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Sunday, 7 December 2014

Perfection Series VIII Part XV The Intellect and Prayer

Twenty-three years ago in Sherborne, I had this set of dishes!
A holy man told me recently that it is easier for those who have trained the intellect to pray. Those who have had a classical education learned how to think. Most people react to stimuli and do not know how to think.

But, to make a connection between holiness and intellectual acumen was something I had not thought of to the extent that he did. I knew, of course, that the intellect and will were involved in finding and meeting God, but to say that those who actually are gifted in such have an easier time becoming holy, is another step of thought I had not taken.

Honestly, I was surprised by this, as we have been raised in a time where such saints as Gemma Galgani, Bernadette, and little ones like Jacinta have been held up as examples of the simplicity necessary for prayer.

But, what contemporary man has forgotten, is that even some of the so-called "simple" saints had either trained intellects from school and home, or infused knowledge from God.

St. Therese of Lisieux proves to be a case in point. Her education and training of the intellect aided her road to holiness. Most, if not all the priests canonized by St. John Paul II has superb theological studies, and even most of those saints who were martyred and canonized under both the Pope Emeritus and Pope Francis had catechetical training not seen in the West for forty years. In other words, these lay people had rigorous training of the faith.

Raissa's life is unusual because of the extraordinary intellectual gifts both her husband and she were given by God. They came out of that background and ministered to people, were friends with people, who were intellectuals.

That the intellect must be trained, unless a person has natural deficiencies, such as dear St. Joseph Cupertino, is a truism ignored by many Catholics. I partly blame the charismatics for emphasizing experience over intellect, making false oppositions to either prayer or grace, when there are none.

Those Catholics who are caught up in seers and visions do not understand that one must use one's intellect in order to discern truth and error. Discernment is a gift connected to the gifts of wisdom and knowledge we are all given in Confirmation. But, these gifts do no operate in an intellectual vacuum.

The Holy Spirit inspires a person to do things, to act, to pray, to meditate. If one thinks the Holy Spirit pushes one or takes over a person's freedom, one is actually falling into heresy. God inspires and we decide to do or not to do. We are not automatons.

Neither satan nor God takes away our free will and our intellect. This idea. of  "taking over", forms a dangerous paradigm in some lay people's minds. They do not understand that religious efforts as a combination of the intellect, the heart, the soul, the will. Much poor preaching from the pulpit seems to have taught people in the pew that emotions trump the intellect. It is the other way around.

All the gifts of the Holy Spirit inform the intellect. The virtues must be practiced with intellectual consent and awareness. To think that one is like a porridge bowl, completely passive, waiting to be filled from the stove, cannot be the Catholic paradigm for either grace or gifts.

Raissa writes something which I have repeated on this blog many times.

Pay attention!

She writes, Be attentive to divine impressions. Be attentive to all the movements of my heart.

Notice, this call to attention involves both the intellect and the heart. One is "attentive" in the mind. Then, one becomes attentive to the heart. Attention is an intellectual act.

One reason the Church is lacking in saints is that too many people chase after mushy feeling rather than real love. The Love of God takes decision, willing. As many of you who read this blog know, one of my repeated phrases is that "love is in the will".

And, to become a contemplative, takes discipline of the mind and the heart. Here is Raissa again:

Vocation of the contemplative. He must be still – cease all occupation. And see. See God in the eternal present. See him face to face, although under the veil of faith....The apostle has to live in the eternal future.

This seeing of God in the eternal present involves the intellect. The Dark Night of the Soul first cleanses the senses, then the spirit. And, the intellect rests in the spirit. Some saints are given infused knowledge, and at a certain stage, this infusion is to be expected. But, the training of the intellect, sadly neglected by our education systems and many parents, denies a person the way to God which is necessary. Simplicity is not stupidity. Simplicity is not "unthinking". 

Go back and read the posts on the imagination and how we must purify it over and over and over. This purification of memory, understanding and finally, that of the will, takes choice, decision, a honing of the intellect.

Our Church, as I wrote last week and right after the Synod, is not served by anti-intellectualism.

Raissa admits that she had to spend years in purifying the intellect. I understand this. As a poet and writer, God gave me the ability to use images and to be extremely observant in the world. In contemplative prayer, one must move away from images, which serve meditation, but not contemplation. This purification is part of my own Dark Night of the spirit. One cannot be silent before God with an over-active imagination, but only, only the intellect can deal with this, in grace and through grace.

Remember the posts on Thomas Merton's brilliant insight into the evil of television?  Without a strong intellect, one cannot properly deal with the bombardment of images, good or bad, in this hyperactive world. Even to get on the bus in order to attend daily Mass and Adoration demands a working of the mind not to become involved with images and people. But, this I must do. And, Raissa managed this balancing act. I pray for the grace to do this.

to be continued...