Why We Say Yes to the Dinner Invitation

Divine action, being limitless in its plenitude, can take possession of a soul only to the extent to which that soul is emptied of all trust in its own action.

For such self-confidence is a spurious fullness that excludes divine action.

This is the obstacle most likely to impede divine action, namely, that which is found in the soul itself, for in the case of external obstacles the divine action can, when it chooses, convert them into useful means. Everything is equally useful and useless to it. Without it everything is as nothing, and with it nothing becomes everything. Meditation, contemplation, vocal prayers, interior silence, acts of the faculties of the soul, whether accompanied by emotional feelings, and whether distinctly or less clearly perceived, a life of retirement or an active one, all these things may be valuable in themselves, but the best of all for the soul is what God wills at this particular moment, and ail else must be regarded by the soul with perfect indifference as being nothing at all.

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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.

If You Thirst, Drink

St Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) was one of t...

If you are thirsty, then drink. “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.” (John 7:37).

It is common sense and yet we wrestle with demons within ourselves and find no peace. We all have many decisions in life that require some internal search to enable us to choose wisely: careers, friends, ideologies, political beliefs and such. However, the vocational struggle is the most soul wrenching of all. To live a married life, a single life, a life alone, a life in community, a life for God Alone are the toughest on the mind, heart and soul: for they are the essence of how we should live for the rest of our lives. They are the game changing decisions. Careers, friends, ideologies and the like are all decisions that may mutate and change as we come to see our lives differently and we grow in knowledge but the vocational decisions are deep and lasting. They are reminiscent of our choice to choose God and act upon the gift of faith that God pours into our earthen vessels. If we refuse to act by exercising our gift of free will, then our call to faith will seep from us slowly causing us to wither and live our lives in accordance to the ways of the world rather than the divine call to holiness.

If you are weary, then rest. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee…” __ St. Augustine

Were my children wrestling with a decision concerning the spiritual life or the worldly life I would hope that they might have help from a Spiritual Director who knows the deepest desires of their souls and has examined their character for some appropriate amount of time. I would be much too emotionally invested and not objective enough in my evaluation. After all, it is not my decision. It is between God and the soul He calls and, God willing, a Spiritual Director who can advise and console the deep gut wrenching struggle taking place in the seeker’s soul.

That being said, I do however think that there is some wisdom in answering a call from Christ when it causes a soul a great deal of pain in evaluating. I say this because of the following; the evil spirits do all they can to dissuade souls from entering into a decision of living a life for God Alone. If you are thirsty, drink. If you are weary, rest. Christ is there to quench our thirsts and to give us rest. It is abandonment to divine providence.

I know a woman who had become a sister in a convent in France when she was much younger. It was all she ever wanted to be. However, she got sick and the order sent her home. Ever since, she has lived her life according to the rules of her old order, as sort of a hermit or consecrated virgin. She had not envisioned anything like this but God must have known that it suited her soul better to be alone rather than live in community. We must accept God’s decision once we put the decision on His shoulders.

Therefore, she did not fight and wrestle with the call to be a religious and live her life for God Alone. This woman made the plunge without any reserve. So after her dismissal, her health recovered and she now lives a life that suits her. She is a contemplative in her prayer life and subsists on very little money which I think was derived from her family; for much of her life is hidden even though I know her well. She is a type of ‘desert prophet’ of the ancient Church living in the midst of people who don’t really see her or know who she is. They would never know who she truly is by simply looking at her.

So in my simple way of thinking, it may be better perhaps to let go of the demons one is wrestling with and put the onus on Christ’s shoulders by choosing to let Him lead you to your vocation. Why else would you be wrestling if He had not put the thought in your heart and mind to begin with? Once you let go of the decision, you can step either to the left or right as you think is right. If it is wrong, then God will eventually put it right. I don’t think he would leave a soul, who gave themselves over to Him completely, to suffer in a vocation to which they did not truly belong.

I’m no spiritual director and only speak from my own knowledge: mostly from books and my dear friend, the sister in hiding. There are plenty of retreats to ponder a religious vocation that are offered in most dioceses. But, in the end, everyone must make their vocational decisions themselves, hopefully through prayer and deep meditation. I only wish it weren’t so painful for those poor souls who wrestle with these problems and also for their friends and families to witness their pain as well. But God is the Physician of Souls and we need trust that He will get them through it.

Pray for those who are considering a religious vocation as there are many demons that vex the mind and heart of these poor souls during the time of their discernment.

Adherence to a Standard

The basis for all spirituality is adherence to a standard. In the case of Catholic Spirituality the standard is, of course, the definitive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; including Her moral standard, as well as Her practices.

To borrow one of the late Fulton Sheen’s illustrations, let’s imagine ourselves sitting at a piano.

English: Pianist Mark Eisenman

When we strike any key on the instrument no one can say that we have hit a wrong note. However, in the context of playing a particular piece of music, many wrong notes are possible. The music to be played is a standard that must be followed precisely if we are to receive the applause that follows a successful rendition at a concert.

Our spiritual lives are very much like this. Our saints are like the virtuosos who garner much admiration after a difficult musical performance. We do not see or hear the mistakes previously made during practice nor are we made aware of the depth of the trials that these persons overcame in order to achieve their success. But rest assured that a struggle was a necessary prelude to all that they achieved.

The piano player made mistakes in practicing and worked them out. If they were beyond his ability to recognize and correct, he sought out a maestro or teacher who could give them musical exercises to overcome their shortfalls. But never did they decide to rewrite the score themselves in order that they might more easily play the piece or because they disagreed with some section of the musical piece. They adhered completely to the standard.

Likewise, a Catholic soul who desires to lead a spiritual life, who wishes to attempt Christ’s lofty goal to “be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), must practice holiness like a virtuoso practices his instrument. When he stumbles and falls, he returns to his Maestro (the Church) for correction. It is through this never ending and meticulous process of failure, confession, absolution, and spiritual direction that the soul is purified and our Catholic Spirituality made sound. We don’t rely solely on our own abilities nor do we re-write the teachings of the Church to aid us in our journey. For then we have only substituted our private standard for that of the Church and our spirituality becomes as flawed as the musician who ‘does his own thing’ without regard to the music that he has been asked to play. Just as such a musician will not long be a member of an orchestra, so too those who create their own standards cannot long remain members of the Divine Orchestra the Holy Catholic Church unless one fully accepts the Divine Music and at least attempts to play the performance according to Her Standard.

The first step to a healthy spirituality then is the desire to play in the Heavenly Orchestra and to humbly submit to play only those notes that are written. The next step is to practice according to the rules those things that are difficult and to seek help in correcting those things with which we constantly have problems. Once the soul has begun to faithfully apply himself to this humble obedience (this training of the will) and has sought help through prayer, countless days of practice (making virtues habitual,  and through the utilization of appointed teachers within the Church, much progress in the Spiritual Life is assured.

In music one studies the theory of music, seeks help and listens to others who play well, while in Spirituality the soul studies the teachings, the moral laws and precepts, prays, practices the virtues, and acquaints themselves with the great saints in order that he might acquire their abilities which are not yet possessed in full. Imperfections and failures are certain along the way but with these basics one can proceed safely without danger to ones immortal soul. “For what will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Remember that sloth or laxity is a capital sin that we must always be on guard to fight. Zeal for the Faith and zeal for Christ comes no other way: it requires spiritual exercise and slow, hard work.