Just a quick note to let you know that I am reading your comments and I am so sorry I have not been able to reply to any of them. I have been super busy recently with work and I am getting busier. I am also taking college courses online and trying to maintain an active social life and daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament for lent. I appreciate the comments, though, and I am glad if my random thinking could help anyone.
Friday, March 22, 2013
XXIX. This insight from Mother Teresa is pretty exciting to me. There is a time for soul searching and laborious discernment of God’s will, but that is not how we were meant to live our entire lives. That is a recipe for a life wasted in uncertainty, immobilized by fear. Instead I am meant to love God, and then follow my heart, trusting that He is shaping that heart according to His plan. So it turns out that trust really is the answer, following the good that is given in this moment, confident that it was given to me because it, and nothing else, is what I need right now. Following the path that God has set my feet on, knowing that He is in control. Why should I worry about it? Has He ever violated my freedom? Never! Has He ever forced me to do anything? Never. Everything that He has led me to do, I have chosen. I didn’t always know He was leading me, but it becomes clear in retrospect. I did not know the right choice, but I did it. God does not require my certainty, only my trust. Blessed Be HE.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
XXVIII. The Path to Sanctity hidden at my feet is never very well hidden. This morning I was on duty watching the Ops Center, a three hour block of absolutely nothing to do. So I took the time to say a rosary, since that much spare time is a luxury. As I was saying the rosary people started coming in and out, and one of them wanted to sit and talk about things to do in Bangkok, Mao Tse Tung, and Nelson Mandela. My first instinct was to be irritated and grouchy. After all, he is interrupting my prayers, and as interesting as Mao and Mandela are (Gandhi joined the party as well and even MLK Jr. put in a cameo) the Rosary is more important. But there, as glorious as a good joke at a funeral, is the common sense of Mother Teresa. The rosary is Higher. God in that moment declared that I needed the lower, by sending me a person who wanted to talk about interesting but not particularly spiritual things. This way, and not any other way, is how I am called to serve God in this moment. Who am I to argue?
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
XXVII. So I am trying to apply Mother Teresa’s principle to my own life, and I am beginning to see that it is at once intensely practical, and at the same time profoundly spiritual. It is based on trust in God, and compatible not only with the sense of personal smallness and brokenness that was a mark of Mother Teresa’s spiritual life, but also with a powerful realization of the dignity inherent in me as a child of God. To put a concrete set of circumstances to an abstract principle, I like to go to daily Mass. When I am in the states, work permitting I go to Mass every day, and sometimes make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament as well. These are not merely good things, but holy things. They are a partaking in the source and summit of redeemed human life on earth, so at first glance it would seem that they should be my top priority and anything that prevents me from going to Mass should be eliminated from my life. However, looking at it through the lens of Mother Teresa’s humility and trust, I find a new way of looking at it. When I am deployed I am very often unable to get to Mass, even on Sundays. In Afghanistan I went three months one time without ever seeing a priest. If I were to follow my logic about Mass being the highest priority I would have to get out of the Army, (which I plan on doing anyway, but that’s beside the point) so that I would never have to miss Mass again. But following Mother Teresa’s dictum of sanctification within my state-in-life I am forced to acknowledge that I don’t really know what I need. Mass and Adoration are great goods. In fact they are the highest goods in this life, or in the next even. But God has placed me here, where I am, and not there. What I do in the Chapel is objectively higher than what I do on mission, but God has placed me on mission, not in the Chapel. Trust in Him entails humbly accepting that spiritual privation and looking for the path to sanctity hidden at my feet.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
XXVI. Mother Teresa did not allow her nuns to fast. In many religious communities, fasting is a normal part of the spiritual development of the individual, and monks and nuns, and even lay persons have a long tradition of voluntary fasting in reparation for sins. Mother Teresa, however, categorically forbade any voluntary fasting. So here you have one of the holiest women of the last century forbidding a practice that centuries of spiritual directors have regarded as essential for the pursuit of spiritual growth. Mother Teresa, however, was well aware of the pedigree of this discipline, and had practiced it herself during her pre-MC days. She forbade it not because it is bad, but because it was not what they were called to. The charism of the Missionaries of Charity is service to the poorest of the poor and to accomplish this they needed to be healthy and strong. The diet of the MC’s is plain to the utmost, but Mother Theresa insisted that whenever possible it be enough to sustain the sisters for a full day out in the street, and no nun was allowed to turn away her portion in the name of spiritual growth. They were meant to find spiritual growth in the exercise of their vocation, and nowhere else.
Monday, March 18, 2013
XXV. The principle of non-competitiveness comes most directly into questions about relationships with fellow human beings. Our protestant brothers and sisters are afraid that in loving the saints, and especially the Virgin Mary, we will be tempted into idolatry. Some Catholics with overly spiritual tendencies fear that by cultivating close human relationships they will be tempted to forget their relationship with God. Both excesses are certainly possible, but not if we keep our first principle first, which is “To love the Lord Your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole strength.” Since God cannot be in competition with His creatures, and in fact identifies Himself so strongly with His children as to say, “whatever you did for them, you did for me”, it stands to reason that in loving any other human being we are loving Him. Even when I love myself, I am loving Him. When God is loved first, every human is loved for His sake, and every act of love, great or small, is an act of love for God. No one would suggest that if I hug my sister I have taken a hug away from my mother. In fact, my parents are most honored by love between their siblings. With God this reality goes even deeper. Whenever I hug another human with real love, I am hugging God, literally and in actual fact.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
XXIV. God cannot be in competition with His creatures. This is a principle I learned from Fr. Robert Barron’s “Catholicism.” It simply means that God, being infinite and the base of all existence, simply cannot compete with His creatures. In order for competition to take place there must be some common ground, something that both sides need, some battlefield for them to meet on. But with God, there is nothing we can take away from Him, no resource we both need that we can argue about. He can only give and give and give because He is love. So as C. S. Lewis would say, it is not strictly speaking, possible to love any good thing too much. It is not that we love the things of earth too much, but that we love God too little. When we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, everything else falls into place. Everything else works together for good for us, precisely because we love God first.
Friday, March 15, 2013
XXIII. The balance between affirmation and rejection is not the most important question. The most important question is not a question of balance at all, but of throwing the whole weight of our resolve and intention into loving God. Once that is our top priority, anything else we can possibly do will be good for “All things work together for good, to them that love the Lord.” There is a specific kind of grace which the Church calls “Grace of State.” This is the grace proper to the state in life of the person who receives it, which helps them to discharge the duties of that state fully and in a holy manner, whether that person is a priest or a human waste disposal specialist. The Church teaches that no matter what your state in life, God sends you the grace especially tailored to that situation. Furthermore, that situation is the path to Holiness for you. Fr. Dwight Longenecker refers to the lesser earthly goods as a “ladder” to get to heaven, and tells those who are in danger of despising them through an overly spiritual pride “This is your state in life. That is your ladder. If you kick the ladder away, how do you expect to get to heaven?” God does call us through the goods of this world. In fact, it is His preferred method, if sheer numbers are any indication.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
XXII. In order to be authentically human, every life must contain a mixture of both affirmation and rejection. I am not sure why, but to me the word “holiness” is always subconsciously attached to the idea of rejection, so that even the idea of praying for something I want feels subtly wrong, somehow. However this prejudice comes about, when looked at in the bright light of day, it is not compatible with the teaching of the Church. It contains traces of Manichaeism and Rigorism, and on close inspection there is even a good deal of old-fashioned pride mixed in. It is not a positive attraction to a higher good, but a negative distrust of lower goods. However, these lower goods were created by God specifically to be a path to Heaven. He put them here, not as stumbling blocks but as stepping stones. Angels do not require stepping stones but I am not called to be an Angel. I am called to be Human, fully and authentically human. Stepping stones are part of the glory of being human.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
XXI. The lack of understanding is really the point of this series of questions. Trust is easy to explain, hard to do. Understanding is hard to explain, but once you explain it, everything else gets a whole lot easier. Unfortunately I am still uncertain as to how to draw a precise balance between what Charles Williams would call the “Way of Affirmation” and the “Way of Rejection.” The one thing this series has done so far (it ain’t over yet) is to bring three ideas to bear on it: 1) In order to be authentically human, every life must contain some of both. 2) The balance between the two is not the most important question. 3) God cannot be in competition with His creatures.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
XX. It shouldn’t be terrifying, but it is. Why? Two reasons that I can think of: 1) Lack of understanding and 2) Lack of trust. The lack of trust is easiest to explain, hardest to accomplish. God loves me. This I know. I do not feel it, much of the time, but I have seen it. I can recall specific instances of it in my life. I chose to believe it in my sanest moments and that belief has never been proven wrong. All of these doubts are simply that, doubts. They are not proof of God’s indifference. That is only a feeling, but I have reason and will. By God’s grace they will choose trust and the feelings can come along for the ride. Or not. Whichever. Who needs them anyway?
Monday, March 11, 2013
XIX. And now I get to the question that has been nagging at me since I started writing this series. It is the question that prompted this questioning in the first place: How do I walk that line? What is the proper balance between the ordinary and the Lenten in my day to day life, and in my choice of vocation? Even to say, “Choice of vocation” is almost a contradiction in terms, in the strict etymological sense of the words. After all, how can I in any sense at all “choose” where God is going to call me? The word vocation means “call” and the call is entirely at the discretion of the One who calls, is it not? If I look at it that way I cannot choose my vocation at all, but only my response. I’m not going to lie, that is an oppressive thought. It crushes my spirit just entertaining the notion that God has laid out a path for me and is inexorably calling me to it, and my only choice is to surrender or shirk that responsibility. But it truly is a fearsome, burdensome thought. The feeling is very intense, a mixture of doubt (how can I ever know what He wants?) fear (What if He wants me to do something I don’t want to do?) shame (I may not want to do what He wants. I am not holy, and never can be) and finally oppression (I don’t have a choice in the matter. I can never be free.)
Saturday, March 9, 2013
XVIII. I think one of the things that I should do from this position of detachment (or from as close to it as I can get) is to look at daily life through clearer eyes. This is Lenten life, the life of expectant emptiness. Some people are called to live their whole lives in this way. In the final analysis, the distinction I’ve made between “daily life” and “Lenten life” is purely symbolic. There should be a little bit of Lent in every day of my life, and little bit of the ordinary even on Good Friday, if only to symbolize that Jesus did not come to destroy our nature but to redeem it. Those who hope to leave our nature utterly behind at the Resurrection will be sorely disappointed. The Risen Lord ate fish, after all. Cooked some fish too, as a matter of fact. Did He have to eat? No. But I think He probably enjoyed it. That is the ultimate freedom to enjoy, I think. The ability of the Risen Lord to eat or not eat as He chooses for all eternity. But I digress. Even taken on a broader view, there is no life no matter how ordinary that does not have some Lent in it. We all die in the end, if nothing else, and on that day, like it or not, ready or not, we will go through the final detachment from all earthly goods. It would probably be good to practice once or twice before then. And no life, no matter how Lenten it is, is without a little bit of the ordinary. Most mystics eat at least sometimes. Even the ones who went for years with nothing but the Eucharist passing their lips still breathed air. They still inhabited ordinary bodies, with sweat glands and flatulence. The balance
Friday, March 8, 2013
XVII. But just as death has deep beauty and meaning only because of the death and resurrection of our Blessed Lord, so Lent has meaning only because of the resurrection. Ordinary sacrifice is simply good sense for this world, regardless of how much supernatural help I need to accomplish it due to my fallen nature. But the extraordinary sacrifice of Lent should be a looking ahead to the resurrection. Without the resurrection, Lent is meaningless. It is a rehearsal for death, to be sure, but death is important to us primarily because it is the path to resurrection. If we were not looking forward to being filled, it would make no sense to empty ourselves. This is another partaking in the calling of those who give up the goods of this world for the sake of the Kingdom. The celibate religious gives up marriage because he or she looks forward to the day when they “neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” Marriage itself, as great as it is, will one day pass away (whether that means that it will simply vanish or be sublimed into a new reality is another question. I think the second is the more likely, but that’s neither here nor there.) They accept on faith that marriage between one man and one woman is only a sign, and that the ultimate source of joy is the marriage of the Trinity with the Human Person. In a bold leaping forward they choose (or are chosen) to go straight to the source, bypassing signs and symbols, and receive God here and now as their all in all. In a shadow of this, Lent calls me to set aside some good thing which is really only a shadow of God (and that is the only reason I love it in the first place) and spend that time and effort in searching for God as directly and as intimately as I can.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
XVI. Lent is an upward call to rest totally in God. I’m beginning to see it as a temporary partaking in the calling of those whose lives are Lenten lives. Priests, nuns, and religious all give up worldly goods, some more so than others, but all to an extent far surpassing even the holiest of lay people (not because the holiness of lay people is less, but because it follows a different route.) Lent is a time for me to share their calling, even if it is only for forty days, and only in a symbolic way. But to do that I have to understand why it is they give up all these good things. It is not (as I’ve already seen on much lower levels) because these things are bad. If someone gives up marriage because he despises it that is not an upward call but a sign of serious issues. Just like me with the passing bikini babe, I may not value her body less, so I must love her soul more, so on a much higher level a man called to the celibacy of the priesthood does not value marriage and family less. He simply values something else more. The fact of his still valuing the great and holy good of marriage is the sacrifice. So Lent calls me, not to give up something that has become an idol, (I should have been doing that the rest of the year) but to give up something that is good, ordered, and in its proper place. It calls me to look forward to the end of my life when, perforce, all of those goods will be stripped away, and I will stand before God naked, vulnerable and absolutely alone. Lent is a rehearsal for death.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
XV. If the business of day-to-day life is the redemption of my fallen nature, trying to recapture to some extent the effortless wisdom of unfallen humanity, Lent is something else altogether. All through the year I am striving simply to live at an unfallen human level, but Lent calls us higher and deeper than that. Instead of simply ordering my natural desires and pursuing the most valuable, during Lent I am called to detachment. Detachment is far more than giving up pizza for a time so that I can be healthy and free to enjoy it more fully. It is more than giving up my computer games to make time to spend with family. Those are proper to the conduct of everyday life. If I were truly wise I would choose that as a way of life. Lent, however, is about detaching from natural goods in the pursuit of supernatural goods. It is not simply rising to Adam and Eve’s level of life (though that reclaiming of our nature alone is supernatural enough) but rather, Lent looks forward to the supernatural destiny I have been called to. So the things I give up are not given up for their own sake, but as a symbol of their ultimate insufficiency. It is an acknowledgement that “My heart is restless until it rests in thee.” The denial of a lesser good symbolizes that God is the only good ultimately capable of satisfying my heart.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
XIV. So if the discipline of day-to-day life is all about re-ordering our hearts to choose the most valuable, how does the infinite value of the human person relate to that goal? Well, here is one concrete example of that re-ordering. I mentioned bikini babes in passing in a previous post, and some of the responses possible to them. Probably the most common response is to devalue both the person and the sexual urge by objectifying them and grasping after them through lust. A less common but equally dis-ordered response would be to devalue them by resenting and despising them, sneering at the temptation as it were. Both of these are “normal” responses, in the sense that they are common to our fallen nature. But the business of life is to rise above that fallen nature. The next level up is what we might call truly natural, in which the person is seen and loved regardless of her dress and actions. We do not devalue the body, we value it truly because we value something else more. This is truly natural, it is the way we were designed to function, but thanks to our fallen nature our actions fall short. Adam and Eve would have done this naturally. For us, even though it is simply rising to the most natural human level, still it requires supernatural intervention. It requires grace.
Monday, March 4, 2013
XIII. What does the infinite worth of the human person have to do with detachment? Well, it’s a matter of priority. If wisdom is, (as I define it) the virtue of choosing that which is most valuable, then a proper understanding of people is a necessary part of wisdom. Put it quite simply, a person is more valuable than a thing. Since a person’s worth is infinite, and the worth of a thing is finite, it is logical to assume that even the smallest person is worth more than even the greatest thing. In fact, one person is worth more than all of the things. Imagine all of the things that you would like to have. Suppose I was given the chance to receive a billion of the things that we call dollars, if only I was willing to insult someone on the street that I didn’t know. Let’s say all I had to do was walk up to a prostitute and call her a whore. That would still not be worth it. She is worth more than all the dollars that ever were or ever will be, so I would be selling her dignity far too cheaply.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
XII. JPII defines a person as “that which does not admit of being used.” This means that a person can never be a means, only an end. He also says the each person is called to a unique, exclusive and unrepeatable relationship with God. Each person is the result of an absolutely singular thought of the Divine Godhead. Each person that I meet in my life, including the ones I don’t even notice because I’m too busy watching my own feet and thinking deep thoughts, has been literally loved into existence by God Himself, and redeemed by the blood of Jesus on the Cross. That annoying snob that isn’t worth my time is well worth Jesus’ time. He sits night and day in the Tabernacle waiting for that annoying snob to come and pay a visit. I shouldn’t wonder at that. After all, He does the same for me.
Friday, March 1, 2013
XI. So now it is time to take these thoughts to the next level. So far I’ve been thinking mainly about how practicing detachment from material or sensual goods, far from being an indictment against them, is actually the road to true appreciation of them. But that is only the beginning. There are things in life greater, far greater, than material or sensual goods. Even the most sublime created thing, representative though it may be of transcendental realities, is essentially finite. However there exist in our world created beings (not things) which are infinite and as such far outweigh even the most brilliant pizza ever made. I speak, of course, of people.