people to enter heaven, or for a man and a woman to remain faithful their whole lives in marriage. But with God, all things are possible, even our transformation.

John Paul II — and he himself may be among those recognized as a Doctor one day — in his prophetic interpretation of the events of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, Novo Millennio Ineunte (NMI), points out that the Holy Spirit is again bringing to the forefront of the Church’s consciousness the conviction that these words of Jesus are indeed meant for every single one of us. He points out that the Jubilee of the year 2000 was simply the last phase of a period of preparation and renewal that had been going on for forty years, in order to equip the Church for the challenges of the new millennium.[1]

Pope John Paul II speaks of three rediscoveries to which the Holy Spirit has led the Church beginning with the Second Vatican Council, which concluded in 1965. One of these rediscoveries is the rediscovery of the “universal call to holiness.”[2]

All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity. (NMI 30; cf. LG 40)  John Paul further emphasizes that this call to the fullness of holiness is an essential part of being a Christian.

To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). . . . The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. (NMI 30, 31)

Before we go much further in our examination of the spiritual journey, let’s take an initial look at what “holiness” really means. In the Book of Ephesians we read, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4).

To be holy is not primarily a matter of how many Rosaries we say or how much Christian activity we’re engaged in; it’s a matter of having our heart transformed into a heart of love. It is a matter of fulfilling the great commandments which sum up the whole law and the prophets: to love God and our neighbor, wholeheartedly. Or as Teresa of Avila puts it, holiness is a matter of bringing our wills into union with God’s will.

Thérèse of Lisieux expresses it very similarly: “Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be . . . who resists His grace in nothing.”[3] As she said towards the very end of her life: “I do not desire to die more than to live; it is what He does that I love.”[4]

John Paul II goes on to call the parishes of the third millennium to become schools of prayer and places where “training in holiness” is given.

Our Christian communities must become genuine “schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly “falls in love.” . . . It would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life.” (NMI 33)

John Paul cites several reasons why this turn to holiness of life and depth in prayer is important. Besides the fact that it is quite simply part and parcel of the Gospel message, he points out that the supportive culture of “Christendom” has virtually disappeared and that Christian life today has to be lived deeply, or else it may not be possible to live it at all. He also points out that in the midst of this world-wide secularization process there is still a hunger for meaning, for spirituality, which is sometimes met by turning to non-Christian religions. It is especially important now for Christian believers to be able to respond to this hunger and “show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead” (NMI 33, 40).

Recognizing how challenging this call is, John Paul makes clear that it will be difficult to respond adequately without availing ourselves of the wisdom of the mystical tradition of the Church — that body of writings and witness of life that focuses on the process of prayer and stages of growth in the spiritual life. He tells us why the mystical tradition is important and what we can expect it to provide for us.

This great mystical tradition . . . shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart. (NMI 33)

These are truly extraordinary words that John Paul uses here, words to which we will need to return in the course of this book. How is this extraordinary depth of union with the Trinity possible? It is indeed the answer to this question that the mystical tradition gives us and that this book will attempt to clearly communicate. John Paul makes clear that this depth of union isn’t just for a few unusual people (“mystics”) but is a call that every Christian receives from Christ Himself. “This is the lived experience of Christ’s promise: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (Jn. 14:21).” (NMI 32)

Then John Paul summarizes some of the main wisdom taught by the mystical tradition about the spiritual journey, wisdom that we will pay close attention to in the course of this book.

It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union.” How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila? (NMI 32)

These four principles that John Paul identifies are basic to a proper understanding of the spiritual journey.

1.  Union with God of this depth is totally unattainable by our own efforts; it is a gift that only God can give; we are totally dependent on His grace for progress in the spiritual life. Yet we know also that God is eager to give this grace and bring us to deep union.

2.  Without Him, we can do nothing, but with Him all things are possible (cf. Jn. 14:45, Lk. 18:27, Phil. 4:13). Without God, successfully completing the journey is impossible, but with Him, in a sense, we are already there. He is truly both the Way and the destination; and our lives are right now, hidden with Christ, in God (Col. 3:3).

3.  At the same time our effort is indispensable. Our effort is not sufficient to bring about such union, but it is necessary. The saints speak of disposing ourselves for union. The efforts we make help dispose us to receive the gifts of God. If we really value something we must be willing to focus on doing those things that will help us reach the goal. And yet without God’s grace we cannot even know what’s possible, or desire it, or have the strength to make any efforts towards it. It’s God’s grace that enables us to live the necessary “intense spiritual commitment.”

“You will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).

4.  As the Gospel tells us, it’s important to assess what’s required before undertaking a task (before starting to build a tower, or entering into a battle in war) if we want to successfully complete it. Much has to change in us in order to make us capable of deep union with God. The wounds of both original sin and our personal sins are deep and need to be healed and transformed in a process that has its necessarily painful moments. The pain of purification is called by John of the Cross the “dark night.” It is important not to be surprised by the painful moments of our transformation but to know that they’re a necessary and blessed part of the whole process.

“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

And finally, we need to know that all the effort and pain is worth it! Infinitely worth it. The pain of the journey will appear in retrospect to have been light, compared to the weight of glory that we were being prepared for (see 2 Cor. 4:1618).

Deep union (the “nuptial union” or “spiritual marriage” or “transforming union”) is possible even in this life. Teresa of Avila tells us that there’s no reason that someone who reaches a basic stability in living a Catholic life (“mansion” three in her classification system) can’t proceed all the way to “spiritual marriage” in this life (“mansion” seven).[5]

All of these principles will be explored in-depth in later chapters. Now we need to recognize the significance of the “rediscovery” of the universal call to holiness and determine our own response to the call.

We all probably know in some way that we’re called to holiness but perhaps struggle to respond. Feeling the challenge of the call and yet seeing the obstacles, it is easy to rationalize delaying or compromising and avoid a wholehearted and immediate response.

It is not uncommon, for example, to “pass the buck” to others whom we deem in a better position to respond wholeheartedly. Those of us who are Catholic lay people often look at our busy lives and sluggish hearts and suppose that priests and nuns are in a better position to respond to the call. After all, we may think to ourselves, that’s what we pay them for! We may think that when our kids are grown, or when we retire, or after a business crisis passes, or when we don’t have to care for ailing parents, or when we get a better job, or when we get married, or . . . that then we’ll be in a better position to respond.

Unfortunately, being a priest or nun doesn’t eliminate temptations to also “pass the buck.” With the reduction in numbers, it is understandably easy for priests and nuns to feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities and have such a busy pace of life that they might suppose that it’s the cloistered orders who are truly in a good position to respond wholeheartedly to the call to holiness.

But even in cloistered orders, it’s possible to rationalize and “pass the buck.” What with caring for guests, overseeing building renovations, attending monastic conferences, or making cheese, bread, or jams, it’s possible to suppose that it’s the hermit who really can respond wholeheartedly.

But even being a hermit doesn’t guarantee such a response. After all, hermits need to work out a rule of life, have meetings with superiors to review it, make sure their medical insurance is covering them properly, deal with internal and external distractions and temptations, and maybe even contribute to a newsletter for hermits!

What really holds us back from a wholehearted response to the call of Jesus, of Vatican II, of the repeated urgings of the Spirit, is not really the external circumstances of our lives, but the interior sluggishness of our hearts. We need to be clear that there will never be a better time or a better set of circumstances than now to respond wholeheartedly to the call to holiness. Who knows how much longer we’ll be alive on this earth? We don’t know how long we’ll live or what the future holds. Now is the acceptable time. The very things we think are obstacles are the very means God is giving us to draw us to depend more deeply on Him.

Or sometimes what holds us back from responding wholeheartedly in our present circumstances is believing that we don’t have to focus too much on that right now, because sooner or later any purification needed will be taken care of in purgatory. There are a few problems with this way of thinking.

It’s true that sometimes we don’t hit the goal we’re aiming at, and it’s good to have a backup. If we aim for heaven at the moment of our death, and indeed die in friendship with Christ but haven’t been transformed enough to be ready for the sight of God, purgatory is a wonderful blessing. But if we aim for purgatory and miss, there really isn’t a good backup available.

The source of all our unhappiness and misery is sin and its effects, and the sooner the purification of sin and its effects can take place in our life, the happier we will be and the better able to truly love others. Only then will we be able to enter into the purpose God has for our life. Truly, in this case, better sooner than later.

And finally, it’s important to realize that there is only one choice; either to undergo complete transformation and enter heaven, or be eternally separated from God in hell. There are only two ultimate destinations, and if we want to enter heaven we must be made ready for the sight of God. Holiness isn’t an “option.” There are only saints in heaven; total transformation is not an “option” for those interested in that sort of thing, but is essential for those who want to spend eternity with God.

Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

The whole purpose of our creation, the whole purpose of our redemption is so that we may be fully united with God in every aspect of our being. We exist for union; we were created for union; we were redeemed for eternal union. The sooner we’re transformed the happier and the more “fulfilled” we’ll be. The only way to the fulfillment of all desire is to undertake and complete the journey to God.

In the Old Testament it was clear that to actually see God in our untransformed human condition was to be destroyed.

Then Moses said, “Do let me see your glory!” He answered, “I will make all my beauty pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce my name, “Lord”; I who show favors to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives.” (Ex. 33:1820, NAB)  We exist for union; we were created for union; we were redeemed for eternal union.

It is only Jesus who sees the face of the Father, and it is through Jesus that we can be made ready to share in His vision of the Father. It is through our union with Jesus, our contemplation of His “face,” that we are, little by little, transformed and made ready for the beatific vision, which is so much more than what we commonly understand as “seeing”; it is indeed a participation in the ecstatic knowing and loving of the Trinity, a participation in Love itself.

When Pope John Paul considered what was the most important legacy of the Jubilee year 2000 that should be carried forward into the new millennium, this is what he said: “But if we ask what is the core of the great legacy it leaves us, I would not hesitate to describe it as the contemplation of the face of Christ” (NMI 15).

Bernard of Clairvaux expands our vision of what it means to contemplate the face of Christ by pointing out that we “look upon the Son in the Father and the Father in the Son.”[6] Bernard also wholeheartedly encourages us to undertake the journey.

Come then, follow, seek him; do not let that unapproachable brightness and glory hold you back from seeking him or make you despair of finding him. “If you can believe all things are possible to him who believes” (Mk. 9:22). “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom. 10:8). Believe, and you have found him. Believing is having found. The faithful know that Christ dwells in their hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17). What could be nearer? Therefore seek him confidently, seek him faithfully, “The Lord is good to the soul who seeks him” (Lam. 3:25). Seek him in your prayers, follow him in your actions, find him in faith.[7]  And, of course, this wholehearted seeking of the Lord, this contemplation of Christ, is a central part of the message of Scripture.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

This Scripture text is a powerful summary of the process of transformation, which we will now begin to examine in some detail.”

Love,
Matthew

Notes:

  1. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter at the Close of the Jubilee Year Novo Millennio Ineunte (January 6, 2001). Available from www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/index.htm. (hereafter cited in text as NMI)
  2. The other two rediscoveries that John Paul II identifies are “the Church as communion” and “the charismatic dimension” of the Church.
  3. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, trans. John Clarke, OCD (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996), chap. 1, p. 14.
  4. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, epilogue, p. 264.
  5. Teresa uses the image of the soul as a grand castle with many concentric layers of mansions or grouping of rooms. She explains the spiritual journey in terms of moving from the outer rooms into the very center of the soul, where the Lord Himself is. The first mansion is the outermost mansion and the seventh mansion the innermost.
  6. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, vol. IV, sermon 76, no. 6, p. 114.
  7. Ibid., p. 115.