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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 3 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 23, 2014
God's love for man must be worthy of God Himself: this it can be only if it is worthy of man as a person. Having invested man with the dignity of free will and responsibility, God treats him in a manner befitting this status; in other words, He honors man. This does not imply that man possesses anything in his own right which would compel God's respect, for whatever man possesses, including his status as a person, God has given to him. But having given it to him, God treats him accordingly. For the sake of His own honor, God maintains the dignity of man.

God’s love for man must be worthy of God Himself: this it can be only if it is worthy of man as a person. Having invested man with the dignity of free will and responsibility, God treats him in a manner befitting this status; in other words, He honors man. This does not imply that man possesses anything in his own right which would compel God’s respect, for whatever man possesses, including his status as a person, God has given to him. But having given it to him, God treats him accordingly. For the sake of His own honor, God maintains the dignity of man.

This week I’m featuring a multiple post from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic. From a good review: “This is no promotion of a vague kind of spirituality designed simply to make a person feel good. Prayer as Guardini speaks of it is to be always centered on Christ and his work of salvation for us.

This is a compassionate book. Guardini warns that prayer is almost always difficult, that we have an innate tendency to resist it, and that we should simply persevere. However, he also speaks with sympathy regarding times of darkness and depression, and he urges honesty before God. At all times, the focus of the book is about how prayer draws us closer to Christ and better fits us to dwell with Him eternally; it is not a “how-to” book on demanding wealth, fame and riches from a God whom we conceive to be a great Santa Claus. One of the most helpful and practical books on the Christian life I’ve ever read.”

Spend some time here this week with one of the great masters of Catholic Life.

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God is Worthy Of Praise
The greatness of God is expressed in the very names by which we call Him. He is the Uncreated, who has made everything; the One without beginning who is self-sustained; the Infinite; the Immortal; the Eternal. Because He is master of Himself, Lord of His own divinity, He is the Master and Lord of all that is. Thus the universe is His by dominion and by right.

Man inclines himself in adoration before Him completely and unconditionally, in freedom and dignity. In the Scriptures, God’s greatness and His majesty are experienced also as splendor and glory, terms which convey the all-penetrating radiance — the effulgence of the Divine Reality — before which adoration assumes the character of praise and jubilation. Thus the Scriptures contain passage after passage proclaiming the splendor of God, singing His praise, extolling His holiness, majesty, might, eternity, infinite freedom, justice, goodness, mercy, and patience.

One might object that there is something embarrassing about such fulsomeness; that it savors of the submissiveness of the weak, of the sycophancy of the defenseless, which is contrary to the dignity of man and even more so to the dignity of God.

No doubt, when the motives are not absolutely pure, praise — especially the praise of God — deserves this criticism. But when the motives are pure, bestowing praise is perfectly consistent with dignity and honor. One may, for example, have occasion to commend a person for his reliability. Ought one to refrain from it for fear of being thought a flatterer? Indeed, it may sometimes be a real act of friendship to let a person know how highly we think of him and how much we rely upon him. To convey to a person spontaneously and gladly what we find attractive or praiseworthy about him is not flattery but a form of praise which makes for the beauty of human relations.

God certainly does not need our assurance that we value His lofty qualities, yet it is “meet and just” and a form of the purest and truest prayer when man rejoices in God and glorifies Him. The Scriptures, as has been noted, abound in songs of praise. Among the Psalms there are many which, springing from man’s profound experience of the glory of God, pour forth holy emotion in praising His qualities and His works one by one. In the Prophets also, praise of the Lord breaks through again and again, to give as an example only the great song of praise of the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision: “And they cried one to another, and said: `Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of Hosts, all the earth is full of His glory.’ [Isaiah 6:3]

In the New Testament we find the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55] and the song of Zachariah. [Luke 1:68-79] The Liturgy, too, is permeated by songs of praise such as the Te Deum and many hymns and sequences.

Sometimes it is as though the praise of God filled the world; as if it went out to and enfolded all creation, as for instance the Psalms of creation [Psalms 32, 46, 95, and 99 should be given special mention (RSV: Psalms 33, 47, 96, and 100)] or in the response which those songs have found in the hearts of God-enraptured people such as St. Francis of Assisi. In the last of the Psalms mentioned above, creation and creatures are exhorted to praise God:

Praise ye the Lord from the heavens:
praise ye Him in the high places.
Praise ye Him, all His angels:
praise ye Him, all His hosts.
Praise ye Him, O sun and moon:
praise Him, all ye stars and light.
Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens:
and let all the waters that are above the heavens
Praise the name of the Lord.

For He spoke,
and they were made:
He commanded,
and they were created.
He hath established them for ever,
and for ages of ages:
He hath made a decree,
and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
ye dragons, and all ye deeps:
Fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds,
which fulfill His word:
Mountains and all hills,
fruitful trees and all cedars: Beasts and all cattle:
serpents and feathered fowls.
[Psalms 148:1-10 (RSV: Psalms 148: 1-10).]

This is not a fairy-tale approach to nature in which the sun and the moon, the trees, and so forth are personalized and given voices with which to sing the praise of God; it is an inspired poetic rendering of the idea that the sun and the moon and all created things are a mirror of God’s glory because, as His creation, they reflect something of His nature. In so doing, they praise Him by their very existence. They themselves know nothing of it, but man does; he can think himself into their silent song of praise; he can voice it on their behalf, offer it up to God and thus act as the spokesman of creation.

When discussing adoration we said that man humbles himself before God, not because God is all-powerful, but because He is truth and goodness and worthy of adoration. In other words, God proves — if one may express it thus — His divinity by His character. With Him, being and doing are one; essence and existence are one; promise and fulfillment are one. From this derives the ultimate justification of praise.

“Lord, Thou art almighty” is synonymous with “Lord, Thou art worthy of being almighty; Thou livest Thy almightiness — with Thy character and acts. Thy almightiness is the supreme consummation of justice and truth.” It is therefore fitting to praise God.

Man’s spirit rejoices that God is that He is. This joy pours forth in praise. The attributes of God which man is able to name are merely like so many rays of that effulgent light, like so many emanations of that arch-unity of being and necessity that is His inmost essence which cannot be named, in short, like so many emanations of the Who Am (“God said to Moses: `I Am Who Am’ ,) [Exodus 3:14.]

It is Who Am which enkindles in man the flame of gladness which turns to gratitude and finds expression in praise. We praise God and give thanks to Him for the glorious reality of His being. In the words of the Gloria: “We give thanks for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly king, God the Father.” And in the words of the Preface: “It is truly meet and just that we should always, and in all places give thanks to Thee, all-holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God.”

Praise Elevates the Person Praising
The praise is the purer, the more profound the experience of God’s glory and the truer the joy to which it gives rise. In praise, man himself becomes pure and great, for his greatness derives not only from what he is in himself, but from his ability to value and honor that which is greater than himself.

Therefore, it is “meet and just” to do homage to Him who is the supreme greatness and glory; at the same time this act of homage is an act of self-realization for him who performs it. Man’s real world is, as it were, above him. Praising God means ascending into that homeland of our spirit where, it may be said, we truly live.

Thus we should practice giving praise to God. This discipline widens and edifies the spirit. The whole day assumes a different character if, on waking in the morning, rested and refreshed from the night, we recite the words of the Te Deum or of the 148th Psalm. There are no morning prayers more beautiful than these.

Certainly it is right for us to ask in prayer and to put before God the problems of our burdensome existence. Yet it might profit us more if we directed our gaze away from ourselves toward Him. Our cares and needs would not be forgotten for, in Christ’s words, “Your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8]

The Loving God is Generous and Bountiful
God’s being is inexhaustible. Ever new aspects of His being reveal themselves to us in contemplation and religious experience, and to every one of them our souls can respond in prayer. Thus theology itself almost becomes a school for prayer.

This book is merely an introduction; we shall therefore confine ourselves here to considering a final group of divine attributes to which we make direct appeal in our prayers: God is bountiful and generous. He cares for man; He values and loves him. Two forms of prayer in particular — petition and thanksgiving — go out to these aspects of God.

God Loves Us
Some conceptions of the Deity preclude all possibility of either petition or thanksgiving (for example, that God is merely the First Cause — the unmoved mover of the universe — or the idea of the good). To such a god the heart of man could not turn when in distress. In his sight, petition would be as futile as gratitude; awe and admiration would be the only possible reaction to a god conceived in this way.

However, the Scriptures tell us that God is vis viva; that He is the power of willing and of action; that He is Person, able to listen and respond. God is spirit, not in the impersonal sense of an intellectual principle in which the word is often understood, but in the sense given to it by the Scriptures when they refer to Him as the “living God.”

God is the creative, the inexhaustible, the ever close and benevolent One. He is also the “rich” God, as the spiritual masters put it, who is willing to share the abundance of His being with us. He is the ever giving, who can never suffer diminution by His gifts; who never tires in His generosity; who can never be disappointed, for He does not depend on the response of those to whom He gives. He gives creatively. To such a god the heart of man can turn.

Our God does not dwell in Olympian heights, in blissful self-sufficiency, indifferent to the plight of human existence. If this were so, prayer would be of no avail; indeed, it would be undignified and hopeless from the start. The Scriptures tell us that God is concerned with man and that He loves him. God’s love for man is the main theme of the Gospel and the whole of Christ’s life proclaims it. This is true Revelation — that is, something which the mind of man could not have grasped on its own.

This love, so revealed, means not only that God wishes His creatures well but that He truly loves them with an earnestness to which the Incarnation bears witness. It means that God has given Himself in this love, making it — if we may thus express it — His destiny.

This love prepares the ground for its ultimate self-revelation by the creation of the world; its design becomes more distinct in the course of the sacred history which leads up to Christ. In His life and His teaching it comes out into the open, to spread in the pattern of Divine Providence through space and time to its final consummation in the new creation and in the coming of the kingdom of God.

A profound mystery surrounds the origin of divine love, so that to the question as to why God loves man, man himself cannot give an answer. God’s love must be regarded as pure gift, as the creative cause of itself.

There is another aspect to this love, which must be understood in order to get a balanced picture. God’s love for man must be worthy of God Himself: this it can be only if it is worthy of man as a person. Having invested man with the dignity of free will and responsibility, God treats him in a manner befitting this status; in other words, He honors man.

This does not imply that man possesses anything in his own right which would compel God’s respect, for whatever man possesses, including his status as a person, God has given to him. But having given it to him, God treats him accordingly. For the sake of His own honor, God maintains the dignity of man.

This must be strongly emphasized, for there is a manner of interpreting the sovereign, absolute status of God which consists in contrasting it with the contingent, doubtful status of man. This interpretation does not serve the glory either of God or of His creature, for one does not honor God by degrading man.

It is true that man is but a creature, and a fallen, erring one at that. But he is not mere nothingness or sheer demerit; he has significance in the sight of God when God loves him.

Prayers of Petition
To this God we lift up our hearts in prayer. We turn to Him, the omnipotent being, of whose love we feel certain, as the child in distress turns to his mother or as we turn to a friend when we need comfort or help. Christ taught us that we should turn to the Father and ask Him to “give us this day our daily bread” — meaning the necessities of our daily life. He admonished us to do it simply and trustingly, because “your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8]

Christ Teaches us to Ask for Assistance
How simple and natural is this asking we know from the incident related in the eleventh chapter in the Gospel according to St. Luke. There the disciples come to the Master asking Him to teach them to pray. He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, which is one long petition. It encompasses the whole of our existence, acknowledges its dependence on God, and receives it from His hand.

We are taught to pray for everything: for the necessities of life, for strength in our labors, for comfort in spiritual distress, for support in our moral struggles, for the understanding of truth, for greater charity and righteousness. Man is ever conscious of his want and helplessness; it is only right, therefore, that he should turn to the bountiful and almighty God, who is not only ready to give and to help, but greatly rejoices in it.

Prayers of Petition Acknowledge God’s Bountifulness
Asking for help means more than turning to God only when we have reached the end of our resources. His help does more than merely fill the gaps in our own ability. Therefore, what we ask for in prayer is, strictly speaking, not help in the sense of something additional or supplementary to what we have — our whole life is founded in God. Everything we do comes to us from Him and goes out to Him. There is no such thing as a complete, self-sufficient human being, a human being at his own risk and responsibility. To be man is to have one’s being from and in God. This fact is constantly stressed in the Scriptures.

Prayer, therefore, is not really a call for help but the acknowledgment of the fact that man receives substance and existence, life and meaning, freedom and strength, through God’s creative dispensation — that he exists by the grace of God. All this may be called grace in a wider sense, because he receives as a free favor what he can neither claim nor enforce.

Grace in the strict meaning of the term is everything that comes to us by God’s redeeming love in the form of light, strength, guidance, spiritual comfort, and liberation. Thus all petition in prayer is ultimately petition for grace in the wider as well as the more precise meaning of the term. This prayer for grace must be constantly renewed, since at every instant we have our being by the grace of God. Prayer for grace is as essential to life as breath.

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 2 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 22, 2014

It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: "For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8] More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us -- the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.

It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8] More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us — the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.

This week I’m featuring a multiple post from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic. For many of us we get this from our parents or grandparents, a loving sibling. But for most of us we limp along really not doing what we are supposed to be doing. This is where Fr. Guardini comes in. Spend some time here this week with one of the great masters of Catholic Life.

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Prayer’s Second Motive: The Yearning For Union
The second motive for prayer begins with the recognition that, despite our resistance to God, we cannot be without Him. The first motive expresses what Peter said to Christ when he felt His mysterious powers by the lake of Genesareth: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. [Luke 5:8] The second finds its expression once again in the words of Peter at Capharnaum, when our Lord promised the Eucharist: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God. [John 6:69-70]

If the knowledge of our sinfulness leads us either to arrogance or dejection, the link between God and man breaks and we turn away from Him. But if it leads us to humility and truth, then we may say, “It is true that by my sins I have forfeited the right of being in the presence of God, but where else shall I be if I cannot be with Him?”

God’s Holiness Calls us to Him
The same holiness which turns man away also recalls him, for holiness is love. It rejects man so that he may find true humility and the new way. When he has done this — however insufficiently — it calls him anew.

We know that God is the supreme good, the supreme being, salvation — life. That is why we yearn for God. If we do not have this yearning — life may have disheartened or disillusioned us or made us dull and indifferent — we must endeavor to awaken it through faith. We must guard against that attitude of spiritual pride which makes us say, “What I do not feel I do not need.”

We must allow for the possibility that our feelings may be unreliable and therefore we must honestly strive to correct them. Yearning for God is inborn in human nature. If it is lacking, it does not follow that we have no need of God, but rather that we may be sick and in need of healing. It may be humiliating to have to admit to oneself that one is lacking something which is an intrinsic part of human nature. It may easily lead one to adopt an attitude of defiance, which, although giving an impression of superiority, is in fact rather pathetic.

We said previously that even if we do not directly apprehend God’s reality we must accept it as a fundamental tenet of our faith. In the same way, we must have recourse to faith if our own feelings do not prompt us to seek God. This is the truth — all else is error.

The Yearning For God is a Form of Prayer
This yearning for God — a yearning for union, for participation — is also prayer.
The story is told of St. Thomas Aquinas that when he had finished an important section of his great work on divine truth, Christ appeared to him and said, “Thou hast written well about me, Thomas. What shall I give thee?” St. Thomas, the legend goes, answered, “Thyself, Lord.” St. Teresa expressed this yearning even more forcefully when she wrote: “Only God is sufficient.” [St. Teresa of Avila, Poem 9, Nada to turbe.]

The deepest core, the highest aspirations, the whole essence and purpose of man’s striving can be summed up in the proposition: man’s soul longs for union with God. This is not merely the expression of a pious sentiment; it is the precise truth.

We want to possess that which we consider to be precious and real. But is there anything in the world which we are really able to possess? Something catches our fancy, we buy it, we take it and carry it home, but do we really possess it? It is true we can make use of it; we can prevent anyone else having it, but is it ever truly ours? Not only may we lose it, not only can it be ruined, not only shall we have to give it up one day — we never really have it; we only hold it externally. We are never able to form that innermost union between ourselves and things which alone can be called having; there always remains a gulf.

The same applies to human relations. We want to establish a close relationship — a true union — with another person. We want to be certain of the other person, but can we ever achieve this? We may gain a person’s confidence or love; we may be linked to that person by the strongest bonds of loyalty and devotion, but ultimately that person still remains distant and inaccessible. God alone, the all-true, the all-being, the Holy, the Remote, is able to give Himself fully to man. Neither things nor persons, nor even we ourselves can fully become our own: only God can create that nearness that fulfills our yearning.

Again and again the cry “My God” appears in the Scriptures. “I said to the Lord: `Thou art my God.’ [Psalms 139:7 (RSV: Psalms 140:6).], This is the heart’s own cry, called forth by God Himself, who spoke thus: “I will walk among you, and will be your God.” [Leviticus. 26:12]

St. Augustine describes the nature of the human soul by saying that it is “capable of comprehending God.” Capable — and this is even more important — of comprehending nothing but God and therefore, we may add, capable of comprehending the world and people only through God.

This finds expression in the prayer in which we strive for God, strive to partake of His plenitude, strive to be at one with Him. In this striving, prayer becomes love, for love means seeking to be completely at one with another autonomous being. We may acquire a jewel, a flower, or a work of art, and, to the extent to which we are able to establish an inner relationship with one of these objects, we may claim them as our own. But we cannot claim a human being as our own unless the right has been granted to us by that human being, unless he has permitted it of his own accord.

How, then, can God become our own? That He, who is Lord of Himself and of all creation, wishes to give Himself to us, and that it is compatible with His divinity to do so, only He Himself can reveal to us. Moreover, He must give us faith so that we may believe it and consummate the union.

This is the mystery of divine love, that in it all love has its origin and finds its complete fulfillment. We must therefore beseech God for the grace of His love and for grace to respond to it.

These two elements — the turning away from God, conscious that we are unworthy of Him, and the striving after Him in the longing for union — are to some degree present in every prayer which deserves the name. By these two contradictory trends we testify to God’s holiness, for it is God’s holiness which makes us shrink back in the knowledge that we ourselves are unholy, but which at the same time makes us strive after Him in the knowledge that in Him lies our salvation.

God is Almighty
Another aspect of the nature of God, which we apprehend in some forms of religious experience, is His almighty power.
The Scriptures abound in testimonies to the majesty and power of God. Frequently these testimonies are in the form of statements about the greatness of the world, which is then said to be nothing in comparison with God.

The Old Testament opens with the great hymn of the creation of the world. Its realms unfold before our eyes, each one issuing forth from the Word of God. The world is through Him; He is of Himself. Heaven and earth, darkness and light, the waters and the land, are what He commands them to be; He, however, is one and everything. There is no primary matter, no plan; everything comes into being through Him alone.

He is not only greater than the world, but absolute greatness –greatness in itself. The world, however, is only through Him and before His sight.

This greatness is free; it is the first source of all order. God utters the words “Let there be,” and everything becomes. However, when God’s greatness encounters man’s defiance, His greatness becomes inexorable and changes into the wrath of God, of which the destructive powers of nature, such as storms, earthquakes, the scorching sun, and the tumultuous seas are warning manifestations. [Psalms. 75,96 (RSV: Psalms. 76, 97).]

Providence Reveals God’s Loving Power
Yet God’s awfulness is all kindness, wisdom, and tenderness, for does not God teach His prophet that the Lord is not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the whistling of a gentle air? [3 Kings 19:11-12 (RSV: 1 Kings 19:11-12).]

It is in the doctrine of divine Providence that the almighty power of God fully reveals itself to us. In this doctrine, the awfulness of omniscience, the ineffableness of omnipotence, and the unfathomableness of a wisdom which controls the immeasurable threads of existence declare themselves as pure love: in Providence God the Almighty becomes the Father.

God Is Infinite
Human existence is finite in every respect: we are limited in our physical size, in our possessions, in the space we inhabit. Everyone has his own particular disposition and temperament, which is the measure both of his possibilities and of his limitations. Again and again — in being and in having, in our relations to things and people — we learn this lesson: so far and no farther. It is different with God. He knows no restriction or limitation, for He is and has everything: He is the all-embracing, the infinite.

God’s being is inexhaustible in substance. From unfathomable depths it rises and then extends over measureless space. The greatest heights which we are able to conceive can be but a pale intimation of His sublimity.

Our power is as limited as our being. In all our endeavors, struggles, and activities we inevitably reach the point beyond which, we realize, we cannot go: the point which marks the frontier of our knowledge and of our faculties.

God knows no such limitations. He creates, and in the most perfect way: by the Word alone. All that has been given to us the world in all its abundance of forms, its diversity of laws, the immeasurableness of all things great and small — all this issued forth from the Word of God.

God Is The Ultimate Good
Yet all that has been said so far does not do justice to the greatness of God. The attribute great does not merely denote a high degree of being and of power; it also denotes a high degree of value — it denotes excellence of quality. Thus we would call great a man possessing great purity of heart and nobility of mind; we would also call great a work of man if it expressed purity and noble intent. By this token, a painting twelve inches square, if it expressed these qualities, would be greater than one which covered the wall but did not express them.

God is not only the all-real, but also the all-good. When we pronounce the word truth we thereby express that all-embracing plenitude of pure integrity of essence which is God. Again, when we speak of justice, purity, harmony — these are really ways of referring to Him. Beauty is not really an attribute but a proper name of God. It is value — goodness, truth, beauty — from which all that is derives its ultimate right to be.

God not only demands value, and imposes value but is the form (or idea) of value. More than that: God is the supreme Universal – the universal of universals — of which all particulars, including all values, are mere reflections.

Thus His reality is absolutely justified and necessary. He alone has substance and the sovereign right to be.

Mere existence is dark and brooding; value gives it light. “This is the declaration which we have heard from Him and declare unto you: that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. [1 John 1:5]

God’s mighty power, as we have pointed out, is all tenderness and love, capable of giving everything and of giving itself.

Finally, life is more than breathing, growing, working, creating, and experiencing. Life is — or should be — self-experiencing and, ultimately, self-realization. How much there is in us which we do not realize, which, indeed, seems unrealizable!

God is omniscient. His omniscience embraces the world and mankind; but, above all, it is directed toward Himself. God is self-realized in the fullness of His infinite being. Aware of His own majesty, He carries the inconceivable momentousness of His own being in the supreme freedom of His will.

These reflections can do no more than give an intimation of God’s greatness: a greatness which is beyond all measure, yet is not inordinate or unwieldy, but light, luminous, and controlled — in short, perfect.

Adoration is the Proper Response to God’s Goodness
Before this greatness man inclines himself, not only in the literal sense but in the devotion of his heart. He inclines himself without reservation, in complete surrender as the creature before the Creator: in short, he adores. The act of adoration expresses the realization that God is greatness, pure and simple, and that man is smallness, pure and simple; that God exists by reason of Himself and in Himself, but man only through God and by God’s grace.

Adoration affirms: “Thou art God; I am man. Thou art the One that truly is, self-created, substantial from all eternity. I am only through Thee and in Thy sight. Thou hast all plenitude of being, all fullness of value, all sublimity of meaning; Thou art Lord and unto Thyself. The meaning of my existence, however, is derived from Thine. I live in Thy light and the measure of my existence is in Thee.”

God is Worthy of Our Adoration
It is important to stress that in this act of worship man does not submit to God simply because God is so infinitely greater than man. If this were the only reason for man’s submission it would mean that God’s almighty power had left him no choice but to yield.

Man submits because he knows that this is right and just in itself. If adoration merely expressed “I submit to Thee because Thou art stronger than I,” this would be a feeble and ultimately unworthy sentiment. But adoration says: “I submit because Thou art worthy of this act of homage. I have apprehended that Thou art not only reality but truth; not only power but also goodness; not only dominion but infinite merit and the meaning of meaning.”

In the life of man, might and right, strength and merit, actuality and truth, status and worthiness rarely coincide; it is this which makes our existence so drifting and questionable. It demands from us constant striving, and at the same time fills us with a sense of futility. With God it is different. Whenever man encounters God he finds in His might also right, in His greatness also worthiness.

There is no dichotomy in God’s nature; with Him being and action are one. To all this we give expression in adoration.

A God merely all-real and omnipotent, man could not adore. He could not resist such a God; he would have to surrender unconditionally to Him. For the sake, however, of his dignity as a person, he would have to deny Him adoration. In the act of adoration it is not only the body which is bowed down, but the person as a whole, and this can be done only voluntarily and with dignity. The unity of being and meaning in God renders this possible.

This is magnificently illustrated in the book of Revelation in the passage of the four-and-twenty elders (the last representatives of the human race) worshipping Him and casting their crowns before Him, saying: “Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honor, and power: because Thou hast created all things; and for Thy will they were, and have been created. [Revelations 4:11]

Adoration is More Important Than Petition
Apart from the special importance which attaches to the act of adoration as an integral part of religious worship, it is important also as an element in man’s spiritual life as a whole. It is as necessary to man’s spiritual existence as the laws of logic are to his intellectual life or the spatial order is to his physical existence. Or, using a different analogy, we may say that adoration is to man’s spiritual vision what light is to his physical eye.

Human existence is founded in truth, and the foundation of all truth is that God is God — unique, alone, and unto Himself; and that man is God’s creature. By recognizing this fundamental truth and by acting in accordance with it man maintains his integrity and his wholeness. Adoration is the act in which this truth continually rises resplendent, and in which it is acknowledged and consummated.

It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8]

More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us — the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 1 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 21, 2014

The first motive for prayer springs from man's awareness of his own unworthiness before the holiness of God. Man recognizes that he is selfish, unjust, deficient, and impure. He acknowledges his own wrongdoings and tries to assess them: not merely those of today or of yesterday, but of the whole of his life. Beyond this he tries to visualize the whole of the human condition with its shortcomings. He realizes sin as it is understood by the Scriptures, sin as it is active in himself. He recognizes that sin is transgression of the moral law and of the natural law. But even more, he recognizes that sin is contumacy before God's holiness, that it is, therefore, not only wicked but unholy. He admits it and sides with God against himself; he says, in the words of the Psalm: "For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged. [Psalms 50:5-6 (RSV: Psalms 51:3-4)]

The first motive for prayer springs from man’s awareness of his own unworthiness before the holiness of God. Man recognizes that he is selfish, unjust, deficient, and impure. He acknowledges his own wrongdoings and tries to assess them: not merely those of today or of yesterday, but of the whole of his life. Beyond this he tries to visualize the whole of the human condition with its shortcomings. He realizes sin as it is understood by the Scriptures, sin as it is active in himself. He recognizes that sin is transgression of the moral law and of the natural law. But even more, he recognizes that sin is contumacy before God’s holiness, that it is, therefore, not only wicked but unholy. He admits it and sides with God against himself; he says, in the words of the Psalm: “For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged. [Psalms 50:5-6 (RSV: Psalms 51:3-4)]

Recollectedness and The Divine Presence
On the holy ground to which we gain access in the state of recollectedness, the divine presence becomes manifest. To approach this divine reality is thus the prime task and toil of prayer; the second task is to hold firm in the holy presence and to comply with its exacting demands.

Toilsome Prayer Is Yet Worthy Prayer
We have used the word toil deliberately because prayer can really be toil. At times, as we have said, prayer comes easily and as the heart’s own language. But generally speaking and with the majority of people, this is not so. Mostly it must be willed and practiced, and the toil of this practice derives partly from the fact that we do not experience the real presence of God. Instead of experiencing His presence, the worshipper is conscious of a void; in consequence everything else appears to him more urgent, more real. He must therefore persevere.

Anyone who says that prayer has nothing to offer him, that he feels no urge to pray, or that his prayer “does not ring true” and that therefore he had better leave it, misses the essential point of prayer. To be able to persevere through the hours of emptiness has a special value which cannot be replaced by the most inspired prayer at some other time. Only he who takes his faith seriously can continue to speak through the darkness without receiving any response — he knows that he is heard by Him to whom he speaks.

God May Reveal Himself in the Void
There are different kinds of voids.
There is the void which is caused by the lack of something — the void of nonexistence. But there is another void, a void which is vibrant with being.

These two kinds are not always easily distinguishable. There are times when it seems that the void we experience when praying is the one of nonexistence. No wonder that we feel discouraged and find ourselves tempted to give up not only prayer, but belief in God altogether.

This is a testing of our faith, for as the song of praise in the Sanctus tells us: “Full are the heavens and the earth of the majesty of His glory.” But we cannot see Him: although He is present, not merely as the stones and the trees are present, but present in a very special, intimate way, close to us, abiding with us — we cannot see Him. This very earth, which is full of the majesty of His glory, also acts as a veil to truth which our senses cannot penetrate.

Into this void of not-seeing, not-hearing, and not-experiencing, there may at times enter something, something inexpressible and yet significant — a hint of meaning amidst apparent nothingness, a meaning which prevails over the nothingness. It happens more frequently than one would expect and one should pay attention to it.

This breath, this vibration, is the manifestation of God, faint and intangible though it is, it can support our faith, so that we may persevere.

If faith perseveres the void may suddenly be filled, for God is not a mere fantasy, idea, or feeling, but the all-pervading reality. He does not dwell above us indifferent in the blissful remoteness of celestial spheres, but with us. To Him who is the all-free, the all-mighty, there are no barriers, not even the coldness of our hearts; and He will reveal Himself to those who persevere in faith.

If God were only an idea, even the supreme idea, we should be justified if we turned in preference to the diversity of particulars: to living people and to the earth in all its beauty and sorrow. But He is the living God who spoke thus: “Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him.” [Revelations 3:20]

The reality of God can make itself felt as a mere breath or the mighty flood which completely fills man. It is experienced in our innermost soul, by the loftiest heights of our spirit, and by all that is most pure in our being. It is unique and simple and yet possesses the most diverse properties. That is why the masters of religious life speak of “spiritual organs of perception,” that is, the inner eye and ear, the inner feeling and taste. They are referring to the different ways in which God can be experienced.

Yet prayer must persevere, independent of such experience. Should God reveal Himself, should it be vouchsafed to the worshipper to stand in the radiance of His light, he should be thankful and treasure the experience; but should all remain dark and void, he must hold on to faith alone and persevere. He may seek comfort in the prophecies at the end of the seven messages in the secret Revelation which speak of the victory in the darkness and misery of earthly life. [Revelations 2:3]

God is the Holy One
Of all the attributes of God of which the Scriptures speak, the one that is paramount and which determines all others is holiness. What this holiness is, no one can know, not because it would be too hard for us to conceive or because it would, in its trail, bring a host of complex questions, but because it is a primary given fact more precisely, the primary given fact. It is His basic nature, the first cause that determines His being. “To whom have ye likened me, or made me equal? saith the Holy One. [Isaiah 40:25]

In these words holiness proclaims itself as God’s inmost essential being, thereby differentiating Him from all creation. Thus one cannot express what it is. One can but indicate: see, hark, and feel. It is impossible to express in conceptual language what light is. But one can say what it does, what laws determine it, how it affects things, and what would happen if there were no light. But one cannot say what it is in itself. One can only say, “open your eyes and see.”

God’s holiness is that primary essential self wherein He has His being, and by which He is known. Every human being has diverse traits of character which can be described and named; but he has something more than those traits — not necessarily the sum of them, but something which flashes into the minds of those who love him, something ultimate and substantial which they regard as being him, as constituting his true being. In the same manner we must regard God’s holiness as His inmost essential being.

People, things, and events are earthly and of this world. God is unearthly; He is transcendent and mysterious. But such words can do no more than indicate and hint at something which is beyond description. Reality cannot be described; it can only be directly apprehended — that is, realized.

The outward forms of religion can but give an intimation. A church, for example, which is not only finely constructed and beautiful, but which also has an atmosphere of piety, may give such an intimation. In such a church we may experience that otherness which compels us to leave the things of the world outside, to become still, and to kneel down.

This is forcefully expressed in the passage of the burning bush: “And He said: `Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ [Exodus 3:5]

There are people who have something of that otherness. They shatter the complacency of one’s habitual existence; they shift the emphasis of things and call up invocations of that which, in the last resort, alone is important. These are intimations of God’s holiness, of that nature which is wholly His own — that unique and supremely precious essence of God whereon depends our all –our eternal welfare, our salvation.

Holiness means that God is pure, that He is of a mighty all-consuming purity which permits no blemish. It means that He is good, not in the sense merely that He has all those qualities which are encompassed by the concept good, but also in the sense that “none is good but one, that is God. [Mark 10:18] In short, God is the supreme good.

That which we call good on earth can be likened to a splinter from the infinite bounty of His being. God is the standard by which all is measured, the ultimate test to which everything has to submit, the ultimate judgment over all and everything.

God’s Holiness Which Makes Prayer Possible
As soon as man comes into the proximity of God, he is confronted by this holiness, becomes aware of it, and responds to it in various ways.

He becomes aware that he himself is not holy, that he is profane and earthly — indeed, that he is sinful and guilty. He realizes that he is not fit to be in the presence of God and wishes either to go away from Him, or to say with Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. [Luke 5:8]

Yet, at the same time, he knows that he stands in perpetual need of this holy God, that it is literally a matter of life or death to him, for he knows that he can live only through Him and that in the final analysis he can be nowhere else but with Him. Thus despite his own unworthiness, he is impelled toward God, impelled to speak in the words of the Psalm: “O God, my God, for Thee do I watch at break of day. For Thee my soul hath thirsted; for Thee my flesh, O how many ways! In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water. [Psalms 62: 2-3 RSV: 63:1]

From these two responses spring the forms of prayer. For ultimately prayer is man’s answer to God’s holiness. A God merely omniscient, all-just, omnipotent, and all-real, would be an enormity otherwise — the Absolute Being. We might admire Him, stand in awe of Him, feel overwhelmed by Him, but we could not pray to Him.

It is God’s holiness that makes prayer possible. It is only holiness which imbues God’s omniscience, justice, and reality with those characteristics, and gives to it those powers of intimate contact which make prayer possible. One might almost say that the act of prayer expresses in man something of that nature, the God’s holiness makes prayer possible supreme — the divine — expression of which is God’s holiness.

God’s Holiness Makes Us Uncomfortable
There is a third human reaction to God’s holiness. It is an evil reaction; it rises from man’s contradictory nature and consists of a feeling of discomfort, irritation, and rebelliousness. A strange manifestation! One is inclined to ask how this can come about if God is the moving Spirit and essence of the universe, and man is His creature — “For in Him we live, and move, and are. [Acts 17:28]

It is indeed difficult to understand; it springs from the mystery of evil. Sin, ultimately, is resistance to the holiness of God. It would be a mistake to think of this resistance merely as an open rebellion against, or as a denial of, God.

Potentially it is present in all of us — sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker; sometimes quite openly, sometimes in the guise of self-sufficient (rational) culture, or healthy common sense. When resistance, open or otherwise, gains the upper hand, prayer becomes impossible.

We must watch out for signs of it in ourselves; we must face it, try to resolve or still it, or overcome it with firm determination, whichever may be for us the most effective way of dealing with it. Let us leave this and return to the two fundamental motives of prayer already referred to.

Prayer’s First Motive: A Sense Of Our Own Sinfulness
The first motive for prayer springs from man’s awareness of hisown unworthiness before the holiness of God.
Man recognizes that he is selfish, unjust, deficient, and impure. He acknowledges his own wrongdoings and tries to assess them: not merely those of today or of yesterday, but of the whole of his life. Beyond this he tries to visualize the whole of the human condition with its shortcomings. He realizes sin as it is understood by the Scriptures, sin as it is active in himself. He recognizes that sin is transgression of the moral law and of the natural law.

But even more, he recognizes that sin is contumacy before God’s holiness, that it is, therefore, not only wicked but unholy. He admits it and sides with God against himself; he says, in the words of the Psalm: “For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged. [Psalms 50:5-6 (RSV: Psalms 51:3-4)]

We Sometimes Deny Our Own Guilt
There are many ways in which man may try to evade this acknowledgment. The crudest form of evasion consists in a deliberate denial of his guilt.
He considers himself pure, persuades himself that he has always been righteous and has committed no sin. He does not realize what presumption there is behind his pretense of righteousness, how much there is amiss behind his allegedly blameless conduct.

What is required here is the will and the courage to face the truth. God has told us that we are sinners, it is unbelief not to take it seriously. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8-10] These words show how self-deceptive is the feeling of our purity and our righteousness. They clearly state our condition before God and point the path to true understanding.

It does not follow that we should torment ourselves over our sinful ways. This also would be acting against truth and, moreover, could become a form of self-indulgence, which might have evil consequences. Obsession with the thought of sinfulness has invariably led either the persons so obsessed — or a later generation — to some form of rebellion. Christian teaching about sin gives us a new understanding which encourages and enables us to strive for purer righteousness. The acknowledgment of our sins must not make us despondent and discouraged; on the contrary, it ought to call forth in us the desire for spiritual purification and renewal.

We Sometimes Wrongly Consider Sinfulness Acceptable
There is another way of attempting to evade the issue: that is, by giving way to that false pride which prevents man from admitting to himself that he is a sinner, although he does not hide the fact that he has done wrong and is doing wrong. But since he cannot alter the fact he simply says, “My place is not with God,” and turns away.

What is lacking here is humility. Man should be able not only to acknowledge that he is a sinner, but also to face the idea – not in a spirit of defiance and self-assertiveness, but with sincerity and good-will; not in a spirit of self-abasement and mortification, but honorably and responsibly. In short, man must reconcile himself to the idea that he is a sinner and must learn to bear the stigma. This will open the way to self-renewal.

We Sometimes Despair
A third form of evasion is caused by lack of courage. When man sees that he is constantly transgressing and that evil is deeply rooted in him, when he begins to feel that all is confusion and that there is no way out, he runs the risk of despairing of himself, especially when he is a person wanting in willpower and, perhaps, in logic. To hold out in these circumstances is most difficult because the mind seems to answer to all good intentions, “You’re not going to carry this through; you will do again what you have always done before.” There is only one remedy: to put aside all inner searchings and recriminations, to have done with all hesitations, and to put one’s absolute trust in God who “quickeneth the dead; and calleth those things that are not, as those that are. [Romans 4:17] From this act of surrender to the Absolute, above and within us, will spring new resolve and new strength. We shall be able to say, “I will and shall, for God the omnipotent wills it.”

God’s Forgiveness Makes Repentance Possible
There is another mysterious aspect of God’s power which makes it possible for man to acknowledge his wrong and to admit and confess his sins. Man knows this intuitively, and the Scriptures have revealed it to us. God is not only the prime cause of the good and the fount of all justice; He is the all-renewer. He can give a new beginning to what appears final and He can undo all deeds. The words of St. Paul quoted above point to this mystery. God who is the supreme holiness, which by definition excludes all evil, is willing and able to forgive and to renew.

True forgiveness, the forgiveness which we are seeking and which alone is of benefit to us, is a great mystery. It implies not only that God decides to overlook what has happened and turns lovingly toward the sinner; this would not be sufficient. God’s forgiveness is creative: it makes him who has become guilty free of all guilt. God gathers the guilty man into His holiness, makes him partake of it, and gives him a new beginning. It is to this mystery that man appeals when he acknowledges his sins, repents of them, and seeks forgiveness. This is the first of those two motives of prayer which come into being before God’s holiness.

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Finding One’s Center – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 18, 2014
Many people don’t know that Pope Francis planned to write his thesis on Romano Gurardini the distinguished theologian and liturgist who had a profound influence on Joseph Ratzinger.  Ratzinger even named one of his most important books with the same title as that of one of Guardini’s (The Spirit of the Liturgy) (We need to read and apply what Ratzinger wrote now more than ever, by the way.) Magister corrected his own entry which now reads: "It was precisely on Guardini that the Jesuit Bergoglio was planning to write the thesis for his doctorate in theology, during an academic sojourn in Germany in 1986 at the philosophical-theological faculty of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt: a plan that was later abandoned." Pope Benedict, the day he stepped-down, quoted Guardini twice in his final speech as Pope.

Many people don’t know that Pope Francis planned to write his thesis on Romano Gurardini the distinguished theologian and liturgist who had a profound influence on Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger even named one of his most important books with the same title as that of one of Guardini’s (The Spirit of the Liturgy) (We need to read and apply what Ratzinger wrote now more than ever, by the way.) Magister corrected his own entry which now reads: “It was precisely on Guardini that the Jesuit Bergoglio was planning to write the thesis for his doctorate in theology, during an academic sojourn in Germany in 1986 at the philosophical-theological faculty of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt: a plan that was later abandoned.” Pope Benedict, the day he stepped-down, quoted Guardini twice in his final speech as Pope.

From the book Romano Guardini: Spiritual Writings

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If young people were to read my memoirs, they would surely be amazed that someone could be as unclear about himself as I had been. The primary cause for this confusion lay above all in me, in the complexity of my personal being which only slowly found its center point.

What brought about my own religious life was also what put great pressure on my religious life until my university years. I was always anxious and very scrupulous. For a young person, this condition is more difficult than an easygoing sense of life. An easygoing sense of life is at least a life, while the self-preoccupation of the anxious conscience is destructive. Help for this condition can properly come only from an older person who sees the anxiety.As a youth, however, I did not meet such a person. Added to this condition for me was the tendency toward depression which later became acute. Nevertheless, this tendency was also a source of creativity for me.

My scrupulosity and tendency toward depression could have led even in my early years to an intense inner life, full of strong experiences. But this did not happen. When I look back on my life, I am not able to see the entire time up until my university years. Nothing comes to me from my early childhood memories — memories which usually make the beginning of an autobiography worthwhile. I do not want to suggest that those years were empty. What unfolded later in my life must have had its roots in my early years.

But everything from my childhood lies as though under water. I have never had the sense of a happy childhood nor the desire to return to my childhood. I would not like to return to my childhood. I wish to add, however, that my parents truly loved us, and we them. We four brothers were closely united despite all conflicts, tensions, and difficulties, and it has remained that way even to this day.

When I finally arrived in Freiburg in 1906, I experienced an indescribable despondency. The prospect of becoming a priest threw me into a dark depression. I no longer understood myself. Today I know that what expressed itself in this despondency was the resistance of an entirely unlived out nature to the necessary deprivations of the priesthood.

Also, since birth, I have borne the inheritance of the depression that my mother experienced. Such an inheritance is not in itself bad; it is the ballast that gives a ship its ability to travel deep seas. I do not believe that there is creativity and a deep relationship to life without having a disposition toward depression. A person cannot eliminate it, but must include it in his or her life. As part of this, one must accept it in an innermost way from God, and must try to transform it into a good for other people.

I did not have this insight into depression when I went to Freiburg. After I arrived there, the flood waters of depression climbed so high in me that I thought I was sinking, and I considered putting an end to my life. I found peace in a few specific places; this sounds pathetic, but it is true. In Freiburg’s cathedral, the Munster, the altar for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament stood to the right of the main altar. When I knelt on the steps of this side altar, the despondency lessened — only to return soon afterward. How long the depression continued I no longer know. In my memory it seems endless. It was in fact not more than a couple of weeks. But it is not only the external duration which makes time seem long.

One day I was going to St. Odilien Church, where a natural spring of water bubbles up, which is a pleasure to watch. On the return way, on the beautiful street that passes the Carthusian house, I prayed the rosary. The sadness lessened, and I became peaceful. It was my first encounter with this prayer, which I later prayed so frequently. Since that moment I have never doubted my call to the priesthood. The dark flow of depression has always continued in my life, and more than once it has climbed very high. It was clear to me, however, that I was being called to the priesthood, and I have kept this conviction into the present.

I must say more about Wilhelm Koch, who was one of our professors of theology in Tubingen. Above all, I must recall that Koch was the person who freed me from the demands of scrupulosity. As I said earlier, scrupulosity had afflicted me since my childhood; during my first semester in Tubingen, I became unbearable. I attribute this senseless self-preoccupation in good part to the fact that my nerves were so sensitive and have never entirely healed. Scrupulosity is connected, too, to my tendency toward depression, and it can to a certain extent have a positive effect because it makes one serious.

But it can also destroy judgment and energy, to say nothing of the danger of inner panic that can drive anxious persons in the wrong direction so that they throw aside all moral and religious restraints.

In any event, Koch had the custom of hearing the confessions of a few students. Some of us — Karl Neudorfer, Josef Weiger, and I — asked him for this favor, and he agreed. He heard someone’s confession in the following manner. At the agreed upon time, the confessee arrived at Koch’s room, and walked back and forth with him in the room. This allowed the penitent to tell all that he had on his heart — whether about studies or practical matters, religious questions or moral issues — and to say what he thought about these things.

Then Koch put on his stole, asked the penitent to give a summary of all that was discussed, and then gave the absolution. In this way, I experienced what a wonderful source of life the sacrament of reconciliation can be when it is performed properly. I learned to stand at a distance from my anxieties, to distinguish unimportant concerns from important ones, and to see the appropriate tasks of my personal and religious formation.

Since Koch was a good person, he offered us some advice that we followed. At that time, we had no knowledge of human sexuality, and he saw how this ignorance burdened us. So he sent each of us to a professor of psychiatry, who was empathetic to us and recommended a good book about sexual matters. This endeavor was a bit risky since Professor G. was not a Christian. The book was entitled Die sexuelle Frage (The sexual Question), by Forel. It treated sexual matters with a matter-of-factness and detail that served us well. We read the book aloud together and found that the whole subject became demystified.

These steps to inner freedom had the net effect of turning the semester into a good experience. I cannot say that my anxiety totally disappeared. Since it is really part of my very makeup, it always runs as a possibility beneath the surface of my life. I have attained however, a critical distance from it and now am able to distinguish among its demands and assess each of them.

In the course of my last year at the University of Bonn, I was invited to accept a faculty position at Bonn in practical theology and liturgical studies. I had the intuition, however, that I should not deviate from my inner sense of direction, and therefore that I should not take this position. As I mention this, I would like to say that, since the awakening of my spiritual life, I had come to trust my inner orientation, and I have made my life’s various decisions concerning professional, spiritual and personal matters on the basis of this inner sense of direction.

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CRAFTSMAN: Raymond Carver – George Packer

April 17, 2014
That was the end of Bad Ray and the beginning of Good Raymond. He had ten more years before a lifetime of smoking finally caught up with him and he died at fifty, in 1988. During that decade he found happiness with a poet. He wrote some of his best stories and escaped the trap of self-parody that had begun to be called minimalism, turning to more fullness of expression in the service of a more generous vision. He became famous and entered the middle class. He received prestigious appointments and won major prizes, a literary hero redeemed from hell. He walked with the happy carefulness of someone pardoned on the verge of execution.

That was the end of Bad Ray and the beginning of Good Raymond. He had ten more years before a lifetime of smoking finally caught up with him and he died at fifty, in 1988. During that decade he found happiness with a poet. He wrote some of his best stories and escaped the trap of self-parody that had begun to be called minimalism, turning to more fullness of expression in the service of a more generous vision. He became famous and entered the middle class. He received prestigious appointments and won major prizes, a literary hero redeemed from hell. He walked with the happy carefulness of someone pardoned on the verge of execution.

A few pages from George Packer’s The Unwinding, a nonfiction work that plumbs the dissolution of American lives over the past thirty years and the gradual decline of what Charles Krauthammer calls the social compact of family, Church, and community – be it the schools, the Boy Scouts, the Lions Club, the Grange, whatever: neighbors-helping-neighbors. There has been nothing left in the ravaged remains of secular America except the government. Raymond Carver was the chronicler of much of that in his short stories of people set adrift. One  of my most popular posts on payingattentiontothesky was a retelling of his short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

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Ray was a drinker. He picked it up from C.R., his father. C.R. was a saw filer at a lumber mill in the Yakima Valley and a good storyteller. Ray picked that up, too. C.R. could go for months without sipping a beer, then he would disappear from home for a while, and Ray and his mother and younger brother would sit down to dinner with a sense of doom. That was how Ray drank: once he started, he couldn’t stop.

Ray grew up in the 1940s and ’50s. He was a tall, fat boy. He stood hunched over, with an arm or leg bent at a bad angle, and his eyes had a fat boy’s hooded squint even after he lost the weight. His pants and shirts looked like gabardine, what an unemployed forty-year-old would wear. He spoke in a faint mumble so you had to listen close, but it often turned out that he had said something funny or sharp.

The Carvers lived in four rooms in a seven-hundred-square-foot box of a house on a concrete slab. There was nowhere to be alone and they lived together like strangers.

Ray loved to shoot geese and fish for trout along the Columbia River. He liked to read the pulps and outdoor magazines. One day, he told the man who took him along hunting that he had sent a story to one of the magazines and it had come back. That was why Ray had looked nervous all morning.

“Well, what did you write?” the man said.

“I wrote a story about this wild country,” Ray said, “the flight of the wild geese and hunting the geese and everything in this remote country down here. It’s not what appeals to the public, they said.”

But he didn’t give up.

Ray saw an ad in Writer’s Digest for the Palmer Institute of Authorship in Hollywood. It was a correspondence course. C.R. paid the twenty-five-dollar enrollment fee and Ray started doing the sixteen installments, but he ran out of money for the monthly payments. After he received his high school diploma, his parents expected him to go to work in the sawmill. That wasn’t how things went.

Ray got a pretty girl named Maryann pregnant. She was going to study at the University of Washington, but Ray and Maryann were crazy about each other, so they got married instead. In 1957 their daughter was born in a hospital two floors below the psychiatric ward where C.R. was being treated for a nervous breakdown. A year later a baby boy arrived. Ray was twenty and Maryann was eighteen, and that was their youth.

They began to wander. They had great dreams and believed that hard work would make those dreams come true. Ray was going to be a writer. Everything else would come after that.

They moved around the West and they never stopped. They lived in Chico and Paradise and Eureka and Arcata and Sacramento and Palo Alto and Missoula and Santa Cruz and Cupertino. Every time they started to settle in, Ray would get restless and they would move on to somewhere else. The family’s main support was Maryann. She packed fruit, waited tables, sold encyclopedias door-to-door. Ray worked at a drugstore, a sawmill, a service station, and a stockroom, and as a night janitor at a hospital. The work was not ennobling. He would come home too wiped out to do anything.

Ray wanted to write a novel. But a man who was trying to wash six loads of clothes in a Laundromat while his wife was serving food somewhere and the kids were waiting for him to come pick them up somewhere else and it was getting late and the woman ahead of him kept putting more dimes in her dryer — that man could never write a novel. To do that, he would need to be living in a world that made sense, a world that stayed fixed in one place so that he could describe it accurately. That wasn’t Ray’s world.

In Ray’s world the rules changed every day, and he couldn’t see past the first of next month, when he would have to find money for rent and school clothes. The most important fact of his life was that he had two children, and he would never get out from under the baleful responsibility of having them. Hard work, good intentions, doing the right things — these would not be enough, things would not get better. He and Maryann would never get their reward. That was the other thing he understood in the Laundromat. And somewhere along the way, his dreams started to go bust.

Without the heart to write anything long, which might have brought in real money, and with the deep frustration of seeing no way out, he could write only poems, and very short stories. Then he rewrote them again and again, sometimes over many years.

The stories were about people who did not succeed. That had been Ray’s experience, and those were his people. His characters were unemployed salesmen, waitresses, mill hands. They lived nowhere in particular, in bedrooms and living rooms and front yards where they couldn’t get away from one another or themselves and everyone was alone and adrift.

Their names weren’t fancy — Earl, Arlene, L.D., Rae — and they seldom had more than one, if that. Nothing like religion or politics or community surrounded them, except the Safeway and the bingo hall. Nothing happening anywhere in the world, there was only a boy fighting a fish, a wife selling a used car, two couples talking themselves into paralysis. Ray left almost everything out.

In one story, a wife learns that her husband, just back from a fish trip with his buddies, left the brutalized corpse of a girl lying in the river for three days before reporting it.

My husband eats with good appetite but he seems tired, edgy. He chews slowly, arms on the table, and stares at something across the room. He looks at me and looks away again. He wipes his mouth on the napkin. He shrugs and goes on eating. Something has come between us though he would like me to believe otherwise.

“What are you staring at me for?” he asks. “What is it?” he says and puts his fork down.

“Was I staring?” I say and shake my head stupidly, stupidly.

His characters spoke a language that sounded ordinary, except that every word echoed with the strange, and in the silences between words a kind of panic rose. These lives were trembling over a void.

“Most of my characters would like their actions to count for something,” Ray once said. “But at the same time they’ve reached the point — many people do — that they know it isn’t so. It doesn’t add up any longer The things you once thought important or even worth dying for aren’t worth a nickel now. It’s their lives they’ve become uncomfortable with, lives they see breaking down. They’d like to set things right, but they can’t.

Ray was doing things the long, hard way, going against every trend of the period. In those years, the short story was a minor literary form. Realism seemed played out. The writer Ray brought most quickly to mind, Hemingway, was at the start of a posthumous eclipse. In the sixties and seventies, the most discussed writers — Mailer, Bellow, Roth, Updike, Barth, Wolfe, Pynchon — reached for overstatement, not restraint, writing sprawling novels of intellectual, linguistic, or erotic excess, and high-octane journalism. There was a kind of competition to swallow American life whole — to mirror and distort in prose the social facts of a country that had a limitless capacity for flux and shock.

Ray, whose hero was Chekhov, moved in the opposite direction from literary trends and kept faith with a quieter task, following Ezra Pound’s maxim that “fundamental accuracy of statement is the one sole morality of writing.” By paying close attention to the lives of marginal, lost people, people who scarcely figured and were rarely taken seriously in contemporary American fiction (if they appeared anywhere, it was in the paintings of Edward Hopper), Ray had his fingers on the pulse of a deeper loneliness. He seemed to know, in the unintentional way of a fiction writer, that the country’s future would be most unnerving in its very ordinariness, in the late-night trip to the supermarket, the yard sale at the end of the line. He sensed that beneath the surface of life there was nothing to stand on.

In the early seventies, Maryann got her degree and began to teach high school English. That freed Ray to put his effort into writing and finding a college teaching job. He began publishing stories in big East Coast magazines. The Carvers bought their first house, in the future Silicon Valley. There was a nonstop party scene with other working-class writers and their wives in the area. Things were looking up for the Carvers. That was when everything went to pieces.

The children became teenagers, and Ray felt that they now held the reins. Ray and Maryann each had an affair. They went into bankruptcy twice. He was convicted of lying to the state of California on his unemployment claim and almost sent to prison. Instead, he went in and out of detox. His drinking turned poisonous, with long blackouts. Maryann tried to keep up in order not to lose him. Ray was a quiet, spooked-looking man, but with the scotch he grew menacing, and one night, after Maryann flirted with a friend, Ray hit her with a wine bottle. She lost 60 percent of her blood from the severed artery by her ear and was taken to the emergency room while Ray hid in the kitchen.

A few months later, in 1976, his first book of stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? — written over nearly two decades — was published in New York. The dedication page said: THIS BOOK IS FOR MARYANN.

Ray was a drinker and a writer. The two had always gone along separate tracks. What the first self fled or wrecked or rued or resented, the second stared into high art. But now his writing dwindled to nothing.

“The time came and went when everything my wife and I held sacred or considered worthy of respect, every spiritual value, crumbled away,” he later wrote. “Something terrible had happened to us.” He never intended to become an alcoholic, a bankrupt, a cheat, a thief, and a liar. But he was all those. It was the 1970s, and a lot of people were having a good time, but Ray knew ahead of the years that the life of partying and drinking poor was a road into darkness.

In the middle of 1977 he went to live by himself on the remote California coast near Oregon. It was fear for his writing, not for his own life or the life of his family that made him take his last drink there. Sober, he began to write again. In 1978 he and Maryann split.

That was the end of Bad Ray and the beginning of Good Raymond. He had ten more years before a lifetime of smoking finally caught up with him and he died at fifty, in 1988. During that decade he found happiness with a poet. He wrote some of his best stories and escaped the trap of self-parody that had begun to be called minimalism, turning to more fullness of expression in the service of a more generous vision. He became famous and entered the middle class. He received prestigious appointments and won major prizes, a literary hero redeemed from hell. He walked with the happy carefulness of someone pardoned on the verge of execution.

The turn to flash and glitz in the eighties worked in his favor. During the Reagan years he was named the chronicler of blue-collar despair. The less articulate his characters, the more his many new readers loved the creator. If the sinking working class fascinated and frightened them, they could imagine that they knew its spirit through his stories, and so they fetishized him.

The New York literary scene, hot and flush again, took him to its heart. He became a Vintage Contemporary alongside writers in their twenties who had learned to mimic the austere prose without having first forged it in personal fires. He posed for jacket portraits with some of the old menace, like a man who had wandered into a book party from the scary part of town.

“They sold his stories of inadequate, failed, embarrassed and embarrassing men, many of them drunkards, all of them losers, to yuppies,” one of his old friends said. “His people confirmed the yuppies in their sense of superiority.”

But every morning, Good Raymond got up, made coffee, sat at his desk, and did exactly what Bad Ray had always done. After all, they were the same craftsman. The distractions were different now, but he was still trying to set down what he saw and felt with utmost accuracy, and in the American din, that small thing was everything.

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Song to the Moon – Renée Fleming

April 16, 2014

The incomparable Renée Fleming sings Antonín Dvořák’s Měsíčku no nebi hlubokém (Song to the Moon) from the Opera Rusalka.

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night pierce your rays.
This sleeping world you wonder by,
Smiling on men’s homes and ways.
Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me,
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?
Tell him, oh tell him, my silver moon,
Mine are the arms that shall hold him,
That between waking and sleeping
Think of the love that enfolds him.
May between waking and sleeping
Think of the love that enfolds him.
Light his path far away, light his path,
Tell him, oh tell him who does for him stay!
Human soul, should it dream of me,
Let my memory wakened be.
Moon, oh moon, oh do not wane, do not wane,
Moon, oh moon, do not wane…

The Czech words you are hearing:

Měsíčku no nebi hlubokém,
světlo tvé daleko vidí,
po světě bloudíš širokém,
díváš se v příbytky lidí.
Měsíčku, postůj chvíli,
řekni mi, kde je můj milý!
Řekni mu, stříbrný měsíčku,
mé že jej objímá rámě,
aby si alespoň chviličku
vzpomenul ve snění no mne.
Zasvit mu do daleka,
řekni mu, kdo tu naň čeká!
O mně-li duše lidská sní,
af se tou vzpomínkou vzbudí!
Měsíčku, nezhasni, nezhasni!

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Disinterestedness – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 15, 2014
The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

From time to time I feature examples of moral values that Fr. Guardini wrote about in his little book, Learning The Virtues That Lead You To God. Taken from a review: “Guardini’s gift is that he can penetrate the indoctrination, distractions and ultimately, the lying of our age and pierce through to the bedrock of our spirtuality, the nature of man, and man in relationship to God. His writings bring man back to what is essential, and strengthen him in trying to live by these precepts. One of Guardini’s purposes in all that he did was to shore up the faith in an age that attacks it mercilessly, and in an age that tries to falsify the nature of man (in advertising, media, manipulation, etc.) This is a wonderful book. It is the holy stratosphere surrounding the throne of God. Highly recommended.”

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Perhaps this title surprises the reader, for who is likely, at present, to consider disinterestedness a virtue; that is, an example of moral value?

There is a proverb which comes from ancient China and which states that the fewer interests a man has, the more powerful he is; that the greatest power is complete disinterestedness. But that idea is foreign to us. The image of man which has become the standard since the middle of the past century is quite different. It presents the active man who moves with decision in dealing with the world and accomplishes his purposes. This man has many interests and considers himself perfect when everything that he does is subordinated to the goals that he sets up for himself.

That such a man accomplishes much would not be denied even by the teachers of that ancient philosophy. But they would probably say that most of it is superficial and bypasses that which is really important.

How, then, does the man live who is ruled by his interests? In his associations with others, such a man does not turn toward another person with simplicity and sincerity, but he always has ulterior motives. He wishes to make an impression, to be envied, to gain an advantage, or to get ahead. He praises in order to be praised. He renders a service in order to be able to exact one in return. Therefore he does not really see the other as a person; instead, he sees wealth or social position, and then there is always rivalry.

With such a man we are not at ease. We must be cautious. We perceive his intentions and draw back. The free association in which true human relations are realized does not develop. Of course, our life with its many needs also has its rights. Many human relations are built upon dependence and aims. Consequently, it is not only right but absolutely necessary that we should seek to obtain what we need and should be conscious of doing this. But there are many other relations which rest upon a candid and sincere meeting of persons. If interests and ulterior motives determine our attitude in such cases, then everything becomes false and insincere.

Wherever the essential relations of “I” and “thou” are to be realized, interests must give way. We must see the other as he is, deal simply with him, and live with him. We must adapt ourselves to the situation and its demands, whether it be a conversation, collaboration, joyfulness, or the enduring of misfortune, danger, or sorrow.

Only in this way are true human values made possible, such as a real friendship, true love, sincere comradeship in working, and honest assistance in time of need. But if interests become dominant here, then everything atrophies.

A man who keeps interests in their proper place acquires power over others, but it is a peculiar kind of power. Here we approach the ancient aphorism of which we spoke in the beginning. The more we seek to gain our own ends, the more the other person closes up and is put on the defensive. But the more clearly he perceives that we do not wish to drive him, but simply to be with him and live with him — that we do not want to gain something from him, but merely to serve the matter at hand — then the more quickly he discards his defenses and opens himself to the influence of our personality.

The power of personality becomes stronger in proportion to the absence of interests. It is something quite different from that energy by which a man subordinates another to his will, and which is really a very external thing in spite of its dynamic quality. The power of personality stems from the genuineness of life, the truth of thought, the pure will to work, and the sincerity of one’s disposition.

Something similar holds true of a man’s relation to his work. When a man who is dominated by his interests works, then his work lacks precisely that which gives it value; that is, a sincere service to the thing itself. For him the first and chief consideration is how he can get ahead and further his career. He knows very little of the freedom of work and the joy of creation.

If he is a student, he works only with an eye to his vocation, and very frequently not even to that which really deserves the name of vocation, which is a man’s feeling that he is “called” to a certain task within the context of human society. Rather, he works with an eye to that which offers the most opportunities for financial gain and for prestige. He really works only for the examination; he learns what is required and what the professor in each case demands. We must not exaggerate; these things, too, have their rights. But if they are the sole motives, then the essential thing is lost. That kind of student never has the experience of living in the milieu of knowledge, of feeling its freedom and its greatness. He is never touched by wisdom and understanding; his interests isolate him. What we have said of students also holds true of other forms of preparation for later life.

Naturally, we repeat, these other things have their rights. A man must know what he wants; otherwise his actions disintegrate. He must have a goal and must orient his life to that goal. But the goal should lie mainly in the object to which be devotes himself. He will pay attention to remuneration and advancement, since his work gives him the means of which he and his family have need and gives him wealth and the esteem of others. But the real and essential consideration must always be what the work itself demands, that it be done well and in its entirety.

The man who has this attitude will not let his actions be determined by considerations extrinsic to the task. In this sense, he is disinterested. He serves, in the fine sense of the word. He does the work which is important and timely; he is devoted to it and does it as it should be done. He lives in it and with it, without self-interest or side glances.

This is an attitude that seems to be disappearing in most places. Persons who do their duty in sincere devotion, because the work is valuable and fine, seem to be becoming rare. Actions are increasingly based upon utilitarian motives and considerations of success apart from the real matter in hand.And yet disinterestedness is the only disposition which produces the genuine work, the pure act, because it frees man for creativity. It alone gives rise to what is great and liberating, and only the man who works in this way gains interior riches.

What we have said also opens the way to the final essence of humanity — selflessness. One of the most profound paradoxes of life is the fact that a man becomes more fully himself the less he thinks of himself. To be more precise, within us there lives a false self and a true self. The false self is the constantly emphasized “I” and “me” and “mine,” and it refers everything to its own honor and prosperity, wishing to enjoy and achieve and dominate.

This self hides the true self, the truth of the person. To the extent that the false self disappears, the true self is freed. To the extent that a man departs from himself in selflessness, he grows into the essential self. This true self does not regard itself, but it is there. It experiences itself, but in the consciousness of an interior freedom, sincerity, and integrity.

The way in which a man puts away the false self and grows into the real self is that which the masters of the interior life call “detachment.” The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

Shall we say, with reference to essentials, that that man has opened himself for God, has become, if we may use the term, penetrable for God? He is the “door” through which God’s power can stream into the world and can create truth and order and peace.

There is an event which reveals this marvel. When St. Francis had lived through the long loneliness on Mount La Verna and had received the stigmata of Christ’s Passion in his hands, feet, and side and returned to his people, they came and kissed the wounds in his hands. Francis, so basically humble, would have, in former times, rejected with horror these marks of reverence. Now he permitted them, for he no longer felt that he, “the son of Bernardone of Assisi” was their object, but Christ’s love in him was. His exterior self had been quenched, but the real Francis shone – he who no longer stood in his own light, but was wholly transparent for God.

Every genuine virtue, as we have seen before, not only pervades the whole of human existence, but it reaches beyond it to God. More correctly, it comes down from God to man, for its true and original place is the divine life. How does this apply in the case of disinterestedness? Does not God have interests — He, through whose will everything exists and whose wisdom orders all things?

We must be careful not to confuse meanings. To “have interests,” in the sense in which we have used the term, means something other than being active. Every activity has a goal, an end to be attained; otherwise, there would be chaos. In this sense, God looks toward the goal He has set, and directs His activity toward it. It is a different thing when the person acting is not simply looking toward the other person or the work to be accomplished, but regards himself, wishes to be recognized, and to secure an advantage. How could God intend anything of the sort? He is the Lord, Lord of the world, Lord of the divine life and existence. What could He need? He has — no, He is — everything!

When He creates the world, He does not do so as a man would make something, in order to boast of it or to serve hisown needs, but He creates through pure, divine joy in the act.We may use the term joy here, in its highest sense. He creates things so that they may exist, that they may be truthful, genuine, and beautiful. We cannot conceive of the freedom and joyfulness of God’s creative activity.

But what of the government of the world, that which we call “Providence”? Doesn’t God have purposes? Doesn’t He guide man, every man, and all the events of his life, to the end that He has proposed? Isn’t the life of one man arranged in a certain way because the life of another is connected with it in this manner? Aren’t the lives of all men oriented toward each other, and isn’t the whole of existence arranged by divine wisdom according to God’s plan?

Again, we must distinguish the meanings of words. Supreme wisdom does not will “interests” which accompany and are extrinsic to the essential thing, but the very meaning of that which is willed, its truth, and the fulfillment of its nature.

This divine will is the power which binds one thing to another, refers one event to another, brings one person into relation with another, and brings every man into relation with the whole. This does not constitute interests, but wisdom, the sovereign wisdom of the perfect Master who creates human existence as a woven fabric in which every thread supports all the others and is itself supported by all the others.

At present, we do not yet see the pattern. We see only the reverse of the tapestry and are able to follow certain lines for a short distance, but then they disappear. But someday the tapestry will be turned, at the end of time, at the Final Judgment; then the figures will stand out brightly.

Then the question never fully answered (or not answered at all) in the course of time — “Why”: Why this sorrow? Why this privation? Why can one do this and not another? — and all the questions of life’s trials will receive their answer from the wisdom of God, which brings it about that things are not a mere mass of objects and events, are not a confusion of occurrences, but that all these together constitute a world.

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