Lenten Assignment: Be Grateful!

True gratitude is a grace, or gift, from God. It proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. We do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, or because God commands it but because it flows naturally from a profound experience of gratitude. The “command” of Scripture to give thanks is not a moral cliché but a truth and a description of what flows from a transformed heart.

We should seek from God the powerful transformation of our intellect and our heart so that we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that is everything we have. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything—literally everything—is a gift from Him. Consider the following reflection from St. Gregory Nazianzen:

Recognize to whom you owe the fact that you exist, that you breathe, that you understand, that you are wise, and, above all, that you know God and hope for the kingdom of heaven and the vision of glory, now darkly as in a mirror but then with greater fullness and purity. You have been made a son of God, coheir with Christ. Where did you get all this, and from whom?

Let me turn to what is of less importance: the visible world around us. What benefactor has enabled you to look out upon the beauty of the sky, the sun in its course, the circle of the moon, the countless number of stars, with the harmony and order that are theirs, like the music of a harp? Who has blessed you with rain, with the art of husbandry, with different kinds of food, with the arts, with houses, with laws, with states, with a life of humanity and culture, with friendship and the easy familiarity of kinship?

Who has given you dominion over animals, those that are tame and those that provide you with food? Who has made you lord and master of everything on earth? In short, who has endowed you with all that makes man superior to all other living creatures?

Is it not God who asks you now in your turn to show yourself generous above all other creatures and for the sake of all other creatures?(From a sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, bishop. Oratio 14, De Pauperum amore, 23-25: PG 35, 887-890.)

Yes, we have so much for which we should be grateful!God holds together every fiber of our being: every cell and every part of every cell, every molecule and every part of every molecule, every atom and every part of every atom. He facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, every movement of our body, the functioning of every organ. God sustains every intricate detail of the world in which we live: the ideal orbit of our planet such that we neither boil nor freeze; the magnetic shield that protects Earth from harmful solar radiation; every intricate process of our planet, solar system, galaxy, and universe. All of this, including us, is sustained by God and provided for by Him. The depth, height, length, and width of what God does is simply astonishing—and He does it all free of charge. Pondering such goodness and providence helps us to be more grateful. Yes, allis gift.

There are some gifts of God that don’t seem like gifts at all:losses, tragedies, and natural disasters. In such moments it is easy to feel that He has forsaken us; gratitude is probably the last thing on our mind. Even here, Scripture bids us to look more closely: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good. He is paving a path unto glory, even if through the cross. Jesus has said to us, But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines and make a way out of no way. Yes, allis gift!

It is hard to overestimate the role that gratitude plays in good mental, emotional, and spiritual health.Grateful people are different: more joyful, generous, kind, patient, serene, and confident. All of this comes from the fact that gratitude makes present to us the provident goodness of God. Acknowledging how good God has been to us helps us to become more trusting and less anxious. Because of this we have the confidence to be more generous; there is no need to hoard things because we know that God will take care of us. Yes, through gratitude we are freed from many anxious cares and given a serene and stable joy; we are equipped to be so much more patient and generous.

Ultimately, gratitude is a gift to be received from God. We ought to ask for it humbly. We can dispose ourselves to it by reflecting on things such as those discussed above, but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite, and transformed heart. True gratitude is a grace, a gift, that comes from a heart deeply moved, astonished, and aware of the fact that God is so very good. Allis gift!

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! The Importance of Experience

121014I want to give two thumbs up for good old-fashioned experience—just experiencing life to the fullest. Too often in today’s hurried age, in these times of 24×7 news, we rush past experience right to analysis. We insist on knowing immediately what something “means” and what we should think about it. This rush to analyze often happens before the experience is even over. And, of course, analyzing something before all the facts are in can lead to incorrect conclusions. Two sayings come to mind:

Don’t think, look! We miss so much of life when we retreat into our brains to begin immediate analysis. I recently went to an art exhibit called “The Sacred Made Real.” Upon entry, I was handed a thick pamphlet describing each of the works. Instead of diving into the pamphlet, I chose to wander through and gazed upon each marvelous work. Some of them were mysterious to me, but the mystery was part of the experience. Only later did I go back and read about each work. I noticed many people buried in their pamphlets, barely giving the actual artwork a glance. Most of their time was spent reading. Others had headphones on, listening to descriptions of the art, which allows a better look but still fills the mind with information too soon. Another variant on this saying is “Don’t think, listen!” So often when listening to others, we pick up the first few words or sentences and then stop listening so we can start thinking about what we’re going to say next.

Don’t just do something, stand there! With all of our activism, we seldom savor life. Few people rest on the Sabbath anymore. Few eat dinner with their families. Few even know how to relax. Vacations are often packed so full of activities that there is little time to actually experience what one is doing. I live near the U.S. Capitol and often see people so busy taking pictures that I wonder if they ever really see or experience the Capitol.

Even within the sacred liturgy we often get things wrong today. Consider the following:

It’s a First Holy Communion or perhaps a wedding. As the children or the bride come down the aisle, dozens of cameras and cell phones are held aloft. Flashes go off, creating an annoying strobe effect. People scramble to get into better positions for a picture. In recent years, I have had to forbid the use of cameras. For a wedding, the bride and groom are permitted to hire a professional photographer. For First Holy Communion and Confirmation, we permit one professional photographer to take pictures for the entire group. I instruct the assembly that the point of the liturgy is to worship God, to pray, and to experience the Lord’s ministry to us. I insist that they put away their cameras and experience the sacrament being celebrated and the mysteries unfolding before them.

A few years ago, I was privileged to be among the chief clergy for a Solemn High Pontifical Mass in the Old Latin Form at the Basilica here in D.C. It was my first experience with this liturgy, and it was quite complicated. We rehearsed the day before, and as the rehearsal drew to a close, I said to whole crew of clergy and servers, “OK, tomorrow during the Mass, don’t forget to worship God!” We all laughed because we know easy it is to get so wrapped up in thinking about what is coming next or in what we need to do next that we forget to pray! The next day, I told God that no matter what, I was here to worship Him. I am grateful that He gave me a true spirit of recollection at that Mass. I did mix up a minor detail, but I experienced God and did not forget to worship Him. Success! Thank you, Lord!

The Mass is underway in a typical Catholic parish. Something remarkable is about to happen: the Lord Jesus is going to speak through the deacon, who ascends the pulpit to proclaim the Gospel. Yes, that’s right; Jesus Himself will announce the Gospel to us. As the deacon introduces the Gospel, all are standing out of respect. Five hundred pairs of eyes are riveted … on the deacon? No! In fact, many eyes are riveted on the missalette. Halfway through the Gospel, the Church is filled with the sound of hundreds of people turning the pages of their missalettes (with one or two dropping them in the process). Sadly, most lose the experience of the proclamation of God’s Word with their heads buried in a missalette. They may as well have read it on their own. I know that some will argue that this helps them understand the reading better, but the liturgy is meant to be experienced as a communal hearing of the Word proclaimed.

I celebrate a good number of Wedding Masses in the Old Latin Form. Some years ago, a couple prepared a very elaborate booklet so that people could follow along and understand every detail of the Old Latin Mass. Of itself, it was a valuable resource. They asked me if, prior to Mass, I would briefly describe the booklet and how to use it. I went ahead and did so but concluded my brief tour of the book by saying, “This is a very nice book and will surely make a great memento of today’s wedding, but if you want my advice, put it aside now and just experience a beautiful Mass with all its mystery. If you have your head in a book you may miss it and forget to pray. Later on you can read it and study what you have experienced.” In other words, “Don’t think, look!”

In the ancient Church, the catechumens were initiated into the “Mysteries” (the Sacraments of Initiation) with very little prior instruction as to what would happen. They had surely been catechized in the fundamental teachings of the faith, but the actual details of the celebration of the sacraments were not disclosed. They were sacred mysteries and the disciplina arcanis (the discipline of the secret) was observed. They simply experienced these things and were instructed as to their deeper meaning in the weeks that followed (in a process known as mystagogia). Hence, experience preceded analysis, understanding, and learning. The very grace of the experience and the sacraments provided the foundation for that understanding.

I realize that this post will not be without some controversy. Let me be clear about one point: catechesis is important, but so is experience. If we rush to analyze and decode everything, we risk missing a lot. I have taught on the liturgy extensively in this blog (http://blog.adw.org/tag/mass-in-slow-motion/) and will continue to do so. There is a time to study and learn, but there is also a time to be still and experience what God is doing in every liturgy—indeed in every moment of our lives.

Two thumbs up and three cheers for experience.

Beware the Hypocrisy of the “Spiritual but Not Religious”

We live in the age of the designer God, when many claim the right to imagine and craft their own version of god. Some of them refer to it as “the god within.” Others call it “the god of my understanding.” Still others speak of “the Jesus I know.” A consistent feature of these manufactured gods is that they just so happen to agree with the “believer” on almost everything. Another common characteristic is that they differ in significant ways from what the true God has given to us through biblical revelation. We used to call inventing and worshiping your own god “idolatry.” Today, the euphemism for this is being “spiritual but not religious.” In labeling themselves this way, people claim the virtue of faith; they speak of themselves in pious terms and even applaud themselves for being tolerant and open-minded, even while being dismissive (i.e., intolerant) of organized religion and the Scriptures.

Jesus spoke rather plainly of those who claim to be religious but are inwardly deceiving themselves and engaging in a game of “Let’s Pretend”:

Jesus began to speak, first to his disciples,
“Beware of the leaven—that is, the hypocrisy—of the Pharisees.
There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one”
(Luke 12:1-5).

The Greek word that is translated as “hypocrisy” is ὑπόκρισις (hypocrisis). Its nominative form is ὑποκριτής (hypocrites), which most literally means “actor.”

Obviously, an actor is someone who plays a role. An actor who portrays Julius Caesar is not in fact Julius Caesar. In a certain sense, he is “pretending” to be Julius Caesar.

It is certainly fine for an actor to pretend for a time, to be someone he is not, but in the spiritual sense, it is not good to act or pretend. When Jesus warns of hypocrisy, He is warning against pretending to be someone that we are not; or pretending to live in a world, in a time, or under a set of circumstances that is not in fact real.

When the Lord warns us not to engage in hypocrisy, He is cautioning us against pretending, engaging in fantasy, or living in a make-believe world. This serves as the opening framework of all that is to follow.

And what does follow? Fundamentally, the Lord says that the pretend world denies the reality of judgment. He goes on to warn that there is nothing that is concealed that will not one day be revealed, that there is nothing that is secret that will not be made known, that what we have said in the darkness will be heard in the light.

He then further cautions us not to be afraid of those who only have the ability to kill the body, but rather of the one who after killing, has the power to cast into Gehenna.

Most people today live in a fantasy world in that they deny or discount the reality that there will be a day of judgment, a day of reckoning. They simply gloss over the notion that they will have to render an account for every idle word (Mt 12:36), that they will have to stand before Him who judges the intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12), and that nothing will lay hidden from Him (Heb 4:13). In effect, they pretend. Pretending is acting; it is a form of hypocrisy.

Creating a designer god, a spiritual but not religious god is likewise a form of hypocrisy. A pretend god cannot save us; a designer god is of no use when going to meet the real God. If one has not allowed the true God to purify and ready him, he will be incapable of enduring the bright light of His glory and the searing insight of His truth. In fact, such a person will likely reject Him as hateful and harsh. To those who hate the truth, the truth seems hateful; to those who prefer the darkness, the light seems obnoxious.

This is why only the true God can ready us for beholding Him. Only He can accustom us to the brightness of His truth and the heat of His glory and love.

A second quality of the “spiritual but not religious,” those who claim the right to design their own god, is a subtle self-righteousness. They feel they are somehow above all this “organized religion stuff.” They don’t need doctrines or Bibles or Churches to tell them what to do; they have a direct connection of their own to the god of their (superior?) understanding. It is a kind of rehashing of tired old Gnosticism.

When Jesus warned of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, He was referring to their sense of self-righteousness. They thought that they had nothing to worry about because they were “good people”—unlike others around them. They said their prayers, fasted on Wednesdays, and paid their tithes. On the Day of Judgment, they figured that they would just walk right on into Heaven.

Too many people today have this attitude of self-righteousness. They may invoke God’s grace and mercy, but they are not really willing to consider the fact that they may, by their own sinfulness, disqualify themselves. Emphasizing certain aspects of God while discounting others, they rework Him into their own god. This is acting; it is hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

Too many people brush aside the idea that they will one day have to render an account to the true Lord. “Oh yeah, I know there’s a day of judgment, but God is love so everything will be just fine. The god I know would never permit anyone to go to Hell.” Never mind that this is in direct contradiction to the whole of Scripture! Most today live in outright heresy on this topic. (Sadly, there are those who hold the opposite, extreme attitude: one of despair.)

The Lord says that we should beware of hypocrisy, careful that we’re not living in a pretend world. None but the pure in heart can walk into Heaven. We should not be so quick to presume that we have the necessary purity of heart. The real and true God is all holy, and Heaven is a place of the souls of just men made perfect (Heb 12:23). Jesus says, you must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mat 5:48). This is reality, but hypocrites like to pretend, to play act.

A contrived “god-within” of your “own understanding” cannot save you. Stop pretending; stop reciting lines like some actor (hypocrite). Get off the stage and down on your knees; call on the true God and savior, Jesus, the One described in Scripture, not the “Jesus” of your preferences. Yes, call on the true Lord, God, and Savior, who alone can save you.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Beware the Hypocrisy of the “Spiritual but Not Religious”

A Picture of the Spiritual Life from Job

blog929I am teaching out of the Book of Job for our parish bible studies. Consider the following insight by Job on the spiritual life:

God is wise in heart and mighty in strength;
who has withstood him and remained unscathed?
(Job 9:3)

At first glance, we might read this to mean that we don’t dare talk back to God or resist Him lest He punish us, but this would be a superficial interpretation. The text surely speaks more richly, of the spiritual life and the journey we must make with God.

It recalls a story about Jacob, told in the 32nd chapter of Genesis. Jacob is in the desert (often a place of testing and encounter) and is returning to make amends with his brother Esau, from whom is estranged. During the night Jacob has a mysterious encounter with God. The text recounts that he wrestles with a man, but is it a man, an angel, or God? Through the night, Jacob wrestles with this man. Even more mysteriously (if the “man” is God), the text says that Jacob “prevails,” or at least holds his own. To end the struggle, God disables Jacob by touching his hip. Out of respect, God then gives Jacob a new name:

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome (Gen 32:28).

The name “Israel” means “he who wrestles (strives) with God.”

As a result of this encounter, Jacob would limp for the rest of his life, leaning on a staff for support. It was as if to say that he would have to learn to lean on God and strive with God rather than against Him. Injured or not, this would be a blessing for Jacob, a new and deeper stage in his walk with God.

And so Job rightly said, Who has withstood God and remained unscathed? Our spiritual life can be seen as this kind of struggle. God respects our freedom and is “glad” to engage us. At least we are willing to stay in a conversation with Him rather than running from Him or refusing to be engaged at all.

As for Job, Jacob, and countless others before us, so too for us. We will not emerge from this spiritual relationship with God unchanged or unscathed. This is because our life with God is no mere friendship, or only a source of consolation. God is Lord and Father, and He has a difficult work to accomplish in us, who (like Jacob) can be stubborn, prideful, and resistant.

As an example, consider how in this world the relationship between parents and children is one of love but also one that is filled with tensions. This is due to the nature of the relationship. Parents, in addition to giving good and pleasant things to their children, also have difficult tasks in their formation. Children must be disciplined and disabused of selfish or destructive behaviors. Children must be taught things that do not necessarily please them. Parents must often make demands on their children that summon them to greater things requiring sacrifice and effort.

None of this is easy—and neither is our relationship with God. Our relationship is not merely about pleasantries. God must work to break sinful, selfish, and harmful drives within us. He must often imbue us with teachings that go against our desires and priorities.

Are you willing to struggle and to strive with God? You will be blessed! No one goes away from Jesus unchanged. No one who has God for his true Father will be unchanged, or “unscathed” as Job puts it. Jacob limped and leaned on a cane for the rest of his life (as a sign of humility). How do you limp? Where are your healing wounds in the saving struggle with God?

The song in this video is a bit over the top; I don’t think Jesus was conflicted, as this song implies. But we often are. The struggle can be difficult, but stay in it!

Two Teachings on Discipleship from Jesus

In the Gospel for today (Monday of the 13thWeek of the Year) Jesus gives two teachings on discipleship. They are not easy, and they challenge us—especially those of us who live in the affluent West.

Poverty– The text says, As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Here is a critical discipline of discipleship: following Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us but is outright taken from us.Do you love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation? Do you seek the gifts of God, or the Giver of every good and perfect gift? What if following Jesus gives you no earthly gain? What if being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, prison, or even death? Would you still follow Him? Would you still be a disciple?

In this verse, the potential disciple of Jesus seems to have had power, prestige, or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a political messiah and wanted to get on the “inside track.” Jesus warns him that this is not what discipleship is about. The Son of Man’s kingdom is not of this world.

We need to heed Jesus’ warning. Riches are actually a great danger. Not only do they not help us in what we really need, they can actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. There’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity, and a worry in wealth.

The Lord Jesus points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it comes to being disciples. This is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that piles of wealth are seldom our lot. Why? Well, our lack of wealth comes from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t take just any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with people unscrupulously. We won’t lie on our resumes, cheat on our taxes, or take easy and sinful shortcuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage, provide necessary benefits to workers, and observe the tithe. The world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do these sorts of things, but true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing, they reject the temporary rewards of this earth and may thus have a less comfortable place to lay their head. They may not get every promotion and they may not become powerful.

Thus “poverty” is a discipline of discipleship.What is “poverty”? It is freedom from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.

Jesus had nowhere to rest his head. Now that is poor. However, it also means being free of the many obligations and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you or threaten take away your possessions. You’re free; you have nothing to lose.

Most of us have too much to lose and so we are not free; our discipleship is hindered. Yes, poverty is an important discipline of discipleship.

Promptness (readiness)The text says, And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

The Lord seems harsh here. However, note that the Greek text can be understood in the following way: “My Father is getting older. I want to wait until he dies and then I will really be able to devote myself to being a disciple!”

Jesus’ point is that if the man didn’t have this excuse, he’d have some other one. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some reason that we can’t follow wholeheartedly today because. There are always a few things resolved first.

It’s the familiar refrain: I’ll do tomorrow!

There is peril in procrastination. Too many people always look to tomorrow. But remember that tomorrow is not promised. In Scripture there is one word that jumps out repeatedly; it’s the word now. There are many references to the importance of now or today rather than tomorrow:

  • Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
  • behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
  • Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart (Ps 95:7).
  • Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth (Prov 27:1).

That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! You’d better choose the Lord today because tomorrow might very well be too late. Now is the day of salvation.

There is an old preacher’s story about delay: There were three demons who told Satan about their plan to destroy a certain man.The first demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no Hell.” But Satan said, “People know that there’s a Hell and most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, that there is a God, for He has written His name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I’m not going to tell them that there’s no Hell or that there’s no God; I’m going to tell them that there’s no hurry.” And Satan said, “You’re the man! That’s the plan!”

Yes, promptness is a discipline of discipleship. It is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to run joyfully and without delay to what God promises.

Here are two disciplines of discipleship. They are not easy, but the Lord only commands what truly blesses. There is freedom in poverty and joy in quickly following the Lord!

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Where is the Dwelling of God?

The following old Hasidic story was related by the late Jewish philosopher Martin Buber:

“Where is the dwelling of God?” This was the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him. They laughed at him: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of his glory?” Then he answered his own question: “God dwells wherever man lets him in.”

Indeed, there is only one place in all of creation where God will not go without permission; that place is our own heart. Jesus says,

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me (Rev 3:20).

Yes, God knocks. He does not barge in. He is not rude or overwhelming; He knocks.

God fills all creation with His glory, but our heart has such an influence that if we do not admit Him there, we may well miss His presence elsewhere, including creation. Today there are some who deny God’s glory, which is so clearly manifest in creation. “No,” they say, “it’s all the result of random mutation, blind evolution. There’s nothing to see here, no one to see.”

If God is refused entry to our heart, our minds easily fall into vain reasoning. Of this St. Paul writes,

For what may be known about God is plain to [the Gentiles], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and senseless hearts were darkened (Romans 1:19-21).

To those who admit God into their heart, who open the door, His glory is seen everywhere.

The spacious firmament on High
With all the blue, ethereal sky!
And spangled heavens a shining frame;
Their great original proclaim!

Another song says,

O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain
.

If we admit God into our heart, suddenly the world lights up with His glory. We become “mystics on the move.” The world is full of God’s glory, and reason alone can conclude the existence of a creator from observing the book of creation, but if we open the door of our heart to God we are struck with wonder and awe, and we see the glory of the Lord as never before and in an ever-deepening way.

Look up to the stars. There is more there than just suns, planets, galaxies, and the vacuum of space. There is a revelation of God’s glory and love, a revelation of God Himself in His handiwork. Consider the stars and planets; learn their proclamation:

Though they in solemn silence all
move round our dark terrestrial ball;
And though nor real voice nor sound
amid their radiant orbs be found;
in reason’s ear they all rejoice,
and utter forth a glorious voice,
forever singing as they shine,
‘The hand that made us is divine!’

Does the Lord dwell in your heart? He will only dwell there to the degree you allow Him.

Let Him in and watch creation light up as never before. Yes, the world is full of God’s glory—do you see it?

Fix Me, Jesus; Fix Me – Three Reasons Why Even Our Spiritual Life Needs Fixing

When I was a good bit younger, in college actually, I had to take a few economics and marketing courses. At that time I thought to myself, “God has a bad marketing department,” since things like Scripture and prayer were often so difficult to understand and do. God seemed to insist that we pray, but everyone I ever asked admitted that prayer was difficult. And while many had reasons they offered as to why prayer was difficult, I still wondered why, if God could just zap prayer and make it delightful, He didn’t just do so. “Yes,” I thought, “God has a bad marketing plan!”

But of course God isn’t selling products; He’s raising children. He’s healing hearts, and heart surgery involves pain and often lengthy procedures. Many purifications, mortifications, and changes are going to be necessary if we want to attain holiness and Heaven.

Let’s look at three reasons our soul needs purification. Note that purifications of the soul are akin to, but distinct from, the mortifications necessary for our body and the passions related to it (e.g., gluttony, lust, and greed). For our soul, too, can be weighed down with excesses and defects.

Drawing from the spiritual masters and St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange details three reasons that our soul needs purification, especially as we begin to make progress. They are spiritual pride, spiritual gluttony, and spiritual sloth. Each of these brings conditions and temptations to a soul that is beginning to make some progress in prayer and fervency. The very gifts of progress and fervency are also possible dangers to the ongoing growth that is needed. Thus God purifies us in diverse manners in order to avoid having these traps capture us entirely.

Let’s look at each in turn. The text is my own, but the insights and inspiration are found in Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange’s Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol two, pp. 44ff, Tan Publications.

I. Spiritual pride – This comes when a person, having made some progress and experienced consolations as well as the deeper prayer of a proficient, begins to consider himself a spiritual master. He or she may also start to judge others severely who seem to have made less progress.

Those afflicted with spiritual pride often “shop around” for a spiritual director, looking for one who affirms rather than challenges their insights. Further, they tend to minimize the true reality of their sins out of a desire to appear more perfected than they really are.

Soon enough we have a Pharisee of sorts, who regards himself too favorably and others too poorly. There is also the problem of hypocrisy, since spiritual pride would have one play the role of a spiritual master and proficient, when one really is not.

God, therefore, must often humble the soul who has begun to make progress. In a certain sense He slows the growth, lest the greatest enemy, pride, claim all the growth.

II. Spiritual sensuality – This is a kind of spiritual gluttony, which consists in being immoderately attached to spiritual consolations. God does sometimes grant these to the soul, but the danger is that the consolations come to be sought for their own sake. One starts to love the consolations of God more than the God of all consolations. Growth in the love of God for His own sake is too easily lost or becomes confused and entangled. Or even worse, it becomes contingent upon consolations, visions, and the like.

Hence God must often withhold these for the sake of the soul, which must learn the discipline of prayer, with or without consolations, and to love God for His own sake. Uncorrected, spiritual gluttony can lead to spiritual sloth, which we consider next.

III. Spiritual sloth – This emerges when spiritual gluttony or other expectations of prayer are not met. There sets up a kind of impatience or even disgust for prayer and the narrow way of the spiritual life. Flowing from this is discouragement, a sluggishness that cancels zeal, and the dissipation of prayer and other spiritual practices. One allows endless distractions, makes excuses, shortens prayer and other spiritual exercises, or does them in a perfunctory manner.

Here, too, God must seek to purify the soul of attachment to consolations, lest such sloth lead to a complete disgust and a refusal to walk the narrow way of the spiritual life. Perhaps this sort of purification will take place through secondary causes, wherein the Lord acts though a spiritual director to insist on prayer, no matter how difficult. Perhaps, too, certain seasons such as Lent and Advent, or other “ember days” and the like will be used by God to bring greater zeal to the soul weighed down with spiritual sloth.

Clearly, God must correct this spiritual sloth and help us to accept God and prayer on His terms, not ours. The insistence on delight and consolations on our own terms is a great enemy to the docility and humility necessary for true growth.

Yes, there are many purifications necessary for us, whether we like to admit it or not. We might like to think that our spiritual life would itself be free from excesses or defects or at least would be a sign of great progress. But often even the most beautiful prayer experiences and spiritual stages are replete with the need for purification and further growth. Perhaps this is what Isaiah meant when he wrote,

In our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and even our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Is 64:5-6).

This song says, “Fix me, Jesus; Fix me.”

A Gentle Presence in a Threatening World

Sister Mary Berchmans Hannan, the mother superior of the Visitation sisters’ community at Georgetown Visitation.

In a time when America can seem divided, sometimes beyond foreseeable repair, a beautiful sanctuary of unity and love can be found in the northwest reaches of our nation’s capital. A testament to the awesome power of optimism and devoted faith in Jesus, the Georgetown Visitation Monastery provides an example from which all of us can learn.

Georgetown Visitation’s story begins six months before the federal government of the United States relocated to Washington from Philadelphia. Reverend Leonard Neale (later the 2nd Archbishop of Baltimore) brought Alice Lalor, a devout Irish immigrant, to Georgetown, Maryland. Influenced by the writings of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal of France, and motivated by Lalor’s determination to open a young girls school, they established the first house of the Visitation Order of Holy Mary in America.

The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary has its roots in early seventeenth-century France. In a time when religious life was physically taxing, Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal saw the opportunity for the creation of a religious order that would be welcoming to women seeking a deep relationship with God, but who could not abide the physical rigors of traditional religious life. This order would focus on the virtues of patience, humility, gentleness, joyful optimism, graciousness, and thoughtful concern for others. This perspective, somewhat radical in its time, culminated with de Sales and de Chantal founding of the first house of the Visitation Order in 1610. By 1641, eight-five houses had been established.

In important ways, to be a VHM sister today is not much different than it would have been four-hundred years ago. The sisters maintain a gentle approach to life. They lead a meditative existence, and keep to a routine schedule. Distractions are kept to a minimum. This is not to say they are dis-engaged from the outside world – the opposite, in fact. They read The New York Times daily, subscribe to numerous Catholic publications, and generally keep abreast of world events. But their most intense focus is paid to becoming better, more powerful personifications of their charism, “Live Jesus.”

What does “Live Jesus” mean exactly? It means that amidst the adversity and turmoil of the world, the VHM Sisters accept God’s will as it unfolds in their lives. They live in the presence of God, and remain aware of the fact that God is always near. Perhaps most importantly, they practice the “little virtues” of kindness, thoughtful concern for others, optimism, gentleness, and patience. Amidst the many excesses of contemporary popular culture, the VHM Sisters practice balance and moderation in all things, and put a premium on cherishing the future while savoring the good from the past.

A lesser known aspect of the Visitation Sisters, but one that is equally as important as “Live Jesus,” is the contemplation of the Sacred Heart. Both religious and secular persons will likely recognize this image: a burning red heart encircled by a crown of thorns, pierced by two arrows, with the cross floating atop the fiery heart. It is a symbol which signifies the message that Jesus’s heart burns with a deep love for His people, and it was a VHM Sister, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, who was influential in promulgating the spread of worldwide devotion to the Sacred Heart. Though private devotion to the Sacred Heart did not begin with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the Visitation Order was the first religious group to publicly consecrate themselves to it. For her miraculous visions of Jesus, Sister Margaret Mary was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.

Today, when one enters the grounds of Georgetown Visitation, they are overwhelmed by the spirit of generosity and love that emanates from the sisters. More than anything, though, one feels wholly, satisfyingly at peace among these humble and powerful women.

For further information regarding Georgetown Visitation, visit their website: http://www.gvmonastery.org/
& the website of the Georgetown Preparatory School: https://www.visi.org/