Category Archives: Theological

Mystery of Hope

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

Presence of God – Let me hunger for You, O Bread of Angels, pledge of future glory.

MEDITATION

Jesus said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is My Flesh, for the life of the world.” The Jews disliked this speech; they began to question and dispute the Master’s words. But Jesus answered them still more forcefully: “Amen, amen, I say unto you, except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you” (John 6:51-54). These are definitive words which leave no room for doubt; if we wish to live, we must eat the Bread of Life. Jesus came to bring to the world the supernatural life of grace; and this life was given to our souls in Baptism, the Sacrament which grafted us into Christ. Thus it is a gift of His plenitude, but we must nourish it by a deeper penetration into Christ. To enable us to do so, He Himself willed to give us His complete substance as the God-Man, making Himself the Bread of our supernatural life, the Bread of our union with Him. St. John Chrysostom says, “Many mothers entrust the children they have borne to others to nurse them, but Jesus does not do that. He feeds us with His own Blood and incorporates us into Himself completely.” Baptism is the Sacrament which engrafts us into Christ; the Eucharist is the Sacrament which nourishes Christ’s life in us and makes our union with Him always more intimate, or rather, it transforms us into Him. “If into melted wax other wax is poured, it naturally follows that they will be completely mixed with each other; similarly, he who receives the Lord’s Flesh and Blood is so united with Him that Christ dwells in him and he in Christ” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).

COLLOQUY

“O heavenly Father, You gave us Your Son and sent Him into the world by an act of Your own will. And You, O my Jesus, did not want to leave the world by Your own will but wanted to remain with us for the greater joy of Your friends. This is why, O heavenly Father, You gave us this most divine Bread, the manna of the sacred humanity of Jesus, to be our perpetual food. Now we can have it whenever we wish so that if we die of hunger, it will be our own fault.

O my soul, you will always find in the Blessed Sacrament, under whatever aspect you consider it, great consolation and delight, and once you have begun to relish it, there will be no trials, persecutions, and difficulties which you cannot easily endure.

Let him who wills ask for ordinary bread. For my part, O eternal Father, I ask to be permitted to receive the heavenly Bread with such dispositions that, if I have not the happiness of contemplating Jesus with the eyes of my body, I may at least contemplate Him with the eyes of my soul. This is Bread which contains all sweetness and delight and sustains our life” (Teresa of Jesus [Teresa of Avila], Way of Perfection, 34).

“All graces are contained in You, O Jesus in the Eucharist, our celestial Food! What more can a soul wish when it has within itself the One who contains everything? If I wish for charity, then I have within me Him Who is perfect charity, I possess the perfection of charity. The same is true of faith, hope, purity, patience, humility, and meekness, for You form all virtues in our soul, O Christ, when You give us the grace of this Food. What more can I want or desire, if all the virtues, graces, and gifts for which I long, are found in You, O Lord, Who are as truly present under the sacramental species as You are in heaven, at the right hand of the Father? Because I have and possess this great wonder, I do not long for, want, or desire, any other!” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).”

Love, His Joy, & Hope,
Matthew

Christian Love & Kindness

“Love is the heart and soul of religion. God is love, and every kind deed is a step toward God. Life is a school in which you acquire knowledge regarding the means of making your life and the lives of your fellowmen happy. That education is founded on love. You cannot live without love, any more than a flower can bloom without sunshine.

There is no power in the world so great as that of love which never loses its strength, never knows its age, and always renews it­self. Filial love, fraternal love, conjugal love, patriotism: all are the offshoots of the divine love, rooted in the heart of Jesus, which broke in death so that it might bring love to the world.

Love seeks to assert itself by deeds. Love, a very real force, is not content with fair words. The effect of love is an eagerness to be up and doing, to heal, to serve, to give, to shelter, and to console. A love that remains inactive, a force that is asleep, is a dying love. If you do not wish to cease to love, you must never cease to do good.

Because a kind thought inspires a kind deed, it is a real blessing. A kind word spoken or a harsh word withheld has spelled happiness for many a burdened soul. To have acquired the ability not to think and speak uncharitably of others is a great achievement. The habit of interpreting the conduct of others favorably is one of the finer qualities of charity, but the highest charity is evidenced by doing good to others. Greater than a kind thought, more refreshing than a kind word, is the union of thought and word in action. St. Augustine says, “We are what our works are. According as our works are good or bad, we are good or bad; for we are the trees, and our works the fruit. It is by the fruit that one judges of the quality of the tree.”

The highest perfection of charity consists in laying down one’s life for another, just as Christ offered His life as a sacrifice for mankind.

The Savior once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” And the heavenly Father expressed His will in the great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Our Lord wants your life to be love in action, even as His was, for He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” St. Peter summarizes His life in the words: “He went about doing good.”

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, “It is not enough that I should give to whosoever may ask of me; I must forestall their desires and show that I feel much gratified, much honored, in rendering service; and if they take a thing that I use, I must seem as though glad to be relieved of it…. To let our thoughts dwell upon self renders the soul sterile; we must quickly turn to labors of love.”

Love is the heart and soul of kind deeds. Just as there is no charity without works, so there may be works of charity without love. St. Paul expressed it this way: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Some people use charity as an effective cloak to hide their human weaknesses. Cowardice, for instance, is being afraid of what people will say. Some people will do a certain amount of good out of sheer cowardice, while in the meantime their avarice covers it­self with the cloak of charity.

Self-interest, greed, and vanity also borrow the cloak of charity. Since charitable works draw popular attention, they are bound to prove an excellent advertisement. If a man’s past hinders his social success, he hastens to put on the cloak of charity which literally “covers a multitude of sins.”

Pride and the love of power sometimes put on the cloak of charity, for it gives a man a noble appearance. The demon of pride once was willing to give all his possessions to Christ if, falling down, He would adore him.

Others take up the practice of charity as a kind of sport. They look for the exhilarating feeling of having done a good deed. Later there will be material for selfish conversation.

God is not content with the cloak of charity, or mere kind deeds. He looks for genuine goodness and love. The day will come when He will take away the borrowed cloak of kindness.

God does not so much desire that we should cooperate with Him in His works of mercy as that we should participate in His sincere and ever-active love. His law of social duty is not “Thou shalt give to thy neighbor,” but “Thou shalt love thy neighbor.””

Love,
Matthew

Motive for Hope

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

Presence of God – Make me understand well, O Lord, that my hope must be founded on You, on Your infinite merciful love.

MEDITATION

If we had to base our hope on our own merits and on the amount of grace we possess, it would be very insecure, because we cannot be certain that we are in the state of grace, nor can we be certain about our good works which are always so full of defects. But our hope is sure because it is founded, not on ourselves, but on God, on His infinite goodness, on His salvific will which desires “all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), and on His sanctifying will that wants us not only to be saved, but also to be saints: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

God wishes the certitude of our hope to rest upon Him alone. Although He demands our cooperation and our good works, He does not want us to base our confidence on them; in fact, after having urged us to do all that is in our power, Jesus added: “When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: we are unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10). Souls who are accustomed to depend on their own strength and who delude themselves, thinking they can enter more deeply into the spiritual life by their own personal resources, find this lesson hard to understand. That is why when the Lord wills them to progress, He makes them go through painful states of powerlessness, permitting them to feel the rebellion and repugnance of nature that they may be convinced of the vanity of placing their confidence in themselves. There is here a delicate point: to know how to accept this experience without falling into discouragement. If in the past, we have relied upon ourselves, and now, in certain difficulties and trials of our interior life, we see our strength reduced to nothing, let us thank God. In this way He is detaching us from the too great confidence we had in ourselves, and is forcing us to practice a purer, more supernatural hope, one stripped of every human element and support. If, however we cannot place our hope in ourselves, this is reason for despair; rather, it should impel us to place our hope in God alone and force us to throw ourselves upon Him with full confidence like a child who takes refuge in its mother’s arms with more trust, the weaker and more powerless it feels itself to be.

COLLOQUY

“Almighty, omnipotent Lord, show me my poverty so that I may confess it. I said that I was rich and that I needed nothing; I did not know that I was poor, blind, naked, wretched, and miserable. I believed that I was something and I was nothing. I said, ‘I shall become wise,’ and I became foolish; I thought that I was prudent, but I deceived myself. And I see now that wisdom is Your gift, that without You we can do nothing, for if You, O God, do not keep the city, he watches in vain that keeps it. You taught me this that I might know myself; You abandoned me and you tried me … so that I would know myself. You had hardly gone a short distance from me when I fell. Then I saw and knew that You were guiding me; if I fell, it was my own fault, and if I rose again, it was by Your help.

O my God, I could despair on account of my great sins and my innumerable negligences … but I dare not because I, who was at one time Your enemy, have been reconciled to You by the death of Your Son; and not only reconciled, but I have been saved by Him. That is why all my hope and the certitude of my confidence is in His precious Blood which was shed for us and for our salvation. Living in Him, trusting in Him, I hope to come to You, not because of my justice, but through the justice which comes to me from Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus, in the weariness of this struggle, I raise my eyes to You, Lord Jesus. Let the enemy do what he will to me. I shall not fear because You are a strong defender. I have good reason to hope in You, for I shall never be confounded.

Now, as long as I am in the body, I am far from You, since I journey by faith and not by vision. The time will come when I will see that which I now believe without seeing and I shall be happy. Then I shall see the reality which I now hope for. I live content in my hope because You are true to Your promises; nevertheless, because I do not possess You as yet, I groan beneath the weight of desire. Grant that I may persevere in this desire until what You have promised comes to pass; then my groaning will be over and praise alone will resound” (St. Augustine).

Love & never surrender hope in Him. He does not leave us as orphans. Jn 14:18.
Matthew

Twin sins: despair & presumption


-by Rev. Michael Schmitz | February 29, 2016, Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St Paul

Q. I teach young people who seem to think that, since God loves them, it doesn’t matter how they live.

A. This is a real issue, and I don’t think that the problem is limited to young people. I have met plenty of adults in my time who seem to exhibit the same disposition. What we are talking about are the “twin sins” of despair and presumption. I call them “twin sins” because both the temptation to deny God’s love and the temptation to presume upon God’s love are two sides of the same coin. They have a common root, and they also have a common remedy.

The problem with these twin sins is not that one takes sin too seriously and the other doesn’t take sin seriously enough. Although that would appear to make sense, it isn’t true.

That might even seem to make sense to you. Imagine that you are counseling a person tempted to despair of any hope because of their sins. Imagine someone who felt so awful for their sins that they just couldn’t dream that God could ever love them and raise them out of their brokenness. In that scenario, you might be tempted to advise them to “lighten up” about sin. You might be tempted to assure them that their sins “aren’t that bad.” (Note: there is such a thing as scrupulosity. But being scrupulous isn’t being sensitive to sin; that’s merely being holy. Scrupulosity is seeing sin where there is no sin.)

On the other hand, imagine one of the young people you mentioned. This kind of person claims to know something about God’s love. They might say, “I don’t have to be concerned with following God; He loves me no matter what.” If you were counseling a person in this state, you might be tempted to point out all of the ways that sin wounds the soul (and even often wounds the body!). You might point out all of the ways that sin destroys relationships and leads to death. It might be a very compelling thing to try to describe how truly ugly sin is. And that wouldn’t be wrong. All of those things are true. It might even be that your words could move this person’s heart and mind to take sin more seriously.

But I think that, in both cases, we are called neither to merely invite people to take sin less seriously nor to take sin more seriously. The lasting solution is to take the cross more seriously.

People tempted to despair do not need to take sin less seriously but to take the cross more seriously. If people take the cross of Jesus seriously, they know that there is no sin that Jesus didn’t die for. They know that they are not “beyond saving.” If a person really and truly takes the cross seriously, they would never question whether or not God loved them. Despair would be impossible.

Further, if people tempted toward presumption take the cross of Jesus seriously, they could not possibly dismiss the gravity of their sins. The cross is the price God paid for their sins. If a person takes the cross of Christ seriously, they have to recognize that it is their sin that moved the God of love to embrace suffering and death in order to forgive them.

Despair is the sin of Judas. It is ultimately rooted in pride. It says, “God’s love poured out on the cross is enough to save other people, but it cannot save me.” The person in despair sees the world with themselves at the center. If they would only be willing to realize they are not the center of reality, and that the saving cross of Jesus stands at the center of reality, they would realize they are both worse than they thought and that they are more loved than they could have imagined.

Presumption is the sin of our modern age. It is also rooted in pride. It says, “I do not need God’s (or anyone’s) help.” Or it says, “God understands all things. He will always forgive, even without my repentance.” If this person would only acknowledge that the consequence of each of their sins was the death of God Incarnate, they might not be so cavalier about the need to turn from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Ultimately, the answer to both despair and presumption is to take God seriously, to accept his love, and to accept his call to live a new life relying on his grace.”

Amen!

Love & joy,
Matthew

I have a PASSION for the virtue of HOPE!!!!: Grace & Hope

Hope

It burns.

hyacinth_grubb
-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“What do you do when those you trust let you down, when you’re confronted with human failure and frailty and faults?

Often when we think of hope, our thoughts rise to the great mysteries of the faith, as they rightly should. We hope in Christ, in His resurrection, and even in our own. But sometimes our thoughts skim too lightly through these mysteries and reduce them to abstractions which are beautiful but remote from life. We can know in some vague way that grace is active, making “all things work for the good of those who love God,” and at the same moment fail to see grace when it works in front of our eyes.

Yet grace is not an abstraction: it is a living, breathing reality that is present in the messiness of real life. Do you see it?  (I DO!!! I DO!!! CONSTANTLY!!!!) 🙂

Do you see it at work in your brother or sister, friend or coworker? (YES!!!YAAASSSS!!! PRAISE HIM CHURCH!!!  PRAISE HIM!!!) Because God is there in those moments when life hits us hardest, when people act unimaginably terribly. God is there in those thousands of moments when life grinds us down, when people live selfishly and carelessly in monstrous little ways. God is there, and He is working to transform their hearts, and ours, in ways that we can’t always know and on a schedule slower than we desire. Do you hope in Him, and in them?  (YAAAASSS!!  YAAASSS!!!)

It’s easy to give up on another person, to say, “he is who he is, and he won’t change,” to avoid him or to grit our teeth and muscle through—but this is much more than giving up on his own ability to live well. (I HAVE SEEN!!!!  I HAVE WITNESSED RESURRECTION IN THIS LIFE!!! I have.) This is giving up on God’s work in our fallible neighbors, it is despair in their potential for goodness and in God’s power to redeem. It says to Christ, hanging on the cross, “This neighbor of mine, this brother or friend, he is not worth saving, and Your sacrifice has not the power to do so.” We might never say it aloud, but each one of us has said it in our hearts. And so it is no little matter to assert that hoping in God is not merely trusting in His action in our lives, but also in His work in others.  (The last thing Satan desires is our despair.  1 Peter 5:8.  Amen.  Praise Jesus!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Amen!!!)

This hope is not abstract but real, and because it is real, it isn’t always easy; it requires patience and fortitude. This hope is given to us by God; prayer helps us to receive it; and an intentional and active love for our neighbor keeps it alive. Sometimes it may demand, only out of love for another, a little instruction or admonishment on our part. Most of all it requires—and enables—a transformation of perspective, as we learn to see ignorant and selfish and sinful men as not only ignorant and selfish and sinful, but at the same time as subjects of the divine action that redeems them and that makes them deserving of our love and hope.”  (AMEN, BROTHER!!!  PUHREACH!!! SING IT, BROTHER!!!  SING OUT LOUD!!!!  AMEN!!!)  🙂

His love, hope, grace, and victory,
Matthew

I have developed a passion for the virtue of hope…

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BrAmbroseArralde-160x160
-by Br. Ambrose Arralde, OP

“Hope is a theological virtue infused by God into our souls to keep us from discouragement. Expectations, on the other hand, are human ideas of which we sometimes need to be wary. How often we expect too much from ourselves and become overly dejected when our all too familiar imperfections creep in! When our best resolutions fall prey to weak resolve, we are tempted to despair of ever improving at all. If this isn’t bad enough, we set equally high standards for others, and then we give in to anger when we realize that they too are imperfect. Our expectations can be just too high.

In the spiritual life, these expectations can take any number of forms. After an intense conversion experience, we may expect that our newfound zeal will last indefinitely, only to find it flag as weeks and months pass. Perhaps we expect that if we apply ourselves to prayer it won’t be long before we are enjoying the heights of contemplation, only to find that we are held back at base camp by all manner of distractions. We never seem to find the fruits of our labors where and when we expect them, and the disappointment that follows puts us at risk of giving up entirely.

The tension at work here is that between experience and reality. We don’t see anything happening (or rather, we don’t see much happening), so we think there really is nothing happening. But this can be a false conclusion. Our sanctification is primarily the work of God, and it is not for us to scrutinize the work of God (cf. Is 45:9 and 55:8-9). The Catechism makes this clear:

‘Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved.’ (CCC 2005)

We are obsessed with our own conceptions of what holiness should look like, and we would limit God to working only in those ways that we expect Him to. But God both acts contrary to all human expectation, as when He chooses the powerless and the weak to make His salvation known (CCC 489), and far exceeds human expectations, as when He sent His own beloved Son (CCC 422).

To be fair, expectations are not necessarily bad. By the words of the prophets, God inspired in the people of Israel an expectation of the coming Messiah. We could perhaps call this a kind of hope. Even among the pagans God awakened “a dim expectation of [Christ’s] coming” (CCC 522). By hope God “opens up [man’s] heart in expectation,” not to expectation of just anything, though, but expectation “of eternal beatitude” (CCC 1818). It is therefore equally true to say that our problem is not that our expectations are too high, but that they are much too low. We expect way too much of ourselves and this present age, and not nearly enough of God and the age to come. God is the proper object of hope, not man.

If only we knew that our imperfections and weaknesses, far from disqualifying us from God’s mercy and love, rather entitle us to them. “The Lord has compassion for those who fear Him because He knows how we were made; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:13-14). If we expect to fall at least seven times a day, we will not be too ashamed to get up every time and beseech God for forgiveness. To put our hope in ourselves, or in others, or in any created thing is to set ourselves up for discouragement. But if we trust that God is at work, even when we are devoid of any sensible devotion, we may have every expectation that our hopes shall not be disappointed, “as scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him shall not be disappointed’” (Rom 10:11).

Love & the profound grace of hope; put ALL your trust in Him!!!!
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 6, The Theological Virtue of Hope – Little Girl Hope

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

“The French Catholic layman Charles Péguy (1873-1914) wrote a beautiful poem that can make the virtue of hope more tangible for us. The poem opens with the striking line, “The faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.”85 The poem continues:

“Faith doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
I am so resplendent in My creation . . .
That in order really not to see
Me these poor people would have to be blind.
Charity, says God, that doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for each other . . .
But hope, says God, that is something that surprises Me. (n.b. theologically, God cannot be surprised…)
Even Me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better . . .
That is surprising and it’s by far the greatest marvel of Our grace.
And I’m surprised by it Myself.
And My grace must indeed be an incredible force.”
86

Péguy employs striking metaphorical and poetical images here to suggest the power of hope, indicating to us how surprising hope can be when we experience degradation, deprivation, suffering, and evil in the world. He depicts Hope in the poem as a little girl who has two older sisters, Faith and Love. Hope is the innocent, wide-eyed, trusting little child:

“What surprises Me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little hope who seems like nothing at all.
This little girl hope . . .
Faith is a loyal Wife.
Charity is a Mother.
An ardent mother, noble-hearted. Or an older sister who is like a mother.
Hope is a little girl, nothing at all.
Who came into the world on Christmas day just this past year.
Who is still playing with her snowman . . .
And yet it’s this little girl who will endure worlds.
This little girl, nothing at all.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.
As the star guided the three kings from the deepest Orient.
Toward the cradle of My Son.
Like a trembling flame.
She alone will guide the Virtues and Worlds.”87

Our hope should make us feel every day more and more little — like a small child who relies on God his Father for everything. This life of spiritual childhood has been recommended by many saints, notably St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It is actually indicative of Christian maturity and has nothing to do with childishness. Hope is a child, walking between her two older sisters: wide-eyed and innocent, trusting and joyful. Such should be the shape and character of our own hope. Can a person who is totally imbued with this sort of hope ever be completely overtaken by despair, however terrible the burdens and cares of this life? The depressed person may indeed often feel overwhelmed; but this need not be a cause for final despair. Just as we cannot imagine an innocent little girl giving in to total despair in the face of setbacks or contradictions, so the person with hope can endure even these things with serenity and perseverance.

To understand the power of hope, we can examine the vices that run contrary to the virtue of hope. Regarding these, St. Augustine wrote, “There are two things which kill the soul, despair and presumption.”

The Catechism lists them under the First Commandment as sins against hope:

2091 By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice — for the Lord is faithful to His promises — and to His mercy.

2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high) or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

When we fall into presumption, we do not have hope, because we mistakenly assume that we have already arrived at the goal. This is a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride. The second vice contrary to hope is probably more common, and a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride, despair. Certainly this is the greater temptation for those individuals suffering from depression. We sometimes hear it said that a person has “fallen into” despair. But despair is not actually something we “fall into”; in the end, it is something we choose. To despair means to deny that the Lord wants to or can forgive or assist us. Even the severest depression, however dark, does not entail despair in this sense.

In Dante’s Inferno, the inscription written over the gates of hell is “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Final despair (I refer here not to the difficulties with hope of the depressed person) is the state proper only to the damned, of those who no longer have the possibility of being saved. To be utterly without hope is to be in a hellish state. So you could say that total despair in this life is something of an anticipation of damnation. As St. Isidore put it, “To despair is to descend into hell.” Total despair is a sort of hell on earth, where suicide may appear to be the only option. This is why the person who feels utterly hopeless finds it so difficult to summon the will to continue living.

For example, listening to accounts of addiction given by those who have recovered from drug and alcohol dependence, one can see that the life they describe is simply a state of profound despair — a sort of hell on earth. This is what a person experiences when he places his ultimate hope in a bottle, a needle, or a pill. Depression itself is not equivalent to this kind of despair, although it can predispose and incline a person to despair, as anyone who has experienced it knows too well. It is a great trial of faith to overcome this tendency. But it can be overcome with all the means discussed in this book, and especially with God’s grace.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “It is not so much sin as despair which casts us into hell.” We may fall into sin, as even the just man sins seven times a day. But in hope, we become a repentant sinner and therefore, through Confession, a forgiven sinner. Sin never has to have the last word. Hope means we do not have to be the people we were. But despair makes our sin the last word about us, even a definitive word, because despair denies the possibility of forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable if we do not despair, if we seek God’s merciful forgiveness. Likewise, every addiction, every vice, can be overcome if we do not give in to despair.

This helps us to understand that mysterious Gospel passage which speaks of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31) that Jesus says cannot be forgiven. This sin is simply the refusal to accept the grace of forgiveness. It is an obstinate despair that refuses God’s mercy. As the Catechism states:

1864 “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of His sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”88

The contrast between St. Peter’s repentance and Judas’s despair illustrates this: both men sinned grievously, but Peter repented with tears of contrition. He did not abandon hope. Peter’s repentance led him to become one of the greatest saints. Judas despaired, and this despair led him to take his own life.

To say that hope is a “theological” or “supernatural” virtue is to say that it is fundamentally a gift, the result of grace. To possess this hope, we must be in a state of sanctifying grace, which we can be sure of when we have confessed grave sins we are aware of. But for this hope to grow in our hearts and operate powerfully in our lives, we should pray that our hope will be increased; we should ask God to increase our hope. Our will and our effort do play a role here, since God wants us to cooperate freely with the graces He grants. “Lord, increase my hope” should be an aspiration that comes to us often, especially in times of difficulty.”

85 Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, trans. David L. Schindler, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 3.
86 Ibid., 3-7.
87 Ibid., 7-8.
88 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1864.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 216-220). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & Hope,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 5, The Theological Virtue of Hope, Everlasting Life!!!

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Q. Why did God make us?
A. God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

-Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 1: On the End of Man

“(Viktor) Frankl observed that the death-camp prisoners could tell when another prisoner had abandoned hope. When a prisoner lost hope, the despair could be seen in his eyes, in his face, in the way that he walked. The change was so noticeable that the prisoners had a name for such persons, which roughly translates as “the walking dead.” Inevitably, before long, this “walking dead” prisoner would be selected for extermination, or he would fall back in formation and be shot, or he would stop eating or drinking. When the will to meaning was abandoned — when all hope was lost — the person was literally doomed. Man cannot live without hope.

Yet this truth can be stated conversely: even in the cruelest, the most atrocious, the most miserable of circumstances, if man has hope, he has life. If this is true on the natural level, it is much more true on the supernatural level. If a man has Christian hope, he has everlasting life. We are indeed, in St. Paul’s words, spe salvi — “saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24).

Hope is a virtue that changes everything. It changes the way we think, the way we act, the way we live. In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI puts it simply, “The one who has hope lives differently.”76 Even if he should be sent to the gas chamber, a man with Christian hope is a man who has been saved. St. Maximilian Kolbe understood this, which is why he sang songs of praise to our Lord even as the Nazis starved him to death.

Returning to Frankl’s observations of his fellow death-camp prisoners: in order to face their horrifying present situation, the prisoners needed some sense that a future might await them, a future that promised something better than the present. This insight is congruent with these words of Pope Benedict on hope: “We have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”77

Pope Benedict goes on to say that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.”78 This can be applied analogously even to those who are not baptized: although the theological virtue of hope is the ultimate safeguard of human happiness on this earth, natural human hope is the starting point for theological hope and is itself ennobled by the presence of Christian hope in the world.

The sense of a foreshortened future, of a future that appears only dark, which many experience in the depressed state, is not our true reality; it is merely a trick of the diseased mind. Without hope in the present, man cannot live toward the future. Why, for example, do we see rising rates of depression, as well as rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, among teenagers today? Because many of them do not sense that they have a future. The present feels unbearable to them, and they have no hope to orient them.

In an address to the bishops of Japan, Pope Benedict remarked: “Young people especially are at risk of being deceived by the glamour of modern secular culture. Yet, like all the greater and lesser hopes that appear on first sight to promise so much (cf. Spe Salvi, 30), this turns out to be a false hope — and tragically, disillusion not infrequently leads to depression and despair, even to suicide. If their youthful energy and enthusiasm can be directed towards the things of God, which alone are sufficient to satisfy their deepest longings, more young people will be inspired to commit their lives to Christ.”79

Hope cannot be merely a nice theoretical idea. It is a virtue that has very practical, everyday consequences for our life. Cultivating and sustaining hope is a central task in the process of recovery from depression, and perhaps the most demanding and challenging. Regarding the practical consequences of living in hope, Pope Benedict teaches that the Christian message of hope does not just tell us something: it is not just informative; it also changes the way we live. It is performative: “That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known — it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.”80

Finding hope need not be complicated; it can be remarkably simple. Consider the case of a young father who was struggling with depression because of a debilitating physical condition that kept him from working. As a result he was at home with his youngest daughter. He related later that just seeing the face and constant smile of his joyful girl was enough to instill in him sufficient hope for the day. Our reasons for hope may be right there in front of us, if only we have eyes to see.

While many of us can rattle off the three theological virtues, hope is often the forgotten middle of the three. We hear much preached about faith and about love, but we hear less about the virtue of hope. What exactly is hope? The Compendium of the Catechism defines it succinctly: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.”81

Let us unpack this definition. First, hope involves desiring happiness. This, of course, is not hard for us. In fact, it is impossible not to desire happiness, as we know from our own experience. Aristotle maintains that the desire for happiness lies at the foundation of every human action. The person suffering from depression, of course, wants nothing more than to recover the capacity for happiness, for spiritual joy. But this happiness consists ultimately in only one thing: eternal life with God. Every person, whether he knows it or not, is seeking God, because everyone is seeking perfect happiness and fulfillment, which can be found ultimately in God alone. Our search for happiness can go astray when we mistakenly place our hope in something that cannot deliver. But this fundamental desire for happiness — this desire for God — remains, even when we go astray. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Hope, according to the definition just cited, involves placing our trust in Christ, relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit, and persevering to the end of our life — all for the sake of eternal life, which only God can grant. What are we to make of these words, eternal life? Many of our contemporaries wonder: Is eternal life something worth hoping for? The depressed person may have difficulty with the idea of looking for his happiness beyond the present world and placing his definitive hope in the next life. Perhaps this very thought has crossed our minds, especially in times of difficulty or temptation, or during periods of depression or despair: Is the effort toward holiness worthwhile? Is the goal of eternal life worth the sacrifices made in this life? Drawing on the writings of St. Augustine, Pope Benedict responds to this question: “Ultimately we want only one thing . . . the life which is simply ‘happiness’ . . . In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.”82

The very fact that in this life the human heart remains restless — that it is vulnerable to anxiety, depression, demoralization, and despair — is a clue to the human need for hope and a clue to our ultimate destiny in God. All we can experience in this life falls short of this restless yearning. The man knocking at the brothel door will not find there what his restless heart truly desires. The man downing another bottle of gin will not find at the bottom what his heart thirsts for. The man popping another narcotic pill will not experience what his heart hungers for. God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest finally in Him.

We are reaching here beyond what words can adequately express. Benedict XVI observes: The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown.” Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.83

To appreciate fully the meaning of eternal life, we have to try to get outside our usual ways of thinking and our usual experiences. Pope Benedict says: “To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt.

We simply cannot extrapolate to a vision of eternal life from our typical earthly existence, even on the best of days. Reaching beyond our words and concepts, Pope Benedict takes a stab at expressing what the term eternal life might actually signify: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of God, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”84

77 Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Spe salvi, no. 1.
78 Ibid., no. 2.
79 Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Japan on their “Ad limina” Visit, December 17, 2007.
80 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 2.
81 Compendium of the Catechism, no. 387.
82 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 12.
83 Ibid., no. 12.
84 Ibid.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 210-216). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 3, The Theological Virtue of Hope

wallpaper-gospel-faith-hope-love

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” -Dante Alighieri’s inscription on the entrance to Hell, and maybe, just maybe, if “Our Hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven & Earth!” (Ps 124:8), that is EXACTLY what Hell is?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -1 Cor 13:13

I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” relating his experiences and personal, formative revelations while a prisoner of conscience in Auschwitz while I was in high school. Not because it was assigned, but because I just wanted to. The most astonishing revelation to the reader of this powerful work is Dr. Frankl watching who did and did not survive, among those not killed directly by the Nazis through their various and hideous means.

He concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. ” (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, had a great talent they still needed to express, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.

But “…meaning must be found and cannot be given.” (1, p. 112) Meaning is like laughter, he says: You cannot force someone to laugh, you must tell him a joke! The same applies to faith, hope, and love — they cannot be be brought forth by an act of will, our own or someone else’s.

So we attempt to fill our existential vacuums with “stuff” that, because it provides some satisfaction, we hope will provide ultimate satisfaction as well: We might try to fill our lives with pleasure, eating beyond all necessity, having promiscuous sex, living “the high life;” or we might seek power, especially the power represented by monetary success; or we might fill our lives with “busy-ness,” conformity, conventionality; or we might fill the vacuum with anger and hatred and spend our days attempting to destroy what we think is hurting us.

We might also fill our lives with certain neurotic “vicious cycles,” such as obsession with germs and cleanliness, or fear-driven obsession with a phobic object. Or, we self-medicate through alcohol, drugs, etc., just to numb the pain of our emptiness. Perhaps this is Hell as it truly is, without hope, forever, for eternity, outside the dimension of time? The defining quality of these vicious cycles is that, whatever we do, it is never enough. ONLY JESUS satisfies. ONLY JESUS. ONLY JESUS. Thank you, Lord! Thank YOU!!!

Martin Luther, while an Augustinian monk, began to lose hope in penance and good works as having any efficacy for the baptized, literally in God’s great mercy. Rather, he adopted the view, obsessively, that all of mankind were hopeless and wretched sinners before the sight of God, unworthy of salvation – literally, the “steaming pile of dung”, if you are familiar with that phrasing. Covered like snow by Christ’s redemption, hidden from God, having no worthwhile quality unto it’s own self. He carried everything to such an extreme that his superiors were worried about him. He wore out his confessor with marathon sessions of confessing, going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. His confessor, Father Staupitz, told him: “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery -instead of all these peccadilloes.” Fr. Staupitz also, further insisted with Martin: “We are commanded to hope!”

Catholicism differs in this perspective holding fast to the ancient understanding that God’s creation is GOOD!!!! Wounded by Original Sin, but, still, inherently GOOD!!! And, God LOVES His Creation, because it is HIS, and He declared/declares it GOOD!! (Gen 1:31) In the present tense, because to the Catholic mind, ALL Creation continues to be held in existence by the mind of God. If God stopped thinking about Creation, it would disappear – poof!!! 🙂

We are commanded to hope by the first part of the Greatest Commandment, namely, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with ALL your heart! ALL your mind! ALL your soul!” You cannot, truly, love the Lord your God with everything you have, and then turn around and say, “There is NO hope!” No. Truly. Our hope is in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!!! Amen. Amen. Counter-pointedly, if there is no God Who loves you, what exactly IS the point of ALL of this? There is none.

“The third, and most important, protective factor conferred by Christian faith is the indispensable theological virtue of hope, bestowed in Baptism and subsequently developed in the life of faith. Christianity offers hope in the midst of difficulties and pain. Through our faith, in hope, we can find redemptive value even in and through suffering. The psychiatrist Aaron Beck…did a long-term prospective study of eight hundred suicidal patients to determine which risk factors were most closely linked to suicide. He studied individuals who had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt or for suicidal thinking.

Beck managed to follow these patients for the next ten years to see who survived and who eventually completed suicide. In trying to find the key differences between the survivors and those who died by suicide, Beck examined the patients’ diagnoses, the number and type of mental and medical symptoms, the degree of physical pain a person was in, social and economic factors, and so on. The results surprised some behavioral scientists.

The one factor most predictive of suicide was not how sick the person was, or how many symptoms he exhibited, or how much pain he was in. The most dangerous factor was a person’s sense of hopelessness. The patients who believed their situation was utterly without hope were the most likely candidates for completing suicide. There is no prescription or medical procedure for instilling hope. This is the domain of the revelation of God’s loving goodness and baptismal efficacy. We can have a natural sort of hope when things clearly appear hopeful. But when our situation appears or feels hopeless, the only hope that can sustain us is supernatural — the theological virtue of hope, which can be infused only by God’s grace.“2

1. Frankl, V. E. (1975). The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Originally published in 1948 as Der unbewusste Gott. Republished in 1997 as Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.)

2. Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 98-99). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, hope, and prayers for you, and those you love. Pray for me, and mine, please. Let us ALL put ALL our hope and trust in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!
Matthew

Dec 25 – The Incarnation & The Theological Virtues

Theological-Virtues

Founding Mothers & Fathers of the United States were trained in Virtues, literally, as children.  It was foundational to their education.  See books by Bill Bennett.  The Virtues led and formed the framework in their alphabetical training, reading, and writing.  It does not bode well, this practice & these virtues have fallen out of practice/ fashion in their creation, imho.

In Christian philosophy, theological virtues are the character qualities associated with salvation. The three theological virtues are:

  • Faith – steadfastness in belief.
  • Hope – expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair and capability of not giving up.
  • Love – selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving-kindness such as helping one’s neighbors.

They occur in the Bible at 1 Corinthians 13:13.

In Catholic theology, it is held that these virtues differ from the Cardinal Virtues in that they can not be obtained by human effort. A person can only receive them by their being “infused”—through Divine grace—into the person.

The theological virtues are so named because the object of these virtues is the divine being (theos). Other virtues have vice at their extremes, and are only virtues when they are maintained between these extremes. In the case of the Theological Virtues, they do not contribute to vice at the positive extreme; that is, there is no vice in having an unlimited amount of faith, hope, or love, when God is the object of that virtue.  (Ed. There is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” with the Theological Virtues, as their ultimate aim is God, Himself.)

More than one vice can be the opposite of each theological virtue:

  • Lack of faith may give place to incredulity (as in atheism and agnosticism), blasphemy or apostasy.
  • Lack of hope may give place to despair or cynicism.
  • Lack of love may give place to hatred, wrath or indifference.

Symbolism:

Theological Virtues are often depicted in art as young women. The symbols most often associated with them are:

Faith – cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle
Hope – anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm
Charity – flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit

john_sica
-by Br John Sica, OP

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the fittingness of the Incarnation in several reasons, including how it raises our minds and hearts to an increase in faith, hope, and charity. Here I highlight a few of these reasons with respect to the Nativity of Christ and its manifestation.

1. Faith.

Faith, as St. Thomas defines it, is the habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the will assent to what is non-apparent. Faith rests in God as First Truth Speaking. St. Thomas says that faith “is made more certain by believing God Himself Who speaks.” In Jesus Christ, we literally hear God’s own words, from His own mouth. St. Augustine says that, “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.”

But note that Jesus became an object of faith before He began His public ministry. Indeed, Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms and proclaims Him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32). St. Thomas says that “the Magi were the ‘first-fruits of the Gentiles,’ who were to believe in Christ.” Simeon’s prophecy was already fulfilled in the Magi, who sought Him in response to the sign of the star and who did Him homage.

2. Hope.

Consider what hope is. The theological virtue of hope relies firmly on God for what is necessary for eternal life. In hope, our human will clings to the goodness of God for us. Augustine says, “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” Why should the Incarnation correspond to hope, as St. Augustine suggests? In hope, we formally depend on God’s merciful omnipotence: that He is omnipotent shows us that He can save us, and that He is merciful—as shown by the Incarnation—shows us that He wants to.

In the Incarnation, God pulls out all the stops. One Dominican commentator has noted that “no greater way is intelligible by which God could communicate Himself to the creature” than by uniting human nature to His Person. Seeing the Christ child in the manger, we know that God took the most extreme means to save us from sin, and we have confidence that He will continue to offer us the means to be rescued from our sin and given sanctifying grace.

3. Love.

While hope clings to God as good for us, charity clings to God as good in Himself. The divine goodness is what primarily motivates us to charity. But secondarily, St. Thomas explains, it is aimed at “other reasons that inspire us with love for Him, or which make it our duty to love Him,” and these “are secondary and result from the first.” The Incarnation is the greatest of these secondary reasons. The history of Christ’s Nativity and infancy counts powerfully towards this. Seeing that Christ became a weak and helpless infant becomes, for us, a motive to love in return. As Augustine said, “If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.”

Love breaks forth in acts of joy and peace. We experience joy in the possession of the good and peace when we are at concord, even within ourselves. At the Nativity the angels announce good news of a “great joy” (Lk 2:10), and their hymn of praise wishes “peace” among men of good will (Lk 2:14). All of this is because the Savior is born in the city of David, whose Nativity incites us to the acts and effects of love.”

Love,
Matthew