From Isaac of Stella

"So, brother, make for yourself a hidden place within yourself, in which you can flee away from yourself and pray in secret to the Father." Isaac of Stella

Passing From Self to God: A Cistercian Retreat, Robert Thomas, OCSO Cistercian Press, 2006, p. 4

Monday, September 26, 2011


It has been a few months since last posting, but life has gone on briskly and full of the business of living which is our great blessing and challenge.   I have taken the bull by the horns and begun spiritual direction under my Priest.  It was a bit embarrassing to admit to my goal for direction- I want to know union with God, to share in the life of the Trinity and know in life a taste of the blessedness of the beatific vision.  This contains within it the desire to be a "saint", not necessarily a canonized one but one in reality.  Rather ambitious.  I have been reading heavily in the writings of the great Cistercians and realize that I need to work in the direction of self abnegation and of humility.  So much of my life is egocentric.  I am praying all the time the words, "Lord, you are beautiful beyond compare!" and trying to push away thoughts about myself, my sinfulness, my triumphs, etc.  I am in a field where my ego gets stroked regularly.  This is something I need to get a grip on.  How can one lead a team, motivate subordinates, without fostering some gravitas?  Is gravitas the necessary enemy of humility?  How can one have gravitas yet be numbered among the foolish of the world and seek to be seen as less than those around you?  St. John of the Cross once again is my great patron.  May he guide me and intercede for me, and may his works find fertile soul in my mind.  After the Cistercian text I am currently reading, I think I will reread some of St. Therese of Lisieux.  The little flower knew the virtue of humility and lived it well.

Saint John of the Cross, great doctor of the mystical love of God for man,
Pray for me and for all poor sinners wandering in the vale, seeking the face of God.

Saint Therese, Little Flower
Pray for me in my arrogance that I may truly become little and hidden in the wounds of Christ

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where There Is Smoke...

It appears that Fr. Corapi is felt by his superiors to have credible accusations against him.  Perhaps my anger at the hierarchy just needed a trigger, and Fr. Corapi provided that.  Humility is truly a virtue, and I thank you, Lord, for showing me my need of it.  And for harboring these dark thoughts about the leaders you have raised up, I thank you Lord for providing this mirror to see my need of you.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corpus Christi

Today is a triumphant feast day in the Church, the feast of Corpus Christi.  Tracing back to the 1200's, we recognize and revere the presence of the Lord in the eucharistic elements.  We plan to have a procession through town today in celebration, a showing of the King to his subjects and letting the world see her King.  The new Adam, who leads us to the kingdom of eternity.

Oh mighty Logos, great Christ!
We follow you now in your body and your blood as you divinize nature itself
And bring all things into one in yourself.
We praise you, Oh mighty King!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Smell of Smoke

It is a little unsettling observing what a radicalizing effect the Fr. Corapi episode is having on me.  I already have been disappointed in the attitude of the Catholic Bishops towards the loss of the faith and liturgical and aesthetic wasteland that is Catholic worship and life over the last 50 years.  I never would have thought I would have sympathy for the SSPX, but I am beginning to understand their appeal.

I am not a fan of Fr. Corapi.  I have listened to a few of his short messages and didn't find them something I wanted to pursue.  The aspect of the current scandal that bothers me is that I share his impression that he has no real chance for justice under his bishop, or really any bishop.  He is being asked to just take one for the team, to suffer for Jesus.  This is a pernicious manipulation tool used by the unscrupulous to blackmail the righteous into not defending themselves.  Suffering for Jesus is something you choose for yourself, not something you callously demand someone else do.  Fr. Corapi has the right to defend himself from spurious accusations just as Paul had the right to appeal to Caesar.  To me this is just another of a long list of demands by those in leadership in the church to declare that "black is white and white is black".  No.  No more.

The leaders do not lead.  "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."  The leadership in Rome writes documents they do not enforce.  The local leadership does not obey and argues that if they were supposed to obey, there would be consequences for not obeying.  As there are none, no obligation for obedience exist.  Liturgies are banal self worship sessions, the gospel is mistaken for the destruction of families and individuals by servitude under the nanny state.  Everywhere are victims and slaves.  Where is the heroism of the saints?

I am tempted to adopt a similar posture towards those in leadership over me in the church.  You want me to obey some questionable decree?  Put it in writing and with my name on it and I will obey.  Anything less will get the oblivion of apathy from me that your leadership deserves.  Act with heroism and I will respect you.  Live the Spiritual Acts of Mercy, and don't think you are obeying the Corporal Acts by voting to increase the welfare rolls.  How is it merciful to make men dependents of Leviathan?

Darkness and darkness.  Who is that knocking at my door?  Will I open of my free will and let Him in, or will I wait the demanding summons of the King at the end, when it is time to sift the wheat and the tares and it is far too late.  Schopenhauer knew that men were born to suffer, and must die to self in order to be free, and that the road to freedom/holiness was suffering and art.

Help me, Oh Lord, to be free of the darkness, that no man or bishop or heretic may trouble me even as they ask me to light the fires of my own pyre, as they asked of Fr. Corapi with his.  Those who live by the anger, die in their anger, and that worm will never rest once ensconced in the heart and the fires will burn without light within one for ever.  Let it not be so with me.

Help me, Oh Lord, to pray for those I see as enemies, to love them and show them the true fruits of love.  Let me show them the mercy they would deny to others.  For it is in giving that I will receive, in forgiving that I will be pardoned, and in dying to self that I will find everlasting life.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Meditation on Fasting

Today I am fasting in support of my wife who is forgoing food as part of a time of self imposed penance.  I have had problems with fasting.  The exuberant demands of the flesh have always tended to have their way with me.  When I would think about it I can see that I would put it this way to myself, "life has enough troubles without my manufacturing discomforts for myself."  But there is a difference between discomfort from without oneself, from the vast realm of indifferents over which we have no control, and discomfort from refusing to answer a call of the passions from within.   The first comes as a gift of nature, from the beneficent hand of God, and is, it seems to me, to be an opportunity to lay down self will and accept gratefully the opportunity to practice the humble virtues of perseverance, patience, and self abnegation.  The second is an act of the personal will to refuse something.  It is not an acceptance, but an assertion.  It is a positive act against the default settings of your body.  It is an act of asceticism, of anti-nature.  Why would a man want to do an ascetic act?

Schopenhauer teaches that asceticism is actually like the first sort of discomfort discussed above in that it is a laying down of the incessant driving of the "will", the "thing in itself" which is the hidden reality of all existence.  Through music, art, beauty and asceticism we can escape the suffering that is existence and know peace, and perhaps even joy.  It is different from the first sort of discomfort in that the first does not see existence as suffering in itself, but as the gift of a beneficent God who give both suffering and pleasure as opportunities to chose virtue, and so these things are neither good or bad in themselves.  This passive acceptance requires active choosing, often against the loud internal arguments of passions, appetites and instincts.  The second sort of discomfort, the self imposed suffering of an ascetic practice, uses the same tools of acceptance, but in an artificial setting, a self imposed situation of discomfort.  The discomfort itself then becomes the object of active choice rather than the object of passive acceptance.  A subtle difference, but one which is important.

Schopenhauer gives us one reason why asceticism is important.  By refusing the rule the appetites and training them to submission by ascetic practice we are distancing ourselves from the roar of the demands of our individual presentation of the universal will to exist.  This removes us from the suffering which is the reality of that will in its individual presentations.  We will know peace.
There are other reasons.  Freedom from slavery to non rational passions, mastery of the various demands of the flesh and the world.  Freedom to really choose what we think is right and true and beautiful- every act of asceticism helps to strengthen the musculature that is needed to rise up and walk against the immense gravity of the massive temptations of the world, the flesh and the spiritual temptations (the devil, if you will).

Mary embodies the virtues inherent in the first sort of discomfort.  She gives her "fiat" to the angel, telling him, "let it be done to me according to your will."  She suffers the piercing of the seven swords in her acceptance of the Father's will for her only son, Jesus.  Her virtue is shown to be without comparison, but she takes not the Stoic's comfort of distancing herself emotionally from the consequences of her fiat.  She suffers truly, and mixes the virtues of her acceptance with those of her son for the benefit of us, her children.

Jesus choses the severity of the cross so that he might win for us the new life of self abnegation and union with the Father.  He is the Logos, the will behind all creation, its warp and woof, and he chooses to take death on the cross, not passively but actively, like an ascetic choosing a painful practice.  In the painful travail of this birth of the new race of men, with Christ as the new Adam and all of us one with him, the suffering that is life is consummated into joy and peace, and the tears are wiped away.  In the evening, we go weeping, weeping into the growing darkness.  But joy comes in the morning.

May the fast be good today.
The life of men is indeed a mystery

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Perceptional Cognition and Abstract Cognition and Holiness

As I read Schopenhauer's second volume of "The World as Will and Representation" I note in his description of the difference between animal and human cognition that the lack of abstract cognition in animals leads them to live peacefully in the present, unoppressed by the past and unconcerned about the horrors that the future may bring.  The misery of men is therefore the greater because we remember and abstract the past pain and suffering and contemplate the sufferings to come, and these remembering and anticipating are far worse sufferings than those of the present.  It seems to me that the description he gives of animal cognition is very like the goal of the spiritual man- to live in the present, being unconcerned about the future needs (the illustration of the flowers and the birds from Jesus) and letting go of the past (forgiveness, offering sufferings up).  Is the higher cognition of the Christ filled man, the saved man, the same as the lower cognition of the animal?

I think not, because giving away or renouncing use of something you have is quite different from never having it in the first place.  For example, it has long been thought to be good to be voluntarily poor, like St. Francis.  However, to be poor out of circumstance rather than by choice is not seen as being a good thing, although not necessarily a culpable evil either.  So using this analogy, a man who lays down his abstracting cognitive powers in order to live in the present is like the man who is voluntarily poor, and his reward is similar- the peace of God.  The man who is poor but not by choice is analogous to the animal with pre-abstracting (perceptional) cognition.  He does not reap the full benefits of separation from the world although he does perhaps escape the slavery to possessions.  The poor are said to be much more generous than the rich, perhaps because they have less to lose.

In the end the man who seeks to follow Christ will indeed lay down his very life, giving all that he has.  The Stoics see life as an indifferent as it is not something in our control.  The Christian must see it similarly.  Our life is not our own, we must die like the seed buried in the ground in order to live.  If you grab onto your life, like the abstracting cognitive mind does with the past suffering remembered and the future anticipated, then you will lose your life.  By giving it up you gain life.  By giving up worry for the unreal future and the no longer real past you gain joyful or at least peaceful possession of the only time that is actually real- the present.  What a glorious achievement!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Random Thoughts, and Schopenhauer

Submersion of the self in God, the choosing of the new man over the old, taking on the Christ nature, or even the Schopenhauerean negation of the Will all have common effects.  The insistent demands of the ego are diminished and others become as important to us as we are to ourselves.  The competitive accumulation of material objects for security and power becomes less important.  The condemnations and failures of the past and the fears and hopes surrounding the future diminish as the supreme reality of the "now" becomes clearer.  Joy and peace become your possession as the Stoic indifferents no longer tempt you and the things that are yours are also placed in the beneficent hands of God.  This is the promise and the reality.

Faith is the grounded expectation of results not yet seen.  It should not be believing in things which "you know ain't so" as Samuel Clemens wittily puts it.  Naive faith needs to be replaced as soon as possible by informed and grounded faith.  To those who have been given much, much is demanded.  The simple can be excused a simple faith.  The intelligent and "wise" would fail if they stopped here.  The simple expect that the sun will rise each morning.  The intelligent explore the mysteries of induction and the regularities of orbital mechanics and his expectation of the morning sunrise is better grounded.  The simple barnyard chicken expects that each day will be like those before and so has no anticipation of the fall slaughter.  The wise man knows that death comes for us all, and can know and plan for that end.  And so like children we must trust that God is beneficent and come trustingly, but as those with wisdom we must have grounded hope lest we fall into delusions and trust that which is not trustworthy.

Schopenhauer says that compassion is the foundation of morality.  Is love at the heart of the universe?  Schopenhauer would say that the will is the "thing in itself", the true reality as it is even if we see only its phenomenal representations.  The will is the eternal cry "I am!"- the choice of existence over nonexistence, of growth over diminishment.  This gives rise to struggle, invasion, the devouring of the weak by the strong, to Schopenhauer's definition of evil in the taking/invading the ego space of another in order to expand your own.  This would seem to argue that Love is absent from the "thing in itself" and is foreign to the world as will and representation.  Only in the repudiation of the will, in the realms of art, music and asceticism can we know anything approaching compassion and love.  Asceticism, the denial of self- is there here a clue to escaping the Schopenhauerean pessimism?  I think so, and note that what is said in the "prayer of St. Francis."  Note the inversion of the Schopenhauerean world.  St. Francis knew, as did Schopenhauer, that there is a gate and path that leads to life, but it is narrow and few are those who find it.  Behind, or beyond the will, lies the Lord.  It is He that I seek.  Love therefore, transcends, transforms and redeems the universe.  As such it is the deepest heart, but not that which we, like Schopenhauer, see in front of us.  To the Mystic and the Artist this heart can be seen.  This is the deeper reality than the "Will".

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.