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Tuesday 28 February 2012

Monastery Attacked in Syria

According to the Catholic Archbishop of Damascus, maronite Samir Nassar, the situation in the country is spiraling out of control as the armed opposition spreads its influence to different regions of the state.

This is a report from the great Spencer. Out and out persecution of monks has happened in Syria. Dear God, please watch over our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. The article is also here.

Perfection Part Six-The Teresas

Continuing the series on perfection, I have switched temporarily from Garrigou-Lagrange to the Interior Castle of St. Teresa of Avila. In this book, St. Teresa refers to the enlargement of the heart. Quoting Prime, Teresa writes, “Cum dilatasti cor meum. When thou shalt englarge my heart”, from Psalm 119. She notes that it is not in consolations, or the “spiritual sweetness” that the heart if made larger, more capable of Love. She is writing about the characteristics of the Fourth Mansion, a state commonly attained by serious Catholics. This is the stage of pursuing one's heart's desire, not through thinking, but through loving. Teresa writes a curious sentence: “So then do whatever most en-flames your heart to love.” Those who have reflected and learned some ways of meditative prayer, and even contemplation may find this an odd statement. Teresa is encouraging the enlargement of the heart through and in Love, the pursuit of Love. She is very keen to point out that most people might not even know what Love is, and I capitalize Love, as to me, it is a Person and not a feeling. Teresa states that joy does not start in the heart, but in the will, in the desire to please God and not to offend Him. Like a good bride who defers to her husband, Teresa knows that Love is in the Will, and not in some pursuit of feelings or consolations. That the will is connected to the dilation or enlargement of the heart is a mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit, bringing the person to an awareness that the life of God springs up spontaneously, not through effort, but through Love.

And, what is it that attracts Love to the heart through the will? Humility. Teresa makes it very clear that only the humble come to this well of interior life springing up and nourishing the soul. Only those who Love Love without self-interest, without expectation, experience humility. It is as if one must see one's self as the only person on the street, in a shop, going up the stairs in a flat, loving God just for the sake of loving Him and for no other reason.

Sometimes, I play a little game of Love. When I am in a small, ordinary place, like walking to the shops, or sitting on the bus, I think, “God, there is one small person in …..who is loving You.”
For awhile, I lived on top of a high set of flats, with no elevator. I had to walk up many flights of stairs, and if I had bags of groceries, it was hard. I would stop at the top of each flight and say, “Jesus, there is one person climbing the stairs, in …..who is loving You. There is one person at 2:00 in the afternoon, who is thinking only of You.” Joy flows from these little acts of the Will, the joy which Teresa states comes not from the heart, but from the depths of one's being.

Little things lead to Love and if one is humble and realizes that one only has little things to offer, joy follows. Humility, taking the small and offering to God, is also the Little Way of St. Theresa, the Little Flower, and here, the two Teresas overlap. The third step in this way of Love is to desire suffering. This separates us from the pagans, who at all costs, want to avoid suffering. If one truly loves someone, does not one want to share in the suffering of that person in order to relieve the loneliness and isolation, which suffering causes? The Little Flower wrote of the “unfelt joy”. This is the joy which does not console. It is a type of infused knowledge that one is suffering in and with Christ, without the consolations. Again, this wells up from an interior life of grace, freely given, but available to all, not some.

The last point in these steps to real enlargement of the heart is detachment, totally, from all things and all people and even, all places. Teresa writes that self-denial must be real. It cannot be a pretence. We must even be willing not to receive grace, if that is God's desire. To be holy only in so far as He has decided that for us. We need to be completely detached even from holiness.

There is a freedom given in all of this, which allows one to have a sense of salvation, through the mercy of God, not through deeds. Such freedom leads one to be bold in God, to evangelize just by being, to recollect immediately, to have discernment and to give peace to others in mysterious ways. So, is the heart enlarged to love all, but mostly to Love Love.

If one is in grace, one can trust the movements of the Holy Spirit. Going to Mass and Confession regularly increases personal discernment. When Teresa writes, “So then do whatever most en-flames your heart to love,” she is encouraging us to follow our heart, minds, and wills to follow the vocation, the way God has chosen for us. Garrigou-Lagrange believes this call to holiness and intense intimacy with God is for all Catholics. In following one's way, in humility and peace, God works His Will in each person to lead one to perfection. This is a real possibility. The Gospel challenge from Christ Himself, “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” is for all of us. To be continued.

Catholic Families and Holiness

Families and holiness is a topic rarely taught either in the classroom or from the pulpit. Now, many good priests speak of the importance of family prayers, family catechesis, Catholic education, and even discipline in the home. But the topic of a family being holy and passing down a heritage of holiness is a subject I have never heard discussed or presented. One could list families wherein the parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunts were all saints. What do I mean specifically?

Every family has charisms. Some families produce generations of medical professionals, such as doctors. Some families pass down a tendency toward the legal profession and even politics. For example, in the American presidency, we have has families which have created civil servants, and the idea of leadership. Some families produce generations of writers, journalists, painters, architects, and we say, in conversation, that “it is in the blood”. The same is true of holiness.

If one looks at the history of certain countries, one can see traces of this heritage of holiness in particular families. St. Basil, below, came from a family of saints, as did St. Etheldreda, the patron of this blog. St.Therese, above, had holy parents, and St. Thomas More, below, produced a family of unusual holiness through several generations. This is not to say that families cannot produce a terrible sinner, or a saint unique to the line, but it seems that strong Catholics beget strong Catholics. The entire idea of the organisation of the old Medieval class system and the passing down of inherited talents may have stifled some people, but offered a continuity of vocations as well.

Many years ago on the BBC a series called By the Sword Divided followed the supposed history of a family during the English Civil War, wherein some members stayed Catholic and some became Puritans. This Cavalier/Puritan division in the series was not presented merely as a simple choice of religious persuasion, but depicted a complicated set of motivations for certain members taking the sides, and even betraying kith and kin, for the “cause”.

What struck me about the narration, and also the history of recusancy in England, was the heritage of stubborn loyalty to the Church in the face of fines, imprisonment and even death It was as if the charism “in the blood” was heroism, even holiness.

Have we lost that as Catholics? Has the blood been so diluted, and the “cause” been so forgotten that families have not passed down the passion, the heritage, even the genes for martyrdom? I challenge Catholics to read these types of stories to their children and for the old families to seriously look at their heritage of Faith to see if the inheritance has been passed down and, if not, why not? The Church is made up of people. People come from families which form the characters from early childhood. I would hate to think that the passing on of heroism has ended.