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Sunday, 26 April 2015

The World Within

Romans 12:2New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Psalm 66: 16-19
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried aloud to him,
    and he was extolled with my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.

19 But truly God has listened;
    he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

The second passage, from the Office of Readings today, and the first passage from Romans, remind us of the key message of the Bible, metanoia, repentance, change. When I see the number of people in the world who have not begun to repent or to change, as a change of heart must precede a change of action, usually, I realize that the work of the Catholic lay person in the world demands complete understanding, followed by action, on the steps of the above messages from God.
St. Paul gives us a simple step-by-step pattern for sainthood. And, yes, remember we are all called to be saints, here, now. The steps seem clear and have been repeated throughout the lives of the saints.
First, a decision not to conform to the world. Sometimes, as in the life of St. Benedict, this means removing one's self from the world and beginning anew with a fresh vision. Sometimes, as in the life of St. Ignatius Loyola, this means that God intervenes and places one in a position where one must change-a severely wounded mercenary soldier forced into reading the lives of the saints accepted God's grace for the moment of conversion. Or, as in the life of St. Bernard, this means that from little on, one is trained by excellent parents, saints themselves, to not be like others in the world, even the great world of wealth, status, nobility. Happy and blessed are those who grow up in Godly houses, with parents forming the spiritual life of the children. 
But, this lack of conformity to the world seems hard for the modern lay person, especially one who has been raised to love the world, the here and now, and not think of eternity daily. To break out of conformity to the world demands exertion and determination. Both physical, mental, and spiritual energies, aided by grace, pull one away from the inertia of conforming to the world, into a new regime of prayer, fasting, mortification, the willing acceptance of suffering. God does not demand what is impossible. If one thinks or, (horrors), feels this task of nonconformity seems too difficult, one is looking towards one's own self, instead of looking towards God. Sometimes, all one can do is concentrate on the Cross of Christ, which the world finds abhorrent. Those of us who chose the Crucified One will be, also, found abhorrent to the world, as the world sees this lack of conformity as threatening to its existence, and it is.
Bad habits, states St. Thomas Aquinas, takes months to break, and good habits take months to practice. But, nothing is impossible with grace.
The exterior life may seem easy to change for some, especially when one changes companions who have led one into daily sin,  Such companions could even be members of one's own family. But, for some, this exterior change seems impossible and sometimes, one does not even realize the depth of sin in daily actions because one has chosen sin over and over to the point of having many evil habits which lead to sin. To break these patterns takes heroic effort and heroic virtue in the lives of some lay people
However, the second step must be taken with the first, a complete renewal of the mind, putting on the Mind of Christ, thinking like a Catholic, (a great theme on this blog), and conforming no longer to the world, but to the Gospel. The interior change usually follows the exterior disciplines. But, interior change, the real conversion, can be an enlightenment, a sudden illumination of grace in the mind, imagination and then, will. For some, this second step of creating a new way of thinking demands a hard slog. For others, a moment of grace fills the mind freeing the person to pursue God's Will. One see this in the lives of such saints as Mary Magdalene or as in the life of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, a moment of illumination came first, changing the mind, and then the great change of life followed. Ratisbonne, in Church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte in Rome, in January of 1842, had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary which led to his conversion to Catholicism, his ordination as a Jesuit priest, and his founding of the order, the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, an order designed to convert our Jewish brothers and sisters. Illumination may follow a moment of conversion, but for many, this illumination comes gradually, over months, even years.
The third step we see in the life of St. Paul. After his dramatic conversion, he went into the desert for ten years before beginning his ministry of converting the Gentiles. Ten years in the mind of modern lay people seems a long time of preparation for evangelizing, but Paul allowed God to renew his mind before beginning his mission to the world.
This step is missed by too many Catholics, who jump into "ministries", (a word we have been asked by the Pope Emeritus not to use with regard to lay work, even in the Church). and neglect the needed inner purification of the mind and imagination, as well as the outer purification of the senses, those choices which made one wordly. Most Catholics would not see the value of a ten-year desert experience, and think they are expected to jump in and "do"something for the Church. There is a reason why the Jesuits, for example, take ten years to become priests, and, perhaps, St. Ignatius decided to imitate the desert experience of St. Paul in his organization of the formation of the exterior and interior life. It is interesting to me that all Jesuits must learn Spanish, in order to study the works of St. Ignatius. Many learn yet another language in order to do missionary work across the world. St. Paul, as a Jew with Roman citizenship, knew Hebrew, street Greek, Latin, and most likely, classical Greek. In order to preach in Macedonia, he must have learned other languages as well. Latin was the common language of the time, but St. Paul's journeys indicate a wide knowledge of customs as well as languages.
St, Paul took ten years to become holy enough to take the next step, which is following the Will of God, which one cannot necessarily discern after an initial conversion. Too many people rush into various vocations only to realize later that they were called to something else. Discernment comes with prayer, fasting, mortification.
The last step involves the giving up of one's will to God. I shall end this meditation with a long quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas, on the giving up of one's will, as a action necessary to find perfection. Each one of us must choose to be hidden in Christ, to feed the spiritual life of the world within. This process may take years, as it has done with me, as I was busy about many things and did not "get serious" about my spiritual life until my bout with cancer. When one faces possible death, one's energies become focused.

Readers, other Catholics will want you to conform to their Catholicity, whereas God is calling many to be signs of contradiction in the world. a call for all Catholics, but only a few, it seems, respond.

In this day of idolatry of work, success, the accumulation of things, such a radical call to be Christ in the world threatens even Catholics. As lay people, we may be called to give up what is naturally and rightly part of the lay life. To give up these rights may be necessary for the salvation of some souls. Sadly, too many American Catholics have conformed their minds to the Declaration of Independence, demanding rights and a lifestyle of pursuing "happiness" on earth, one of the greatest heresies of the 1776 document. As Catholics, one must think of older documents, older teachings, those of Christ Himself, in order to be freed from this pursuit of happiness on earth, which is definitely not the call of the Christian. Joyfulness is not happiness. Those material pursuits confuse the building of the City of Man with the building of the City of God.

In Psalm 65 above, one sees David noting that renewal of the heart, mind and soul results in God hearing our prayers. If one's prayers are not being answered, one reason might be that one is "cherishing" a hidden sin.

Here is St. Thomas on perfection from this book online:

It is not only necessary for the perfection of charity that a man should sacrifice his exterior possessions: he must also, in a certain sense, relinquish himself. Dionysius, in De Divinis Nominibus IV, says that, “divine love causes a man to be out of himself, meaning thereby, that this love suffers him no longer to belong to himself but to Him whom he loves.”St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, illustrates this state by his own example, saying, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), as if he did not count his life as his own, but as belonging to Christ, and as if he spurned all that he possessed, in order to cleave to Him. He further shows that this state reaches perfection in certain souls; for he says to the Colossians, “For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Again, he exhorts others to the same sublimity of love, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, “And Christ died for all, that they also who live, may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:15). Therefore, when our Lord had said, “If any man comes to me, and does not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters,” He added something greater than all these, saying, “yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). He teaches the same thing in the Gospel of St. Matthew when He says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mat 16:24).
This practice of salutary self-abnegation, and charitable self-hatred, is, in part, necessary for all men in order to salvation, and is, partly, a point of perfection. As we have already seen from the words of Dionysius quoted above, it is in the nature of divine love that he who loves should belong, not to himself, but, to the one beloved. It is necessary, therefore, that self-abnegation and self-hatred be proportionate to the degree of divine love existing in an individual soul. It is essential to salvation that a man should love God to such a degree, as to make Him his end, and to do nothing which he believes to be opposed to the Divine love. Consequently, self-hatred and self-denial are necessary for salvation. Hence St. Gregory says, in his Homily, “We relinquish and deny ourselves when we avoid what we were wont (through the old man dwelling in us) to be, and when we strive after that to which (by the new man) we are called.” In another homily he likewise says, “We hate our own life when we do not condescend to carnal desires, but resist the appetites and pleasures of the flesh.”
But in order to attain perfection, we must further, for the love of God, sacrifice what we might lawfully use, in order, thus to be more free to devote ourselves to Him. It follows, therefore, that self-hatred, and self-denial, pertain to perfection. We see that our Lord speaks of them as if they belonged to it. For, just as in the Gospel of St. Matthew he says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor,” (Mat 19:21) but does not lay any necessity on us to do so, leaving it to our own will, so He likewise says, “if any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). St. Chrysostom thus explains these words, “Christ does not make his saying compulsory; He does not say, ‘whether you like it or not, you must bear these things.’” In the same manner, when He says: “If any man will come after Me and hate not his father” etc. (Luke 14:28), He immediately asks, “Which of you having a mind to build a tower, does not first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether) he have enough to finish it?” St. Gregory in his Homily thus expounds these words, “The precepts which Christ gives are sublime, and, therefore, the comparison between them and the building of a high tower shortly follows them.” And he says again, “That young man could not have had enough to finish his tower who, when he heard the counsel to leave all things, went away sad.” We may hence understand, that these words of our Lord refer, in a certain manner, to a counsel of perfection.