Monday with Merton


  
“The whole function of the life of prayer is, then, to enlighten and strengthen our conscience so that it not only knows and perceives the outward, written precepts of the moral and divine laws, but above all lives God’s law in concrete reality by perfect and continual union with His will. The conscience that is united to the Holy Spirit by faith, hope, and selfless charity becomes a mirror of God’s own interior law which is His charity. It becomes perfectly free. It becomes its own law because it is completely subject to the will of God and to His Spirit.”

Thomas Merton – No Man Is An Island

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The Fathers on Friday




“It is dangerous for a man to try teaching before he is trained in the good life. A man whose house is about to fall down may invite travellers inside to refresh them, but instead they will be hurt in the collapse of the house. It is the same with teachers who have not carefully trained themselves in the good life; they destroy their hearers as well as themselves. Their mouth invites to salvation, their way of life leads to ruin.” 

― Benedicta WardThe Desert Fathers: 

Monday with Merton


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Benedictine tranquility. Pax. That’s what I think about. I have more of it perhaps because I am less mixed up today in peculiar tensions of desire and pride that come from fighting the will of God in an obscure way, under the pretext of a greater good. Thomas Merton

Between Cowardice and Foolhardiness


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A 7 Quick Takes post as hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

 

(1)

Courage stands in the middle between cowardice and foolhardiness; humility in the middle between arrogance and servility . Modesty is a mean between timidity and boldness. Dorotheos of Gaza

(2)

I use the Trello app to create lists of books I plan to read, to buy, and also books I've read. Earlier this week, I stumbled across a reference to a couple of books and decided I would like very much to read them. I went right to the Amazon site but then, at the last minute and for some unknown reason, thought I'd better check my list of books read last year. They were both there. It was a little unnerving; I didn't know I had the books, much less that I'd read them so recently. I don't know if I should take that as a sign of aging or as a sign of having far too many books, more than I can keep track of. Putting a positive spin on the matter, I could just say that trying to buy a book I already had, a book recommend by trusted reviewers, was just affirmation of my good taste and leave it at that. Still, I'm glad I have that little Trello app.

(3)

I've been struggling with a frustrating matter over the past couple of weeks. A large part of my being Catholic today is due to the influence of reading Merton's The Seven Story Mountain and one or two other of his books. Through him I learned of important elements of monastic spirituality, especially lectio divina, the practice of praying with Scripture. It was important to me that the Church had such a key place for Scripture in the prayer of the individual Christian. I've been thinking a lot about this lately and wondering if I shouldn't write a bit more on the topic but just can't bring myself to a decision, thence the frustration; I don't think I could do a very good job of it. I hate it when something like that happens!

(4)

One result of the frustration is that I went back and read Merton's The Silent Life, a description of a monk's vocation and of the various forms of Benedictine monasticism as it existed in Merton's time. I may write a bit about it later, but the thing that struck me is how dated his description of the various Benedictine orders is. The book was written in the mid-1950s, not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but since then the Camaldolese have become firmly established in the United States, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert has been formed, and many other notable developments have occurred. If you think monasticism is dead these days, just thinking of all the that's happened in such a short time will change your mind.

(5)

The clarinet work is progressing nicely, although that too has been frustrating me this past 10 days. When you play the clarinet, your selection of a reed and ligature (the band that holds the reed in place) is critical. Not, perhaps, as critical as for an oboe, but still important, almost as important as the instrument itself. As my technique has improved, i.e., as I've been blowing harder (that's a technical term), I've been stressing the reeds and producing some terrible sounds at times. In truth, I didn't fully understand what the problem was but earlier this week my instructor asked me what number reed I was using. Turns out, I need a little stiffer reed, which has helped immensely and eliminated at least one source of frustration I've been having. At any rate, it is good to make progress in something.

(6)

Foofaraw!! Did you know there was such a word? It means, a great fuss, uproar, over something very insignificant, like my efforts today. Actually, I love learning new and obscure words to spring on unsuspecting friends and relatives, inevitably impressing them with my great learning and sagacity. Beware.

(7)

And I hope this little panegyric will not be offensive to their ears, since it has the advantage of being only designed for themselves. Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub , 1704

Amen to that.

 

 

Knowing When to Stop


    A couple of weeks ago, I considered the project of doing a 7 Quick Takes post written by the Early Church Fathers and the Saints, allowing them to have a chance to speak for themselves.  I debated the idea for a week or two, but how could I argue with the saints?  Here are the “quick takes” they offered me.

    (1)
    “A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.” St. John Chrysostom

    (2)
    “There is no subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance. Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

    (3)
    “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

    (4)
    “We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: “I will pray, and then I will understand.” – St. Charles Borromeo

    (5)
    “He who labors as he prays lifts his heart to God with his hands.” – St. Benedict of Nursia

    (6)
    image“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; invoking her, you shall never lose heart.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

    (7)
    And, in honor of Corpus Christi on Sunday:

    “Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us. He did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.” – St. Athanasius

     

     

On Prigs and Self-Righteous Bullies


(1)

I’m going to try to do a post today, even though I’ve done little thinking about much of anything for the last 10 days. I’m just now beginning to recover from a cold cum sinus infection that progressed with alarming speed into a nasty case of bronchitis. Bronchitis at this altitude (7,000 MSL) can be quite debilitating, even if it’s not particularly severe. I made what I hope is a final trip to the doctor yesterday and got a course of killer antibiotics that I think have already begun to make a difference. I hope to be back to what passes for normal for me next week. Bear with me for any incoherences I commit with this post. I see our Holy Father has a cold, so I guess I’m in good company and can take some consolation from that.

(2)
One especially noteworthy event of the past week, in my opinion, is the collapse of plans to hold a black mass at Harvard. I’m amazed, and quite heartened, that young Catholic students at the university were able to fend this thing off. I think this is a major triumph over the forces of ignorance and, dare I say it, evil, so pervasive in the world we live in. It could only have come from the prayers of many Catholics and, as I said, it’s quite heartening.

(3)
Actually, it wasn’t only students at Harvard who opposed the holding of a black mass, it looks like the president of the school also opposed the thing. Here’s a quote from the Catholic Culture website:

” ‘Vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge,’ Faust said in a May 12 statement. Although she denounced the plans for a enactment of the black mass as “abhorrent,” she said that the principle of free speech on campus weighed against any action to stop the event. Faust announced:

‘I plan to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour
and Benediction at St. Paul’s Church on our campus on Monday evening in order to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.’ “

I think I agree with her.

(4)
cropped-chesterton-2.jpgStill, as might be expected, Chesterton has a better answer:

“The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose; and the text of Scripture which he now most commonly quotes is, “The Kingdom of heaven is within you.” That text has been the stay and support of more Pharisees and prigs and self-righteous spiritual bullies than all the dogmas in creation; it has served to identify self-satisfaction with the peace that passes all understanding. And the text to be quoted in answer to it is that which declares that no man can receive the kingdom except as a little child. What we are to have inside is a childlike spirit; but the childlike spirit is not entirely concerned about what is inside. It is the first mark of possessing it that one is interested in what is outside. The most childlike thing about a child is his curiosity and his appetite and his power of wonder at the world. We might almost say that the whole advantage of having the kingdom within is that we look for it somewhere else.” G. K. Chesterton

(5)
On the other hand, I see that the administration and student government of Notre Dame (of all places) has turned down the application of a pro-marriage, pro-life organization on campus. See the story here. There is still much work to do, apparently all the more on the campuses of so-called Catholic universities. And then, there’s Cardinal Kasper. It boggles the mind.

(6)
Part of my sinus and bronchial problems has come, I suspect, from the crazy weather we’ve had in Colorado over the past two weeks. We’ve gone from several inches of snow and freeze warnings to rain and to bright sun and warm temperatures. Ah, springtime in the Rockies.

(7)
There are many fine blogs participating in the weekly 7 Quick Takes posts that Jennifer Fulwiler graciously hosts each week. Please stop by there to read them all.

 

He is Risen


He is risen, indeed!

I hope you have a Happy and very Blessed Easter.

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The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake.

Dom Basil Hume, OSB

Silence


image“When your tongue is silent, you can rest in the silence of the forest. When your imagination is silent, the forest speaks to you. It tells you of its unreality and of the Reality of God. But when your mind is silent, then the forest suddenly becomes magnificently real and blazes transparently with the Reality of God. For now I know that the Creation, which at first seems to reveal Him in concepts, then seems to hide Him by the same concepts, finally is revealed in Him, by the Holy Spirit.” from A Year with Thomas Merton.

I don’t know what it is about Merton, but almost anything he wrote can get me going thinking about some part of the struggle to be a Christian or something about monastic spirituality that is especially important to me. In this case, a bit of both which coalesce into one and the same thing, the importance of being silent and listening for God.

Fr Michael Casey wrote in his book Sacred Reading about the need for silence and listening to God and wrote of the experience of Samuel when God spoke to him. His response to God was, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” For most people today, the response is, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.” We get it all backwards. I need to remind myself, again and again, to shut up and be still and listen.  

Reading this yesterday was just a nice reminder and I thought I’d share it.