Thursday, 7 November 2019

201- From “Meditation” to “Contemplation”, According to St. John of the Cross

Question: Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, Ch. 14 page 193. Does the Prayer of the Heart method that you teach skip the discursive meditation? Or does it assume that the person is past that first step?

Answer: Your question here is very technical (theologically). This is the type of question that for many years I had hoped to be asked by a theologian or by an assiduous reader of St. John of the Cross. It deserves an answer. A technical one too. But it is a “scary” question, that has occupied the best theologians of the Western Catholic Church for half a century. However, they haven’t reached practical clarity about it despite superficial claims made by some recent historians.

In Chapter 14 to which you allude as well as in the previous one, St. John of the Cross talks about a shift that happens in Spiritual Life where, because of growth, a person would find himself being moved on from (discursive) meditation to the first level of contemplation. He does offer three signs to determine whether a person has been really moved by God from one state to the other. What, however, does this shift mean? There are various meanings which should be kept present in our minds:

- It means crossing the “red line” we have between the Third and the Fourth Mansions.
- It means entering the “supernatural” as St. Teresa puts it in the first lines of the Fourth Mansions. 
- In other words, it means entering the Particular help of the grace of God.
- It means, undergoing the Second Conversion! (think of St. Teresa of Avila’s Second Conversion at thirty-nine years of age.

Other questions then arise from the above-mentioned. Can we just decide by the power of our own will to cross over so, as a result, we find that we have crossed over? Can we enter the Fourth Mansions through our own willpower? Can we undergo the Second Conversion through our own willpower? What could be done to cross this line? What is the relationship between the General Help of the grace of God and the Particular one?

As you know, usually theology says: God gives the Particular help of His Grace when He wants, the way He wants and to whom He wants. But this is only part of the Truth. The rest of the Truth is: He has the earnest burning desire to give Himself to us, He is very thirsty to give Himself to us. In this sense, it is not in His plans to delay or to give Himself in a random way. Look at what St. Thérèse discovered the 9th of June 1895 or St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque, or, indeed, many saints: they discovered that the Torrents of God’s love seem to be compressed in Him, and that He has a great desire to pour out His Love into our Hearts.

St. Teresa gives another answer: in order to “trigger” the Grace of God it is important to work on the Virtues in a heroic way. Examine the first half of the Way of Perfection where she explains a more Perfect way of practising the three virtues that summarise the Gospel: humility, detachment and love (of the neighbour). Today I translate her concept and condense it into the practice of a true Lectio Divina; in this sense I consider that now that we have access to the Bible which was not so in the case of St. Teresa of Avila, now that we have a rich Lectionary (the renewed one from 1969), practising Lectio Divina not only replaces the first part of  the Way of Perfection (working on the virtues) but it is even better because it offers more security and power (Jesus speaks through His Word), as well as more flexibility  as it is not only focused on three virtues, but includes Jesus adapting to our needs. The Power of a truly supernatural Lectio Divina is such that it boosts our spiritual life and the practice of the Prayer of the Heart.

Similarly, when St. Thérèse felt drawn to offer herself to the Merciful Love of God (9th June 1895) she didn’t ask herself: “am I at the right level of growth to make this act of offering?” Or: “Can I do it?”, “Will I receive His Grace or not?” Also, when her sister hesitated to offer herself, Therese still invited her to offer herself, her sister being just a novice at that time. “Offering oneself to God” and in return “God giving Himself to us” is the quintessence of the Prayer of the Heart.

Question: You ask me about the teaching offered in the School of Mary and if I assume people who attend the Course and the Formation have passed this line that separates “meditation” and “contemplation”.

Answer: Not everybody comes to the teaching/courses of the School of Mary of their own volition. Mary brings them in. Consequently, therefore, it is not possible for me to avoid teaching supernatural Lectio and the supernatural Prayer of the Heart. Any serious person who is committed in the Charismatic Renewal is in my view already in the Fourth or more Mansions. This is in fact the stage of the beginner! He is a beginner in Spiritual Life but a beginner, nonetheless. Therefore, it is not uncommon to be at this stage of Growth.

Question: Does some work have to be done beforehand? Or do we have to assume that to a certain extent it is purely in the “random” way of a pure choice of God?

Answer: YES of course a lot of work can and should be done! Implementing the whole of Adult Catechesis is a ‘must”. The four parts of the Catechism, especially the first three, should be noted. It is very important to digest and live this book first. Plus, you may add to this, the necessity of a serious commitment in the parish or in some service of neighbour. Having a regular prayer life and prayer time is of the essence, though, of course it will be rather on the side of reading and meditation. This will get people closer to the red line.

St. Teresa of Avila practised the Prayer of the Heart for more than fifteen years before her conversion! Did she receive supernatural graces? I am sure she did! How come, then, she failed to grow spiritually and receive more as she did after her conversion? The reason was that the working of the virtues (translate: supernatural Lectio) was not being implemented properly, and I have explained this on different occasions. St. Teresa said that not practising to perfection the virtues made us remain like dwarfs… and that Prayer of the Heart and lax life do not get on well together.

So, one can even, like her, practise the Prayer of the Heart, and one might even receive some supernatural graces (contemplative ones), but one will not have spiritual growth, certainly not a steady growth. This is why the lessons we can draw from her second conversion are fundamental for all of us, they are a teaching for us. They are for all the Church. Her life, indeed, is God’s answer to the Protestant movement initiated by Martin Luther a few decades before her. The Church before St. Teresa had been trying for three centuries to reform herself and failed. These three centuries are embodied in the twenty years that preceded St. Teresa’s Conversion. She is a paradigm that summarises the crisis of the Church in her time.
Practising love of neighbour to a perfect degree hastens the process of getting us closer to the red line.

Now, technically, my teaching of both Lectio Divina and the Prayer of the Heart involves the supernatural action of God in each one respectively. There is contemplation (of course supernatural) here and there. The particular help of the Grace of God is involved in both cases.

In Chapter 13 of Book 1 of the Ascent St. John of the Cross also teaches the way to produce the full power of our effort, echoing St. Teresa in the first part of the Way of Perfection, when she insists on a perfect practice of the virtues.

Similarly, My Master Fr. Louis Guillet OCD always thought that a seriously committed person (think a postulant or a novice nun) will very rapidly enter into the supernatural action of God (contemplation).

Question: One should, according to St. John of the Cross, have a loving general knowledge or awareness of God before leaving the discursive method - what does this mean?

Answer: Just to clarify your question: are you saying, “does one have to wait to have the three signs of the shift in order to abandon ‘meditation’”?

As you will notice, in my teaching of Lectio Divina and of the Prayer of the Heart I never use the word “meditation” namely, discursive meditation: going from A to B, then from B to C. In this light I mean that meditating will take us from A to C. In Lectio I do say: read, read, read, read. I do not say: read, meditate, pray, contemplate. Of course, the first “read” I mention is about understanding what the text says. But I wouldn’t call it “meditation”. In each Lectio, I always set the goal of reaching the sacramentality of the Word, i.e. the supernatural action of the Holy Spirit.

For the Prayer of the Heart, I use St. Thérèse’s shortcut, or summary of the Prayer of the Heart: the Act of Oblation. It involves everything: the general help and the particular help. The general help is realised through the movement of offering oneself totally to God, without conditions, like a little child. This makes us immediately available to and entrusted into the Hands of God and His Action. He does not need more than an act of oblation to God’s Love, like a little child, through the Hands of Mary. God’s Love is the Holy Spirit, i.e. the particular Help, i.e. “contemplation”.

It is true that the more the person grows, the more the practice (repetition) of the Act of Oblation will allow a greater outpouring of the grace of God during the Prayer of the Heart. But it does not mean we have to wait years or see certain signs or factors in order to make it. Saint Thérèse invited her sister who was a beginner, a novice, to make the Act of Oblation with her.

Question: Am I then dismissing what St. John of the Cross says?

Answer: No, I still think that his doctrine of the three signs is still useful. Fr. Louis added a fourth: fearing sin, i.e. having a new perception of the ugliness of our sins in the eyes of God. But the question can be put from a different angle and I prefer to analyse St. Teresa’s Second Conversion and the lessons we learn from this angle and the Act of Oblation.  I do not want to lean on one teaching only (i.e. St. John of the Cross’ three signs), but on three teachings coming from three different Doctors of the Church, shedding light on one issue.

From 1890 to 1940 roughly, theologians debated the subject of Contemplation and its nature: “Is it for all?”... “Is it acquired or infused?” “Can we acquire it by using our own strengths: the general help of the grace of God or is it infused, i.e. depends purely on God: the particular help of the grace of God?”

Even if, toward the end of the battle of the theologians (1940s), they leaned slightly toward the infused nature of Contemplation, we never got any explanation on how the shift really works, i.e. the crossing from one stage to the other (think: “third” to “fourth mansions”, or “meditation” to “contemplation”). To date we do not have an answer! Even if we tend universally to say that Contemplation is infused (supernatural) we still remain with the half-truth about how to receive it: “God gives it the way He wants, when He wants to whom He wants”.

Meanwhile, in fact, there are ways to get us close to the border, ways that hasten the progress, like almost forcing God’s hand to make us enter into “contemplation”! The expression (forcing God) is not mine, it is of St. John of the Cross, when he says in the Spiritual Canticle that practising love of neighbour the way St. Paul describes it, can almost “force” God’s Hand to pour His grace into us i.e. the particular help.

As St. Teresa would never separate the perfect practice of the Virtues from the practice of the Prayer of the Heart, I would never separate Lectio Divina from the Prayer of the Heart. A true supernatural Lectio Divina (as I teach it, which involves the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit) is for me an important condition that “triggers” the Grace of God during the Prayer of the Heart. The Lord Himself gives us the clue: “whoever loves me, keeps my Commandments, the Father will love him and we will come and dwell in him and him in us” (John 14:21).

One wants to know what true love is. It is to keep Jesus’ Commandments, which is real Lectio Divina, listening to the Risen Lord and putting his Word into practice by His Grace.
As a consequence, a new love of God wants to be outpoured: The Father will love Him. This is the starting point of the Prayer of the Heart: a renewed outpouring of Love.
As a consequence: The Lord and the Father (and the Holy Spirit) will come and dwell in the person. This is a supernatural Prayer of the Heart.

The secret of triggering “Contemplation” (the Son and the Father coming within us) is given to us.
It is the secret of a fruitful Communion during Mass: Mass is the enactment or realisation of the New Covenant. A Covenant needs a written text, a written Contract, realised in the Word of God, the Liturgy of the Word and in Blood: The Lord’s Sacrifice, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. If we want “contemplation” to occur during Communion, we need to listen first to Jesus in the Liturgy of the Word as this triggers a new powerful grace! Steady growth is thereby ensured.

Question: One knows by faith by faith that God loves us, or is it a more sensitive feeling?

Answer: yes, essentially of course it is a truth of our Faith. If we are faithful to Him in Lectio, He pours Himself into our spirit, not necessarily into our soul, emotions, senses. But Prayer often leads to these echoes that are manifest outside of our spirit, echoes that fall in the soul (mind, will), emotions, senses. Echoes of the substantial Meal received in our spirit. The echoes are the crumbs that sometimes God allows to fall into our conscious part.

Of course, if we consider seriously what God did for us, how He gave us His Son, we can know that He loves us truly, totally and constantly. Knowing, not feeling. It is a deep intuition, the intuition of Faith. Sometimes it can be very dry, and therefore be just a pure act of faith without any feeling. However, it helps us to grow to make this act of Faith from time to time.
Finally, let us have recourse to Mary’s faith, the essence of purity of heart and spirit.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

200- The Prophetic Creed

The Christian spiritual journey has two large consecutive periods of growth. Each one is triggered by a specific Call and a Conversion and each has its own creed and teaching content. The formation that belongs to the first period is called Catechesis and it follows immediately after Baptism. One of the main elements of Catechesis is the Creed: a summary of the fundamental and vital elements of Faith that enable us to be saved. In former times, the formation that belongs to the second period was called Mystagogy. Sometimes it immediately followed Baptism, but often it occurred a while afterwards. It is often triggered by “Second Conversion”. Mystagogy is more than just a deeper understanding of the mysteries present in the Sacraments. It is an enlivening and deepening of the life of the Faithful, a unique, personal and immediate experience of the Risen Lord and following Him in the Power of the Holy Spirit.

In the early centuries, Mystagogy, this new stage of growth, developed and became more apparent through the quest for God in the Desert: monasticism. A baptised person would hear the Lord’s call to go deeper into the faith and seek perfection. He would actually leave the world and go into the Desert to search for Union with the Lord and live for Him only. (See the Life of St. Anthony written by St. Athanasius, who is also the author of the Nicene Creed.) If we look at the Church as a whole we can say that she has three functions represented in three different bodies, perfectly united and interrelated: the Kingly function (Pope and Bishops), the Priestly (Parish and Parish Priests) and the Prophetic one (Monks and all who have heard the Call to follow Jesus).

It is important to understand that within the “Universal Call to Holiness” that originates in Baptism, there is a significant distinction between “knowing that we are all called” and actually “hearing the Call and starting the journey”. The first period of growth belongs to the Baptismal life in the Parish: living Catechesis to the full. While the second period belongs to the “call of the desert”, “call for perfection” or simply “Jesus’ personal call to follow Him”. The Call for perfection is emblematically mentioned in the Gospel story of the rich young man who asks Jesus to tell him how to reach Perfection. The Lord divides his answer into two stages:
1- the necessity to practise Moses’ Commandments first
2- to go and sell everything, give the money to the poor and go and follow Jesus.
We may consider that the first stage ensures Salvation, while the second offers Union with Christ and full realisation of the “Gift of God” (John 4:10).

At this juncture in the life of the Faithful, something new is started: a Call to follow Jesus from close up, to plumb new depths of Baptism. It is true that being baptised gives us potentially the capacity to follow Jesus! But, significantly, at a certain point in our life, hearing Jesus' Call, is something different and vital. The new journey as of now has its own "rules" and its own "set of beliefs" or “Creed”! This “new” Creed is not opposed to the common Creed, on the contrary, it proceeds from it and deepens it. If we consider that the Creed as we know it is the creed of the Catechumens and the recently baptised and confirmed, we can then consider that there is another Creed that serves as a framework for this new period of growth.

The elements that constitute this Creed are twelve as in the first Creed. They are the main vital truths that command the entire vision of the new period of Spiritual Growth. In fact, the second conversion introduces us to a new world and this Creed – our new contemplative eyes – allows us to contemplate it in its entirety. Without these vital truths one would not be on the orthodox path. Thus, one should now be able to say:

I believe in *Jesus' Call, in time; *Jesus’ Promises; *the stages of Growth of Spiritual Life; *the different levels of the Action of the Holy Spirit in us; *Our Lady's role in our spiritual life; *the necessity of the assimilation of the Sacraments; *the Full Development of the Virtues; *the necessity of determination, perseverance and the Pascal dimension of the Cross; *the need for appropriate Formation; *union with Christ’s Mystical Body; *a different level of Apostolate; *the Eternal Father's Providence, Love and Mercy. Amen.”

Saying this Creed often, strengthens the belief in the elements of the commitment to answer Jesus’ Call.
Here follow short indications regarding each article of the Prophetic Creed. It goes without saying that each one of these deserves a long explanation and presentation.

1- Jesus' Call, in Time
Second Conversion. Entering into a personal relationship with Jesus.
Hearing the Call. Following Him closely. Jesus is the Groom. Jesus is The Everything.
2- Jesus’ Promises
Jesus Promised us:
1- Union with Him / Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
2- Fullness of Love.
Life is: becoming one with the Son, being embraced by the Father, breathing the Holy Spirit.
3- The Stages of Growth of Spiritual Life
Union of will. Deep purification. Betrothal. Spiritual Marriage.
Flares of the Holy Spirit. To love God as we are loved by Him. Participation in the Lord’s Passion. Dying out of Love.
4- The Different Levels of the Action of the Holy Spirit in us
Inner Master of the sanctification. Personal and direct action in us. General vs. Particular Help of the Grace of God. How to be in Synergy with the Holy Spirit. Human vs. Divine Modality.
Necessity for Transformation. The Transformative line of our journey.
A deeper understanding of the Scriptures.
5- Our Lady's Role in our Spiritual Life
It is under her care and maternity that the journey is achieved.
Necessity for a total and constant entrustment to Her. Her Faith is transmitted to us.
6- The Necessity of the Assimilation of the Sacraments
There is a necessity to assimilate the Sacraments: the sacramentality of the Word of God (Lectio Divina) and the Eucharist (Prayer of the Heart). Living in the presence of God.
7- The Full Development of the Virtues
Virtues (Faith, Hope, Love), the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit need to grow in us. Two types of Contemplation (Lectio Divina, Prayer of the Heart). Participation in the Lord’s Passion. Humility – Detachment – Love, practised heroically. 
8- The Necessity of Determination, Perseverance and the Pascal Dimension of the Cross
How narrow is the door and the Path! Necessity of courage, endurance and resilience. Meaning of suffering. Learning to unite it to the Cross. Temptation. The different types of ‘nights’.
9- The Need for Appropriate Formation
Necessity of: Formation – Spiritual Direction – Spiritual Friendship.
10- Union With Christ’s Mystical Body
The Whole Christ is Head and Body (the Church). We can’t divide up Christ. We need to be united to both.
11- A Different Level of Apostolate
New Modalities of Apostolate develop throughout the journey of growth. Being united with Jesus’ Mystical Body engenders a new dimension of apostolic zeal. Transformed by the Holy Spirit into a living flame, our spirit, together with Him, sends out flares toward others, giving them the Holy Spirit in turn.
12- The Eternal Father's Providence, Love and Mercy
Everything works for the good of whomever commits to this path. God's Providence embraces us: the help of the Angels, the Communion of Saints, St. Joseph’s vigilant help.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

199- Letter for a Young Person Called to Work in the Field of Spiritual Life

How we Become "Masters in Spiritual Life"

“Working in the field of Spiritual Life” means one or more of the following activities:
- Teaching Spiritual Life (Spiritual Theology)
- Offering Formation in Spiritual Life (Masters of Novices, Masters in Institutes,…)
- Offering Personal Tuition in Spiritual Life
- Offering Spiritual Direction.

Dear B,

I would just like to clarify something important regarding how we are enabled to fulfil the mission of teaching, forming and guiding in Spiritual Life, according to the Catholic Tradition. You certainly intuit it or have even heard me talking about it. First, I want to remind you of the conditions to become a master in spiritual life, then I will give you a specific warning.

I- A reminder of what you already know: what makes us Masters in Spiritual Life is a prudent blending of three capacities (see this in St. Teresa of Avila):

1- Science (Degree in Spiritual Theology).
2- Personal Experience of God (intense spiritual life, receiving manifold graces related to our spiritual growth, practising Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart).
3- Discernment that comes from discipleship: many years of personal tuition/supervision and Spiritual Direction from a very knowledgeable master.

When the three are combined under the supervision of the Tutor, this helps re-cognise i.e. it makes the connection between two things: a- what was learnt (science, the Degree, the books, the readings, the study) and b- what has been felt or perceived or understood in our experience (or that which is not experienced) of God.

Re-cognising is a very delicate and subtle operation where two “worlds” meet and seem to us to match: on one hand the world of our experience and on the other hand the world of what we read or study. These two worlds are distinct. Re-cognising occurs when we feel that they have met and resonated on a point or more. Re-cognising offers a new understanding of both our experience and the text and roots in us a new knowledge and “judgement” in spiritual matters. The Holy Spirit, Master of Spiritual Life, leads the operation. It is a long process knit together by a multitude of graces which goes towards the formation of the new master.

We realise this operation both consciously and unconsciously. The unconscious operation occurs almost always and consists in the projection of our own experience on what we are reading. We therefore end up by unconsciously filtering and conditioning our reading.
Our own prism interferes unknowingly: it often either reduce or deviates from the real objective sense of what the author is saying.

An important observation: when we talk about “authors” in spiritual life we need to make a very important distinction that many scholars don’t make. It is very common to make the mistake of confusing Saints and Doctors of the Church (or Masters). Of course, Doctors of the Church are also saints and even have an eminent holiness, but they are much more than just saints.
A saint is only a saint and is not necessarily called to teach, lead or explain spiritual matters. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas in a concise way says: “let the saint pray for us and let the doctor teach us”. Even if Saints are writing about their spiritual life or about the graces they have received, they are not teachers or doctors. A “Doctor of the Church” or a “Spiritual Master” on the contrary has received from God extra graces to help him do two things:
a- understand what the graces are all about and situate them correctly on the journey of transformation/sanctification
b- express and explain the graces correctly.

As we can understand therefore, great confusion can result from this delicate, risky but vital operation of Re-cognition. Consulting a Master is very much required here in order to ensure the necessary attention to an accurate process of “re-cognition”. A lot of patience, resilience and humility are needed here. And of course, a great spirit of obedience to God through the Master is a must. 

Of course, it goes without saying that the choice of the Master here is decisive. As Saint John of the Cross puts it: the disciple will become like the master, so we need to pay great attention to the hands into which we are entrusting ourselves.

Three pitfalls are worth mentioning:

1- The obscurity inherent in spiritual life and its consequences: an important component of spiritual life is the difficulty to perceive it, understand it and explain it correctly. Faith, by its very nature, as a theological virtue implies a certain obscurity. Spiritual experience, then, despite the fact that it is an “experience” of what the Holy Spirit is doing in us, remains obscure. This can very easily induce us into error and makes finding the correct understanding and explanation of the experience more arduous. Humility, patience and perseverance are of the essence here.

Spiritual Life is obscure like faith, because God action in us happens essentially in our spirit, which is above our consciousness, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3) and any echoes that might fall into our awareness (mind, emotions, senses) must be subject to subtle discernment and correct interpretation. What we feel or don’t feel (soul-emotions-body, i.e. area of awareness) is not necessarily what occurs in our spirit (beyond awareness), while the latter is in fact the cornerstone and measure of progress.

Experiencing the action of the Holy Spirit can generate a very wide range of thoughts, images, feelings and sensations that can be even perceived as contradictory. The spiritual experience is therefore multifaceted and versatile. Not being purely material at least in its source, its description ends up by being rather relative.
Understanding and describing a spiritual experience is difficult also because it is conditioned by the culture, experience and knowledge of the individual: we often re-cognise in our own way! As a consequence, what we read about the experience of others can be interpreted in different ways, some correct and others not.
As a consequence, studying spiritual life, reading various authors and working in the field of Spiritual Formation, is a very sensitive undertaking. Paradoxically accuracy is needed but is altogether difficult to achieve. The pitfall is to transform that long initial lack of precision and tangibility into something certain and final.

The beginner tends to rush into conclusions, by pushing the initial normal lack of clarity and tangibility inherent in Spiritual Life toward assumptions and convictions that are artificial. Intellectual patience is a very important form of charity towards the full mystery of what the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in us. Accepting not to have clarity for long time is necessary. Otherwise we choose part of the truth, and transform it into the whole truth which is the root of any heretical attitude. In Greek, heresy means to choose (part of the truth)!

Another factor of imprecision: People who are meant to work in the field of Spiritual Life need to know that the Holy Spirit is meant to provide them with two graces in order to support this sacred mission: a- understanding the graces received and b- being able to talk about them and explain them (see St. Teresa of Avila, Life 17,5). Not every person or even every saint is meant to receive these two graces because they are only related to the service/ministry. As a consequence, we will often find people (saints for instance) giving an account of their own spiritual state (present, past) who haven’t necessarily received the second and third grace mentioned by St. Teresa of Avila. They will not be necessarily accurate in their understanding and explanation. Therefore, relying on their perception and judgement is not always safe. As a consequence, an extra effort is necessary on our part to understand and explain properly what we read. This factor of uncertainty is normal but has to be taken into consideration always.

2- Confusing levels: spiritual life’s growth could be comparted to an ascending spiral. Seen from above, growth will look like moving in an indefinite circular way. If we take a point on the circle and focus on it, we might think that we have come back to the same point. But a side view of the spiral will show us that it is two different points or levels of spiritual growth.
As an example, Martha and Mary are mentioned by St. Teresa of Avila at least twice, once in the Prayer of Union (4th-5thMansions) and another in the 7th Mansions. An inexperienced eye won’t see the difference.
If watching our own experience and comparing it with what we are reading is done in an inaccurate way (like seeing the spiral from afar, or from above), we will make wrong assumptions, the process of “re-cognition” will deviate. In fact, if we take a closer look, we find to our utter surprise that there is a difference in the spiritual levels or stages. And this often offers a radical difference in the evaluation and judgment of the spiritual state of the person.
Confusing different levels, makes us read a grace or read a person’s experience thinking the person is at a certain stage, while the person is at a completely different stage! Similarities are tempting and we often rush into conclusions.

3- Feeling we can relate while we read a spiritual book: it is not because we read about a grace or a set of graces and feel good about it and can relate to them (like, pleased, feel good) that it means we have reached that level. Illusions are very common.

II- My warning for you:

It is truly the most difficult Mission in the Church: to be involved in the ministry of Spiritual Life. No discussion about that. It is easy to study and pass exams intellectually, one can be brilliant intellectually but quite ignorant and misleading if he or she endeavours to work in the field of Spiritual Life. Intellectual acumen is one part of the ministry. Important, necessary and should be of high quality (solid Philosophy, solid general Theology (especially dogmatic, moral and pastoral theology), and solid Spiritual Theology). No fancy knowledge here! Solid and traditional.
My point for you is the following: of course, having a Degree in Spiritual Theology is something very good, but, paradoxically, the Degree doesn't qualify you. So only focusing on getting the degree is wrong. Worse, being prevented from becoming a master in spiritual life because of the lack of the degree would affect your Call seriously.
It is never never enough to just base everything on Science, on the Degree! More things are needed and can be implemented or strengthened from now onwards.
Again, the Degree doesn't qualify you, it just informs you about spiritual life according to a certain school or way of engineering it today. The Degree gives you an idea of the 2000 years of experience and knowledge of the Church about Spiritual Theology. In a way, it roots you in the Church.
But it never replaces the thousands of hours of personal study (study, not reading) and personal research. It will never replace the advice of a good Tutor in the field. Impossible. It will never replace the hours of Spiritual Direction received. There is the added danger that study can inflate our ego! In Spiritual Theology, true study should deflate the ego and should make one very prudent before making any assumption.
What does the above mean? Am I dissuading you from venturing in this field? No, on the contrary. I am inviting you to do a great deal of work, to study, and of course to get the degree! But I am also saying: don't ever think that the degree is enough! Never! Spiritual Theology is a practical science so without experience and tuition (discernment) it is impossible to teach properly or to form.
Humility, patience and resilience are necessary. Great charity also is of the essence: love for people, loving to help, loving to understand them, and an immense devotion to the Holy Spirit and to Our Lady.
Please don't be prevented by not having yet obtained your Degree. Even if you had a degree, if you were to think that this were enough, that would be a crime! Inherent in Master ship is a sacred triangle: science, experience, discernment, well blended together.
If humility is needed to grow spiritually, humility is a million times more important if somebody feels called to teach (form in) the Spiritual Life. Humility manifests itself in the form of a great spirit of supernatural obedience.
Avoid at all costs a spirit of improvisation, of rushing, of amateur science or discernment. Many people today in the Catholic Church who work in the field of Spiritual Life fall into these categories.
Continue please, but in humility... experience... love. Don't neglect personal Tuition and Spiritual Direction!!

in Mary

Jean Khoury

Friday, 27 September 2019

198- Minding Our Own Business and Spiritual Life


“You do wrong to find fault, and to try to make everyone see things from your point of view. We desire to be as little children. Now, little children do not know what is best. Everything is right in their eyes. Let us imitate them.”

This quote, above, is from St. Therese on being little. Is she is saying that it is better to keep one’s opinion to oneself? How does this balance with trying to give advice to help people, as I thought she did with some of the Novices?


First, let us see if the quote is an original quote:

This quote comes from the book written by her sister, Céline (Geneviève), after Therese's death, called: “Conseils et souvenirs” ("Advice and Memories"). This book is not a primary source, but one can reasonably accept the quote as coming from Thérèse. The book is not often read today. But still, I don’t see how or why we would deny this thought to Thérèse.

Understanding Thérèse's Advice

Let us try to understand it. She was in charge of the Novices, teaching them all the time, being extremely vigilant with them! As you can see, she has been caught out doing what she seems to deny to others: giving advice, spotting something that is not right in one of her novices.
The first stage of the answer is to observe what is the duty of state. It is not the responsibility or duty of a nun (who is not the Prioress or the Mistress of Novices) to pay attention to other nun's behaviour (unless it is visible and serious). Her duty of state asks her to be just a nun, totally dedicated to God and paying attention to Him by looking inwardly.
So Sister Thérèse, as having the responsibility (and not the title) of Mistress of Novices, spotted a young novice putting her nose in other nuns’ business, and not paying attention to what God is asking of her. Thérèse points out the fact that we human beings can’t know what is happening in the heart of our brothers and sisters, hence the strong commandment given by the Lord: “do not judge”, the reason being that we can't see into the workings of the heart. Or in other places in the Bible we read: who knows what is in the heart of a human being (see Jeremiah 17:9)?! So to invite the nun to humility and to focus on her task (to be there for God) she advises her to imitate little Children. Thérèse here is doing her duty of state. It wasn’t the nun’s duty of state to find fault in other persons!

One can add two similar pieces of advice:

1- A nun (here not a novice) was scandalised and was suffering because of what was happening in another Monastery. Thérèse on the contrary was very calm and focused on God. Surprised, the nun asked Thérèse how come she could be so calm and was not concerned by what was happening in that other monastery. Thérèse's reply was that this was not their community and that it therefore couldn't in any way trouble her.
One can easily remember the "pagan" philosophical advice, which was very early on adopted by Monasticism:

Don't worry about what you can't change.
Worry only about what you can change.

In fact, we can't change any human being. We can change only ourselves.

2- St. John of the Cross, in his advice given to a religious (see Minor works) says that the monk has to live in the monastery as if he were alone with God, paying attention only to God. Of course this advice today can very easily be felt to be harsh and not even correct, or worse still: against charity etc.

If, instead of boldly criticising a saint of this stature, we try to understand what he says we will find his advice to be very evangelical. The Lord himself, as stated above, is asking us to mind our own business and never judge our brothers or sisters - again, unless it is our duty and responsibility, i.e. unless it is our duty of state (being a parent, a superior, or a spiritual director, etc.). The fundamental reason is: we don't see the human being's heart

On the other hand, I hear the objection: it is true that if we see our brother committing something serious the Gospel asks us to talk to him or her and invite them to repent (Fraternal Correction see Mt 18:15-18). And later, if they don't repent, we are asked to report it to the Community. But at the same time the Lord asks us to focus on our own sins, business, problems: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Luke 6:41)
We should focus on what we can change! This is our primary duty.
Let us also admire the continuation of the advice:
"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Luke 6:42). The Lord however seems to retain the possibility that later, having greater clarity, one is able to "remove the speck"; He never explains how.

In fact, when the hypocrisy (the double standards) fades and goes, when the powerful light of the Holy Spirit sheds its insights into our very depths, we discover our nothingness, and we discover the fact that the only exit or solution for us, when face to face with God, is to rely purely and utterly on His Mercy. When the "hypocrisy" goes, after having focused for years on removing the big plank from our eye, we discover that our main duty is to forgive, to exercise mercy on our brothers and intercede for them.

Thérèse gives this advice to a nun: God doesn't want us to be judges of our sisters but agents of God's mercy toward them. God understand our weakness. We can excuse them, find excuses for them. Have a merciful attitude. We can in fact imitate God.

Referring even to the greater Monastic tradition, and the Desert Fathers, we read in their stories that an Elder saw a young monk committing adultery, but remained in peace. Another young monk, who saw the whole thing, was scandalised and troubled, and was surprised to see the Elder remaining peaceful. He asked the Elder, challenging him: didn't you seen the whole thing? The Elder answered: no.
The story here could seem very confusing to many. But each one of the short stories and advice of the Fathers of the Desert bears a lesson, and here is the lesson: do not to lose your inner peace. Why? Because the work of God can only be achieved when one is at peace! Being troubled caused by being scandalised doesn't allows to fulfil God's will and bear  good fruits.
So what do  you do? You choose a higher value (i.e. peace) over a lower or even a sinful one: forfeiting one's inner peace. Again, it is the Lord's advice: "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." The monk preferred to shed tears over his own sins than to spend one minute noticing a grave sin committed by his brother and being troubled by it.
It is possible that this logic won't dawn on many. Time and humility will tell.

When Saint Paul writes to his disciple and spiritual son, Timothy, and gives him advice for the organisation of the Community (see first letter to Timothy). He asks the latter not to appoint as Leader (Bishop) somebody who has been recently converted, because such a person is often still reacting under the influence of the Old Man. As a consequence humility will be lacking, violence will still be there, harsh judgement, etc. Humility and holiness are still a long way from where he is. The experience of God's Mercy and of one's nothingness hasn't sunk in yet. The experience of perceiving that we are all in the same box and that we all need His Mercy and that the only exit for us is his Mercy is not there yet.

We live in a world where everybody thinks they know everything: each person thinks they know about politics, economics, history, etc. Each person seems to have an opinion about everything, people judge their superiors very easily, the Pope for example is constantly being judged and criticised by many and even condemned. This is utterly bad and sinful behaviour. We are not focused on what we can change: ourselves! We do not mind our own business! God will judge each person, God is the judge. We are not. Sometimes we might be called to report something we have noticed to our superior, the one who is in charge, ok, fine, but after reporting it, we should completely forget about it: it does not depends on us, it is not our duty of state, it is not our own business. Otherwise we will spend 80% of our energy on things that are not part of our duties. Once reported, the responsibility falls into the hands of those in charge and not on us! God will not condemn us. We have reported; that's it. Now we can be at peace, it is not our duty anymore.

Summing up

We need to remember that we have two worlds (sometimes called "forums") or two areas in our life: the internal one and the external one. The external one is the world in which we live, people who surround us and we meet, the external events. The internal one is the secret of our heart, of our thoughts, of our conscience and of our relationship with God. The two worlds are not separated but often we pay attention rather to the external one only. All our acts come from our internal world. The visible acts are the ones which cross the line and become visible, noticeable to others, and the other ones, remain in our heart and no-one sees them. This fundamental distinction helps us discern two areas in our duties and two areas wherein our Peace lies.

We can distinguish two aspects in our duties:

a- The external ones: the duties of our state of life (single, married, consecrated) and the duties of our work. ('external forum' duties: they are often public and verifiable by others.)
b- The internal ones: our spiritual life, and our responsibility to answer Jesus' Call and grow spiritually everyday. ('internal forum' duties)

God's will manifests itself to us in two forms: internal duties (our spiritual life) and external ones. Both duties are important and necessary. We often forget our internal duties, i.e. our spiritual life.

Also, since we have talked above about the importance of having peace in our heart, we can distinguish two types of outcomes regarding peace:

a- The external one: we are not promised necessarily to have peace in the following areas: our community, neighbourhood, family, work place, congregation/order, city, country. Our passive thoughts (Temptations). God allows them for our own good in order to strengthen us spiritually. "Lead us not into temptation" doesn't mean keep at bay all challenges and trials. It means, give us the grace to be victorious over temptation when it comes.
We often don't have peace in these external areas because life on earth is not a "paradise" but a type of warfare which challenges us to grow spiritually and as human beings.
b- The internal one: peace with God, peace in the heart, and peace in our active thoughts. Our goal should be necessarily to reach this peace in order to accomplish both our duties, inner and outer. One has to be very vigilant in this regard. We can't accomplish God's duties, our external duties, if we don't have vital inner peace. Of course it doesn't come easily, and one needs to make an effort of conversion. But the paradox is that one can be totally at peace and live in a very difficult outer situation where there is no peace. On one hand we are vigilant to keep the peace in our heart, or regain it, and on the other hand we work and fulfil our external duties.

As we can see only the internal one should be sought after and kept in order to do God's will.
Of course external trouble around us doesn't give us licence to join in, rather we should try to be peacemakers (Rm 14:19: "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."). But if we fail, it is still ok, we are not supposed to succeed always because the freedom of other persons and situations doesn't depend only on us.
It is true also that sometimes we feel in our conscience that God is asking us to witness to the truth, be witnesses to Jesus (and it could create trouble without meaning to); this has to be done with discernment. We can witness to the truth but be unable to convince others about it, and even less to force them to accept it.
Often, despite the fact that we seek peace, we find that there are always difficulties, struggles, misunderstandings, trials. Even   if we have done all that we can, we can't change the situation we can't change others. If we still have doubts we can always consult our Spiritual Director.

I think all the above needs long extensive moments of prayerful silence face to face with God.