Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Myrrh is Mine, Its Bitter Perfume


Holy Women at Christ's Tomb by Annibale Carracci 

One of the fruits of contemplative prayer is that God reveals who you are to Him while also giving you glimpses of who He is. At the same time, the mystery of God becomes greater and the more you know, the less you know. It's a divine paradox where the mystery of God increases and never lessens.  Maybe it's because even the smallest glimpse helps us see that the true wonder and beauty of God cannot be revealed in this world, nor can it be measured, and the slightest lifting of the veil increases the mystery of who He is. How this "divine paradox" reveals to us who WE are is beyond me, but it does so in an ever widening manner. It sounds like a wonderful thing (and it is) but it's also a terrible and painful thing and can only be borne through the grace and mercy of God. One of the hardest parts is becoming more aware of our sins and seeing the horror of our accord with evil and how the beauty of our humanity is defaced by that accord with it. There's no way we can face such a thing without mercy. No possible way. We would die, I suspect. I mean, who could bear the disgrace that comes with the knowledge that we have defaced the image of Christ in both ourselves and others and have done so time and time again? Knowledge is a powerful thing but also a painful thing and without mercy we could not bear it.

Praised be the Heart of Jesus, overloaded with my opprobium. And your opprobium as well.

I defaced the image of Christ in my brethren. I was the hammer that crucified His flesh. I placed that thorny crown upon his brow. I am the sword that pierced His side. 

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. There are no other words for this. How could there be? Yes, much we do in our ignorance but it is still done and must be repaired.

Who could  bear seeing the innate (albeit often blemished these days) beauty of our brothers and sisters while also seeing our participation in destroying this beauty. Who could ever accept such a thing? 

We could not and cannot, so He did.  

This grace (and it is indeed a grace) that is one of the fruits of contemplative prayer may seem to be  overwhelming but it is not, thanks to Christ's redemption. There is a release that comes with true repentance and it's a powerful one that lays waste to the world's lies about both yourself and others. You'll never see things in the same way again.

Yes, myrrh is mine, and it is yours as well, the perfume of its sorrow and repentance both bitter and sweet. May its divine odor permeate our souls completely and may the fragrance of our repentant hearts reach the throne room of God.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Interior Life


Matiya Bradaska - Wikimedia Commons 

Think about this for a moment: We all talk to ourselves when our minds aren't occupied with something else, though this inner conversation can look different from person to person. It's kind of funny and even a bit sad, if you think about it. I've always wondered why man does this, why he has secret and sometimes odd conversations with himself, but that's not the important part. The important part is not the "why" of inner dialogue but the "with whom" of inner dialogue. I've learned some interesting things about our inner conversations, how it changes over time (if we cooperate with grace), and what it becomes: an intimate and constant conversation with God. Conversation may not even be the right word because it goes far beyond speaking and has more to do with leaning into God and listening with your heart. 

But how does this prayerful listening come about? How does our inner dialogue move from a conversation with oneself to one with with God?

It comes about through the infused gifts of the Holy Spirit and a person's growing union with God. It progresses through the three stages of the interior life (purgative, illuminative, unitive) until it reaches perfect union with God. 

According to Fr. Garrigou Lagrange, our interior conversation reveals to us a great deal about ourselves. For example, he states, "If a man is fundamentally egotistical, his intimate conversation with himself is inspired by sensuality or pride. He converses with himself about the object of his cupidity, of his envy..." In other words, his inner conversation is focused on himself and his inordinate attachments, whatever those things might be. He has set himself up as his own god so, it goes without saying, that his inner conversation will always be focused on himself. His life, his resentments, his wants, his happiness, his frustration, etc...

This inner conversation begins to change when a man is converted and begins to pray. It tends to be a long process with much purification needed. 

A good example of how the movement of prayer switches from (I can't resist using these words) "self prayer or self contemplation" or "anti-contemplation" in a soul not in a state of grace to dialogue with God comes in the progressive stages of prayer: no prayer at all moves to vocal prayer, to mental prayer, to affective prayer, then to acquired contemplation (simple gaze), and then to infused prayer which originates with God, not man. The movement is away from self and towards God and as he grows in the love of God, this love manifests in his interior life by a growing dialogue with God, whether with or without words, as in contemplative prayer. This process happens through the activation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and an increase in the infused virtues by which the imagination/memory, the intellect, and the will are purified. 

"The interior life is precisely an elevation and a transformation of the intimate conversation that everyone has with himself as soon as it tends to become a conversation with God." (Fr. Garrigou- Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Unmasking of Self-love


Young Nun at Prayer by Sergio Gribkov

What is self-love but a strong or subtle preference for self over God and others, right? When we consider it, all sin has self-love as its root. One of the reasons for the passive nights of sense and spirit is the putting to death (or the purification) of the self-love that pervades many of our thoughts and acts. Without these passive purifications, there is no union with God. We think we do things for God alone but when God unmasks our true motivations, we find that self-love is secretly at work in us. Even the road to "perfection" is tainted with this love of self. It's difficult when God brings this to light and we may find that we become filled with disgust for ourselves, but this disgust is also a hidden mark of self-love. However, better a hearty distrust and disgust at the crafty workings of self-love than not recognizing that it is at work in us at all. 

St. John of the Cross unmasks this secret preference for one's self in The Dark Night of the Soul. In both the night of sense and the night of the spirit, God slowly reveals to us these sly manifestations of self-love. And I use the word "sly" because they often fool us in their subtlety. We may think we are doing things for the love of God alone, only to be shocked when God reveals that often vainglory is the driver. We prefer to be seen by others as "good" rather than the sinners that we really are. We have a secret preoccupation with ourselves, whether it's our sufferings, our needs and wants, or even our "spiritual perfection". To prove this secret preference for self, we can ask ourselves a simple question: If God chose to bring us to holiness through the path of ignominy instead of as an "upright, holy example" to others, would it disappoint us? Many of us would probably say yes. And yet, to save us, Jesus suffered the painful humiliation of the Cross, was despised and spat upon, mocked, and even his clothes were divided among his persecutors. The ways of the world are not God's ways.  

One of the more secret manifestations of self-love comes through our spiritual pride. The letters of Archbishop Francois Fenelon contain piercing insights into the nature of this self-love and the need for its crucifixion: "There is something very hidden and very deceptive in your suffering. For while you seem to yourself to be wholly occupied with the glory of God, in your inmost soul it is self alone that is the cause of all your trouble. You are, indeed, desirous that God would be glorified. However, you want Him to be glorified by means of your perfection. In reality, you cherish the sentiments of self-love. It is simply a refined pretext for dwelling on self." 

It is predominantly during the dark night of the senses, and later, during the dark night of the spirit, that these more "refined pretexts" are exposed and this exposure often causes us great suffering when it really should not surprise us at all, if we take St. John and numerous other saints at their word. They have stated these truths over and over and it is merely wishful thinking on our part to believe that we  are not affected by spiritual pride, vanity, spiritual gluttony, and the like. Think of our love for consolations and our preference for them over aridity, for example. Think of our focus on the flowery and exciting aspects of the mystical life rather than the heart of it, which is the painful death of self-love and growth in true holiness and the love of God. Self-love does not die easily and usually moans and groans every step of the way. It's one of the reasons why we suffer from desolation so much. What is desolation anyway but the dying of self-love in us? The humble deal with periods of desolation much more easily than the proud. Unfortunately, I am one of the proud, and have had a hard time accepting this sword that slices "even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow" as it discerns "reflections and thoughts of the heart". I come up short more often than not. 

If there is any true consolation underlining all our sufferings on this path to holiness it is this: the understanding that God is the source of all goodness and that this "perfection" is His perfection and ours is but a share in the holiness that is innate to His very nature. It is this understanding of God's perfect love that allows us to willingly abandon ourselves into His hands, trusting in His goodness rather than listening to the constant clamoring of self-love that insists that holiness is our doing. When we begin to grasp this, it becomes easier and easier to trust in the wisdom of God rather than the musings of  the self-love that lead us astray and away from the cross. 

 You cannot escape it, wherever you run. For wherever you go you carry yourself with you, and will always find yourself. Turn upwards or turn downwards, turn inwards or turn outwards: everywhere you will find the cross.                      Thomas A Kempis

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Deadly Sin of Vainglory


Did you ever wonder at the hypocrisy of politicians who claim to be Catholic and "personally against abortion" but are unwilling to take a firm stance against it? As in: "Personally, I am pro-life but respect a woman's right to choose." (As an aside: note the wordsmithery and virtue signalling implicit in the construction of this ungodly argument, one that seeks to make an atrocity palatable to the crowds with its deceptive focus on "respecting" another rather than the act of abortion itself. And in many cases, abortion right up to birth.) What deadly sin drives a position like this? What vice impels a person to take a stance that pits itself against the commandments of God while at the same time constructing a tower of respectability around an act that is clearly contrary to these laws? 

Its name is vainglory. It is one of the seven deadly sins and aptly named since it is a glory that is in vain. Vainglory's aim is a mere human respect rather than any sort of attempt to please the living God.  Vainglory is very much tied up with the negative trait of "people pleasing". It becomes dangerous when it reaches the point where we are more concerned with pleasing people and "fitting in" than honoring God. It's important to remember that we are bound to that which we love and in the case of vainglory this can leave us tied to another's opinion of us and who (they think) we are. It's one thing to love a person, another thing altogether, their opinions.

The problem with vainglory is that you become the puppet while others are the puppeteers. When your root sin (predominant fault) is vainglory, it's very easy for others to pull your strings. A bit of public shaming (or even the fear of public shaming) is often enough to keep the vainglorious in line with the groupthink of the worldly. The vainglorious man is a weak man, unwilling to pit himself against the crowd since he draws his self-worth from what others think of him. He is the man (or woman) willing to compromise personal integrity in order to retain the world's high opinion of him. At times, he may even sell out God himself in order to uphold his own ego, so great is his fear of the (negative) opinions of others and of not being held in high esteem by them. He is the man who wavers in the face of truth, who postures before the masses: "Pilate, wanting to 'please the crowd' released to them Barabbas". Two thousand years later, we still see him there engraved on the faces of a thousand other political Pilates, faces awash with pride at the adulation of the crowd, guilt-stained hands gloved in the false virtue of "human respect".  

"Out damn spot. Out, I say." Hell is indeed murky. 

But not murkier than the heart of a man who is willing to sell his soul for a quick round of applause.  

The vainglorious man is bound by fear and shame. Vainglory uses the fear of others as its shackles and it affects us all to some degree or another. We act a certain way because we fear what people think about us. We follow the crowd because we fear that we will end up alone and rejected. We want to look good before man and we fear others will speak ill of us. Fear, fear, fear. We end up driven by fear.

 It all sounds very far-fetched, I know, and "surely vainglory is not one of the worst vices human nature is prone to". Until we remember the day that Divinity stood before vainglory and vainglory crucified Him. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

What She Did Not Choose

Franz Verhas: Young Girl Reading

There's a beautiful passage in Fr. Jacques Philippe's book, In the School of the Holy Spirit, that seems to capture the interior attitude of many of the great saints of our Church. It's an inner disposition that will always bear great fruit since it abandons itself to God's will and leans on the Holy Spirit for its strength and guidance:

"What most prevents us from becoming saints is undoubtedly the difficulty we have in consenting fully to everything that happens to us, not, as we have seen, in the sense of a fatalistic passivity, but in the sense of a trusting total abandonment into the hands of our Father God."

There's so much to unpack in this quote. It requires a trust and inner resilience that is almost boundless. In a later paragraph, he unwraps St. Therese of Lisieux' "I choose it all" with this statement: "I won't content myself with merely enduring, but by a free act of my will, I decide to choose what I have not chosen."

 This is saint-making material, folks. We can not always control what happens to us in life but by a "free act of my will" I can "embrace what I have not chosen". The result of this sort of compliance (like putty in the Lord's hands) is a great interior freedom without resentment and without that feeling of powerlessness over circumstances that you would otherwise not choose. When we make these "acts of the will", it places every aspect of what's occurring or has occurred into the hands of the Lord, including the outcome, and, of course, there is no end to what God can do with something that's entrusted into His care. When we try to control a situation (which we love to do) we remove some of the power and ability to act from God's hands because He respects our free will and if something isn't given to Him freely and completely, we bind His hands to a degree since we are choosing our own will over His.

There's a powerful application to this type of interior act, especially for those who come from dysfunctional families and tend to walk around with the "weight of the world" on their shoulders from carrying a burden that they took on when they were too young to understand or do anything about. To raise a painful past to the Lord and by a free act of the will say to the God of All that Is "I decide to choose what I have not chosen" is the epitome of inner freedom and is the mark of death to resentment and self-pity, for one who has chosen is never a victim (in the sense of the world's viewpoint of victimhood).

Imagine the possibilities. All things and all that you are placed in the hands of the One who brings order out of chaos, the One who speaks a word and it is accomplished. Can God ignore such an  act of trust and abandonment? Of course not. This kind of trust and faith in God bears fruit abundantly. We may not see all the fruit it produces while we are here on earth but we will surely see it in heaven.

This isn't an easy act to make. It's not just words - it presupposes the very real supplantation of your desires for God's desires. It demands a certain amount of detachment, a willingness to release your hold on the past (as well as the present and future), a spirit of forgiveness, and an interior submission that doesn't always come easy. However, it's far easier than walking under a terrible burden that you refuse to give up.

Despair can never plant itself in the soil of God's will, for His will, accepted and embraced, is the seedbed of joy.

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.  (Isaiah 61:3)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Word Wars

Constant Mayer: Recognition: North and South

All wars begin with words.

You want to destroy a society? Attack the meaning of their words. Insinuate that words don't really mean what people think they mean. Tip the axis of human communication on its head. Use wordsmithery to craft new words that place a positive spin on things previously considered sinful or unacceptable.

Distort the meaning of their words and you'll twist their worlds at the same time. Conflate some words so that they mean more than what they should and tear down others so that they mean less than they should.

You want to brand a person as "evil"? Simple, really. Assign evil intent to their words and actions. Instead of calling them "pro-life" call them "anti-choice". Imply that their acts of goodness are inherently evil and against "love". Impute guilt where there is no guilt so that the person begins to have difficulty trusting in his ability to discern what is of value and what is not.  You want to disfigure truth by making it unrecognizable. Better to unravel the meaning of it than an attempt to destroy it directly. No one would be dumb enough to fall for that. At least not at first.

 A man is not going to march directly onto the path of evil if he clearly recognizes that thing as bad, horrible, destructive. No, no, you have to deceive him first and make him believe he is working for "the good team". Once man is deceived he's very malleable and you can use him as you will.

Consider abortion. Abortion didn't really become "acceptable" until the humanity of the baby was first called into question. It's a lot easier to kill something that's just "a blob of cells", isn't it?  It's a heck of a lot more difficult to kill something called "a baby".

Call lust -"free love". Call euthanasia -"mercy killing". Spin. Spin. Spin. Call those who disagree with your values, "haters". If possible, attempt to aim your word bombs directly at the person. Remember your ultimate goal is to destroy reputations and distort truth because the nature of truth itself is such an integral part of the human spirit that, ultimately, it cannot be fully destroyed. It can only be disarmed. Disarmed by the destruction of the person holding truth as his weapon, not the destruction of the weapon itself. Weapons are useless if they cannot be wielded . You must focus on invalidating the person if you can't invalidate the argument.

Your most powerful weapon is the understanding that human beings can handle all kinds of hardship but they can never accept being tagged as evil. So, your greatest weapon is to ascribe evil to good acts and assign righteousness to evil acts. This is simply the only way to destroy the human spirit. The innate goodness of humanity insists upon this. If not, they will just rise up stronger than ever.

All humans long to be accepted by others. Destroy this predilection for unity by the creation and promotion of many, many different groups and then make sure those initiated into it kowtow to the "group think" therein. Do not, under any circumstances, allow any diversion away from the norms set before the group. Immediately put the dissenter in his place by threatening to withhold your approval of him as a human being. That works far more quickly than addressing the behavior itself.

Don't allow interaction with those who think differently. Make it so they are afraid to communicate with each other. Work to create a "walk on eggshells" culture by the consistent and forceful application of labels such as "misogynist", "racist", and the like, even if the dissenter's argument is  valid. And if you can't get others to join with you, shame them into agreement.

You can't directly attack the truths that all cultures have held close to their hearts for thousands of years so you must first distort those truths that they hold so dear. Start by gently insisting that many of their truths are subjective and not objective. "Your truths are not my truths, dear." Sway the court of public opinion by appealing to their emotions instead of sound reason. Impute guilt by assigning evil motives to all those who oppose you.

Destroy their heroes and give them anti-heroes instead. Make them think the courageous  - "loud and obnoxious" and the insipid - "peaceful and humble". Turn their virtues upside down and society will turn upside down with it.

But remember, it's not always strictly necessary to require the complete capitulation to a cause for it to prevail.

Sometimes, simply purchasing the silence of the majority is enough.

It is hard for many in the free world to believe that there are not only bad men, but evil men. Bad men steal, rape, ravage and plunder. Evil men may not always do these things, but they seek to destroy goodness, virtue, morality, decency, truth and honor. Bad men who steal admit honesty; evil men who do not steal, call dishonesty "honesty," totalitarianism "democracy," slavery "freedom." Evil men can be nice at table, polite with women, courteous in Washington, refined in London and calm in Geneva.
                                                   Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Veer Right Off of Ego Central, then Go Straight on Aridity Ave

 Alone and not a drop to drink. The dry, barren desert road of self-love.
(You're kidding, right? RIGHT? This is the CURE?!)

If  Pride is considered the "mother of all sins", it's time to introduce you to a sibling of hers: Self-love. Pride and self-love, are the prime movers of the deadly sins, along with fear. But the reason we have fear is because of pride and self-love.

I mean, let's face it, the ego serves itself. Sometimes we THINK we are doing things for the Lord only to find out later that it was simply a secret supply line to the ego.

And the hard thing is that all these "secret supply lines" that feed self-love have to be cut off. This includes our attachments to spiritual consolations and even our secret attachment to "doing good" if we have it (and which we may not be aware of) - many of these things secretly feed our ego, our pride, and so must be stripped from us for our own good. It's a very painful process but one that helps us direct our hearts to our true end.

Which is God.

Think of it as a purification of our intentions. Of our secret motives. Motives that we aren't even aware of. A purification that will eventually give us that perfect purity of heart which allows us to see God.

You just can't bear good fruit with the water of your own self-love. No, in order to bear good fruit our own water lines must be shut down completely so that the heavenly water lines may open.

The shutting down of our secret supply lines, the ones hidden below the surface, takes a long time. The greater the self-love, the more intense the process will be. Thus we suffer from a great and terrible aridity during these times. There is no longer attraction to the things of the world, nor is there much to things of the spirit when pride and self-love are being stripped from the soul. This isn't even something we can do ourselves because the root of it is beyond our ability to access.

It's like being caught betwixt and between. Our hearts feel like a barren wasteland. No joy in earthly things and nothing but fizzle instead of sizzle when it comes to heavenly things.

Yes, think "desert". A long dry season but one that has a purpose - to bring you out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

(Ooops... I almost wrote "dessert". You know, one of those Lenten Freudian slips. It's a "chocolate" thing in my case.)

At the beginning of the spiritual life we can do a great deal to help shut down the supply lines feeding self-love but eventually you get to a point where your own power is insufficient (and really just gets in the way) and you must rely on God to do the work in your soul.

Though it does seem as if God took a vacation without you and forgot to tell you when he'll be back.

Humility is THE virtue to pray for as we undergo this stripping. The more I learn about humility, the more I realize the importance of praying for it daily.

Without it, we can't make progress spiritually.

Without it, we can't bear fruit.

Without it, we cannot bear our time in the desert and tend to return to the slavery of "Egypt" (read - "slavery to the world").

Perish the thought.

The plus side of the desert is that it's where we become aware of just how strong our attachment is to self and where God weans us from this attachment.

There is a direct correlation between our ability to surrender to God and our humility. Because, in order to surrender to God we need to let go of self.

You can't cling to God if your hands are too busy hugging yourself.

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, You are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, I will love You, O Lord, my strength.       St. Augustine, The City of God        (The bold is mine)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Cutting to the Quick

Hmmm...maybe I should make this Novena perpetual? 

When I first returned to the Lord years ago I made sure I did everything right. I was on a mission to become a saint. On the fast track to success (cough, cough, groan, groan). Mass, the sacraments, many prayers - I took great care to do it all and to do it all well. But it was fear-driven and very performance related. I mean, it bordered on compulsive. I felt like I had to make up for the sins of my past and unfortunately chose quantity over quality, thinking that more was better. After all, we are raised in a culture that focuses on this kind of productivity and I had learned my lesson well. 

Nearly drove the Lord nuts with my verbosity. Drove everyone else nuts too, I'm sure.

Did I ever tell you about my attempts at completing that series of prayers in The Pieta by St.  Bridget? You know, the ones that take a year to complete? Well, God and I wrestled together over these particular prayers for a long time.

 He had determined that I should not complete them. 

I, on the other hand, had determined that I should.

Guess who won? 

Think about it. Page one of the Heavenly Herald almost read:                          

 God Loses Patience and Hurls Lightning Bolt at Woman with Spiritual ADHD. Claims "it was the only way to shut her up!" Woman Survives to Tell the Story. 

Mary N., a woman from Fatted Calf Creek, Wyoming, claims God hurled a lightning bolt at her while she sat in the park reading  aloud from a prayer book called "The Pieta". The woman said she was on her 59th day of a year long novena and thinking about making it a perpetual one when lightning shot down from a cloudless sky and set her book on fire. Mrs. N. was taken to Mt Sinai Hospital for observation but was released after doctors determined that the woman was unharmed except for her bruised pride.  

Thus began the first cutting. I have been under the Divine knife ever since. It was (and is) so constant that I began to feel a bit embarrassed by the depths of my "fallenness".

I mean, it was so bad that I started getting witnesses in the spirit every time I read the line "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest!" (A line from one of my favorite poems by Francis Thompson.)

I couldn't even read poetry in peace.

And it was the "fondest, blindest, weakest" part that that would shoot that bolt of Divine electricity through me.

Blindest? Weakest? 


It is so hard for us to see ourselves this way. As blind and weak. There I was thinking I had reached the heights of sanctity after six months of prayer and...

"And whatchoo mean you have to perform more surgery, Lord? I haven't even recovered from the last bout!"

Every area of my life was being inspected by the Divine Eye. Or so it seemed.

"Look, Lord! Over there! See that guy eating an entire bag of Cheetos? You better get right on it!"

And much was found lacking.

"Boy, we don't get a lick of privacy down here, do we Lord?"

(Honestly, I don't speak to the Lord this way, folks. Seriously. Thoughts like these just tend to pop into my head unannounced when I get caught with my hand in the ole cookie jar. Which was constantly back then despite my attempts at mastering pharisaism single-handedly. Or perhaps because of it. But, not to worry, the Lord had a quick cure for that. Painful but quick.)

(That would be: quick in God's eyes. Long and painful in my own.) 

It's so important for God to cut that false piety from us.  A piety that keeps us depending (and focusing) on ourselves instead of the Lord. Sometimes we must see the depths of our weakness before we are able to relinquish control of our lives to the Lord. I see now that my fierce determination to finish those Pieta prayers stemmed from a belief that I could save myself.  We must understand that we need salvation and that salvation comes from outside of ourselves. 

Sometimes the only way this can be made clear to us is by showing us the truth about ourselves. 

Because only by seeing this can we stop relying on ourselves. It's a harsh and painful lesson at times.

(Let's make that "brutal", shall we?)

We cannot receive God's strength if we don't give up our own. When we understand that what we cling to is a phantom strength we can let go more quickly.

God isn't interested in a mere pseudo-transformation. It's not enough for the outside to look good. No, the Holy Spirit cuts deep into our spirits in a surgery so profound that the mere mortal mind cannot grasp its depth. This divine surgery is an amazing miracle of grace and love, imperative to our existence and without which life would cease to exist. Of such gravity is the depths of our fallen nature that only God can infuse life where sin has sown the seed of death. One of the most pitiable, yet endearing quality about the human condition is our naivete when it comes to sin. We truly do not understand how evil it is. We may have an inkling but we don't fully understand it, do we?

Think about the mercy of this.

The pure, unadulterated mercy of it:

"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Your Biggest Cross

Nothing like being caught between a rock and a hard place...of self.

From my archives:

Rumor has it that a newspaper once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, What’s wrong with the world today? And Chesterton responded simply:

“Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

This story about G.K. Chesterton is not substantiated but I sure wish it were true. Why do I wish this?

Because sooner or later every person stumbles upon one of the great truths of life. And "stumbles upon" is the right phrase because this truth sure feels like a huge stumbling block.  God knows this truth, the saints knew it, the souls in Purgatory definitely know it. We may know it as well, but our pride resists it. This truth is:

We are our own heaviest crosses.

There, I said it.

And it's true for all of us.

When I first came upon this realization I thought it was only me. That I, myself, was my own heaviest cross and that this didn't apply straight across the board.

But it does. It applies to all of us. When you read the lives of the saints you see that every single one of them came to this conclusion about themselves. It's a common thread that runs through their writings and one we should take note of.

Those who say, "But my husband (insert person or circumstance of choice here) is my heaviest cross!"

Nope. Not true. You are your heaviest cross. This is a truth about ourselves that we tend to resist in an extraordinary way because pride has taken root in our hearts and we don't want to believe that one of our biggest problems just might be ourselves.

When we believe that others are our "heavy crosses" it may be one of the strongest signs that a virtue we should be praying for in abundance is the virtue of humility and maybe some charity to go with it.

It took me ten years to learn this. And another five to accept it.

It is part and parcel of our fallen human nature.

It's a great lesson though because as soon as we REALLY learn this, as soon as we stop resisting God's efforts to point this oh so hard-to swallow, it's stuck in my throat fact out, we can begin to make quick progress in the spiritual life because our focus is taken off the sins and faults of our neighbor and responsibility is planted squarely on the shoulders to whom it belongs. We stop blaming others for our heavy loads and start seeing that WE are the heavy loads. This is not to say that there are not external circumstances in our lives that do not make our cross heavier. There are. But the reason the *external circumstances* are so "heavy" is because of our *internal circumstances*.

In other words, if you want to lighten your load you have to work on yourself first.

As G.K. Chesterton so bluntly puts it: Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.

Funny how some of the most obvious things in life are the most difficult to see. Not only are we seasick, we are "see sick" as well and our biggest blind spot is ourselves.

~ You cannot escape it, wherever you run. For wherever you go you carry yourself with you, and will always find yourself. Turn upwards or turn downwards, turn inwards or turn outwards: everywhere you will find the cross.                      Thomas A Kempis

~ The greatest cross of all is self.       Archbishop Francois Fenelon

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mortified Musings - The Lenten Special

"A bit of cake with that sprouted grain bread, my lovely?"

Did you ever see a lassie,

Go this way and that way,

Go this way and that way,

Did you ever see a lassie,

Go this way and that?

   Well, you have now.

Lent has the strange knack of bringing out the worst in me. I have these great intentions that slowly but surely DIE as the season goes on. Think fasting, sprouted grain breads, green drinks, brussel sprouts - you know, all those things that taste nasty times two, but are good for you. That's how it starts.

(And, trust me, those foods TRULY mortify the senses. You'll have to grant me this one, folks. No fake mortification going on here. Hair shirts have nothing on certain green drinks. My senses are so mortified after they eat these things that the souls in purgatory are LEAPING into heaven. Yes, leaping.)

( Not that I've ever worn a specific hair shirt, mind you, but when you live in a house with shedding pets they are ALL hair shirts. )

It's tough to be human though. We like give in to ourselves a lot.

 (That "we" is that universal "we" which reads, "I like to give in to myself a lot". But I don't want to    be a post hog on a public blog so I am including you.)

Me, sailing through Lent. Note the brussel sprouts,
sprouted grain, and asparagus tips in the prow. 
I see beautiful mental pictures of myself breezing through Lent, sailing all the way to Easter... only to be caught with my hand in the cookie jar less than a week later.

In other words, instead of being led by love we (oops, sorry, there's that universal "we" again) are driven by our attachments. The mind wants to go one way, the body another:

"It's best not to have that right now."

"But I want it, I want it!"

So, you choose what you want instead of being guided by what's best. I do this all the time, only to regret it a few minutes later.

A common scenario 'round these here parts:

Gluttony moans, "Another piece of chocolate cake, my dear chubs?"

Reason, led by love, whispers, "No, you don't need that second slice. One's enough, two is overkill, my sweet."

Sweet? Who said sweet? My hand edges toward the platter...

"Hee, hee! She's going to blow Lent again!"

I pull back my hand as if it's been burned by Ole Dragonbreath, himself.


Too much information.

I know.

(I don't know WHAT made me bake cinnamon rolls for my daughter as a special treat this morning. I thought Will Power would be staying until Holy Saturday at least. He was certainly invited. But he vacated the premises without a word after that first batch came out of the oven. Hopefully, Grace didn't leave too.)

(Feel free to scroll down to other posts so I don't leave you with a bad taste in your mouth...)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Penny for your thoughts? Or not.

William Holbrook Beard: For What was I Created?

For after the four books which have been composed on the customs of the monasteries, we now propose, being strengthened by God through your prayers, to approach the struggle against the eight principal faults, i.e. first, Gluttony or the pleasures of the palate; secondly, Fornication; thirdly, Covetousness, which means Avarice, or, as it may more properly be called, the love of money, fourthly, Anger; fifthly, Dejection; sixthly, Accidie, which is heaviness or weariness of heart; seventhly, Vain glory; eighthly, Pride.

                              St. John Cassian, Institutes (Book V)

St. John Cassian was a student of Evagrius Ponticus. Evagrius was a monk in the 4th century who was the first to write about the "eight bad thoughts" and who coined the term "Noonday Demon", which refers to the acedia (now called sloth) which plagued The Desert Fathers toward the middle of the day. These eight tempting thoughts are the precursors to the seven deadly sins. Pope Gregory the Great revised the list of eight bad thoughts by combining acedia with sorrow, calling the combination the sin of sloth, and vainglory with pride. He also added envy to the list. St. Thomas Aquinas questions vainglory and pride being lumped together since St. Gregory called pride the "mother" of the deadly sins and says St. Gregory did not lump these two together. Either way, this is where we received our current list of the seven deadly sins.

In this post, I want to briefly address the deadly sins as those "bad thoughts" because it gets to the bottom of what the deadly sins are and how they operate.

The deadly sins start as temptations and temptations always begin with thoughts.

In the case of vainglory, the temptation to sin comes through our vanity. We want people to like us and sometimes we will do terrible things to avoid their displeasure. "Pilate, wanting to please the crowd, released to them Barabbas."  We get an example here of how dangerous vainglory can be.

When we are subject to vainglorious thoughts (which we are NOT subject to), and if we give into them regularly, we become bound to those we are attempting to please. Yes, we become bound to others instead of God. Can you imagine being bound to what others think of us? Yet, this is what can happen. All the deadly sins create a type of bondage to something or someone who is not God. This creates huge problems for us. Using the example of vainglory, when we constantly do things to please people instead of God our souls become filled with a deep confusion since it opposes our relationship with the Lord as his children. It opposes the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. We create idols for ourselves that are not God. We serve that which we give ourselves over to.

How can you follow the Shepherd when you are trailing the pack of wolves? The heart is divided within itself.

And all of this begins with a thought.

What a mess. No wonder the deadly sins are so deadly.

It's scary when we first see how much of a part the deadly sins play in our lives. When I first recognized it, it paralyzed me. I couldn't believe I had let this happen. And I had no idea which deadly sin to tackle first.

The seven deadly sins poison your thought life. When you give in to the "bad thoughts" and sin, more come crowding their way in. Over time, our minds can become a cesspool of vice. Confusion reigns because a person is pulled in so many directions and it becomes hard to sort through the morass. Imagine a series of ropes tied to you and pulling you every which way. Your mind has difficulty focusing on the "one thing necessary" to obtain eternal life because it is not yet detached from its idols and these "gods" are constantly clamoring for the soul's attention.

So, it can become overwhelming. Until we remember that the reason Jesus came is to save us from our sins. None of this is new to Him. Recognizing the seven deadly sins is the first step to overcoming them. And God helps us do so. One of the best ways to begin to battle the deadly sins is to pray for the virtue of humility. Humility allows us to see the truth about ourselves and our great need for a redeemer. Humility protects the soul and is the foundation of the virtues, which further protect the soul. It is impossible to know God without a certain degree of humility and humility opens the door of the soul to receive God's help and mercy. The more humility a person has, the more light comes in.

Every person on this earth struggles with the seven deadly sins.

Think of humility as the beginning of the deadly sins' end.

"They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD.                         Jeremiah 1:19

Monday, February 22, 2016

Stage Fright

John Singer Sargent: Marionettes

All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players                                                          
                                       William Shakespeare

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.
                                                                                                                                                  William Shakespeare, King Lear

Vainglory gets very little press these days despite its large presence in the world around us. Like the deadly sin of sloth it has been relegated to the dusty archives of "what used to be considered sin but is sin no more". While pride still has negative connotations associated with it, pride's deadly "daughter" is usually unobtrusive and overlooked.

Which makes vainglory deadlier than ever. When you can no longer see your enemy it gives your enemy a great advantage over you.

Why IS vainglory so deadly?

As I mentioned in The Seven Deadly Sins in the Moral Decline of America, each of the deadly sins makes an idol of something other than God. For instance, pride makes a god of self while greed makes money its idol. In the case of vainglory, its idol is other people.

Vainglory is very much tied up with the negative trait of people pleasing. While this is not as overbearing as pride, it can be dangerous because it can get to the point where we are more concerned with pleasing people than God. It's important to remember that we are bound to that which we love and in the case of vainglory this can leave us tied to another's opinion of us and who we are. I've written about this many times on my blog because this was such a problem for me for so many years and is still something I battle against. It's one thing to love a person, another thing altogether, their opinions.

The problem with vainglory is that it can make you feel as if you are a puppet while others are the puppeteers. Whenever we are bound to something other than God we are giving the reins of our lives over to something other than God.

And the last thing we want is to be enslaved to other people whose nature is fallen just as our own is. Especially since vainglory uses fear of others as its shackles. We act a certain way because we fear what people think about us. We follow the crowd because we fear that we will end up alone and rejected. We want to look good before man because we fear others will speak ill of us. Fear, fear, fear. We end up driven by fear.

All the deadly sins use fear as their fetters in some way or another and only perfect love casts out fear. We could say that "perfect love" casts out the seven deadly sins and as long as we do not have perfect love we will be troubled by them to some extent. Do you want to know your idols? Look at your greatest fears. When we fear others won't approve of us and we do things to garner this approval instead of doing it for the right reason, we have gained our reward.

Man, sometimes after writing about the seven deadly sins I feel sick to my stomach.


(In my next post I speak about the deadly sins, our thoughts, and the importance of humility in our battle against them.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dust Makers

 A post from my archives. Enjoy!

Do I HAVE to take a bath?!

Do I really trust God?  Do I have total faith in Him and in his love for me?

As much as I'd like to answer those questions with a big fat YES, I can't do that. I WANT this total faith and perfect love... but I just don't have it yet. I have faith and love but it's not perfected yet.

"Perfect love casts out fear."

Simply put ... I have fears. And what are fears but little pockets of despair that need casting out?

Fears that I fear "Perfect Love" has not yet rid me of.

Mostly I fear my own obstinacy. I see certain attachments so clearly and still procrastinate in ridding myself of them.  I'm afraid I'll get caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Or  worse. What if my time comes while I'm trying to down a heaping bowl of Dana's Double Delite Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge Swirl Brownie Ice Cream? 

 Because, as St. Augustine so bluntly eloquently puts it, "Having You, I might have naught besides."

Naught. Nothing. A big fat zero of nothingness. And that I'll have to wait for years in this state of nothingness until the Lord sees fit to end the nothing period and fill me so full of Himself that the nothing disperses into everything.I wonder if I'm the only person on the planet with this fear? I hope nobody answers that.

So I cling to my "somethings". I call them my little "dust makers".

Because that is what they'll eventually be, right?

 Dust. I cling to dust. Though I must admit that chocolate flavored dust is especially yummy. If I graciously thank the Lord for it often enough I wonder if He'll excuse my over consumption of this very fine dust product.

A bigger fear?

That I won't detach myself from all these little dust makers in time and I'll go before the Lord and clouds of lingering dust will surround AND trail my soul.

Kind of like Pigpen from Peanuts.

And my biggest fear?

The Lord will cough and choke out, "Let's get you off into Purgatory and give you a nice bath!"

And that the "bath" water will be too hot.

Just sayin'.

Okay! Nice and clean! You can come out now! 

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Mad Queen and Her Unhinged Army

Johann Heinrich Fussli: attribution

The undisputed queen of The Seven Deadly Sins is pride. We often see the words pride and vainglory used interchangeably when the deadly sins are listed but according to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Gregory the Great, pride is the "mother" of all sins and not in its own right one of the seven deadly sins. St. Thomas substitutes vainglory for pride when enumerating the seven deadly sins. Pride spawns the seven deadly sins since she is the mother of these. All sin ultimately has its beginning in pride.

Whenever we consider sin and its roots, it helps to keep in mind that the purpose of the seven deadly sins is to oppose virtue. By opposing virtue, the "mad queen" and her "unhinged army" lead people into an ever increasing downward spiral of  malice and licentiousness.

Why do I call pride the "mad queen" and the deadly sins her "unhinged army"? Because these sins, when firmly in place, attack sound reason. They attack the virtue of wisdom leaving the person unable to discern the true reality of things.  Have you ever wondered why so many people can't see the spiritual battle taking place in the world today? It's because their intellect has been darkened by the deadly sins and they no longer have the light to see what so clearly surrounds them. They live (to one degree or another) in an illusory world of their own making pursuant to the degree in which the deadly sins have displaced the virtues. You might call it a "spiritual madness" since the things of the spirit have been subjugated to the flesh to such a degree that the person no longer recognizes the true order of things. Without this recognition, chaos results since the divine order is displaced by disorder and charity displaced by malice.

This idea of "spiritual madness" is important to keep in mind as we look at the chaos that surrounds us in the world today. St. Thomas calls this dullness of sense "folly" and  it comes about through man's "plunging his sense into earthly things, whereby his sense is rendered incapable of perceiving Divine things". According to St. Thomas the quickest descent into this spiritual blindness is through the deadly sin of lust, which is probably why satan loves to tempt people in this area. Lust immerses itself in the flesh to the neglect of the spirit.

Pride sees itself as the center around which all things revolve. Wherever there is sin, pride's hand is there. It is a distortion of one's position in the world - a spiritual aberration that results in a skewed perspective of God, self, and others. Whereas charity looks at others though the lens of mercy, pride opposes mercy and deeply aligns itself with presumption, which is a mockery of mercy in that there is no justice in it. In other words, presumption is a mercy without justice, a love of the sin instead of the sinner. Presumption destroys justice and defaces mercy.

We see in our day a strange reluctance to call sin what it is. As a matter of fact, those who call sin what it is are despised, looked down upon and accused of lacking love for others. And, (this shows that something diabolical is at work) people who were once considered moral, upright, and holy are now considered evil. The entire moral compass of society has flipped, the axis of good has been tipped over completely to the point where a man who would have been upheld as a saint and a hero seventy years ago is now often thought of as a villain.

This "upending" of the divine order of things to the point where good is considered evil and evil considered good effects a type of anti-kingdom. And one with its very own upside-down gospel and commandments. For instance, a person who has given himself up to the Seven Deadly Sins, though he cannot see this anymore, will still follow a set of commandments though ones which oppose the true commandments. And they will believe that these are good because of the eclipse of sound reason. Thus, a person in obeisance to this unholy kingdom will usually show various traits or "signs" that manifest this bondage. The seven deadly sins are the doors which open a person, family, or country to this type of bondage. The outward signs we see in society today are simply the visible marks of an inward homage to the one who is behind the anti-gospel of our day.

It's very difficult not to lose hope when we see society disintegrating before our eyes but we must keep in mind that God is always in control, even when it seems that every which way we turn we are confronted with displays of evil that shock us to the core. There is always hope and our prayers are never in vain.

Humility is the virtue that opposes pride. If you want to quickly grow in virtue pray for humility because it puts to death pride and removes the obstacles that prevent us from acquiring the virtues. It opens up a path for them. Our Lady is the perfect model for the structure of virtues built upon the base of humility. Without some degree of humility it is almost impossible to conquer the seven deadly sins and acquire the virtues. Humility opens the heart, enabling God to pour down His graces upon us.

Now the virtues are in truth infused by God. Wherefore the first step in the acquisition of virtue may be understood in two ways. First by way of removing obstacles: and thus humility holds the first place, inasmuch as it expels pride, which "God resisteth," and makes man submissive and ever open to receive the influx of Divine grace. Hence it is written (James 4:6): "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." On this sense humility is said to be the foundation of the spiritual edifice. Secondly, a thing is first among virtues directly, because it is the first step towards God.    
                                                                                                                  St Thomas Aquinas

Technically, charity is first among virtues and St Thomas does state this, but charity and humility are intimately entwined and you really can't have one without the other. In this way, humility is the first step in that it lays a solid foundation for spiritual growth. The greater our humility, the greater our growth in charity and all the other virtues as well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Healing Balm for the Soul

An Allegory of Man
 From my archives:

What is the cure for the soul that is weary? What is the antidote to a world stricken with vice? The remedy for the soul overwhelmed by despair?

What "sweetens" the crosses we bear?

The answer is one and the same for all of the questions above.

Virtues. Those God given helps for the soul. The beautiful "coat of many colors" the soul needs to be cloaked in. The armor that God yearns to cover its nakedness, its poverty, with so it doesn't walk about the world completely exposed to that which seeks to harm it.

In the painting above, "An Allegory of Man", Man is being attacked by the Seven deadly Sins and Death, but is shielded by the Seven Virtues. We have really given wide berth to studying and practicing the virtues in the past century and this loss is becoming more noticeable each day as the proliferation of every kind of sin and vice sweeps across humanity. Sometimes it's hard to believe that we can be so obdurate in our unwillingness to see what is as plain as the nose on our face:

The world is drowning in the Seven Deadly Sins. We all struggle with them but millions have given themselves over to them completely.

The loss of the practice of virtue in this world has had tragic repercussions. One of the marks of the deadly sins is that they do in fact have a deadening effect on the soul. The soul grows numb and weary. It cannot function properly in the manner that it was created to - as a clean and holy temple of the Holy Spirit. It loses its sense of being closely connected to God. The soul falls asleep, you could say.

We are a people who are snoring their way into oblivion. An oblivion where no one exists except me, myself, and I. The ultimate dreamworld where the only god that exists is the god of self. A world where people have forgotten both God and neighbor. (Oh, wait, so sorry...I forgot that this "dreamworld" actually has a name. Hell, I think it's called. )

The virtues on the other hand "wake up" the soul. They have a vivifying effect on it because their source is God. When the soul is not coated in virtues it feels their absence because the spiritual state of man depends on the virtues. We have lost our understanding of the protection virtues give us, a truth which the people of past centuries understood well.

When our physical bodies are ill they manifest clear symptoms so that we know something is wrong. It's the same for our souls - they too manifest spiritual symptoms so that we may take note and apply the remedies needed to cure its ills.

And God has given us so many remedies.

 One of the greatest is Confession, which purges the soul of the poisons within it. Once the poison is cleared, the virtues have the necessary room to take root, flourish and grow. Not confessing our sins is like trying to plant a seed in rocky soil, the plant has no room to grow because the soil (of the soul) is so poor. Confession removes the rocks and preps the soil.

Prayer is the conduit through which the soil is watered.

Holy Scripture and the Eucharist feed it. (Anyone who likes gardening knows soil needs to be fertilized to produce anything worthwhile.)

The virtues protect it and cause the soil of the soul to produce fruit abundantly.

Let's turn the tide of sin and despair in our world today by praying for and practicing the virtues.

Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.
                                    St Francis of Assisi