Recent Posts

Monday, 30 January 2012

Perfection Part Three-Thomism and the Spiritual Life

The concept of grace is rarely taught in catechesis and yet, a Catholic needs an excellent grasp on the concept of, especially, sanctifying grace, in order to grow in the interior life. The other concepts which an adult Catholic needs to understand are the virtues, or the life of virtue. The title of a key book, based on many sources, but none more than St. Thomas Aquinas, is Garrigou-Lagrange's The Three Ages of the Interior Life. When St. Paul writes of giving his converts "meat", this is meat, not milk. And, a caution to the pilgrim is that one can learn something intellectually and not have such concepts actually be part of the interior life of the soul, but only head knowledge. An excellent spiritual director is a necessity and good luck trying to find one in this day and age. Also, before one engages the ideas of Garrigou-Lagrange, I highly suggest at least the lay version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, again under a director. Again, good luck trying to find an orthodox, conservative director and not one involved in New Age interpretations of the classic thirty day retreat.

In a mini-series, of which this is the third part, I want to cover a basic approach to perfection, with an emphasis on the life of the virtues. One can read the complete discussion in Garrigou-Lagrange's great book, but I shall outline a few things on this blog just to interest readers. In this installment, I want to look at the infused virtues and in the next posting,  the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we all receive in Baptism. Here is a useful chart from the book:

 Charity -->
 Faith -->
 Hope -->
Gift of Wisdom
Gift of Understanding
Gift of Knowledge
Gift of Counsel
Gift of Piety
Gift of Fortitude
Gift of Fear
 Prudence -->
 - Religion -->
 - Penance
 - Obedience
 Fortitude -->
 - Patience
 - Humility
 - Meekness
 - Chasity

The Theological Virtues are infused, that is given to us by the Father. These are, of course, Faith, Hope and Charity. St. Thomas and Garrigou-Lagrange explain that the Theological Virtues are directed towards God as the End. We are given these virtues, but we must use and incorporate them into our souls. This is the job for each one of us, given these wonderful virtues at Baptism. One can read Garrigou-Lagrange for more detail. 

The Moral Virtues, however, help us get to Heaven-these are a means to that end. I highly recommend Josef Pieper's The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, a book I have used in class with great success in the past. These Cardinal Virtues may be considered Moral Virtues, but there are more Moral Virtues, while there are only the Four Cardinal Virtues.  I am not going into the entire list here. You can look here. One cannot be in mortal sin and develop the acquired Moral Virtues. Here is Garrigou-Lagrange: a man must no longer be in the state of mortal sin, but his will must be set straight in regard to his last end. He must love God more than himself, at least with a real and efficacious love of esteem, if not with a love that is felt. This love is impossible without the state of grace and without charity.(4) But after justification or conversion, these true acquired virtues may come to be stable virtues; they may become connected, relying on each other. Finally, under the influx of infused charity, they become the principle of acts meritorious of eternal life. For this reason, some theologians, such as Duns Scotus, have even thought it not necessary that we should have infused moral virtues.

As much as I would not like to do so, I shall leave Duns Scotus for another time. But, notice two words being used here-acquired and infused. Even pagans, state Aquinas, using Plato and Aristotle, can acquire virtues; however, an example from Garrigou-Lagrange helps here: As St. Thomas remarks,(8) acquired temperance has a rule and formal object different from those of infused temperance. Acquired temperance keeps a just medium in the matter of food in order that we may live reasonably, that we may not injure our health or the exercise of our reason. Infused temperance, on the contrary, keeps a superior happy mean in the use of food in order that we may live in a Christian manner, as children of God, en route to the wholly supernatural life of eternity. Infused temperance thus implies a more severe mortification than is implied by acquired temperance; it requires, as St. Paul says, that man chastise his body and bring it into subjection,(9) that he may become not only a virtuous citizen of society on earth, but one of the "fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God." (10)

Part of the distinction here is the "end", the "reason" for the virtues. The Moral Virtues are practical to a certain extent, but if these are directed towards God, these become steps to heaven. Although the atheist, for example, may eat in a temperate manner, he is not directing his actions towards the Almighty and eternal life. He is acquiring virtue rationally, but without the supernatural motive. This is one of Aquinas' examples, as seen above.

There is a difference between motives and action. The Christian does all for the love of God and others, and not merely for one's self. Before moving on, I want to refer to a footnote here. Babies who are baptized receive all these virtues. This is why it is so important to have babies baptized and for parents to raise their children with the idea of cultivating these virtues. Here is the note:
Clement V at the Council of Vienna (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 483), thus settled this question, which was formulated under Innocent III (Den­zinger, no. 410): "Whether faith, charity, and the other virtues are infused into children in baptism." He answers: "We, however, considering the gen­eral efficacy of the death of Christ, which is applied by baptism equally to all the baptized, think that, with the approval of the sacred Council, we should choose as more probable and more consonant and harmonious with the teachings of the saints and of modern doctors of theology, the second opinion, which declares that informing grace and the virtues are bestowed in baptism on infants as well as adults." By these words, "and the virtues," Clement V means.not only the theological virtues, but the moral virtues, for they also were involved in the question formulated under Innocent III.

As I wrote earlier this week, there is no reason why a child cannot become a saint.

St. Artemius Died at AgeTwelve
And, it is imperative that Catholic parents are aware of the life of the virtues in order, not only to become holy themselves, but to nurture holiness in their children.

The virtues grow together and are all based on love, the love for God and neighbor. If one advances in one virtue, one will advance in all. But, it is imperative that the person is in sanctifying grace, receiving the sacraments regularly, and praying. Too many Catholics believe all this life in the virtues will "just happen". Not so. And, sadly, many Catholics do not even realize that the life of virtue must be lived in order to become perfect, as we are all called to be. We are all called to be perfect. Even those who could not read in the Middle Ages looked towards their books of stone for these truths. We have or are in danger of losing these truths today. We see a crisis in character formation all around us, in politics, in youth, in ourselves. Without virtue, there is no character. To be continued...

Only in Ireland--Bishop investigated for calling this age "Godless"

Ireland has again proven itself to be one of the nations most hateful of its former religion, Catholicism. And, a ridiculous sign of this is a formal complaint of a secular humanist against a bishop who made a sermon on this "Godless age" at Knock. The bishop, Dr. Philip Boyce gave a homily called "To Trust in God"


Mr. Colgan, a secular humanist who has brought the charges against the bishop, stated this: "I believe statements of this kind are an incitement to hatred of dissidents, outsiders, secularists, within the meaning of the [Incitement to Hatred] Act, who are perfectly good citizens within the meaning of the civil law.
"The statements exemplify the chronic antipathy towards secularists, humanists etc, which has manifested itself in the ostracising of otherwise perfectly good Irish citizens, who do not share the aims of the Vatican's Irish Mission Church."
It is obvious that Mr. Colgan does not understand that it is secular humanism which is attacking the Church, not the opposite. Shades of Voltaire, or will I get in trouble for saying this?

Just When You Thought Things Could Not Get Worse-A New Trinitarian Heresy in the United States for Export

This is too important to pass up. On JihadWatch this morning, a new translation of the Bible has been supported by groups working in Muslim countries. The Three Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not going to be the default Names for the Triune God. Instead, Father is changed to Lord or Allah, and Son is changed to Messiah. What the translators have done is created a heretical Bible-as the Revelation of God in the Scriptures is clearly that He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Why would any Christian group change the very heart of Revelation as to the Trinity for political correctness? As pointed out in the article, and as I know having had to deal with non-Trinitarian forms of Baptism in RCIA, to baptize someone in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer invalidates the Sacrament. So, too, would a formula of the Allah, the Messiah and the Holy Spirit. The article highlights this section from Matthew, sure to make real Christians appalled at the audacity of the change: (Matthew 28:19) reads, "Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit" instead of "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." 

The three groups responsible for this blasphemy are Wycliffe Bible Translators, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and Frontiers in North America.

That is all we need for Christian unity is another heresy which panders to a false religion. The impetus of Protestantism is to more and more division, and more and more disobedience to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thank God for the Catholic Church, which holds the fullness of truth.

Perfection Part Two-Metanoia First

Last night, I had a lengthy discussion with a friend about "conversion" to Christ. Now, this concept of metanoia or repentance comes from Christ Himself, as seen especially in His late night discussions with Nicodemus on being born again in the Spirit. In John 3:3, we hear Christ's words, and said to him: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of GodThe problem being addressed in Christ's admonition to Nicodemus and to us is the "changing" of the heart and mind to Christ, which cannot come about without Faith and the turning away from sin. Again, referring to Bonhoeffer, so many so-called Christians want the goodies of Christianity, such as salvation and community, without metanoia. It is only after conversion that one receives the graces, through the Sacraments of the Church, to grow in Christ, putting on His Mind and living in His Mystical Body, the Church.

The entitlement culture, which is obvious and much discussed on this blog and others, (see Dr. Sanity's excellent article on dependency), creates an atmosphere in the Church where some of the laity think they are entitled to grace without repentance. Example: when I was teaching RCIA, most of the participants finished the course and came into the Church at the Easter Vigil. However, there were always some, let us say 10%, who did not, who turned away at some point in the process. Why? The most commons reasons were contraception, the unwillingness to deal with irregular marriages, and the non-acceptance of the Church's Teaching on such hot topics as homosexuality. In these areas, there would appear a person who simply could not accept repentance, or metanoia, the turning around, the changing of a life for the sake of Christ-the Costly Grace.

If the change of mind does not happen, the life of the person will not change, as conversion is in the will. A huge mistake is made by some in the ministry who always want to appeal to the heart; they want people to "fall in love with Jesus". This is good, but if one looks at the progress of the sinners in the Scriptures, such as the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well, Truth and metanoia came first-that is, the realization of sin and the awareness that God, Christ, forgives sin comes first and then, and only then, the complete freedom and ability to love Love Himself follows. One responds to Love through metanoia.

Without conversion, our hearts are stone and our minds clouded by sin and death.

Conversion, love, the road to perfection. Perfection comes with the putting on and the habit of virtue. This can happen in the life of a child correctly raised in Faith, in a Catholic home. Many saints have been children or very young, but the perfection of their lives revealed that something, someone, helped them to know and love God. I think of the saints listed in the Canon of the Mass who were young when they died--Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, and Cecilia. Like the women in the New Testament, at some point in their young lives, they recognized their need for salvation, repented, and became lovers of Christ, following perfection even to face death itself.

I worked with youth many years ago. The success of one of my groups, happily, were the teens from excellent Catholic families, whose parents were Church-going Catholics, some home schooling. These teens and I planned May Crownings, Days of Renewal, Penance Services with the priest chaplain and many other worthwhile endeavors. We reached out to those who needed conversion from a position of strength, sharing the Gospel with those teens in the same high school who were drug addicts, alcoholics, fornicators, etc. Without the strength of that core group, there would have been no conversions. In another high school, I could not find that core group, even though the Catholic school had a population of 2,000 students. I failed to find the core group-those already converted who could share the Good News. I had to work on evangelization and at the level of conversion, but the students were too wealthy, too complacent and did not want metanoia. I left, shaking the proverbial dust off my feet when I realized the doors of their hearts were too closed for the Gospel message.

Christ Himself did not work in all places, towns, cities. He would go, preach, and leave. The Good News was available, God Himself was available, and He never chased after anyone. He simply was. He said, Come follow me, and those who responded to grace did follow Him. They began a road to perfection through conversion. Only those who turn and leave sin can be in the True Presence of God and learn the way of virtue. The others may be turned to salt, as they keep looking towards sin, instead of towards God. That is the lesson of Lot's wife. Her heart was still in Sodom and Gomorrah. She had not converted to God's message of salvation-to leave sin. She died, but she was already dead spiritually. To be continued.