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Thursday 8 March 2012

Perfection Part Seven-Stability

As those who have read my blog now and in years past know, my basic spirituality, as best as I can manage in the lay world, is Benedictine. The balance of work, prayer and study has always touched my heart as a student and as a teacher. The trilogy of such different types of focus have helped me stay focussed on the present moment, the sacrament of the time we have now.

One of the best books I ever read as a young person, was Consider Your Call: A Theology of the Monastic Life Today, edited by Daniel Rees. I highly recommend this book for all, to glean something for our daily lives from the riches therein. The other book which actually changed my life is Jean LeClerq's The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, which taught me that the innate love to know, to study, to find Truth is a path to God Himself. I knew this instinctively, to find one's self placed firmly in the Benedictine spirituality is a gift. I recommend this book, especially for scholars.

But, in today's post, I am going to refer to something in the Rule of Benedict, which is not found in the other religious orders and which is a must for the laity in today's crazy, mobile world.

We live in the age of mobility. We move to go to college and university, to obtain work, to get married and live with a spouse from, perhaps, even another country rather than our own. We move daily to and from work, Church, shopping for necessities and even meeting friends. The fidelity to place has been lost in most of our lives through travelling, choice and even, tragedy. My family came to America from Europe, breaking the stability of place in Luxembourg, Moravia and Bohemia. All my siblings, bar one, and myself included, do not live in the town of our birth. As one who moved to England, and also lived in many states for my job and jobs, I moved. But, the Benedictine ideal of stability is what I desire and have always desired. That the modern cultures of most countries demand that we move, stability becomes not only a mirage, but an ideal only seen in the lives of previous generations.

Now, people did travel, even in ancient times, as we know. Britain was visited by St. Joseph of Arimithea and St. Patrick went to Ireland. The saints of the Middle Ages, positively moved back and forth over the mountains and plains of Europe, finally coming to America as missionaries and parents.

The Benedictines are the only order which take an additional vow of stability. Perseverance, even in entering, was a mark of a vocation to St. Benedict. I would like to emphasize that the vow of stability is about “coming home”.

We travellers all know the excitement and joy of moving out of the ordinariness of our daily lives into the new and strange through travel. And, yet, we delight in coming home again. The stability, the symbol of commitment, love and rest all reside in the word “home”. For some of us, homes can be denied us through events in our lives outside of our control. In today's chaotic economics, one can lose one's home, and become a dweller of apartments, or flats. One can even lose one's entire family through tragedies, such as war and illness, or even sin.

 But, the Benedictine ideal of stability teaches us that to be in a place is the only way to face ourselves and become the person God has called us to be. If we are given gifts, we cannot use our gifts easily, if we are constantly moving about. We may even make bad choices which effect the rest of our lives when we lose our roots.

Rootedness is a sign of spiritual contentment. To be rooted in Christ, is the message of St. Paul, who was called to be a missionary, and indeed, some still are called to give up rootedness for such evangelization. Stability of place allows for stability of the heart and mind. As in a good marriage, commitment brings depth. In the Benedictine Rule, stability brings life to the inner person. I connect stability with the idea of the Sacrament of the Present Moment. If I can concetrate and live in the NOW, I can be stable interiorly. If one has a pattern of life, exteriorly, one can develop this pattern interiorly. How many of us get up at the same time daily without the use of an alarm clock? How many of us feel lost if we do not pray and go to daily Mass? These are the marks of a stable heart, even if one is in the world of mobility.

The interior life needs stability so that we are not confused or taken up with novelty and change. Stability allows for growth, like the plant in the ground,which grows from roots.

For me, stability, either interiorly or exteriorly, means that I know that God is with me. He is, like Julian of Norwich told us, the “still point of the turning world”.

And, the virtues of perfection come with stability. Perseverance in the face of sameness and repetition is a virtue. Suffering, from facing the same trials and even people, brings life. Patience, one of the greatest virtues missing in this modern world, comes from waiting and enduring suffering. Like perseverance, it comes only with practice. And, the life of the virtues is what God calls all of us to live.

I suggest that Satan is the great mover who wants to keep us moving and not settling down. He knows that novelty and confusion cause a weakening of focus and even Faith, Hope and Charity. In Dante's Divine Comedy, so many of the souls in hell must keep moving, in a fury of ceaseless, anxious frenzy, as part of the punishment for their sins. If we do not stop moving, we shall never know ourselves, see our sin, wait for God.

St. Benedict's vow is one all the laity should consider, if at all possible. And, if God, through His mysterious plan denies someone stability, one must develop the interior disposition for it, as a missionary would do in a foreign land.

That the missionaries went out in twos or more, was a sign of the need for stability. In company, one can keep schedules for prayer, fasting, charity. Such were those who came to America, such are those who go into the world daily on trains, buses, undergrounds.

Stability=resting in God Alone. Hopefully, we can find others to share in that stability. Such is a real community of grace. Such is holy companionship.

Be not afraid! A repeated message for youth and the not so young, to love, to live

Blessed John Paul II in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope states this: (Youth) is a time given by Providence to every person and given to him as a responsibility. During that time, he searches, like the young man in the Gospel, for answers to basic questions; he searches not only for the meaning of life but also for the concrete way to go about living his life.

As a teacher of youth for years and years, I knew this. Part of it was my excellent Montessori training, wherein I learned that every person has the desire to create the person he or she is called to be by God, and that we cooperate with that natural instinct. Parents must be clued into this fact and guide their children accordingly, to find and help God in the creation of the adult they will become.

What happened? If we desire to be our own person and to help create that person, what happened to that impetus, which is natural and God-given? To desire guidance and mentoring was a natural phenomenon in the family and in schools for centuries. What happened?

Blessed John Paul II notes that, the fundamental problem of youth is profoundly personal. In life, youth is when we come to know ourselves. It is also a time of communion. Young people, whether boys or girls, know they must live for and with others, they know that their life has meaning to the extent that it becomes a free gift for others. Here is the origin of all vocations....

Wow, so the lack of youth following or responding to the call to the priesthood, the religious life, and marriage is a basic indication of the falling off of facing responsibility and coming into one's own personhood, which should happen at the time of youth.

What happened? Earlier, I wrote that hope is lacking. Now, I see as well, that love is missing.

Think back to your youth. Did you not want to love and be loved? Was there not a natural, even actual grace to want to give of one's self to another, to be committed to something or someone?

A certain energy came from this search for communion, as Blessed John Paul II calls it. The personal fullfillment of the self, albeit by dying to self, gave us energy to seek out ourselves, our talents, our place in society and others, even the “significant other”.

To be in love and to love took up so much time in our youth that when I look back I am amazed we studied, ate, grew physically. But, psychologically, we were healthy in our pursuit of communion. Without the others, we knew we were shrivelled shells, with dried peas rattling around inside of us.

I remember coming across a young girl in my generation and a young man who were afraid of love. To me, this was and is the saddest condition of youth. The young woman, who was beautiful and successful, fell into depression. She was afraid to be rejected and therefore would not go out of herself into the world of love. I wonder what happened to her. She could not face the fear of rejection, so she did not sally forth out of herself.

A young man, again handsome and accomplished, wealthy and full of promise, buried himself in the dreams of others, instead of finding his own self. He was too afraid of love and life to seek out who he was in the world, beyond the safety of a group which was unhealthy and cultic. He could not see himself without the props of someone else's vision. Something beautiful died within him when he was in his twenties. Like the young woman above, I do not know what happened to his soul. He wanted to be correct and right so much, he was afraid of making a mistake for love. He was afraid of what, I wonder? Loneliness, rejection, being wrong...? Love takes chances and youth is the time to do so. How many vocations are lost to fear?

And, can one be afraid of love? Can a young person reject love because he or she fear to be known? To me, this is so sad, as to be known and loved is one of the greatest joys in the world. In fact, in a young marriage, such a joy creates three people-the father, the mother and the new baby. Creation wants to create and love wants to love and be loved.

Somewhere, somehow, some youth lost this ability to want to love and be loved. I say this to them, no matter how old they are now, desire love and love will come to you. He is a Person and He is God, but He uses us all to bring love into this world. Take the chance. Here is my challenge to all, to reach out and be the person God wanted you to be. As Blessed John Paul II said so eloquently, “Be not afraid.”

Three Posts for Seminarians in America and Elsewhere

My three posts today all relate to seminarians. I start with the interesting Norms for Priestly Formation. I have been looking at two recommendations which are missing in some of the seminary courses across the United States. I sincerely hope the European seminaries are better in these regards. Firstly, the emphasis on Canon Law surprised and delighted me. I have known many seminarians get to the stage of the temporary deaconate without classes in Canon Law. What has happened in so many seminaries, as in Catholic universities, is that the instructors are allowed to base coursework on their own interests. In other words, the idea of a “core course” is either completely missing, or involves so many alternatives that the courses to which the Norms refers are lacking, or only offered now and then. Here is a quotation from the Norms, which references Lumen gentium:

The Church is inseparably, although under different aspects, a community of grace and a hierarchical Society. One can also see that her structures are and must ever be profoundly determined in their nature by a supernatural point of view. Between the divine and human elements in the Church, the kind of relationship must be maintained which was established by Christ Himself. In the light of the conciliar ecclesiology, therefore, the place and the necessity of Canon Law appear more clearly. The “Law” acquires greater value because its function in the Church's life is better understood.

And again, from the document: It flows from this (emphasis on Christology of Canon Law), there
is a severe need for the proper preparation of canonists. Nobody can deny that even a priest who is directly occupied with the care of souls needs an adequate training in law to carry out suitably his pastoral ministry in the way a good shepherd should.

Now, the problem lies in the interpretation of what has been called “pastoral theology”. Classes, even at the graduate level, discuss such stupid topics as how not to offend benefactors of certain ethnic gifts to the Church, to the sensitivity to the lgtb agenda, with research papers due which I would not have accepted at the undergraduate level in a secular university-that is, with less than five resources and less than perfect grammar and form.

What has happened is the tyranny of the professors, who, instread of following Rome's guidelines, and indeed, ignoring such a phrase as “Instruction in Church Law must be given in such a way that future priests will grasp the principles and norms of the Code, comprehending these principles and norms as ordered to the pastoral life.”

In the minds of too many teachers, there is both a separation between pastoral life and Canon Law, which in reality does not exist. This mind-set is similar to the one which states that the interior life of the soul and the exterior life may be separated by conscience. The other problems involve an over-reaction to false ecumenism, which waters down Canon Law principles, and, indeed, is a heresy of ignoring the differences to supposedly become unified. What is truly missing is the teaching of Logic. This subject, which I had in freshman year of high school, in the good, old days of Classical Education, and which I taught for years at the college and university level, has not been required in some seminaries. How can students learn Canon Law, composition, theology, indeed everything, without Logic?

That the seminaries have dumbed down curriculum, and I am thinking of one of the supposedly most prestigious ones in America, which, again, has lowered the standards for papers and discussion to less than high school level, is a proof of three serious problems:

One, seminaries in America are not favouring intellects. The best and the brightest get bored. The levelling of education into the lowest common denominator reveals an anti-intellectual bias. The States and others places, perhaps, are producing uneducated and perhaps, unteachable priests. Anti-intellectualism is a Protestant bias as well.

Two, even though psychologically and physically the students are being chosen by strict standards, there has been a lowering of expectation on entrance. Too many students, for example, can opt out of Latin, if they are Spanish speakers and can pass the Spanish exam. This is a travesty of high education and disobedience to Rome, which demands Latin in order to study both Scripture and theology. No all less than adequate students are St. John Vianneys and I am personally tired of hearing that as an excuse in lowering academic requirements.

Three, some instructors are chosen who should not be teaching in seminaries, either because they have not been asked to sign the oath and promise to only teach Church doctrine and to live according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, but because they do not understand what a seminarian actually is—in other words, some instructors treat seminarians merely as normal students rather than future priests and even, future bishops. This is a serious lack of understanding at a basic level of the vocation to the priesthood.

To be continued...see below for second and third posts...Let me say that the light of the Church needs excellent and educated young men coming out of the seminaries. Let us pray for more vocations and for obedience to Rome.

Second post....

In the Norms quoted below, and I write this on the great feast of St. Thomas Aquinas in the old calendar, March 7th, the Church emphasizes the teaching of the greatest philosopher in Church history. Here, I am going to highlight a few references to him in the document which supposedly directs our seminaries.

One, Aquinas hold the principal place among doctors. The Norms quote Pius XII's Address to Seminarians, 24 June 1939. Let teachers listen with respect to the Doctors of the Church, among whom St. Thomas Aquinas holds the principal place. For so great is the power of the angelic Doctor's genius, so sincere his love of truth, and so great his wisdom in investigating the deepest truths, in illustrating them, and linking them together with a most fitting bond of unity, that his teaching nis a most efficacious instrument not only for safeguarding the foundations of the faith, but also in gaining the fruits of healthy progress with profit and security.

Now, my famous story goes back to 1970,when I was taking philosophy classes for a degree, the only girl in courses full of seminarians. One day, I raised my hand and asked the instructor, a priest who recently passed away, when were we going to study St. Thomas Aquinas? The answer,
“Aquinas is passe.” In four years of theology and philosophy, we did not study him once. My seminarian friends, have to take either one or two classes, depending on their choice, and the topics discussed are up to the instructor. There is in at least two major seminaries with which I am familiar, no core coursework of Aquinas.

Two, The Norms clearly note that Aquinas did not separate moral from dogmatic theology. Oh my goodness! This may be the number one error of most teaching in the seminaries. Again, let me quote the document; it is necessary, above all, to have a lively awareness of the link between moral and dogmatic theology, so that moral questions can be treated as a true and fitting theological discipline, in conformity with all the fundamental epistemological and methodological rules that are valid for all of theology. With regard to this it would be as well to refer to St. Thomas Aquinas, who, like other great masters, never separated moral from dogmatic theology, but, instead, inserted it in a unified scheme of systematic theology, as a part that conerns the process by which man, created in the likeness of God and redeemed by the grace of Christ, tends toward his full realization, according to the demands of his divine calling, in the context of the economy of salvation historically realized in the Church.

In 2012, my seminarian friends have never heard of this connection, nor Aquinas' example or study. And some of them will be made deacons soon. Wow, what a loss and what an indication that the Church has not changed much in some institutions with regard to the seriousness of seminary renewal---

Third, the document states that It is under the impulse of the (living patristic) tradition and in the lights of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas that theology can and should progress and its teaching be conducted.

In other words, before all, such as the contemporary and modern theologians and philosophers, Aquinas holds not only primary place, but all teaching should be conducted in light of his works.

I can tell you this is NOT happening. With two friends coming up to their deaconate year, only two courses in six years have touched on Aquinas, and one was optional.

Let me end with this quotation: The Decree Optatam totius requires that for “making the mysteries of salvation known as thoroughly as they can be, students should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculative reason exercised under the tutelage of St. Thomas.”

When the Visitations from Rome occurred in America several years ago, one of the most important criticisms of all the seminaries was the lack of Marian Devotion. Now, this may astound some readers, but I had seminarians tell me in the past several years, that they were disappointed at the lack of celebrations for Marian feasts, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, which were treated as just another feast day, without extras.

The other criticism from sems was the lack of a group rosary, or the organization of rosary time. Instead, at these seminaries, rosaries were considered “private prayer only”, to be said by the seminarians individually, but never as a group. Unless the seminarians took it upon themselves to organize group rosaries, nothing was done.

Now, there are different indulgences for rosaries said publicly rather than privately, and for those seminarians which may not have grown up with this devotion, such a group rosary would provide an impetus and support to say the rosary daily.

Why the lack of the Marian devotion? Such a lack points to several problems with the American Catholic Church. Why the lack of the rosary?

Let me start with the second question first. Blessed John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, now almost ten years old, noted this: Listening and meditation are nourished by silence. After the announcement of the mystery and the proclamation of the words, it is fitting to pause and focus one's attention for a suitable period of time on the mystery concerned, before moving into vocal prayer. A discovery of the importance of silence is one of the secrets of practising contemplation and meditation. One drawback of a society dominated by technology and the mass media is the fact that silence becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. Just as moments of silence are recommended in the Liturgy, so too in the recitation of the Rosary it is fitting to pause briefly after listening to the word of God, while the mind focuses on the content of a particular mystery.

In some seminaries, contemplative prayer is not taught at all. That the rosary is the first form of contemplative prayer one can learn, even as a child, this lack of learning even the basics of meditation and contemplation is shocking. I had a long conversation in the past few months with a young man on his way to the deaconate who did not even know the differences between contemplation and meditation. He had never had a class on the classical types of prayer or how to learn these. The rosary is a beginning.

Returning to the first question, why no Marian devotion, I am going to answer this in a radical fashion. I believe that the lack of love for the Theotokos is tied to homosexuality. The homosexual loves only the self, only the same sex, and is incapable or refuses to love the Other, the female.

If a priest loves Mary, the Mother of God, I see that as a healthy, priestly relationship to a woman in his life, The Woman.

If a priest does not love Mary, the Mother of God, that is a serious psychological as well as spiritual problem. If I were a rector in a seminary and the young man coming forward for the deaconate did not love or have a devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, I would not ordain him. Something is radically wrong with the lack of interest in the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the fact that the Visitation listed the lack of Marian devotion as a serious problem in American seminaries points to the problem of homosexuality as still present in the seminaries, as the level of administration and hierarchy, as well as in the student body. Openness to Mary, The Woman, is a sure sign of a true vocation.

Let me end with a quotation from the above Apostolic Letter: In the process of being conformed to Christ in the rosary, we entrust ourselves in a special way to the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin. She who is both the Mother of Christ and a member of the Church, indeed her “pre-eminent and altogether singular member”, is at the same time the “Mother of the Church”. As such, she continually brings to birth children for the mystical Body of her Son. She does s through her intercession, imploring upon them the inexhaustible outpouring of the Spirit. Mary is the perfect icon of the motherhood of the Church.