Beauty is the Radiance of Truth

Graduale Aboense, hymn book of Turku, Finland....

Has the Church of the late 20th and early 21st century forgotten the importance of beauty for the soul’s search for truth and her longing for God? We continuously hear from the elite that music and art play no real significance in the Church or Her liturgies. But I wonder if that is so. In a previous article I wrote about the aspects of the Divine Love which let us recognize His Presence hidden among us: for instance, in Truth, Light, Goodness and Beauty. If one cannot see Christ’s connection in life to beauty then such a man displays a withered soul in need of the Eternally Beautiful that it might stimulate him.

Our art and our music are significant in that they can, when inspired, move our souls to the peace, love and tranquility that are but reflections of the One who gives the soul her true rest. Have we modern men forgotten how to love, how to expand our souls, how to be transported to another world by these mediums? Are we no longer humans, with a longing for beauty? If so, I am afraid that we have lost our sense of holiness just as we moderns have lost our sense of sin.

It would seem that this may be so if we were to walk into a modernistic church designed in the minimalist motif or listen to the modern hymns that transport the soul not to God but to an auditorium full of children gathered for a sing-a-long. Our hearts and souls contract when confronted with the inexpressive lines of minimalism. It shouts that there is nothing to say, nothing to long for, nothing to aspire to; it is just utilitarian in form and design and that is all that life can offer. In contrast to a gothic church, we do not see the hope for something timeless and eternal but instead see what is stark and sterile.

The same can of course be said of music which contracts our souls and sets our hearts square on the world. It was the other worldliness of Gregorian chant that once moved man’s heart, mind and soul to places it had never dreamed of going. It was a glance into the heavens and it expanded the souls of those who would listen to be transported as it were into a heavenly world full of angels, awe and mysteries of unspoken beauty. Our hearts ache for beauty as the human heart has always done. I do not believe, nor will I ever believe that the human heart and soul has lost its relish for beauty, goodness and love: we long for it and thirst for it as a foretaste of the All Good, the All Beautiful, the All Loving God of our dreams. It is a means through which we glimpse God Himself.

These external and superfluous additions to liturgy are not therefore pointless and they do not take our mind off of the mysteries and the incomprehensible goodness of the sacraments. Instead they draw one closer and expand our hearts to better receive Him, our God, our Love and the All Beautiful Christ into our longing souls who wait with awe and who thirst for His Holiness. For holiness consists, in part of unspoiled beauty, unspoiled goodness, unspoiled truth and unspoiled love.

When man no longer recognizes beauty he will no longer recognize God. I cannot for a minute think that man’s innate love for beauty was place within our hearts and souls for no reason. I do not find it of little value and little worth as we seek our Divine End for which we were made.

God is Love

Love Love Love

God is Love Itself and Christ is sometimes referred to as the Truth, the Light, the Good or the Beautiful. In fact, many people find Christ by looking for one of these traits specifically. Each of these attributes is in reality a reflection of our God as revealed in Christ and they possess a common thread.

Love is simply that which mankind needs to fully become human. It fills him and rescues him from his loneliness and his misery. It gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless life.

As it happens, we humans are attracted to the other attributes as well.

Now Truth is the friend of men because it reveals to our reason the object of our attention without distortion. We would not be able to rely on our use of reason if it were not for our desire to seek Truth. Evil loves confusion, perversions of truth and the masquerading of lies as the Truth. We love Truth because we find, in Truth, Love: a reality that lay hidden among all the lies which abound.

The Light is also a friend of man as it reveals to the eye what is hidden in the darkness. Man has always feared the dark. Even in our modern era a vestige of this fear can be seen in those who become depressed and despondent in low light environments. Evil, it seems, prefers the dark and hides in the shadows. It is much like the pesky cockroach that retreats at the first sign of light. But for man, the Light is another manifestation of Love. It shines light on the things we fear and they retreat: leaving us to rely on light as a loving and truthful guide that supplies us with security and courage.

As with the first two attributes, the Good is a reflection of Love and leaves man feeling secure and happy in its presence; the opposite effect being the anxiety associated with those who exhibit evil or wrongful habits and desires. The Good is pleasing to man while Evil fills us with dread, anxiety and loathing. The Good is how man relates to trust and to Love. Its polar opposite leads man to distrust and to hate. It hides the Good and is a perversion of the Truth.

As with the Good, the Beautiful brings out our feelings of wonder and awe at the majesty and grandeur of this world and the infinite cosmos in which we abide. The starry nights help us cope in the darkness and we find the scenes wrapped in splendor. The perversion of this celestial beauty, as when a tempest has ravaged our landscape or dark clouds black out the sky, is disheartening to our souls and our hearts are disquieted and a bit heavier at its sight. The Beautiful leads us to Love as well. We identify with it, want to imitate it, by adorning ourselves, creating music and art to uplift the spirit. When we create something which is antithetical to beauty it depresses and fills us with anxiety and fills us with doubt. It hides the beauty that lies within.

God is Love, and all of Christ’s attributes lead to this revelation. That which is hidden is revealed in these attributes. God, at first, was hidden from man and we feared Him; and rightfully so. But through Christ, we have come to see God as He really is: we found His Truth, His Light, His Goodness, and His Beauty.  So in this way Love reveals all that was previously hidden; it is no longer hidden from man but manifest in Christ. Christ and His gift of Self to fallen man naturally draws man to Himself through these attributes. Any other response to Christ is a perversion of our God and an affront to His Love for us.

Living In the Presence of God

prayer..

It is our task in life to live in the presence of God continuously; “to pray without ceasing.” It is impossible for man but nothing is impossible for God. So we may think we are incapable but as we have already discussed everything is possible with Christ.

About 3 posts ago I wrote a post that nobody seemed to understand. It didn’t strike me until the comments all had a similar ring to them that belied the intended message I wished to convey. I finally had to give the commenter, Jay, an explanation of what the blog was intended to be and so I apologize: it’s not the reader, it’s the fault of the author when things are not understood.

The post was titled, Failure to Commit, and my explanation could be paraphrased as follows:

 My point of reference was myself, as I am the only one I can speak for with any certitude; and as the author I was afraid that if done poorly, it could sound as if I were pointing a finger at my readers.  It was written solely for the purpose of showing the reader that we all need God’s grace to accomplish anything: that even simple prayers for an increase in faith, hope and love, may one day help us in this task of making and keeping important commitments. I’m no saint and recognize that most people fall short as well; but that does not mean that any of us have lost the opportunity as long as God continues to hold us in existence upon this earth. I was just trying to get across our real need for increased grace and that I too must be realistic about my own failures. Our failures show a weakness; and the weakness usually resides in our own individual will. Only love can motivate the will sufficiently to make the hardest commitment of all: dying to self. Without this truth indelibly infused into our minds there is no hope of dropping the pose for the true inner experience that we desire. The death of our ego, which we should seek, must begin within us so that God can be allowed to live His life within our souls. He will not accept competition in this regard. Only a very strong love and desire to die to self and to be reborn in Him will allow this to happen. And we will all fail; over and over again. That is why our prayers for each other are so necessary and beneficial for our advancement. My final analysis was that successful commitments need a strong love and a strong sense of sacrifice. In short, sacrificial love.

 It is important to get this straightened out at the outset of this post should you have read the last three entries.

So we acknowledge that we need to develop sacrificial love in our hearts, agape love, the type that Christ had for us. As Christ perfects our souls in love through many trials, we continue to work on our virtues and our prayers, failing often but setting out again with the knowledge that Christ is teaching the soul and perfecting our love.

This action of repeatedly traversing from consolations to desolations and back again, occur both in our prayers and in our everyday living. This cycle brings us to a point where we begin to see God in all aspects of our lives. He is there in the joyous moments and even more present when our souls are suffering great torment. It is in this well-spring of spiritual life that God’s presence becomes the living water and an abiding presence that never leaves us.

Only then can our will gain the loving resolve to accept God’s will in all things. We are ready, finally, to surrender ourselves to Divine Providence. A complete abandonment of our self-serving will: I am yours, O Lord, do with me what you will.

All Vocations have their Center in Christ

The Exhortation to the Apostles

There are a number of vocations that Catholics might consider before embarking on life’s journey. In brief, they could probably be categorized as the married life, the single life, the religious life, the priesthood, and the hermit or consecrated virgin. Such are the choices we have to choose and all are good and efficacious means to minister to one another and to keep Christ as the center of our lives.

The married state is the most common vocation and should be considered by those who have a great love of life. Those who are desirous of giving their selves completely to one another and who wish to be generous in that gift of self by dedicating themselves to their families: always keeping their expressions of love open to the prospect of new life. If one is not capable of such self-surrender, another vocation may be a better choice. The married state mirrors the life of the trinity – in as much as there is a certain unity expressed in various persons: the father, the wife and the children. Together they form but one family unit and separately they each have an equality of love and worth.

The single life is at times not chosen but thrust upon individuals who never found another person that made them desirous to surrender themselves to another entirely. Or, if they did, were rejected or went unnoticed by the other. In this case the individual desires to live in the world and should try to live a chaste life in service to others. These persons are usually quite suited to working with the poor, the sick, the old or the orphaned. Christ again should be at the center of their life and they should consider themselves as other Christ’s walking among us to relieve suffering to those in need and want. We might say that their lives mirror that of Christ as healer.

The religious life is a calling that is not often heard though many may be called to it. Those souls who heed this call desire above all else to find God Himself continuously present in their life. They wish to make Christ their life’s constant companion and the spouse of their souls. These religious men and women strive through work and prayer to advance daily in humility, virtue and prayer that they might become holy in honor of the One who is Holiness Himself. It is necessary that these individuals are attracted to living in community with others who have the same aspirations. They must be generous and eager to live their lives in complete obedience to their superiors and to the rules of their order. They do not mind this structured life, in fact they desire to give up their personal likes, dislikes, pleasures and the like for the higher good. It is a total giving of self to God and so their natures are generously given over to a life lived without any say in any aspect of their day to day service. One might say that this life mirrors the heavenly union of the Bride and the Bridegroom, the Church and Christ, lived out on this earth within each individual.

The priesthood, obviously only available to men, is for those who wish to serve as an example to others, teaching their flocks about the love of God and dispensing the graces that were given them by their ordination.  This is accomplished by the application of the Sacraments entrusted to the Church and given to them in their apostolic function of the Church. They are the fathers of the family of God who looks out for the well-being and health of their flock: a spiritual physician that applies Christ’s ointments for healing and the strengthening of souls. Again many are called but many do not heed this invitation. For these rare men, seem to mirror Christ’s care for His Apostles and disciples. They are the very real embodiments of the powers that Christ gave to His closest friends: the Apostles. They act among us as an alter Christus[1] and they function while distributing the Sacraments, in persona Christi.[2]

The last of the vocations might be called that of an anchorite. These are the men and women who have withdrawn from the world to live their lives completely hidden from the world. Some live these lives among us and others live them in seclusion. It is a life that draws those who are desirous to live humbly and to never be recognized in this life. They are persons that are models for us in their humility and mirror Christ’s desire to veil His Divinity from us. Enfleshed as man Christ walked among us and opened the spiritual eyes of man to see the Reality of His being through sacrificial love. As Christ’s servants, these consecrated virgins, hermits and unknowns are quietly setting examples for all who might enter into contact with them. It is sufficient for them, that Christ knows them and that is all they truly desire in this life.

The last group of people I would like to speak of are not a specific vocation at all. They are, I think, the highest calling of all of humankind though they are not given any choice in it. They can come from any of the above vocations at any time or they can be born into it. They have been called and chosen by Christ to suffer for the rest of us. They are those taken ill or made helpless by natural misfortune. They are babies and children born with defects and illnesses who inspire us to find ways to serve them and attempt to ease their suffering during this life. They become helpless and sometimes abandoned and hopeless, as Christ Himself experienced when tortured and accepted an agonizing death upon the cross. These special individuals then represent Christ in the most glorious way of all: their union with the sufferings of Christ Himself. Some of these special individuals are known to us as victim souls. And through their sufferings, countless other souls are saved and a multitude of sins forgiven for those who are moved to help them, pray for them, and work unceasingly to ease them from their suffering.

Any of us can experience that which drowns us in sorrow or pain. Though burdened by these maladies, those who suffer can also offer their pain and suffering to Him Who suffered before us so that we might not suffer in eternity.

God loves us all and we should never forget that to whatever vocation or state we have drifted into, that Christ was meant to be at the center of our lives; that is if we live them as He would have us live them. Everyone is called to holiness. He wants each and every one of us to be a Saint with Him in Heaven.


[1] Another Christ

[2] In the Person of Christ

The Virtue of Faith

Depiction of faith, hope, and charity (love), ...

The Virtue of Faith is found in the intellect (which aspires to truth) and the will, not in the emotions. This can often be confusing due to the fact that the gift of faith has as its goal Love (Charity), which in essence is God Himself. Likewise, our expressions of Faith are also motivated by the virtue of Love – the love of God and of neighbor as oneself, for the love of God. This Theological Virtue of Love is not, however, to be confused with emotional love though it quite often (but not necessarily) accompanies this virtue by the same name.

Love is the ‘form’ of the virtues as well as the ‘source and goal’ of their practice. (see CCC 1827)  And it is by the Virtue of Faith that we dare Hope for the Divine Promises. Our love of Christ (Truth) is a sure foundation for the Virtue of Faith while Theological Hope in these promises depends upon our acceptance and belief in Him Who is True. One can easily see why we have need for all 3 of the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity) as described by the Church: for none can operate in isolation from the others. Only when we meet God face-to-face will we no longer have need of Faith and Hope though Love will always remain – our will becoming one with His Divine Will. It is God’s free gift of love that operates in us now and will someday sustain us in heaven; He has loved us first and this love moves our hearts to seek Him with our freewill through Faith, Hope and Love.

The similarity to marital love is quite striking. We can easily mistake the ‘magic’ of love for the selfless love necessary in a successful marriage. This ‘magic’ or emotionalism that accompanies a loving relationship can and often does fade in time. But a successful marriage is a movement of the will to sacrifice and surrender oneself to the other even in the absence of these emotions. Often the love-swoon of a new romance is sufficient to motivate many good and noble actions: not necessarily for the sake of True sacrificial love for the other, but in order to maintain this emotional nirvana. It is an old saying that some people are merely in love with Love. But even this love, which is wonderful in its own right, points to a higher Love – a Love still more complete. This Love is sacrificial in nature and devoid of self-satisfaction as its object. It is other-oriented and not egocentric. It is this kind of Love that God has for us and that we should have for Him. No wonder we speak of spiritual marriage between our souls and Christ.

Therefore, our spiritual quest should be consistent with this proper orientation. It should be Christ-centered rather than me-centered. A loss of emotional fulfillment is not necessarily a sign that one has lost his faith; although an abandonment of one’s duties to this faith may certainly indicate such. Faith does not leave us unchanged. It demands works of charity and obedience of faith, bearing witness to God. (CCC 2087) True faith and a healthy spiritual life are often found in those who have been denied the ‘feelings’ (instant gratifications) of faith but trudge ever forward into the seeming darkness. They are guided only by their unchangeable fiat, “not my will but Thine be done.” Their will is guided by Faith, Hope, and Love, though they operate in a way sometimes unseen or unfelt by the spiritual pilgrim.

If we seek only emotional consolation from our faith then we have not truly been tested in our faith. It is wonderful to be given such lights from our Lord and we should always thank Him for them. But we should never confuse these consolations for the True Gift of Faith. When we are tested in our faith by a loss of these comforts we should thank God all the more for the faith bestowed on us, which can only be practiced by our will which is accompanied by hope and love of God. Thus stripped of self-satisfaction, we stand naked before God, unashamed like the new Adam (Christ Jesus) when He willed to die an ignominious death on the cross for Love of us.

I believe it was the Curé of Ars who was once asked how a person might become a saint.  His answer was: “You will it.”

Can Dogs Go to Heaven?

Fred

I must admit I don’t have an answer to this one and theology does make it seem like an impossibility. But as doubtful as it is, I’d love to think that they do because one thing is obviously certain to me. Dogs can teach us more about living the Christian life than most people. Now dogs have different personalities and natures, so this does not pertain to every dog. However, I have been blessed with some truly remarkable pets throughout my life.

What is it about dogs that I admire? What have I learned from my dogs that I would do well to emulate in my own life?

First of all, loyalty: for the loyalty of a good dog is something to be admired and rarely found among our peers. You can mistreat a dog, forget to feed him or walk him, or ignore him and yet he persists in being faithfully attached and would never abandon your home for another person who offered him better food and treatment; as his loyalty is built on love and trust.

Also, patience: for the patience of a dog is amazing. They wait for their owner to pay them some attention, to play with them, etc. and never give up hope that the hour will come – if not today, maybe tomorrow or the next day.

Obedience is another admirable trait. Some dogs surrender their will to you entirely. They only want to be pleasing to you. Though they do not understand our motives or the outcome of our commands they are only happy to promptly comply with our wishes – no back talk, no hesitation.

An attitude of self-sacrifice is present in many dogs; willing to give their very lives to protect their family and to come to their aid. They do not weigh the odds or ponder the possible failure of their action – they just defend what they have come to believe in, which is us. Their love is agape love or self-sacrificing love and is of the highest order.

Cheerfulness and joy is the normal disposition of a dog that has been properly raised and socialized. They always lift your spirits by their show of happiness and joy at just seeing you after a short absence. Leave the house for 5 minutes and upon your return your dog will greet you like he hasn’t seen you in months.

Long-suffering is another trait that truly amazes me.  They live in the moment with no thoughts about past sufferings or future uncertainties. I have seen dogs on the verge of death lying on an operating table at the vet. At their first sight of a familiar family face they express pure joy by wagging their tail even if they have lost the ability to sit, stand or roll over. When hurt, sick or dying, they suffer in silence without so much as a whimper. They simply go silent and suffer in silence.

A dog may be mans best friend on a number of levels and we might learn more from our dogs than they do from us. I can teach a dog many silly tricks but a dog can teach me to practice the theological virtues of faith, hope and love in a most profound way. An entire book could be written about many other admirable qualities of these fine animals but these will suffice.

If I could only live a life that expressed my love for God in such a manner I might become a saint. Dogs may not go to heaven but they just might help some of us get there by setting a wonderful example. All we have to do is apply it in our lives and thus mimic their behavior in acts of unconditional love for God. That might make them more than man’s best friend; they may be our soul’s best friend and spiritual director as well.

P.S. Wally, dog on the right, went to his reward about 1 1/2 years ago. Fred, on the left, has taken up Wally’s role as spiritual director and seems capable of filling the paws of his predecessor.

Behold, I Come to Do Thy Will, O God

Crucifix

What is God’s Will and how can we know it? Once we have assented to the Truths of our Faith then we might well desire to live a life in complete obedience to God’s Holy Will. This would be a very intelligent action; especially since, in so doing, we would be cooperating in the salvation of our own souls. Such a decision would then be paramount to our eternal happiness. But the desire to actively pursue a holy and saintly life is often wrought with some confusion, primarily because at times we find ourselves unsure of what God’s Will truly is.

Holy Mother Church, which guards and contains the treasury of God’s revelation to man is not primarily dogmatic such as the case of Communist or Totalitarian regimes but based principally on the Loving relationship to a person – the Person of Christ. It is this Love that binds us together and garners our obedience to the Church (His Mystical Body on earth) and makes us as eager to obey Her Counsel, as to comply with the wishes of a loving father or mother. Our relationship with Christ comes first while our loving obedience follows naturally. We did not pick the teachings of the Church because She agrees with our own ideas. Instead, we formed a relationship with a Divine Person and became adopted children of His loving household. Therefore the dogmas of His Church (Her definitive teachings and counsels) are His definitive teachings and counsels and our greatest help in determining God’s Will; for who could refuse guidance from our Lord and God? The Church as a Mystical Bride faithfully teaches all that God has revealed and thus acts as Loving Mother to us all; guiding and helping us throughout our spiritual journey toward our heavenly home.

To know God’s Will is to know Him as He truly is: All-knowing, All-powerful, Ever-present, and Ever-existent. To this we add the Divine Attributes that have been revealed through Christ: His Love and Compassion, His Mercy, as well as His Divine Justice. It is Christ’s revelation that fills us with hope and makes God known as our Loving Father. It is to this fact that we now speak.

If we are eager to know everything concerning our earthly father (who he is, what he thinks, what he desires), then how much more effort should we set forth in order to discover these same things about our Heavenly Father? What expense in time and effort should be spared in order to gather this information? If we do no honor to our earthly fathers by neglecting such knowledge, then we certainly do no honor to our Father in Heaven by our complacency toward Him. We have a whole life to explore and deepen our knowledge of God and yet we often satisfy ourselves with the most meager knowledge and understanding available to us. We would never base a human marriage, one that may last 50 or 75 years on earth, on such skimpy knowledge – yet this is how we treat the Spouse of our souls, though our spiritual marriage is eternal.

It is not a matter of how smart and capable we are, for there is an inexhaustible supply for every mind and heart: Sacred Theology and the Catechism for some, Holy Scripture and Spiritual Reading for most, Devotions and Prayer for everyone. To increase our knowledge of God, according to our own talents and gifts, is the best method we have for knowing God’s Will; the better we know Him, the more we grow in Love of Him and thus come to know His Will.

What is God’s Holy Will? We have only a short lifetime to probe this immense treasure and the degree of our eternal happiness depends upon the depth of our Love for Him.

Fortnight for Freedom Starts Today

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