Monday, 27 August 2012
Happy Feast of St. Monica. This is my favourite painting of St. Monica and St. Augustine. God bless all mums and sons today and bring them all closer to God. A mother's influence is great, for good or for evil. Let us pray for all mums with babies in the womb, that these babies are cherished for nine months and after.
I have been reading the Sermons of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, specifically on the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Without going into great detail, one of the points St. Bernard makes, which has been made by many saints, is that of gratitude.
In a Western society, where we are so use to thinking we have gained the goods we have, or in thinking that we are entitled to goods, we forget too easily that all good things come from the Hands of God.
The goods we have from God include spiritual blessings, as well as material blessings.
The goods denied us are also blessings from God. As
St. Bernard states, we must be
thankful for the sins we did not commit, for the temptations from which Christ has shielded us. We are to thank God for each virtue we receive and for each occasion of goodness He allows us.
I have been on retreat, which is always a treat which I do not take for granted. For some of us, a yearly retreat is a great reason for gratitude, and I thank God for my few days with Him and His companions in grace..
I am grateful for the Eucharist and the silence, the rhythm of prayer and reflection and conversation with the other guests.
I am grateful for my entire life, which has been a blessing, and it is not over, so there will be more blessings for which to thank the Lord.
Here in the convent, I met a woman whose only child died of brain cancer at the age of eleven. She has not only kept her faith, but is a light to all who meet her.
The day after the funeral of her child, her husband filed for divorce, leaving her alone in the world. I have met so many women who are alone in the world, I am beginning to realize that any love is a reason for gratitude.
The world has created an environment hostile to single, divorced and widowed women. Why? I think because of the lack of gratitude. A grateful man does not leave an older woman for a younger one. A grateful father does not leave the mother of his child. A grateful man does not ignore his widowed mother.
Gratitude is a sign of predestination. Gratitude from
St. Bernard’s view is absolutely necessary to please God.
The ungrateful will not see God. They cannot even see their families or
brothers and sisters in Christ, so how can they see God?
In a community or in a parish, one must never take friendship for granted. It is always a gift.
Thank God for your friends in Christ and be grateful daily. Keep a gratitude journal and list daily things for which you are grateful.
St. Bernard told his monks to remember all that God has
given them and all the dangers from which they have been spared. Be grateful
and rejoice in all things.
Being on retreat, I had a chance to pray, read and talk with some of the good Benedictine nuns at Tyburn.
One of the nuns said a startling but true thing which I want to share. She stated that when single women, even those who have been working of their spiritual life while in the world enter, “they have to start all over again.” Basically, the nun noted that those of us in the world as singles do not have a clue as to how little our efforts create merit or growth.
There are two reasons. The first is that singles are not living in a community or daily in commitment with a husband or wife, and therefore can deceive themselves as to the level and growth of their personal holiness. I have said something like this before on this blog, but to have an spiritual authority state clearly that one cannot grow in holiness in a vacuum was a clarification and completeness to what I have believed. The point is that living day to day in committed relationships is earth-shakingly different than living on one’s own and meeting with a counselor or spiritual director occasionally.
The second reason is that one needs a vow, to be committed fully to something or someone.
Again, I have written about this here and received both affirmation and censure. The point is that a vow gives grace which one does not have without that vow.
Grace follows grace and either in marriage or in the consecrated life, one receives grace upon grace not accessible in the single state.
Like the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, or Augustine, the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux give us endless spiritual milk to drink on these points.
In his sermon, On Humility and Patience, Bernard writes this, “Some endure humiliation with bitterness, other with patience, others again with gladness. The first class are culpable, the second are innocent, the last are just. Although innocence may be considered a part of justice, still the perfection of justice belongs to humility. Now, he is truly humble who can say from his heart, ‘It is good for me that Thou has humbled me.’”
Someone in the single state does not have the chance for either the first or the second type of humility, unless God intervenes directly and humbles the person over and over and over again. This is possible, through hardships, loss of work, illness and isolation.
In this series of sermons on the Songs of Songs, Bernard refers to the rebuke given to the Bride by the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom casts out the Bride is she is ignorant of herself. “If thou know not thyself..” The effect is one of terror. If we are not sometimes terrified, something is wrong in our spiritual life. To avoid the flesh, the earthly desires, and the temptations, one must know one’s self. Christ will cast us into dire situations in order for us to grow in self-knowledge.
God calls us out to the desert. Like the Bride, the soul endeavors to seek God in the emptiness. But, there must be rest in that emptiness.
Bernard continues, “…go forth from My sanctuary, which is thine own heart,
where thou hast been accustomed to receive with rapture the hidden and holy
impression of wisdom and truth.”
Note, however, that one cannot go out unless one has received. To do otherwise is not to be protected against the world and the devil. This point cannot be overestimated.
Several women around the table yesterday talked of being in the world “unprotected” by men. This is a dangerous world. They are all Europeans and all have experienced hardships brought about by the lack of one to protect them. Some of the experiences were neglect, spiritual and physical. Some involved violence. All involved rejection.
The Bridegroom, Christ, calls to them to healing and love. But, only in Him is this possible. Christ calls them and all of us to knowledge and as this knowledge only comes through the Church and the Sacraments, it is in the Church we must seek healing and love. And, in the sacraments-this is a huge misunderstanding among Catholics. Only through the sacraments is there sanctifying grace.
We who read these posts and others which are similar have either been called by God or are being called by God. The second ignorance of self is to fall away after having responded to the call of God.
Now, Bernard is speaking to monks who have chosen the narrow way. He is speaking to those who have made vows. As one of the nuns said here yesterday, to take vows either in the religious life or in marriage is a completely different life-style than remaining, as she said, “floating around in the world”. She knows herself because she is in a community as a late vocation. She knows herself because she daily follows Christ through the graces of her vocation. Her life changed when she made vows.
We have been given, as Bernard states, a “nature the power of intelligence is a special prerogative…” We do not follow the way of brute animals or stupidity. We do not follow hypocrisy, which Bernard calls heresy. But self-knowledge comes on with the knowledge of God. This is the way-prayers, fasting, commitment, the sacraments, the Church.
If we follow God and come to know Him, we shall know ourselves.
But, as clear in the discussion with the ladies on the retreat, we must be enabled to both fear and love God.
I would always start with a regular confessor and/or spiritual director. Regular confession creates an atmosphere for humility to grow.
Secondly, as the nun said yesterday, one cannot grow holy alone. It is impossible, and therefore, one must choose to surround one’s self with companions who also want to be holy. If one is surrounded by the worldly, one cannot grow. If one surrounds one’s self with worldly activities, one misses chances for reflection and holiness.
I am reading the life of Mother Adele Garnier, the foundress of the Congregation of Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmarte. She wrote that in 15 days, at one point in her later life, God healed her of sins and fears which she could not do herself. It was direct, in prayer, over a short period of time. But, she had made a vow and the vow brought grace. She also stated that because of the days in which she lived, ten years after being a religious, at an older age and some maturity, she had virtually no counsel from priests as she needed. She admitted in her letters that it was very difficult to find the right person to lead her. One then goes to God, often, seriously, and insistently.
Sainthood for some is like an explosion of grace, for some a long process. But, in all ways, the Church is there, through the saints and the sacraments to guide us.
One need not look constantly at one’s progress of the soul. But, a steady work in progress, with others who are Catholic and mature, is necessary.
The nun said that singles think they are finding God and becoming holy and then when they enter or get married, they realize they have to start all over again. Starting all over again might bring despair, but it should, especially in the sacrament of marriage or in vows to a religious order, bring hope. And, hope, states St. Bernard, is the key to experiencing love and healing.
Labels: Thomas Aquinas
Gnosis, Love, and the Incarnation
One of the first heresies ever combated by the Church in her history was Gnosticism. The very first was likely the heresy of the Judaizers, who sought in the AD 50’s and 60’s to prevail against Saint Paul and the other Apostles. They were destructive in that they held and taught, against the doctrine of the Apostles, that it was necessary for Gentile converts to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses in order to be brought into the Body of Christ. This charge largely came from the Jewish elements of the Church, as Gentiles came pouring into the Church in Asia Minor and in Rome. Later, in the AD 70’s and continuing on for the next two centuries, as the Gentiles became the majority of the members of the Church, a heresy sprang up mysteriously from the midst of the Church that splintered into dozens of groups which began to write false gospels in the second century. These groups as a whole are loosely referred to as Gnosticism, and they represented a heretical group of individuals that claimed to be Christians but who demonically worshipped a plethora of gods they called aeons, of which two of them were, they believed, ‘Christ’ and the ‘Holy Ghost.’ Further, they suggested the great calumny of evil that the God of the Old Testament, the Creator of matter, was the evil in the cosmos and the equivalent of the devil, and that the true God, the true good, was the Unknown One, from whom all aeons emanated and who sent ‘Christ,’ whom they believed to be the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. ‘Christ’ in their system came not to become Incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, and be made man; rather, in their ravings, He came to enlighten man to the gnosis that we are spiritual and not matter, and we are therefore Gods and do not need a redeemer, and must merely realize our own divinity to be free from the shackles of sacrifice, the physical body, and morality, all of which were seen as the evil products of the evil Old Testament Deity, the Lord of Hosts. Through this gnosis, or knowledge, they believed man could be liberated from his body and achieve salvation as pure spirits in the presence of the Unknown One.
All of the splintered groups of Gnostics were very divided on which particular brand of their mythology they were pedaling, but they had universal disdain for the orthodox Christians who they viewed as unspiritual and naïve idiots, carnal and silly men who had to work for whatever salvation they could accomplish, since they clung to the physical world and believed matter was inherently good. The early Christians bothered them immensely with their physical Sacraments, such as Baptism and the Eucharist, and the sacramental Sign of the Cross, which were all living reminders of their living faith in God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible. Despite their diversity, two things were universally common among all groups of Gnostics. First, they utterly repudiated the Incarnation. They universally denied the Catholic teaching that Christ was the eternal Son of God who became truly and fully man for our sake, and they despised the notion that God would unite Himself to us creatures of spirit and matter fully, becoming consubstantial with us while remaining eternally consubstantial with the Father. They ridiculed the notion that He would suffer in the flesh, and that the Blood of God would be poured out for our sakes. In short, the Incarnation was too messy for them, and went against their belief that matter as evil and spirit alone was good. It was this attitude that St. John the Divine wrote so strongly and so dogmatically against, warning His sheep in the AD 90’s prior to His passing from this life:
“Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. By this is the Spirit of God known. Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God: and this is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world.”- 1st St. John 4:1-3
“And now I beseech thee, Lady (the local, particular Church St. John was addressing), not as writing a new commandment to thee, but that which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is charity, that we walk according to his commandments. For this is the commandment, that, as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in the same: For many seducers are gone out into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: this is a seducer and an antichrist.”- 2nd St. John 1:5-7
The second universal characteristic of all the Gnostic heretical groups was that all of them repudiated true love, charitas, the willing of the good of the other as other, and exalted pure knowledge, or gnosis in the Greek, above love and without love. It is from this word of knowledge in the Greek, gnosis, that they received their name. Knowledge was the final goal and love was considered weak and unnecessary. With this ignoring of supernatural love, which is the purpose of man throughout this life as Christ and the Apostles taught, vice and sin flourished among them, such that St. John linked rejecting charity and rejecting the commandments of morality as a composite whole with those who were the seducers, who had gone out into the world not confessing Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
The reason why Gnosticism is important to understand is because it has made a vigorous comeback in the West in our day under the cloak of such words as “New Age spirituality” or “spiritual, not religious,” or various other clichés. The false prophets abound. Even among many former Christians in the West, Gnostic ideas have taken hold. Remember the original Gnostics: The precise mythology that was presented by any one group was irrelevant. In varied groups today, many want to adopt the same two general characteristics: first, a scoffing at that testimony which Christendom shows forth to the world, that God truly became man, and assumed human nature into Himself, in order to wed Himself to us forever in true charity, and second, rejecting that true charity which can only flow from the physical Incarnation of God. I would like to draw your attention to this very important connection, the connection between the two rejections of Gnosticism in all ages and what binds them together.
We must understand this essential truth: the heart of authentic love is the Incarnation. God partaking of flesh and blood and the sheer physicality of the Incarnation is something that the devil hates, as do the demons. All evil shudders at it; the Blood of God, as its celebrated Litany states, is the victory over demons, and over all evil, because it represents the depths to which Love Himself descended. God is Charity, as St. John reminds us, and the God who is Charity cannot be separated from the physicality of the Incarnation because this is The Cosmic Expression of Unfathomable Love. If you want to deepen your prayer life, your meditations, and further your distance from the devil and all evil in this world, no matter who you are, close your eyes, and embrace the Crucified God, dead and risen. The more physical you can describe His taking on flesh and His Passion, the more literal you can be about the Blood of God poured forth, the more you embrace the logical outcomes of the Incarnation such as the fact that the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of God, the further you are from evil and the closer you are to God. St. John certainly didn’t mince words when He wrote, in the original Greek, that the Logos was made ‘sarx,’ or that we are to ‘trogon’ His ‘sarka.’ Logos means ‘Word’ as a Divine Title for God the Son, sarx and sarka are almost crudely literal words to describe ‘flesh,’ such as you might describe a red steak or a slab of meat, and trogon means ‘to gnaw’ on, or emphatically, ‘to eat, chew, and consume’ the Body of the Lord. The rejection of the physicality and literal reality of the Incarnation of God leads directly to the misunderstanding of what true love entails: Absolute Union of a Person to another person in body and spirit, in the midst of sacrifice, humility, and faithfulness. All these things are the Person of Our Lord, our Divine Spouse. This is the heart of Christian Charity, and separated from it, we will never find it, but will find ourselves Gnostics. Remember this Charity, for it is the Charity of the Incarnation, and the Offense thereof, that gave the Martyrs strength undergo their tortures and deaths. And we come to embrace this Charity which strengthens us in the Holy Eucharist, where Jesus Christ awaits us, to embrace us.
“I give glory to Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you; for I have perceived that ye are established in Faith immovable, being as it were nailed on the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, in flesh and in spirit, and firmly grounded in Love in the Blood of Christ… I endure all these things, seeing as He Himself enables me, who is perfect Man.”
“But mark ye those who hold strange doctrine touching the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us, how that they are contrary to the mind of God. They (the Gnostics) have no care for Love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the afflicted, none for the prisoner, none for the hungry or thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they allow not that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which Flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of His goodness raised up. They therefore that gainsay the good Gift of God perish by their questionings. But it were expedient for them to have Love, that they may also rise again.”
- both from St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, to the Church at Smyrna under St. Polycarp their Bishop, shortly before his Martyrdom in AD 107
I am on retreat, so here is a cute Monday set of photos, instead of a cute Wednesday set.
I love all animals, well, except maybe pythons, alligators and crocodiles...
and what does one do on a hot day in America?
For the "ahh" factor, a loon mum and chicks...I love loons...thanks to Largo for the pics.