Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category


A Nation That Accentuates the Positive – Mitch Horowitz

January 2, 2014
Let your values, not your thoughts, drive. You need to get bigger than the battle between negative and positive, and the way to do that is by remembering what drives you, what matters most.

Let your values, not your thoughts, drive. You need to get bigger than the battle between negative and positive, and the way to do that is by remembering what drives you, what matters most.

Confidence in the benefits of a sunny outlook has roots in 19th-century religious America.

Mr. Horowitz, the vice president and editor in chief of Tarcher/Penguin, is the author of “One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life” (Crown, 2014).  Reblogged from the WSJ


At the close of virtually every religious calendar — from ancient solstice festivals to the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashana to the days of advent preceding Christmas — believers are called upon to make an inner reassessment. But Americans have elevated New Year’s resolutions into a secular national rite. If America possesses one unifying creed — one principle that unites New Age spiritual centers and evangelical mega-ministries — it is the belief that our thoughts, rightly directed, produce personal improvement.

Our national philosophy of positive thinking undergirds our political campaigns (“Yes, we can”); advertising slogans (“Just Do It”); and our cultures of therapy, business motivation, recovery and self-help. Like all widely extolled principles, from healthy eating to thrifty spending, aspiration toward positivity seems like it has always been with us. But the concept is newer than we realize.

A century-and-a-half ago, if you told someone to “think positive” you would have been looked at in puzzlement. That’s not to say that America lacked a literature of character development. Such works extend back to Puritan writings of the 17th century and Benjamin Franklin’s colonial-era guide to conduct, “Poor Richard’s Almanack.” But the pamphlets, sermons and chapbooks of early America focused mostly on piety, frugality, hard work, reliability and good neighborliness — not on the psychological or spiritual dimensions of thought.

It was only deep within subcultures of religious experimentation that the positive-thinking ideal took shape — and in settings far removed from universities, seminaries or philosophical societies.

In the 1830s, a handful of New Englanders, some raised in America and others transplanted from England and France, started to probe the inner workings of the mind. In particular, a Maine clockmaker named Phineas Quimby discovered that an uplift in his mood relieved his symptoms from tuberculosis. “Man’s happiness is in his belief,” Quimby wrote. The clockmaker’s insights touched a Swedenborgian minister named Warren Felt Evans, who inspired the influential mind-power movement called New Thought, and a brilliant young Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the healing faith of Christian Science in the 1870s.

While never exactly embraced in the mainstream, these metaphysical religions attracted hundreds of thousands of adherents who were seeking alternatives to the harsh protocols of Victorian medicine, which clung to such practices as bloodletting and narcotics ingestion.

By the late 19th century, in an America consumed with economic striving, a fresh generation of New Thoughters applied mental-healing methods and prayer therapy to material needs. The key principle of New Thought is thoughts are causative — and what you think affects your wallet, career, character and life prospects. This outlook formed the basis of the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 landmark “The Power of Positive Thinking” and is found in myriad best sellers, from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to Rhonda Byrne’s recent “The Secret.”

While affirmative thought and New Year’s resolutions are encouraged from many church pulpits, the positive-thinking approach is widely dismissed today in journalism and academia as a simpleton’s philosophy of page-a-day calendars and refrigerator-magnet bromides. Yet it is impossible to understand modern America without grasping the impact — and efficacy — of positive thinking.

When Ronald Reagan used to announce in speeches that “nothing is impossible,” his listeners were able to make sense of his sentiments due to decades of motivational psychology and spiritual self-help. Reagan’s America-can-do-anything philosophy reshaped the nation’s political landscape, and, not incidentally, sounded a lot like the mail-order self-improvement courses to which the president’s father subscribed during the Great Depression.

For good or ill, Reagan’s oratory compelled every president who followed him to sing praises to the limitless potential of the American public. The one who did not, George H.W. Bush, was not elected to a second term.

While critics roll their eyes over facile expressions of positive thinking, the philosophy has stood up with surprising muscularity beyond the spiritual culture in placebo studies, mind-body therapies, 12-step recovery programs, support groups and 21st-century research into the biologic benefits of meditation and “neuroplasticity,” in which brain scans show that neural pathways associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder are alterable through new thought patterns. And perhaps most surprising, the power of the human mind over physical reality is at the heart of a longstanding debate within quantum physics, where researchers study the “quantum measurement problem,” specifically whether the presence of a conscious observer affects the nature and manifestation of subatomic particles.

For the past 150 years, since the dawn of clinical scientific study, virtually all fields of inquiry, from medicine to psychology to brain biology to quantum theories, have broadened our conceptions of the mind. While shallower expressions of motivational thought are easy to dismiss, the pioneers of positive thinking not only supplied America with its national creed, but also displayed a precocious instinct that our thoughts may accomplish more than we realize.


Faith Lessons — Various

February 6, 2013
To know God by this miracle of transcendent life implies a radical elevation. It means our mortal clay has been attuned to the incorporeal Word. It means we comprehend God's private language, the language the Trinity speaks. By faith we enter God's circumincession as eavesdroppers. "My sheep hear my voice;' says the Lord (John 10:27). To hear the Lord's immutable voice speaking in the Word made flesh is eternal life. Such faith lifts our minds to abide in that place where God's Truth radiates in unchanging splendor

To know God by this miracle of transcendent life implies a radical elevation. It means our mortal clay has been attuned to the incorporeal Word. It means we comprehend God’s private language, the language the Trinity speaks. By faith we enter God’s circumincession as eavesdroppers. “My sheep hear my voice;’ says the Lord (John 10:27). To hear the Lord’s immutable voice speaking in the Word made flesh is eternal life. Such faith lifts our minds to abide in that place where God’s Truth radiates in unchanging splendor

Faith: Revealing The Unknown In Our Own Selves
FAITH INCORPORATES the unknown into our everyday life in a living, dynamic, and actual manner. The unknown remains unknown. It is still a mystery, for it cannot cease to be one. The function of faith is not to reduce mystery to rational clarity, but to integrate the unknown and the known together in a living whole, in which we are more and more able to transcend the limitations of our external self.

Hence the function of faith is not only to bring us into contact with the “authority of God” revealing; not only to teach us truths “about God,” but even to reveal to us the unknown in our own selves, in so far as our unknown and undiscovered self actually lives in God, moving and acting only under the direct light of his merciful grace.

This is, to my mind, the crucially important aspect of faith which is too often ignored today. Faith is not just conformity, it is life. It embraces all the realms of life, penetrating into the most mysterious and inaccessible depths not only of our unknown spiritual being but even of God’s own hidden essence and love. Faith, then, is the only way of opening up the true depths of reality, even of our own reality.
Fr. Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. [The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.: Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae)]


The Catholic Surrender
The Catholic makes a surrender.
But, paradoxically, this surrender frees him to walk familiarly into the hidden life of God. Faith removes the barriers of the natural order which shield, from the world and man, the inner life of the Godhead….

The barriers of nature crumble before the power of a simple act of faith, revealing a completely new and transcendent aspect of the Author of nature. Faith reveals not only many naturally attainable truths; far more importantly, a vast new order of truth rising completely above the natural capacities of the human mind appears before the believer. By faith the veil is drawn back to disclose what theologians’ call the supernatural order of life and truth in God. Faith brings into the focus of man’s intelligence the unfathomable riches of Christ”….

Faith opens our minds to gaze on the ineffable supernatural mysteries of God.

This… is that singular gift of God for which’ [Hebrews] gives the profound and meaningful definition: faith is “the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is faith which implants in man the first beginnings (“the substance”) of his eternal happiness (“of things to be hoped for”), and makes him absolutely certain of the hidden mysteries and glories of God (“the evidence of things that are not seen”).
Father Francis L. B. Cunningham, O.P.


The Formal And Material Objects Of Faith
The formal object of faith is the reason or motive that moves man to assent to the material object. The material object answers the question, “What is believed?” But the formal object provides the answer for why man believes. Man assents to all the truths contained in God’s supernatural revelation “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” The reason, and the only reason, for man’s acceptance of supernatural truth is the authority of God himself. If God speaks to man, there can be no doubt as to the truth of his message. His knowledge is infinite, his veracity beyond question. And since God has spoken, the case is closed.

To anticipate, once again, the ever recurring objection-yes, it is true that the Catholic believes only what his Church proposes for his belief. Ecclesiastical authority, however, while determining the form in which the articles of faith will be proposed, does not reveal the truths which are to be believed. God alone reveals, the Church simply points out — and infallibly so — precisely what has been revealed by God.

“When you heard and received from us the word of God, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but, as it truly is, the word of God, who works in you who have believed”
(1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Father Francis L. B. Cunningham, O.P.


The Infallible Witness And Objective Proponent Of Christ’s Truth
The material object of faith is
the truth or body of truths, accepted by the believer. In the case of the supernatural act of faith, the material object is the content of God’s supernatural revelation….

It is the plan of God that his message be communicated to individual men, not by the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit… but “through the hands of the Apostles” Divine revelation is, therefore, a public matter God has determined from all eternity that his “good news,” the Gospel, would be broadcast to the world through the tangible medium of his visible Church whose Head is Jesus Christ. “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:18-19).

It follows, then, that when the Church speaks, Christ speaks and when Christ speaks, the Father speaks: ‘The Word that you have heard is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:24), “My teaching is not my own, but his who sent me” (John 7:16). To guarantee that his message will be public and open to all men — not the plaything of individual vagaries or personal feelings, not the football of miscreants and malcontents, not the private province or production of an elite-Christ established an infallible witness and objective proponent of his truth.
Father Francis L. B. Cunningham, O.P.


“I am not ashamed of the gospel…
For in it is revealed the righteousness of God
from faith to faith; as it is written,
`The one who is righteous by faith will live.”
(Romans 1:16a-17)

If we live by faith, then faith has an animating power. It bears its own principle like a soul. Natural life is not generated from inanimate matter, nor does supernatural faith arise from any power in creation. Faith is transcendent, like the living spirit God breathed into Adam’s clay.

Faith is a divine, self-attesting reality. It stands as its own premise and serves as its own end. Paul does not say “from evidence to faith; nor does he say “from faith to higher knowledge.” No, the righteousness of God, he says, is revealed “from faith to faith.” This means that faith itself proposes the grounds of its own assent. And faith also ratifies what is premised on belief. If this is a circle, it is not vicious. It is the eternal shape of the heavens.

To know God by this miracle of transcendent life implies a radical elevation. It means our mortal clay has been attuned to the incorporeal Word. It means we comprehend God’s private language, the language the Trinity speaks. By faith we enter God’s circumincession as eavesdroppers. “My sheep hear my voice;’ says the Lord (John 10:27). To hear the Lord’s immutable voice speaking in the Word made flesh is eternal life. Such faith lifts our minds to abide in that place where God’s Truth radiates in unchanging splendor.
Father J. Anthony Giambrone, O.P.


Faith Notes — Various

October 19, 2012

Mary and the child enthroned among the Saints Theodor of Amasea and George and angels. Encaustic icon from the end of the 6th century found at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (Egypt).

Faith: Revealing The Unknown In Our Own Selves
FAITH INCORPORATES the unknown into our everyday life in a living, dynamic, and actual manner. The unknown remains unknown. It is still a mystery, for it cannot cease to be one. The function of faith is not to reduce mystery to rational clarity, but to integrate the unknown and the known together in a living whole, in which we are more and more able to transcend the limitations of our external self.

Hence the function of faith is not only to bring us into contact with the “authority of God” revealing; not only to teach us truths “about God,” but even to reveal to us the unknown in our own selves, in so far as our unknown and undiscovered self actually lives in God, moving and acting only under the direct light of his merciful grace.

This is, to my mind, the crucially important aspect of faith which is too often ignored today. Faith is not just conformity, it is life. It embraces all the realms of life, penetrating into the most mysterious and inaccessible depths not only of our unknown spiritual being but even of God’s own hidden essence and love. Faith, then, is the only way of opening up the true depths of reality, even of our own reality.

Fr. Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. [The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.: Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae)]


The Paratrooper’s Prayer is a French poem found in the possession of the presumed author, Aspirant (Brevet-Lieutenant) André Zirnheld, upon his death in Libya on June 27th, 1942. The Paratrooper’s Prayer has been adopted by all French and Portuguese Paratroopers, including those belonging to the French Foreign Legion. The Prayer appears before A. J. Quinnell’s novel Man on Fire, the main protagonist of which is an ex-paratrooper in the French Foreign Legion.

The Paratrooper’s Prayer

For you alone can give
What one cannot demand from oneself.
Give me, Lord, what you have left over,
Give me what no one ever asks you for.
I don’t ask you for rest,
Or quiet,
Whether of soul or body;
I don’t ask you for wealth,
Nor for success, nor even health perhaps.
That sort of thing you get asked for so much
That you can’t have any of it left.
Give me, Lord, what you have left over,
Give me what no one wants from you.
I want insecurity, strife,
And I want you to give me these Once and for all.
So that I can be sure of having them always,
Since I shall not always have the courage
To ask you for them.
Give me, Lord, what you have left over,
Give me what others want nothing to do with.
But give me courage too,
And strength and faith;
For you alone can give
What one cannot demand from oneself.
Lieutenant Andre Zirnheld

Faith Is Perfectly Normal
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”When. Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
(Matthew 8:10)

AT SOME LEVEL, faith is perfectly normal. Even Gentiles have no excuse for not believing: “What can be known about. God is evident: to them, because God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:19). This is why in Charles Peguy’s work, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, faith leaves God disaffected: Faith doesn’t surprise me,” God says, “It’s not surprising.Apart from this scene with the centurion, in fact, the only time Jesus is “amazed” in the Gospels is at Nazareth when he faces boggling unbelief. “He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:6).

What then is so special about the centurion? Mechtilde of Hackeborn [Mechthild (or Mechtild) of Magdeburg (c. 1207 – c. 1282/1294), a Beguine, was a medieval mystic, whose book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity) described her visions of God.] once heard these words: I tell you the truth that I am very pleased when men trustingly expect great things from me.” The centurion expects great things-and as a pagan he expects more than he deserves. This is what fills Jesus with joy.

The Gentile trusts in God’s boundless goodness. He thus becomes the Son’s first taste of his unbounded universal mission. Jesus saves all by faith, apart from works of the Law. This includes us. We too make Christ wonder in gladness by expecting of him much more than we deserve: “Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word…”
Father J. Anthony Giambrone, O.P.


The Year of Faith

October 15, 2012

Some desultory reflections on faith. Pope Benedict XVI has designated from October 2012 to November 2013 as the “Year of Faith.” The Year of Faith is “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.’ The Holy Father tells us that “a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year;’ is “to rediscover the content of the faith that’ is professed, celebrated, lived, and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith:’

The Pope asks that this Year of Faith may “make our relation with Christ the Lord increasingly firm.’ At the same time, he expresses his desire for this Year “to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction: For faith “makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness.” More than anything, that is what is required at this critical moment in time. “What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people… capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”

The first is an excerpt of the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei of Pope Benedict XVI.


EVER SINCE THE START of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ….

The Year of Faith… is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord….

Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness….

Only through believing… does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God….

Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing…. We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope…. At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility. To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.

Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. This “standing with him” points towards an understanding of the reasons for believing. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes….

Knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church, proposes….

We must not forget that …very many people, while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic “preamble” to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God.

Human reason, in fact, bears within itself a demand for “what is perennially valid and lasting: This demand constitutes a permanent summons, indelibly written into the human heart, to set out to find the One whom we would not be seeking had he not already set out to meet us. To this encounter, faith invites us and it opens us in fullness.

The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfillment in the mystery of [Christ's]…becoming man, in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his Resurrection….

Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love…. It is…his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbor along the journey of life….

[Faith] is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us…. Faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the Word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end….

May this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm, since only in him is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love…. Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed “blessed because she believed” (Luke 1:45).


This next one is from Fr. Peter John Cameron:

JOURNALIST J. F PISANI TELLS THE STORY of what he calls “a torturous dinner party.” His account appears in the February 27, 2012 edition of The Catholic Transcript. Pisani found himself seated at table next to “a strident anti-Catholic fallen Catholic.” From the salad to the dessert course, his fellow dinner guest “went from one complaint about the Catholic Church to another, as if she were obsessed:’

As the disgruntled person persisted in airing her seemingly endless list of grievances and gripes (“the topics were all familiar ones”), the journalist sat there quietly, taking it all in. But apparently his silence got to her, because at a certain point, writes Pisani, “she looked at me with intense questioning in her eyes as if to ask, `Aren’t you going to argue with me?” He perceived that one goal of her tirade was to provoke him into defending the Church. And then, at last, came the direct question, “Why do you still go to that Church?”

Here is what Mr. Pisani replied: “The novelist Walker Percy converted to Catholicism, and when reporters asked him why he did it, he would always respond, `What else is there?”

And before the woman could launch in to a fresh rant, Pisani said simply, “I believe in the True Presence, I believe that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ and I don’t want to live without it.” He concluded their conversation by saying this: “Pray to be shown the truth, because if Christ is truly present in the Eucharist — and I believe he is — receiving him is about the most important thing you can do in life. Anything I say won’t convince you, but if you pray with an open heart, you’ll get the answer you need.


And finally Chapter 28 from Dr. Kreeft’s book Fundamentals of the Faith

Faith, hope, and charity are, quite simply, the three greatest things in the world; the three legs of a single tripod that supports the whole Christian life.

Faith, hope, and charity are, quite simply, the three greatest things in the world. We cannot possibly overemphasize their importance. Together they make up the “one thing necessary”. We must speak of them in the same imperious and imperative terms Jesus used when he said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Nothing is more important than faith, hope, and charity because they make the difference between heaven and hell, eternal life and eternal death, and there is no difference as great as that.

They are called the three theological virtues because they have God (theos) as their object. They are the glue that attaches us to God. They are the three-doored entrance to heaven. It is not that God refuses entrance at heaven’s gate to anyone; these are heaven’s gate. Anyone who has no faith in God, no hope in God, and no love of God cannot go to heaven because heaven would be hell to him. He could not endure or enjoy the presence of God after death anymore than he did before death.

Faith, hope, and charity are the three legs of a single tripod that supports the whole Christian life. Each leg depends on the others. Faith without the works of love is dead, according to Scripture, and false — not real faith at all. Love not motivated by faith is not agape but mere feeling and sentimentality (often masked by the code word compassion), dependent on the whims and winds of human change. Hope without faith is mere wishful thinking, “the power of positive thinking”, optimism. Hope is not the same as optimism; some of the great hopers are pessimists by temperament, like Evelyn Waugh.

Hope’s opposite is despair, which is a deadly sin, not pessimism, which is a psychological trait. Love without hope is desperation, Stephen Crane’s “open boat” of doomed castaways able only to huddle close for warmth before death, the end of everything. Hope without love is isolating and selfish; it is the Phariseeism and self-righteousness of every tyrant and architect of a “brave new world”. Faith without hope is simply impossible, for the God we believe has given us an astonishing bag of promises.

This tripod is the foundation of all other virtues. The other virtues all depend on these three because these are the key to the very life of God within our souls, and all other virtues are characteristics of that life, not self-improvement programs that we whip up within ourselves. Honesty, justice, patience, chastity, self-control, even love of neighbor, all come from the prior presence of God in us, which in turn comes only through faith, hope, and charity.

We do not practice the virtues in order to get to heaven; we practice the virtues because heaven has already gotten to us. Love of God, for instance, will always send us to love of neighbor, while love of neighbor will not always send us to love of God, for God always sends you to your neighbor, but your neighbor does not always send you to God. Both commandments are absolutely necessary, but there is an order — not of importance, for love of God without love of neighbor is just as worthless and false as love of neighbor without love of God — but an order of priority, of precedence. First things first. Foundations first. Back to basics.

It is appropriate for us to turn back to these basics of the Christian life now because the society we live in does not understand them. We live in a post-Christian world, and many of us are not sufficiently aware of that fact. Our modern world is in fact a clear countersign to these three virtues. Doubt, despair, and selfishness are the pillars of modern life, not faith, hope, and charity. Our world sees faith as naivete, hope as Pollyanna-style wishful thinking, and charity as weakness.

We see around us a growing materialism, which is unbelief in practice; a rising suicide rate and depression, which is despair in practice; and a rising respectability for the me-first philosophy for which charity is a totally unintelligible alternative, a radical foolishness. It is therefore high time for us to go back to our spiritual basics, lest we sink into the dark waters that surround us and disappear into me-tooism, lest our salt lose its saltiness and deserve only to be trodden under foot, like rock salt thrown on snow or ice.

Kant said that there are only three absolutely necessary questions that everyone must answer, implicitly or explicitly: What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? The three theological virtues are God’s answer to these three most important human questions. We can know God and all that is necessary for our salvation by faith in what God has revealed to us; we can know our essential moral obligation as charity to God and neighbor; and we can know what to hope in by what God has promised us.

These three virtues are also called the supernatural virtues to distinguish them from the natural virtues, the virtues that do not require the saving presence of God’s own life in the soul for their existence (though they do require that for their perfection). The four cardinal, or “hinge”, virtues in the natural order are prudence (practical wisdom), fortitude (courage), temperance (moderation), and justice (fairness and harmony within and without).

Without the supernatural virtues, the natural virtues cannot flourish. Augustine went so far (too far, I think) as to call the natural moral virtues of pagans like Socrates “splendid vices”. But it is true that, for instance, without charity, which goes beyond justice, it is very hard even to be just, for we cannot fulfill the just requirements of the natural law of fairness to our neighbors except by the power of love. “Love is the fulfillment of the law”, as Saint Paul says, not because love substitutes for the law, as if we did not need to do works of justice once we had charity, but because love fulfills the law, for when we love someone we want them to receive perfect justice.

Another example of the same principle: it is very difficult to be courageous without hope of heaven. Why risk your life if there is no hope that your story ends in anything other than worms, decay, and forgetting? Also, no one can be truly wise without faith, for faith sees higher and farther and deeper than reason or experience can. It sees “through a glass, darkly”, but it sees truly. And no one can practice temperance or self-control without God’s grace, for we are all addicted to sin and self-indulgence, and it is very difficult to break an addiction by just trying a little harder without help from without.

The point is simply that without God’s grace, which comes only through faith, hope, and charity, no one can be very good. Without love, justice turns to cruelty. Without hope, courage turns to blind despair and rage. Without faith, this-worldly wisdom becomes foolishness in God’s eyes.

Faith first, because it is first. It is the root, hope is the stem, and charity is the flower. The flower is the fairest, the stem does the growing, but the root must come first. What is faith?

We can speak of faith (1) in a very wide, general sense, as the world speaks of it; or (2) in a biblical sense, as saving faith, or the condition for salvation; or, finally, (3) in its most technical theological sense as one of the three theological virtues.

1. Faith in the most general sense is simply a feeling of trust in or reliance on someone (or even sometimes on no one, as in the poster where a tiny knight with a tiny sword tremblingly confronts an enormous dragon, and the caption says, in Gothic letters, “Have faith”). This is indeed naivete. “Have faith in me” , says the used-car salesman or the presidential candidate or the incompetent doctor with the divinity complex.

2. Faith in the biblical sense of saving faith is the act by which we receive God’s own eternal life (or “sanctifying grace”, in technical theological terms). It is our fundamental option of saying Yes instead of No to God with our heart, our will, our personal center. To believe in this sense is to receive (John 1: 12 parallels the two terms), to receive God himself.

Saint Paul argues in Romans that faith (in this sense) was even in Old Testament times the condition for salvation, for our justification with God. Abraham was justified by his faith. Go back even farther: the fall was first of all a fall of faith. Only because Eve first believed the serpent when he told her she would not die if she ate the forbidden fruit, rather than believing God when he told her that she would-only because of Eve’s faithlessness within -did she practice the faithlessness without that was the actual act of disobedience, the eating of the forbidden fruit. Faith is the root of obedience; the lack of faith is the root of disobedience. If we totally believed that obedience always worked to our blessedness, we would not disobey. Only because we must pray “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief” do we sin.

Saint Paul contrasts faith with sin when he says, “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” We usually think of sin as the opposite of virtue, and faith as the opposite of doubt. But virtue is a moral term, and doubt is an intellectual term. The opposite of moral virtue is moral vice, and the opposite of intellectual doubt is intellectual belief. Faith is deeper than either moral virtue or intellectual belief. Sin is deeper than either moral vice or intellectual doubt. Faith is a fundamental Yes to God with the center of our being, and sin — the state of sin as distinct from particular acts of sin — is the fundamental No to God with the center of our being. Faith is the opposite of sin. Faith is to sin what light is to darkness.

Belief is an intellectual matter. I believe the sun will shine tomorrow: I believe I am in good health, I believe my textbooks. This is mere opinion. Faith is not mere opinion. Opinions do not save us. Trust is an emotional matter. I trust my surgeon or my psychiatrist or my children. This is a precious feeling, but it is a feeling. Faith is not feeling. Feelings do not save us.

Faith, however, results in or expresses itself in both belief and trust, for the prefunctional root that is the very essence of the self expresses itself in the two branches or functions of the intellectual (belief) and the emotional (trust). But faith is deeper. That is why even some people who seem on an intellectual level to be unbelievers may on this deeper level be believers, and we may be surprised to see some famous so-called atheists in heaven. And it is why some people who seem to have very little emotional faith — little trust, serenity, consolation — may nevertheless be people of great, even heroic, faith. Only God sees hearts.

3. The third and most specific, most technical sense of faith is the sense we learned from the Baltimore Catechism. Faith is the act of the intellect, prompted by the will, by which we believe the truth of all that God has revealed on the basis of the authority of the one who has revealed it. This is essentially the definition used by Saint Thomas Aquinas and medieval scholastic theology.

At the time of the Protestant Reformation, each side used a different language system, and the most important and tragic split in the Church’s history resulted. Protestant reformers, using faith in the biblical sense, as saving faith, insisted that the Bible clearly taught that faith alone was sufficient for salvation. They formulated their slogan sola fides (faith alone), on the basis of Romans and Galatians.

They thought that the Catholic Church’s insistence that good works were also necessary for salvation was a pagan doctrine, a compromise of the very essence of the gospel. Most evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants to this day justify their disagreement with the Catholic Church more fundamentally on this basis than on any other. They sincerely believe that Catholicism is another gospel, as Paul called Galatian legalism, and many wonder whether Catholics are even Christians.

But James clearly says in his epistle that faith without works is dead and that we are justified by works (good works, the works of love) as well as faith, working together with faith. James and the Catholic scholastic theologians were using faith in its third, narrowest sense: as just one of the three theological virtues. In this sense, hope and charity must be added to faith for salvation. Paul and the Protestants were using faith in its second, broader sense: as the root or center of all three theological virtues, not as an act of the intellect (as in the Baltimore Catechism definition) but as an act of the heart (in the biblical sense) or spirit or personal center. Both sides were (and are) right, as Pope John Paul II made quite clear to the Lutheran bishops of Germany on his visit there in 1983. In other words, the essence of the Protestant Reformation was a misunderstanding. What hope for reunion lies in that fact!

To clarify the different meanings of faith in another way, remember that we exist on three levels. Saint Paul in two places in his letters refers to them as “spirit, soul, and body”. Body is our relationship with the physical world, the level of reality that is less than ourselves. Soul is our relationship with ourselves (self-consciousness) and with others, our equals. Spirit is our relationship with God, the reality that is greater than ourselves. There is a form of faith on each of the three levels.

Faith in the bodily sphere is the works of love and obedience without which, according to James, faith is dead and false. This is the aspect emphasized by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews in the classic chapter on faith, chapter 11. The faith of each of the Old Testament heroes was defined or manifested in what they did. Faith in the sphere of the soul includes both intellectual belief and emotional trust. Finally, faith in the spirit, where faith begins, is the basic Yes to God that is the condition for salvation. This is an act of the will, but it is not always consciously rational and intellectual.

Saint Thomas, like the New Testament, sometimes uses faith in the technical and intellectual sense, as an act of the intellect. But sometimes he uses faith in the broader and deeper sense, the Pauline sense, just as the Protestant reformers did — for instance, when he says that “the object of faith is not a proposition but a person.” In other words, God himself is the object of faith; the propositions in the creed express its content. We believe not just ideas about God but God. It is essential to know things about God, but it is more essential to know God. “This is eternal life”, says Jesus in his high priestly prayer in John 17:3, “to know Thee, the only true God.” The creeds are like accounting books, God is like the actual money.

Though the root of faith is not intellectual, one of its fruits is. “Faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum) was the operative slogan for a thousand years of Christian theology.

“Unless you believe, you will not understand” — faith first. Then, “In thy light we see light” — understanding follows. How accurately the saints know God; how foolishly mistaken are the unbelieving geniuses! Reason may run ahead of faith, as John ran ahead of Peter to the empty tomb, but faith first enters the secret of understanding, as Peter first entered the tomb. Faith is more active than reason. Reason passively reports data, like a camera. Faith takes a stand, like an army. Faith leaps into God’s arms, answering his proposal of spiritual marriage.

There is a kind of faith that Saint Paul lists as one of the charismatic gifts. This is special, miracle-working faith. It is available to all but found in few. When we have this kind of faith, we do not pray from the human platform of uncertainty and pleading but from the divine platform of operative certainty. The word of this kind of faith is not “please” but “be it done.”

Many radio and television preachers have confused listeners by confusing this special kind of faith with ordinary saving faith, making listeners think they are guaranteed miracles and if miracles do not happen they just do not have real faith at all. This may be an honest mistake, but it is a cruel one. Jesus’ own disciples had faith smaller than a grain of mustard seed, Jesus said. Yet they were accepted. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” is a good, honest prayer, like the prayer of the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Let us be content to run before trying to fly.

The most pervasive mistake the modern world makes about faith is to subjectivize and psychologize it, as if believers constructed their religion out of their own psyches: “I’m feeling rather religious today; do you have anything for me to believe in?” This mistake occurs because the modern mind has things inside out. It starts with the human rather than the divine. Thus its values are “my values” (don’t impose them on anyone else, please!), and even truth is “truth for me”.

Both the Bible and common sense say differently. We must conform to reality, not vice versa. We must be honest. There is only one honest reason why anyone should ever believe anything: because it is true. God is, and God has acted, and God has spoken. Now I must respond. That is the true situation. Do I respond Yes (faith) or No? That is the simple question.

Faith is very simple. Saying all this is perhaps too much. Much of what is written about faith is like snowflakes on a bell: it muffles the sound. Just say Yes to God. It’s the simplest thing in the world.


Faith: A Perspective From Hebrews 11 – Derek Jeter

September 17, 2012

David is a life-size marble sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The sculpture was part of a commission to decorate the villa of Bernini’s patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese – the Galleria Borghese – where it still resides today. It was completed in the course of seven months from 1623 to 1624. The subject of the work is the biblical David, about to throw the stone that will bring down Goliath, which will allow David to behead him. Relating to earlier works on the same theme, it is also revolutionary in its implied movement and its psychological depth.

Hebrews 11 is a discussion of faith with citations from the Old Testament of those who served as exemplars of the faith.

The opening statement of Hebrews 11:1 is used often as a definition of faith “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” “Assurance” elsewhere translated as the “substance” of things hoped for, connotes that the faith in a believer’s soul, a gift of God’s grace, actually brings this reality into his existence for him. The things hoped for are all of those blessings, temporal and eternal, that make up the inheritance of the faithful, the deposit of faith that rests with the Church: fides quae creditor, the objective content of faith.

The “conviction of things not seen” is one of the recurring themes of Hebrews 11 as “the invisible.” The creation was made of things “invisible”; Noah was warned of “things not seen as yet”; Abraham’s inheritance was invisible at the time he went out; the eternal city is invisible. So it was also for the blessings of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, as conveyed in succession to their sons, and always with regard to things invisible; and here it is recorded that Moses’ epic adventures of faith were achieved by means of a faith in the invisible God.

Thus, this roll-call of faith is presented for the primary purpose of showing the means of their triumph, faith in the invisible, which is but another way of saying faith in the supernatural. The modern Christian too is confronted with exactly the same challenge: Christ is invisible The result of Moses’ faith in the invisible God was that the king of Egypt no longer inspired him with fear, thus proving that the more people fear God the less they fear any man, however powerful.

The “conviction of things not seen” are also echoed in these words from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 about the wisdom of eternal life:

“The true wisdom of eternal life is the contemplation of the profundities of God, which the Spirit of God alone knows and of which, through faith and in faith, God causes a mysterious knowledge to come down upon us when we have reached the perfect age of the Christian.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

‘No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him’
But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

John Paul II in Fides et Ratio comments on a twofold order of knowledge that the gift of faith creates within us, this “mysterious knowledge” that Paul was speaking of previously:

“The First Vatican Council teaches then, that the truth attained by philosophy and the truth of revelation are neither identical nor mutually exclusive: “There exists a twofold order of knowledge, distinct not only as regards their source, but also as regards their object.

With regard to the source, because we know in one by natural reason, in the other by divine faith. With regard to the object, because besides those things which natural reason can attain, there are proposed for our belief mysteries hidden in God, which, unless they are divinely revealed, cannot be known. Based on God’s testimony and enjoying the supernatural assistance of grace, faith is of an order other than philosophical knowledge which depends upon sense perceptions and experience and which advances by the light of the intellect alone.

Philosophy and the sciences function within the order of natural reason; while faith, enlightened and guided by the Spirit, recognizes in the message of salvation the “fullness of grace and truth” that echoes from John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

There follows in Hebrews 11 a number of citations beginning with a reference to creation and then moving in verse four to a consideration of Abel. In this and all subsequent references to the Old Testament exemplars the words are intoned “By faith…” I read a commentary on Hebrews 11 that reviewed not only what was in Hebrews 11 but on what was left out, “the glaring omission of the name of Adam, the mighty progenitor of the human race.”

God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening and called, “Adam, where art thou?” And where is he? He is lost, disinherited, sentenced to eternal death, tortured by the knowledge of what he should be haunting his pitiful consciousness of what he is. It is not of Adam that we speak, but of his race. “Where art thou?” The words live forever, calling people to consider, to view their hopeless estate, and to move toward that reconciliation that is possible through Christ.”

Our peril, and the peril of our race, is that the human intellect is free to either destroy itself or to reject God’s grace as the pitiful Adam did by trying to hide.  There is a great deal written about the relationship of faith to reason. My favorite, G.K. Chesterton, begins by telling us that

“Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought.” I would submit that we are part of several generations now that does precisely that; witness how our current secular orthodoxy embraces the relativism of the age.

Chesterton saw this happening, too, in his time. He pointed out that “It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, “Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? Aren’t they both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?” The young skeptic says, “I have a right to think for myself.” But the old skeptic, the complete skeptic, says, “I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.”

In Verse 6 the author of Hebrews 11 states “And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him.” In Pensées 781, Pascal notes that in Isaiah 45:15, the prophet speaks of a hidden God: “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel.” Pascal explains the Hidden God concept in Pensées 149:

“If God had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightning and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness.

Because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them.

Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. There is enough light for those who desire only to see and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

Peter Kreeft in his commentary on Pascal elicits three answers as to why God is not more obvious:

  1. He wants to give us time to repent. Scripture says this in several places, Luke Chapter 13: 6-9: “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He (the gardener) replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
  2. He wants to effect a true relationship with us, not one merely of intellectual belief but of personal faith, hope, love and trust. Dulles’ says that the principal act of Faith is to believe. Here is a thought from Kreeft that I love: “The propositions of lovers are different from the propositions of syllogisms.” So, you see it’s not all Reason in some sort of scientific, philosophical or logical sense. Romano Guardini tells a story of a friend to whom he would turn for help when being challenged by a scriptural passage or caught up in trying to understand his faith. The friend would tell him: “But Love does such things!” and they would both laugh, because they knew they were back to the truth.
  3. God is both love and justice; if he manifests himself truly it cannot be without love or without justice. His love led Him to save all who will have Him, and his justice led him to punish those who will not have Him. Thus He respects our free choice. He deprives the damned only of the good they do not desire. Hell is contained in God’s claim that “you will find me when you seek me with all your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13] This claim is not refuted or fairly tested if we do not fulfill our part of the experiment by seeking.”

    More than anything else, God wants us to care. It may be even more important than to know, “For it is the only way to know the most important things: yourself, your soul, your identity, your purpose, your destiny and your immortality. If we are indifferent instead of seeking we simply will not find, that is, we will not be saved.” I submit to you with all my heart an observation I just absolutely know to be true: Hell is not populated by passionate rebels but by very nice, bland, indifferent, respectable people wearing tasseled loafers and pants suits who simply never gave a damn.


A Faithfulness To The Needs Of God’s Creation — Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

September 14, 2012

San Zaccaria Altarpiece, 1505; oil on canvas, transferred from panel; San Zaccaria, Venice Stylistically, the lighting in the San Zaccaria piece has become so soft and diffuse that it makes that in the San Giobbe appear almost raking in contrast. Bellini’s use of the oil medium had matured, and the holy figures seem to be swathed in a still, rarefied air. The San Zaccaria is considered perhaps the most beautiful and imposing of all his altarpieces, and is dated 1505.

Someone once asked me how any sensible person could choose to become a Christian because Christians have such an unhealthy desire for suffering. The best answer comes from Leon Bloy, a writer who himself chose to become a Catholic. “Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist,” wrote Bloy, “and into them enters suffering, that they might have existence.” In a sense, all Christian belief is cocooned in those words. Christians have no desire to suffer. But we do understand and appreciate the power of suffering.

No one can avoid suffering. It’s the truest democratic experience. Everybody gets a piece of it. But Bloy understood, just as Viktor Frank discovered in the death camps, that we can always choose what we do with the suffering that comes our way. We have that freedom. This is why suffering breaks some people, while it breaks open others into something more than their old selves, stretching the soul to greatness.

Christians don’t like suffering any more than anyone else. They certainly don’t go looking for it. But people who believe in Jesus Christ do try to accept and use suffering as Christ did: that is, as a creative, redemptive act. Suffering lived properly is the heart’s great tutor in humility, gratitude, and understanding of others, because they too suffer. This is why Pope John Paul II once described the Bible as the “great book about suffering.” He meant that Scripture is the story of God’s willingness to suffer for humanity; the story of God’s call to each of us to join our suffering to his own in healing the evil and pain in the world.

Scripture urges us to follow the Good Samaritan who saw even a suffering stranger as his neighbor and acted to ease his wounds. Thus God’s “great book about suffering” is not only about God’s love for us — but also about our solidarity with others. The cornerstone for Christian action in the world is the Word of God itself.

Catholics believe that Scripture is the infallible Word of God. They also remember that the church teaches with the authority of Jesus by Christ’s own command, and that the church preceded the Gospels — not the other way around. The Christian community is shaped by both Scripture and Tradition. The New Testament was written in context and by members. of the ekklesia, the early Christian church. As the true Word of God, the Scriptures always stand in judgment of the present Christian community. Being faithful to God depends on whether we live our individual lives and our life in the church in accord with Scripture.

But again, the Scriptures come to us from God through the church. So an intrinsic relationship flows between Word and believing community from the very start of the Christian experience. This is the meaning of Tradition. For Catholics, Tradition is the wisdom learned from the lived experience of the church applying God’s Word to the circumstances of the day. The Word of God is foundational to Christian life. It judges Christian life. But other dimensions of Christian life also exist side by side with Scripture, notably our life together in Jesus Christ as a believing community, passed on through the centuries.

Here’s the point. We can’t reject the church and her teachings, and then simultaneously claim to be following Jesus Christ or the Scriptures. For Catholics, the believing community is the church, and without the church as the guardian of Christian life and protector of God’s Word, Christianity could never have survived. As the historian Christopher Dawson wrote, “Christianity was not merely a doctrine and a life, it was above all a society.” Without the framework of the church, “Christianity would have changed its nature in [history's} changing social environment and would have become ... a different religion."

Why is any of this important in talking about Catholics, politics, and the public square? It should be obvious. The believing community -- the church -- is how the individual believer brings the Word of God and the body of Christian wisdom most forcefully to bear on the practical affairs of the world. And that can thoroughly irritate the world and also Caesar, whether the year is AD 112, 1012, or 2012.

Catholic public engagement comes from the same religiously informed roots that gave life to the ideas and words of America's founders more than two hundred years ago. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from the distance of Nazi Germany, "American democracy is founded not upon the emancipated man but, quite the contrary, upon the kingdom of God and upon the limitation of all earthly powers by the sovereignty of God." Christianity requires faith in things unseen. It points the individual person toward eternal life with God. But our salvation is worked out here and now, together as a family, in this world, through our actions toward other people. For a Christian, this world is worth struggling to make better -- precisely because God created it and loves his children who inhabit it.

Thus, it's no surprise that in the Decalogue, the first three commandments frame humanity's relationship with God. The next seven frame our relationship with each other. The desire for extending God's justice among his people, marked by the Old Testament tradition of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 or the warnings in the Book of Amos, weaves itself throughout the New Testament.

When asked to name the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and all the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). What that love means in practice can be found in the words Jesus used to describe his true disciples: leaven in the world, salt of the earth, light to the nations. These are words of mission; a language not of good intentions but of conscious behavior.

The Epistle of James describes the meaning of discipleship best when it warns Christians to "be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (Matthew 1:22) and that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (Matthew 2:17). That message incarnates itself down through the centuries in the lives of saints, religious orders, social encyclicals, and a vast tradition of Catholic hospitals, schools, and services to the hungry, disabled, poor, homeless, and elderly.

When emperor Julian the Apostate sought to restore Roman paganism in the fourth century AD, he didn't copy Christian thought. He had contempt for what Christians believed. Instead he copied Christian hospices, orphanages, and other charitable works because of their power to witness by action. But if faith without works is dead, so too in the long run are works dead without a dynamic faith to grow and sustain them. Christians had that faith. Pagan Roman culture didn't. The rest is history.


As Catholics, how can we uncouple what we do, from what we claim to believe, without killing what we believe and lying in what we do? The answer is simple. We can't. How we act works backward on our convictions, making them stronger or smothering them under a snowfall of alibis.

To German Catholics of the politically desperate 1930s, Pope Pius XI wrote, "It is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ; one needs to be a living member in spirit and in truth, i.e., living in the state of grace and in the presence of God, either in innocence or sincere repentance." He warned that "what is morally ..I indefensible can never contribute to the good of the people,"" and that "thousands of voices ring in your ears a [false} gospel which has not been revealed by the Father of heaven." Too few Catholics listened. In fact, far too many German Christians -- including too many church leaders -- accommodated themselves to a Caesar who took their souls along with their approval.

Parallels between Europe seventy years ago and the American landscape today may seem glib and melodramatic, or even flatly wrong. It's a fair criticism. Times change. History never really repeats itself. Each generation has its own unique set of challenges. But patterns of human thought and behavior do repeat themselves. The past, as a record of the results, is a great teacher. When John Paul II called Catholics to a purification of memory and repentance for sins of the past during the Jubilee Year 2000, he did it for an important reason. We can't preach what we don't live. The struggle with our own sinfulness never ends in this lifetime, but we must at least admit our sins, repent of them, seek the forgiveness of those we wound -- and then constantly begin again.

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, "No Christian Church has a right to preach to this so-called secular age without a contrite recognition of the shortcomings of historic Christianity which tempted the modern age to disavow its Christian faith." The unbelief of the modern heart is not simply a product of human pride. It can also be what Niebuhr called a "reaction to [the] profanity” of faith lived hypocritically.

What that means for the church and individual American Catholics is this: We can choose to treat our faith as a collection of comforting pieties. We can choose to file Jesus away as a good teacher with some great, if unrealistic, ideas. Or we can choose to be real disciples, despite all our sins and admitting all our sins. In other words, we can accept Jesus for who he says he is: our redeemer, the Messiah of Israel, and the only Son of God. This is what the church has always believed. What we can’t honestly choose is continuing to select our Catholic faith from a cafeteria menu while failing at the task Christ himself gave us: a root-level transformation of ourselves and the world around us. The time for easy Christianity is over. In fact, it never really existed. We’re blessed to be rid of the illusion. We need to be more zealous in our faith, not more discreet; clearer in our convictions, not muddier; and more Catholic, not less.

The Catholic faith should take root in our hearts like the mustard seed of Jesus’ parables (Matthew 13:31; 17:20). No matter how small it begins, the mustard seed grows so strong and so large that it breaks us open and frees us to be new and different persons far better than our old selves; a source of shelter and support for others. The one thing we can’t do with a living faith is remain the same. We must either kill it or become new people because of it. Anything less is fraud. And in like manner, the church should be a mustard seed in society, transforming — not by coercion but by active witness — every fiber of a nation’s political, economic, and social life.

History reminds us that believers and their leaders are as prone to the temptations of power as anyone else. Jesus himself turned away from earthly power when Satan offered it to him on the mountain (Matthew 4:8-10) God’s kingdom is not of this world. Nothing we can do will change that. Even a good Caesar is still only Caesar.

But Christ never absolved us from resisting and healing the evil in the world, or from solidarity with the people who suffer it. Our fidelity is finally to God, but it implies a faithfulness to the needs of his creation. Like it or not, we are involved — and there is, after all, a war on (Ephesians 6:12). It’s the same conflict Tolkien meant when he wrote that “[human] wars are always lost, and The War always goes on.” It’s the same conflict C. S. Lewis meant when he wrote that “there is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.” And this war goes on without rest in every age, in every nation, in every human life, in every choice, in every decision, in every action, in every public issue.

We can choose our side. We can’t choose not to choose. Not choosing is a choice.


Faithfulness – Dietrich von Hildebrand

May 1, 2012

Who do you know like this, a “traitor to themselves”? I’ve marked this off with the Cardinal Virtues as fortitude and faithfulness seem to run together.


AMONG THE ATTITUDES OF MAN WHICH ARE BASIC FOR HIS WHOLE MORAL LIFE, faithfulness is ranked next to reverence. One can speak of faithfulness in a narrow sense and in a large one. We have the narrow sense in mind when we speak of fidelity toward men, such as fidelity to a friend, marital fidelity, fidelity to one’s country or to oneself.

This type of fidelity throws into relief the other type. I refer here to the continuity which first gives to a man’s life its inner consistency, its inner unity. The building up of one’s personality is only possible if one holds firmly to those truths and values which one has already discovered.

The course of a man’s life contains a continual rhythmical replacement of one impression, one act, one decision by another and different impression, act or decision. We are unable to ponder over one thought for a long time and to keep our attention on one point for very long. Just as in the biological realm, hunger and satiety, fatigue and renewed strength succeed one another, so a certain rhythmical change is proper to the course of our spiritual life. Just as the various impressions which affect us give place to one another, and the stream of events offers to our mind a great variety of objects, so our attention cannot long remain focused on any one object with the same intensity.

A movement from one subject to another is therefore proper to our thought, as well as to our feeling and will. Even in the case of a very blissful experience, such as the long-desired meeting with a beloved person, we are unable to dwell permanently in this joyous experience. The rhythm of our inner life forces us to leave the full presence of a great joy and to turn our attention in another direction and to register different experiences.

But — and this must be stressed — the same man has different levels of depth. The psychical life of man is not restricted to the level on which this continual change unfolds itself; it is not restricted to the level of our express attention, of our present consciousness. While we proceed to another impression and give our attention to another mental object, the preceding impression or object does not vanish, but will, according to its significance, be retained in a deeper level, and will continue to live at that level. Memory is an expression of this capacity of the soul for super-actual life, and this continuity is seen in our capacity to remember, to connect past and present.

Above all we see this continuity in the super-actual survival of our attitudes toward the world, toward fundamental truths and values, which remain unchanged even though our present attention is turned in a completely different direction. Thus, for example, joy caused by some happy event continues to “live” in the depth of our souls and colors everything which we do, colors all our tasks of the moment, and colors our approach to all those things with which we are expressly concerned. So also our love for a beloved person remains living in the depth of our souls, even though we are occupied by work, and it constitutes a sort of background against which different events run their course.

Without this capacity for continuity, man would have no inner unity; he would be but a bundle of interwoven impressions and experiences. If one impression merely took the place of the preceding one, if the past should indiscriminately vanish, the inner life of man would be senseless and shallow; any building up, any development would be impossible. Above all there would be no personality.

Even though this capacity of retaining impressions and attitudes in a super-actual way, without which the individual life of a spiritual person is impossible, is a capacity common to every man, yet the degree to which a given individual possesses this inner continuous coherence is very different in each case. We say of many men that they live in the moment only; the present instant has such power over them that the past, even though its content be deeper and more important, vanishes before the insistent clamor of the present.

Men differ very much from each other in this regard. Some of them live exclusively on the exterior level of their present consciousness, so that one experience follows another without any relation to the one preceding. We could call such men “butterflies.” Others, on the contrary, also live in the deeper level of their being. In them nothing important is sacrificed because it is no longer present, but it becomes the unalterable possession of the man, according to its degree of importance, and the new meaningful experiences organically unite themselves with it. The last type alone can be said to have “personality.” Only in them can an inner spiritual plenitude be constituted.

How many people there are who are never lastingly influenced by great works of art, or by delight in beautiful landscapes, or by contact with great personalities. The momentary impression may be strong but it strikes no deep root in them; it is not firmly held in their super-actual life but disappears as soon as another impression makes its appearance. These men are like a sieve through which everything runs. Though they can be good, kindly and honest, they cleave to a childish, unconscious position; they have no depth. They elude one’s grasp, they are incapable of having deep relationships with other people because they are capable of no permanent relationship with anything. These men do not know responsibility because they know no lasting bond, because with them one day does not reach into the next one. Even though their impressions are strong, they do not penetrate down to the deepest level in which we find those attitudes which are over and above the changes of the moment.

These people honestly promise something one moment, and in the next it has completely disappeared from their memory. They make resolutions under a strong impression, but the next impression blows them away. They are so impressionable, that they are always held at the superficial level of their present consciousness. For these people, weight and value are not the preponderant factors determining their interest in things, but only the liveliness of the impression created by the actual presence of these things. What makes an impression upon them is the general advantage of “liveliness” which present impressions or situations have over those of the past.

There are two types of inconstant men. In the one, nothing ever truly penetrates to their deeper center. This deeper center, so to speak, remains void in them; they know only the strata of present consciousness. These men are at the same time superficial, deprived of profound life, and of any sort of inner “firmness.” They are like quicksand which yields without any resistance. If you seek in such men a permanent center upon which you can depend and rely, then you really snatch at the void. Of course, in a healthy man this is not absolutely and completely the case; a man who, in a literal sense, would be completely of this character would be a psychopath. But we often meet people whose lives, at least to a certain extent, unfold themselves in such a manner, although we could not therefore call them psychotic.

In the second type, we have to deal with men who actually do have deep impressions, in whose deeper strata much really does take root. Their deeper consciousness is therefore not void; they have created in themselves a firm, lasting center. But they are so imprisoned in the present moment that that which lies in their deeper strata is unable to carry its true weight; it cannot hold its ground against the power of the momentary impression. Only when the present, lively impression fades away, can the content of the deeper strata again come to light. Such men could, for example, very well nourish a deep, lasting love for another person, but a momentary situation, if it happens to be powerful, vivid and appealing, would capture them to such an extent that the beloved one would be almost forgotten. Then they say and do things which contradict the genuine and living love hidden in the depths of their souls.

Such people are continually in danger of becoming traitors to themselves or to others. For such persons, the one present, merely because he is present, has always the advantage over the absent. This is the case even when the absent person is, on the whole, dearer to them, and in the long run, plays a more important role. Suppose they have, for example, received a deep impression from a work of art: a lasting relation to this work of art has constituted itself in the depths of their souls. Nevertheless, new powerful impressions take hold of them to such an extent, that the prior impression is not firmly held in the new situation, and as a result one sees no trace of the first impression as long as the new one lasts. Later, when the immersing effect of the new situation has worn off, the old one, in itself deeper, re-enters into possession of its rightful place and authority.

In contradistinction to these two types, the persevering man holds on to everything which has revealed itself to him as a true genuine value. The advantage of liveliness which the present possesses over the past, has no power over his life when compared to the inner weight of deep truths which he has once recognized, and of values which he has once grasped. The importance of the role played by a given thing in his present consciousness is exclusively determined by the height of its value, and in no way by its mere presence.

Such men are, consequently, protected from the tyranny of fashion. A thing never makes a deep impression upon them merely because it is modern, because it is momentarily “in the air,” but only because it has a value, because it is beautiful, good and true. As a matter of fact, these persons consider that which is more important and has a higher value as itself the more “up to date.” Objects endowed with values never grow old for them, even if their concrete existence ceased long ago. The lives of these men are meaningfully integrated, and in their course reflects the objective gradation of values.

While the inconstant man is a prey to accidental impressions and situations, the constant man dominates his own impressions. Such men alone understand the sublime pre-eminence of values over any mere dimension of time, the unchanging and unfading character of values and truth. They understand that an important truth is not less interesting and less worthy of concern because we have known it for a long time. They understand, above all, that the obligation to respond to a good possessing a value is not limited to the moment in which it is grasped.

Only the man who is constant really grasps the demands of the world of values; only he is capable of the response to value which is due to objective values. A proper response to values is lasting, independent of the charm of novelty, and of the attractive force represented by the mere presence of a thing. He alone for whom values never lose their efficacy and charm, once they have been revealed to him, and who never lets a truth which he has grasped drop into oblivion will really do justice to the proper character of the world of truth and values; for he alone is capable of remaining faithful to objects possessing value.

This constancy or fidelity in the true sense of the world is, as we see, a fundamental moral attitude of man. It is a necessary consequence of all true understanding of values, and it is a component element of every true response to values, and consequently of the whole moral life. Only the constant response to values, the response which clings to a thing possessing a value, whether that thing is actually present or not, is a developed, a morally mature and fully conscious response to value. Only a man who responds in this way is truly morally awakened; he alone is reliable, he alone feels himself to be responsible for that which he has done in other situations, he alone is capable of a true contrition for previous misdeeds. In him alone all true obligations will dominate every situation of his life.

He alone will stand firm in trials. For the light of values will shine for him even in the humdrum situations of workaday life; yes, even at the moments of temptation. It is so because this man lives from the depth, and masters every moment from the depth. The more faithful, the more constant a man is, the richer and more substantial will he be, the more capable of becoming a vessel of moral values, a being in whom purity, justice, humility, love and goodness will dwell lastingly and will radiate from him to the world about him.

Were we to examine the different levels of life, we would find over and over again the basic significance of faithfulness in this larger sense. The basic attitude of constancy is a general presupposition for all spiritual growth of the person, and above all for every moral development and every moral progress. How can a man grow spiritually who does not firmly adhere to all the values which have been revealed to him, and for whom these values do not become a lasting possession? How could one who is dominated by short-lived momentary impressions ever succeed in a gradual development of his own moral structure?

When we have to deal with the type of radical inconstancy, we see that nothing at all reaches down into such a person’s deeper strata. Such men are inwardly dead; their personality lacks a lasting center. In men of the second type, there is lacking the possibility of a real formation of the course of life, for the values they once grasped, and which should be a permanent possession of their souls, have disappeared from their lives. They cannot therefore mold new impression by such values. What is the use of the best education if this contancy is missing? What is the use of the most pressing exhortations, of the most vivid revelation of values, if values once grasped remain either without any permanent roots or if they slumber in our souls?

As surprising as it may sound, inconstant people never change themselves. They retain the faults and features which they have inherited from their nature, but they acquire no moral values. Even though they really do for a moment recognize their faults, and form the best resolutions, their inconstancy prevents any lasting moral improvement.

Even when their will is good, education will have no lasting effect upon them. Not because they close themselves up, like the man who is victim of a cramping pride and to whom therefore the influence of values cannot penetrate, but because they give too much weight to every fleeting impression, and they are thus unable to retain what they have acquired.

All self-education presupposes this attitude of constancy. The constant man alone will be able to assimilate contradictory impressions, so as to draw that which is good out of each. He will learn from every situation of life and will grow in every situation, for in him the measure of genuine values remains alive; while the inconstant man yields now to one, now to another impression, and becomes so entirely a prey of each that in the depth of his soul everything passes on more or less without leaving a trace. This gradually withers his comprehension of values, and his susceptibility to their influence.

The constant man alone will prefer what is more important to what is less so, what is more valuable to the less, while the unstable person will at best respond indiscriminately to all values, recognizing no hierarchy in them. Nothing is, in fact, more important for moral growth, for the very moral life of a person, than consideration for the objective hierarchy of values, and the capacity to give priority to that which is objectively higher.

The fundamental attitude of fidelity is also the presupposition for reliability in every moral trial. How can he keep a promise or stand the test in a battle of ideas, who lives only in the present moment, in whom the past, present and future do not form significant unity? How can one rely upon such an inconstant person? The faithful man alone can inspire that confidence which forms the basis of any community. He alone possesses the high moral value of stability, reliability and trustworthiness.

But constancy is also a condition for any confidence on the part of the person himself and above all for heroic faith. The unstable man is not only undeserving of confidence, but he himself will be incapable of a firm, unshakable confidence either in other men, in truth, or in God Himself. For such a man lacks the strength to nourish his soul upon a value once discovered. Therefore when night and obscurity surround him, or when other strong impressions assail him, he loses faith. It is no accident that in Latin the word fides means both fidelity and faith. For constancy is an essential constituent of all capacity to believe, and consequently of all religion.

The eminent importance of faithfulness will stand out in a special way against the background of human relationships. (Here faithfulness is taken in its narrow sense, i.e. fidelity.) For what is love without fidelity? In the ultimate analysis, it is nothing but a lie. For the deepest meaning of every love, the inner “word” uttered in love is the interior orientation toward and giving of oneself to the beloved, a giving which knows no time limit. No fluctuation in the course of life can shatter it. Only a deep change in the beloved person can affect our love if it be true love. A man who would say: “I love you now, but how long it will last, I cannot tell,” does not truly love; he does not even suspect the very nature of love.

Faithfulness is so essentially one with love, that everyone, at least as long as he loves, must consider his devotion an undying devotion. This holds good for every love, for parental and filial love, for friendship and for spousal love. The deeper a love, the more it is pervaded by fidelity. It is precisely in this faithfulness that we find the specific moral splendor, the chaste beauty of love. The especially touching element of love, as expressed so uniquely in Beethoven’s Fide-ho, is essentially tied up with fidelity. The unalterable fidelity of a mother’s love, the victorious faithfulness of a friend, possess a specific moral beauty which touches the man whose heart is opened to values. Faithfulness is at the heart of every true and deep love. It is immanent to its very nature.

On the other hand, what is more base or more repulsive than outspoken unfaithfulness, that radical opposition to fidelity, which is far worse than mere inconstancy. What a heinous moral stain marks the traitor who by infidelity pierces the very heart which has confidently opened itself to him, and offers itself unprotected to him. He who is unfaithful in his basic attitudes is a Judas to the world of values.

There are people to whom fidelity appears in the light of a mere bourgeois virtue, a mere correctness, a technical loyalty. In the opinion of such people the man who is great, highly gifted and freed from “petty conventions,” has no concern with it. This is a senseless misunderstanding of the true nature of fidelity. It is true that too strong an emphasis on one’s own fidelity may create a painful impression. It is true that it is possible to give a certain harmless, good-natured cheap imitation of fidelity. The fact remains that true faithfulness is an indispensable element of all moral greatness, of all depth and strength of personality.

Fidelity is opposed to mere bourgeois loyalty, or to a pure clinging to habit. It would be an error to believe that fidelity is the mere result of a lazy temperament, and inconstancy the result of a spontaneous and vivacious one. No, this virtue is a free, meaningful response to the world of truth and of values, to the unchangeable and intrinsic importance, to the real demands, of that world. Without this basic attitude of fidelity, no culture, no progress in knowledge, no community, above all no moral personality, no moral growth, no substantial, inwardly unified spiritual life, no true love, are possible. This basic significance of fidelity, in the larger sense, must penetrate to the heart of every relationship, if it is not to be judged as a failure.


Faith And The Sacraments – Abbot Vonier

January 12, 2012

Carl Heinrich Bloch, Marriage At Cana

In 1865 Bloch was assigned to illustrate the life of Christ, in a series of 23 paintings for the King’s Praying Chamber in Frederiksborg Castle Chapel, Denmark. It would take Bloch almost fourteen years to complete the commission. The resulting paintings would define his career and would be complemented by eight altar pieces and an outstanding series of 78 etchings, influenced by Rembrandt’s depictions of Christ.

Following the premature death of his wife in 1886 he was left with the responsibility of his eight children. The grief and stress proved to be too much and he died of stomach cancer in 1890 at the age of 56. In addition to his Biblical art, Bloch was renowned as a genre and portrait painter and served under various positions at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Bloch’s painting ‘Marriage At Cana’ (above) depicts the reaction of the servers as they realize the water has been transformed into wine. The figure of Christ looks on from a distance from his seat at the wedding table. The masterly use of lighting bathes Jesus and the wedding guests in bright daylight as one of the servers in the foreground points to the source of the miracle.
From The Bible Illustration Blog


The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a particular instance of the more universal question of the mode of our union with Christ. We take for granted the Incarnation and the Atonement on the Cross; we take for granted that the Son of God through His death has redeemed mankind in general and has satisfied for sin; we know that in Christ there is plentiful redemption; such things are for us unchallengeable and universal articles of belief which may be called God’s side of the matter, that aspect of truth which is turned heavenward.

But the universal truths thus enunciated leave untouched that other problem of our own individual share in the treasures of redemption — how do individual men come into contact with that great Christ who is our Redemption personified? There is evidently in the Christian doctrine of redemption an element so absolute that it stands by itself, quite independent of man’s benefit therefrom. Before it is at all possible to think of man’s enrichment through the grace of Christ’s redemption we have to assume that much greater result of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross which is aptly expressed in the term “Atonement,” by which is meant, not directly the benefit of man, but the benefit of God: that full restoration of what had been taken from God through man’s sin, His honor and glory. Christ’s act on the Cross has given back to the Father all that was ever taken away from Him by man, and the divine rights have been fully restored.

It is not an absurd hypothesis to think of Christ’s great act of atonement as having an exclusively divine side — that is to say, Christ could have died on the Cross with the exclusive purpose of giving back to the Father all the glory which He had lost through man’s transgression, without the human race being in any way the better for it. But this is merely an hypothesis, though a perfectly rational one.

Actually Catholic doctrine says that Christ’s sacrifice, besides being an atonement, was also a redemption — in other words, a buying back into spiritual liberty of the human race which had become the slave of evil. But even this aspect of Christ’s divine act, though a perfectly human one, is still too universal; salvation is primarily for mankind as a species; the entry of the individual into the redemptive plan remains to be effected.

The urgent problem is, how am I to be linked up effectively with that great mystery of Christ’s death? When shall I know that Christ is not only the Redeemer, but also my Redeemer? Mere membership with the human race does not link me up with Christ, though it be true that Christ died for the whole race. This membership is indeed a condition, sine qua non, of my becoming one day a member of Christ; but a member of Christ I shall not become unless some new realities be brought into play. These new realities which are the link between me and Christ are faith and the sacraments.

“The power of Christ’s passion,” says Saint Thomas, “is linked up with us through faith and through the sacraments. This, however, in different ways: for the linking up which is by faith takes place through an act of the soul, while the linking up which is by the sacraments takes place through the use of external things.”

It is a favorite idea with Saint Thomas, that faith is truly a contact with Christ, a real, psychological contact with Christ, which, if once established, may lead man into the innermost glories of Christ’s life. Without this contact of faith we are dead to Christ, the stream of His life passes us by without entering into us, as a rock in the midst of a river remains unaffected by the turbulent rush of waters. This contact of faith makes man susceptible to the influences of Christ; under normal conditions it will develop into the broader contacts of hope and charity; but it is the first grafting of man on Christ which underlies all other fruitfulness. Till faith be established the great redemption has not become our redemption; the riches of Christ are not ours in any true sense; we are members of the human race, but we are not members of Christ.

It does not belong to my subject to enter into a discussion as to the reasons why one man has faith while another is without faith; nor do I propose to lay down what is that minimum of faith which is indispensable in order to establish true contact between the soul and Christ.

It is sufficient for our purpose to know that a man who has faith has laid his hand on the salvation of Christ. It is the most universal way of coming into touch with the redemption of the Cross; it is a way of approach which is always open, in the past, in the present, in the future. Mary, the Mother of God, through her faith, entered into Christ’s passion in the very moment of time when it took place; Adam, in his very fall, plunged into it headlong; and it will be present to the last human generation through that wonderful act of the soul of which Saint Thomas speaks in the above text. Whether we say that Christ will suffer — passurus est — or whether we say that Christ has suffered — passus est — is quite immaterial to the immediateness of contact by faith. “As the ancient Fathers were saved through faith in the Christ to come, so are we saved through faith in the Christ who has already been born and has suffered.”

I feel that we are less habituated in our times to think of faith as a kind of psychic link between the soul and Christ; yet such is the traditional concept of that wonderful gift. Anyone who has faith is in the supernatural state, and therefore is directly in touch with Christ’s life, even though he be actually in a state of mortal sin.

The Council of Trent has taken great trouble to make clear this point of Catholic moral theology. A man ceases to be Christ’s solely through the sin of infidelity; he does not cease to be Christ’s through any other sin, however heinous. As long as his faith is a true faith he remains a member of Christ’s mystical Body, though there be grievous sores of mortal sin upon his soul. Through that faith, which nothing can kill except the sin of formal infidelity, he keeps so near to the mystery of Christ’s death on the Cross that his recovery from the wounds of sin, however grievous, is a normal process of supernatural life, not strictly miraculous. It is true that the faith of the believing Christian in the state of mortal sin is a fides informis, a faith devoid of the higher vitalities of charity, yet it is a real faith.

Unless we grasp that function of faith as the psychic link between Christ and the soul Catholicism becomes unintelligible. The Church would become, as it did in Lutheran theology, an adventitious association of the elect. But the Church is constituted primarily through faith, and her powers are meant for those who possess that supernatural responsiveness of soul. If we really believe that the Church possesses enough power to wipe away sin, we assume, as well, that sin is compatible with membership in Christ’s mystical Body.

Incorporation into Christ, according to Saint Thomas, has a threefold degree; the first is through faith, the second is through the charity of this life, the third is through the possession of heaven. It is true that the whole tendency of faith is towards charity, that ultimately faith without charity cannot save us; nonetheless, charity cannot exist in man without faith, while there may be true faith in man without actual charity.

All this goes to demonstrate that there is in faith an instrumental power, enabling man to open the door that leads to perfect union with Christ. We cannot speak of such instrumental power in charity, for charity is not a means towards the possession of God; it is, on the contrary, actual possession of God. Saint Thomas calls faith an indispensable endowment of the soul, because it is the beginning or principle of spiritual life.’

This peculiar position of faith in the spiritual order as a kind of tool of supreme excellence will be seen in a clearer light when we come to ask ourselves the question whether there be another kind of means for man to get at Christ’s redemptive life. Once more let it be emphasized that through the possession of charity we do not only contact Christ, we are actually in Christ. Charity is not an instrument, while faith has primarily an instrumental role. Now the sacraments are truly such another set of means for the attainment of that final object, to be united with Christ in charity.

The sacraments complete and render more efficacious that instrumentality of faith just spoken of: they do not supersede the instrumentality of faith, but they make it more real, if possible, and certainly more infallible in its effect. The relative position of faith and the sacraments in bringing about man’s justification through charity is an interesting theological question of which we shall have more to say by-and-by.

The sacraments are essentially sacraments of the faith, sacramenta fidei, as Saint Thomas invariably calls them; both faith and sacraments have that power of divine instrumentality which open to man the treasure-house of Christ’s redemption.

I cannot end this chapter without quoting from Saint Thomas a beautiful passage in which he describes God’s action, which he calls grace, keeping faith alive in the soul, even of the sinner:

Grace produces faith not only when faith begins to exist in the soul for the first time, but also while it habitually abides in the soul…. God brings about the justification of man in the same way as the sun produces light in the air. Grace, therefore, when it strikes with its rays the one who is already a believer is not less efficacious than when it comes for the first time to the unbeliever, because in both it is its proper effect to produce faith: in one case strengthening it and giving it increase, in the other case creating it as an entirely new thing.

The sun of divine grace once above the horizon sends forth its rays of faith into the minds of men, and nothing can resist their light except blind obstinacy and infidelity.


What Losing Faith Really Means – Roger Scruton

December 20, 2011

Luis Buñuel has reputation as one of the most important surrealist filmmakers in history. He got his start by collaborating with Salvador Dali on the 16-minute short Un Chien Andalou. His long career in surrealist filmmaking and religious rabble-rousing had its share of peaks and valleys, as he traveled from Spain to France to America to Mexico and back again. Simon of the Desert, his last Mexican film, is certainly one of the peaks. Simon of the Desert is Luis Buñuel’s wicked and wild take on the life of devoted ascetic Saint Simeon Stylites, who waited atop a pillar surrounded by a barren landscape for six years, six months, and six days, in order to prove his devotion to God.

Religion, as Durkheim pointed out in his great study of its elementary forms, is a social fact. A religion is not something that occurs to you; nor does it emerge as the conclusion of an empirical investigation or an intellectual argument. It is something that you join, to which you are converted, or into which you are born. Losing the Christian faith is not merely a matter of doubting the existence of God, or the incarnation, or the redemption purchased on the Cross. It involves falling out of communion, ceasing to be `members in Christ’, losing a primary experience of home. All religions are alike in this, and it is why they are so harsh on heretics and unbelievers: for heretics and unbelievers pretend to the benefits of membership, while belonging to other communities in other ways.

This is not to say that there is nothing more to religion than the bond of membership. There is also doctrine, ritual, worship and prayer. There is the vision of God the creator, and the search for signs and revelations of the transcendental. There is the sense of the sacred, the sacrosanct, the sacramental and the sacrilegious. All those grow from the experience of social membership and also amend it, so that a religious community furnishes itself with an all-embracing Weltanschauung, together with rituals and ceremonies that affirm its existence as a social organism, and lay claim to its place in the world.

Faith is not therefore content with the cozy customs and necromantic rites of the household gods. It strides out towards a cosmic explanation and a final theodicy. In consequence it suffers challenge from the rival advance of science. Scientific thinking brought Christian doctrine to a sudden check. Although religion is a social fact, therefore, it is exposed to a purely intellectual refutation. And the defeat of the Church’s intellectual claims began the process of secularization, which was to end in the defeat of the Christian community — the final loss of that root experience of membership, which had shaped European civilization for two millennia, and which had caused it to be what it is.

The loss of faith may begin as an intellectual loss. But it does not end there. It is a loss of comfort, membership and home: it involves exile from the community that formed you, and for which you may always secretly yearn. Reading the great Victorian doubters — Matthew Arnold being pre-eminent among them — I am persuaded that they were not ready for this experience. Hence they attempted to patch up the social world while leaving the ecclesiastical crenellations intact on top of it. And the remarkable fact is that they were successful. Their loss of faith occurred against the background of a still perceivable religious community, whose customs they did nothing to disturb. They inhabited the same Lebenswelt as the believer, and saw the world as marked out by institutions and expectations that are the legacy of religion.

We witness this in the writings of nineteenth-century secularists such as John Stuart Mill, Jules Michelet or Henry Thoreau. Their world bears the stamp of a shared religion; the human form for them is still divine; the free individual still shines in their world with a more than earthly illumination, and the hidden goal of all their writings is to ennoble the human condition. Such writers did not experience their loss of faith as a loss, since in a very real sense they hadn’t lost religion. They had rejected various metaphysical ideas and doctrines, but still inhabited the world that faith had made — the world of secure commitments, of marriages, obsequies and christenings, of real presences in ordinary lives and exalted visions in art. Their world was a world where the concepts of the sacred, the sacrilegious and the sacramental were widely recognized and socially endorsed.

This condition found idealized expression in the Gothic Revival, and in the writings of its principal high Victorian advocate, John Ruskin. Nobody knows whether Ruskin was a vestigial Christian believer, a fellow-traveler or an atheist profoundly attached to the medieval vision of a society ordered by faith. His exhortations, however, are phrased in the diction of the Book of Common Prayer; his response to the science and art of his day is penetrated by the spirit of religious inquisition, and his recommendations to the architect are for the building of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

The Gothic style, as he described and commended it, was to recapture the sacred for a secular age. It was to offer visions of sacrifice and consecrated labor, and so counter the dispiriting products of the industrial machine. The Gothic would be, in the midst of our utilitarian madness, a window on to the transcendental, where once again we could pause and wonder, and where our souls would be filled with the light of another world. The Gothic Revival — both for Ruskin and for the atheist William Morris — was an attempt to reconsecrate the city as an earthly community united by real presences in sacred precincts.

Loss of faith involves a radical change to the Lebenswelt, as Husserl called it. The most ordinary things take on a new aspect, and concepts that inhabit the soul of believers and shape their most intimate experiences — concepts of the sacred and profane, of the forbidden, the sacramental and the holy — seem to make no contact with the world as it appears to the person who has lost hold of the transcendental.

In response to this we might strive as the Victorians did to maintain and repair the faith community, to hope that the process of re-consecration would continue, refurbishing the image of humanity as god-like and redeemed. In short, we could go on stealing from churches. But it doesn’t work — not now. More appropriate to our time is the response of Rilke and Eliot, the two poets over whom I stumbled when first I discovered books. They did not hope for that enduring simulacrum of a religious community, but instead wished to rediscover the real thing, only lying dormant within us.

Among the greatest religious poems of the twentieth century we must surely count The Duino Elegies of Rilke, and The Four Quartets of T. S. Eliot. In the first a private religion is created from the fragmentary offerings of intensely subjective experiences, which are gradually elaborated until they seem to contain the intimation of a personal redemption. In the second the poet is living in a world that refuses his religious yearning; he rediscovers, through a lost but imagined religious community, the experience of the sacramental from which he had been cut off. Both poets are restored in imagination to what they had lost in fact. There is a kind of belief there, but it is a belief that recreates the religious community out of memories, intimations and signs.

In The Duino Elegies the idea of the transcendental is embodied in the figure of the Angel, summoned into existence by the poet’s need, and representing the triumph of consciousness over the world of fact. In all of us, Rilke believes, there is the deep need to transform fact into thought, object into subject, Earth into the idea of Earth: the Angel is the being in whom this transubstantiation is complete. He is like the soul released into Brahma, who has translated matter to spirit so as to be co-terminous with his world.

We emulate this process of translation, but we must begin from the fragments of our earthly experience where the sacred can take root — the places of love, heroism, death and memory, in which Earth beseeches us to take conscious note of her, to ingest her into our own transcendental presence, which is also an absence. For Rilke the experience of the sacred is saturated with the image of community, with the full, conscious rejoicing of the tribe, now dormant in all of us, and resurrected in imagination in the tenderness of sexual love:

Look, we don’t love as flowers love, out of
a single year; there rises in us, when we love,
immemorial sap in the arms. O girl,
This — that we loved in ourselves, not one yet to be, but
the innumerable ferment; not a single child
but the fathers resting like ruined mountains
in our depths –; but the dry river-bed
of former mothers –; but the whole
soundless landscape under its clear
or cloudy destiny –, this, girl, came before you.

In that passage Rilke finds in the intense longing of erotic love the intimations of a religious community — one dedicated to its own reproduction. The transcendental is contained in the moment — the moment of desire that summons past and future generations as witnesses to the present passion. Angels live like this always; we only sometimes, in those moments when we recognize our own mortality and embrace it.

Eliot had another vision, one nearer to that of the Gothic Revival — though his is a Gothic Revival of the imagination, in which the effort of renewal takes place inwardly, in the subjective experience of the suffering poet. His pilgrimage to Little Gidding, once the home of an Anglican community dedicated to the life of prayer, leads him to the following thought:

     if you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

This is a very different vision from Rilke’s, of course. Not for Eliot that unvordenklicher Saft in die Arme: the erotic has been banished from his world; or rather, it never intruded there. Instead we have a search for the `timeless moment’ — and, stated thus briefly, it sounds like a chocolate-box platitude. But the context clarifies the thought. Eliot has found his way to a sacred place, and imagined himself into the community that made it holy. He is in communion with the dead, has passed over to them from the empirical world, and is kneeling beside them in that transcendental region. He has rediscovered the sacred, in a world that seemed to exclude it from view.

Eliot’s redemption at Little Gidding involves the imagined recovery of the old Christian community. Rilke’s self-made redemption through the society of Angels involves the invention of a community that is not of this world. Both are quintessentially modern responses to the loss of religion — attempts to recuperate the transcendental and the sacred from the raw experience of the solitary self. But they cannot compensate for that other and greater loss, which is that of the religious community itself. For that community contained a vital store of moral knowledge – knowledge collectively generated and collectively deployed.

The moral knowledge that I have in mind is manifest in our response to other people, in our social projects and in our sense of ourselves. It is also manifest in our ability spontaneously to understand and to act upon human realities. Moral knowledge is a practical, not a theoretical acquisition. It does not consist in the knowledge of truths. Nevertheless it may open the way to such knowledge. For there are certain truths about the human condition that are hard to formulate and hard to live up to, and which we therefore have a motive to deny. It may require moral discipline if we are to accept these truths and also to live by them.

For instance, there is the truth that we are self-conscious beings, and that this distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. There is the truth that we are free, accountable and objects of judgment in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. There is the truth that we are motivated not only by desire and appetite, but by a conception of the good. There is the truth that we are not just objects in the world of objects, but also subjects, who relate to each other reciprocally. There are all the other vital truths that I have discovered through growing up with Sam. To the person with religious belief — whether Christian or Muslim, whether monotheist or polytheist, whether a believer in the afterlife or not — those truths are obvious, and their consequences immediately apparent.

Religious people may not express the truths as I have done, since I am adopting a secular idiom. Nor will they normally be aware of the philosophical reasoning that would defend those truths against modernist and postmodernist doubt. Nevertheless that is how they see the world. For them the `human form divine’, as Blake described it, is set apart from the rest of nature. Our form bears, for them, the marks of its peculiar destiny; it is capable of sanctity and liable to desecration, and in everything it is judged from a perspective that is not of this world. That way of seeing people enshrines the fundamental truth of our condition, as creatures suspended between the empirical and the transcendental, between being and judgment. But it deploys concepts that are given to us through religion, and to be obtained only with the greatest effort without it.

If you see things in that way you will find it difficult to share the view of Enlightenment thinkers that religious decline is no more than the loss of false beliefs; still less will you be able to accept the postmodernist vision of a world now liberated from absolutes, in which each of us constructs guidelines of his own, and that the only agreement that counts is the agreement to differ.

The decline of Christianity, I maintain, involves, for many people, not the freedom from religious need, but the loss of concepts that would enable them to assuage it and, by assuaging it, to open their knowledge and their will to the human reality. For them the loss of religion is an epistemological loss — a loss of knowledge. Losing that knowledge is not a liberation but a fall.

Loss is fundamental to the human condition. But civilizations differ in their way of accommodating it. The Upanishads exhort us to free ourselves of all attachments, to rise to that blissful state in which we can lose nothing because we possess nothing. And flowing from that exhortation is an art and a philosophy that make light of human suffering, and scorn the losses that oppress us in this world.

By contrast, Western civilization has dwelt upon loss and made it the principal theme of its art and literature. Scenes of mourning and sorrow abound in medieval painting and sculpture; our drama is rooted in tragedy and our lyric poetry takes the loss of love and the vanishing of its object as its principal theme. It is not Christianity that gave us this outlook. Virgil’s Aeneid, ostensibly an expression of Aeneas’s hope as he is god-guided to his great and world-transforming goal in Italy, is composed of losses. The terrible sack of Troy, the loss of his wife, the awful tale of Dido, the death of Anchises, the visit to the underworld, the ruinous conflict with Turnus — all these explore the parameters of loss, and show us that our highest hopes and loyalties lead of their own accord to tragedy.

For all that, the Aeneid is just as much a religious text as the Upanishads. The world of Aeneas is a world of rites and rituals, of sacred places and holy times. And Aeneas is judged by the gods, sometimes hounded by them, sometimes sustained, but at every moment accountable to them and aware of their real presence in the empirical world. It is for this reason that Aeneas can look his many losses in the face and also set them at the distance that enables him to gain from them. They come to him not as inexplicable accidents but as trials, ordeals and judgements. He wrestles with them and overcomes them as you might overcome an opponent. And each loss adds to his inner strength, without hardening his heart.

At the risk of sounding somewhat Spenglerian, I would suggest that the questing and self-critical spirit of Western civilization distinguishes it among civilizations and informs both the style of its losses and its way of coping with them. The Western response to loss is not to remove yourself from the world. It is to bear it as a loss, to mourn it, and to strive to overcome it by seeing it as a form of consecrated suffering. Religion lies at the root of that attitude.

 Religion enables us to bear our losses, not primarily because it promises to offset them with some compensating gain, but because it sees them from a transcendental perspective. Judged from that perspective they appear not as meaningless afflictions but as sacrifices. Loss, conceived as sacrifice, becomes consecrated to something higher than itself: and in this it follows a pattern explored by Rene Girard in his bold theory of the violent origins of the human disposition to recognize sacred things.[Rene Girard, La violence et le sacre, Paris, 1972]

I think that is how people can cope with the loss of children — to recognize in this loss a supreme example of the transition to another realm. Your dead child was a sacrificial offering, and is now an angel beckoning from that other sphere, sanctifying the life that you still lead in the material world. This thought is of course very crudely captured by my words. Fortunately, however, three great works of art exist that convey it completely — the medieval poem The Pearl from the Gawain manuscript, Mahler’s Kindertotenliederm, and Britten’s church parable Curlew River.

In our civilization, therefore, religion is the force that has enabled us to bear our losses and so to face them as truly ours. The loss of religion makes real loss difficult to bear; hence people begin to flee from loss, to make light of it, or to expel from themselves the feelings that make it inevitable. They do not do this in the way of the Upanishads, which exhort us to an immense spiritual labor, whereby we free ourselves from the weight of Dharma and slowly ascend to the blessed state of Brahma. The path of renunciation presupposes, after all, that there is something to renounce.

Modern people pursue not penitence but pleasure, in the hope of achieving a condition in which renunciation is pointless since there is nothing to renounce. Renunciation of love is possible only when you have learned to love. This is why we see emerging a kind of contagious hardness of heart, an assumption on every side that there is no tragedy, no grief, no mourning, for there is nothing to mourn. There is neither love nor happiness — only fun. For us, one might be tempted to suggest, the loss of religion is the loss of loss.


On Suffering, Faith, Sanctity III – Léon Bloy

November 30, 2011

Léon Bloy

A series of quotes from the Maritain’s tribute to Léon Bloy, Pilgrim of the Absolute. See this post for an intro to Bloy.


[THE SIN OF OMISSION.] I have often thought that the most dangerous injury to the soul is the sin of omission. The sin of action, however vast it may be, can be forgiven because Jesus has paid. But He has not paid for the sin of omission, which concerns the Holy Spirit. Here is a tormenting thought, especially at the end of your life, when you accurately remember certain circumstances in which you could so easily have accomplished certain acts God asked for, and which you neglected or formally refused to carry out.

That is my case. In this way, I am exactly on a level with the rich who could, without giving themselves the least trouble, have helped me to fulfill my mission, and who did not want to. All I can do is to weep bitterly, as did Saint Peter, who could have avoided denying his Master, and who obtained forgiveness only when the Holy Ghost fell upon him like a thunderbolt.

I AM GOING TO COMMUNION. The priest has uttered the fearful words which a fleshly piety calls consoling: DOMINE NON SUM DIGNUS . . . Jesus is about to come, and I have only a moment in which to prepare myself to receive Him … In a moment He will be under my roof.

I do not recall having swept clean this dwelling wherein He will enter as a king or as a thief, for I do not know what to think of this visit. Indeed, have I ever swept it clean, my dwelling place of unchasteness and carnage?

I give it a glance, a poor glance of terror, and I see it full of dust and full of filth. Everywhere there seems to be an odor of dirt and decay.

I dare not look into the dark corners. In the last shadowy places, I behold awful spots, old or new, which remind me that I have slaughtered innocents, and in what numbers, with what cruelty!

My walls are alive with vermin and trickling with cold droplets that recall to me the tears of so many unfortunates who implored me in vain, yesterday, the day before yesterday, ten, twenty, forty years ago …

And look! There, before that ghastly door, who is that squatting monster whom I had not noticed until now, and who resembles the creature I have sometimes glimpsed in my mirror? He seems to be asleep on that trap door of bronze, sealed by me and padlocked with such care, in order that I might not hear the clamors of the dead and their pitiful Miserere.

Ah! truly it takes God not to fear entering such a house! And here He is! How shall I greet Him, and what shall I say or do?

Absolutely nothing.

Even before He may have crossed my threshold, I shall have ceased thinking about Him, I shall no longer be there, I shall have disappeared, I know not how, I shall be infinitely far away, among the images of creatures.

He will be alone and will Himself clean the house, helped by His Mother whose slave I claim to be, and who is, in fact, my humble serving-maid.

When They will have gone, both of Them, to visit other dens, I shall return and I shall bring with me a new mass of filth.


My well-beloved sovereign, I do not know what it is to honor You in this or that of Your Mysteries, as has been taught by certain of Your friends. I want to know nothing except that You are the sorrowful Mother, that all Your earthly life was nothing but sorrow, infinite sorrow, and that I am one of the children of Your sorrow. I have placed myself at Your service like a slave, I have entrusted to You my temporal and spiritual life in order to obtain through You my sanctification and that of other men. Only in this way, under this title alone, can I speak with You. I lack faith, hope and love. I do not know how to pray and I am unacquainted with penance. I can do nothing and I am nothing but a son of sorrow. You know that long ago, more than thirty years past, in obedience to an impulse that surely came from You, I called down upon myself all possible suffering. Because of this I reason with myself that my suffering, which has been great and continual, can be offered to You. Draw from this treasure to pay my debts and those of all the beings I love. And then, God willing, vouchsafe me to be Your witness io death’s torments. I ask this of You by Your most tender name of Mary.

WE ARE CREATED THAT WE MAY BE SAINTS. If anything is written, this surely is. Sanctity is so required of us, it is so inherent in human nature, that God presumes its existence, so to speak, in each of us, by means of the sacraments of His Church, that is, by means of mystical signs invisibly making operative in souls the beginning of Glory. Sacramentum nihil aliud nisi rem sacram, abditam atque occultam significat. (A Sacrament is nothing other than a sacred, withdrawn and mysterious thing.) This sacred and mysterious thing thus alluded to by the Council of Trent has the effect of uniting souls to God. The most transcendent theology contains nothing stronger than this affirmation.

There are even three sacraments that imprint a character, and whose mark cannot be effaced. Thus we are virtually saints, pillars of eternal Glory. A Christian may disown his baptism, debar the Holy Spirit from his thought, and, if he is a spoiled priest, reject the succession of the Apostles conferred upon him by holy orders; in short, he may damn himself forever; nothing will be able to disunite him, to separate him from God, and what an unfathomable mystery of terror is this persistence of the sacred Sign even into the infinite pangs of perdition. Hence it must be said that hell is peopled with fearsome saints become the companions of the hideous angels!

However evil such saints or angels may be, they have God in them. Otherwise they would not be able to subsist, even in the state of nothingness, since nothingness, also inconceivable without God, is the eternal reservoir of Creation.

All that God has made is sacred after a fashion which only He could explain. Water is holy, stones are holy, plants and animals are holy, fire is the devouring likeness of His Holy Spirit. His entire work is holy. Man alone, who is more holy than other creatures, will have none of sanctity.

He considers it ridiculous and even insulting to his dignity. Such is, in the twentieth century of the Redemption, the visible and perceptible result of the unfaithfulness of so many shepherds, of the monstrous blindness brought about by those who should have been the light of the world, and who extinguished all light.

It is certain indeed that never, at no age of the world’s history, were men as far from God, as contemptuous of the Sanctity which He demands, and yet never has the necessity for being saints been so manifest. In these apocalyptic days it truly seems as though only a film of nothingness separates us from the eternal gulfs.***

“Not all men are called to saintliness,” says a Satanic cant phrase. To what then are you called, O wretch? and above all in our day and age? The Master said you must be perfect. He said it in an imperative, absolute way, giving to be understood that there is no alternative, and those whose duty it is to teach His word, by themselves presenting an example of perfection, ceaselessly assert that it is not necessary, that a reasonably trifling average of love is more than enough for salvation, and that the desire for the supernatural way of life is rash, when it is not culpable presumption.

Aliquam partem, “a certain portion,” they argue, debasing an expression in the Liturgy, a tiny little corner in Paradise, that is what we need. To this base retreat, to this formal denial of the divine Promise, they give a color of humility, cunningly omitting the heroic sequel to the two liturgical words, in which is specified that the “portion” in case is nothing less than “the company of the Apostles and the Martyrs.”

But cowardly minds and mediocre hearts can avail nothing against the Word of God, and the Estote perfecti (Be ye perfect) of the Sermon on the Mount continues to weigh upon us infinitely more than all the globes in the firmament.

Sanctity has always been required of us. In older days, it was possible to believe that sanctity was demanded from afar, like a debt due on a vague date, which might possibly lapse. Today sanctity is laid on our doorstep by a wild-eyed, blood-smeared messenger. Behind him, a few steps behind him, are panic, fire, pillage, torture, despair, the most frightful death ..

And we have not even a moment in which to choose!

[THERE IS BUT ONE SADNESS . ..] Today Clotilde is forty-eight, and looks as though she were at least a hundred. But she is more beautiful than before, and resembles a pillar of prayer, the last pillar of a temple wrecked by cataclysms.

Her hair has become entirely white. Her eyes, burned by the tears that have furrowed her face, are almost extinguished. Yet she has lost none of her strength.

Hardly ever is she to be seen sitting still. Ever journeying from one church to another, or from cemetery to cemetery, she stops moving only to get on her knees, and you might say that she knew no other posture.

Her head covered only with the hood of a great black coat which reaches to the ground, her invisible feet naked in sandals, upheld for ten years by an energy far more than human, there is no cold or foul weather capable of frightening her. Her dwelling place is that of the rain which falls.

She asks for no alms. She limits herself to taking with a very tender smile whatever is offered to her, and giving it in secret to the destitute.

Whenever she encounters a child, she kneels down before it, as did the great Berulle, and, with its pure little hand, traces upon her forehead the sign of the cross.

Comfortable and well-clad Christians, who are inconvenienced by the Supernatural and who “have said to Wisdom: Thou art my sister,” judge her to have a disordered mind, but ordinary people are respectful to her, and a few churchdoor beggarwomen believe her to be a saint.

Silent as the celestial spaces, she seems, when she speaks, to return from a beatific world situate in an unknown universe. This can be felt in her distant voice, which age has deepened without impairing its tender charm, and this can be felt even better in her words.

Everything that happens is divine,” is her usual comment, with the ecstatic air of a creature a thousand times overwhelmed, who would find no other utterance for every movement of her heart and mind, were the occasion a universal plague, or were the moment that of her being devoured by wild beasts.

Although they know she is a vagrant, the police, themselves astounded by her power, have never sought to molest her.

After Leopold’s death — his body was never found amid the nameless and appalling ruins — Clotilde had sought to conform herself to that one of the Precepts in the Gospels the rigorous observation of which is considered more unbearable than even the torture of fire. She had sold all that she possessed, had given the proceeds to the poorest of the poor and overnight had become a beggar.

What the first years of this new life must have been like, God only knows! Wonders have been told about her which resemble those wrought by the Saints, but what seems altogether likely is that the grace was granted her of never needing rest.

“You must be very unhappy, my poor woman,” some priest once told her, after he had seen her bathed in tears before the Blessed Sacrament exposed — a man who happened to be a real priest.

“I am perfectly happy,” she answered. “You do not enter Paradise tomorrow, or the day after, or in ten years, you enter it today, when you are poor and crucified.”

Hodie mecum eris in paradiso (Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise),” murmured the priest, who moved off overwhelmed with love.

By virtue of suffering, this pulsating and vigorous Christian found out that there is, above all for women, only one way of being in contact with God and that that way, that wholly unique way, is Poverty. Not that easy, beguiling poverty of complicity, which gives alms to the world’s hypocrisy, but that difficult, revolting, scandalous poverty, which must be succored without the least hope of glory and which has nothing to give in return.

She even understood — and this is not very far from the sublime — that Woman really exists only on condition of being without bread, without abode, without friends, without husband and without children, and that only thus can she force her Saviour to descend.

After the death of her husband, this beggarwoman of good will became even more the wife of that extraordinary man who gave his life for Justice. Perfectly tender and perfectly implacable.

Linked to every form of wretchedness, she was able fully to see the murderous horror of what calls itself public charity, and her constant prayer is a torch shaken against the mighty…

Lazare Druide was the sole relic of her past who still occasionally saw her. Here was the only tie she had not broken. The painter of Andronic was too upright to have been able to win the favors of fortune, whose age-old custom is to spin her wheel in filth. This made it possible for Clotilde to visit him without exposing to the mud of a worldly luxury her ragged vesture of a wanderer and “pilgrim of the Holy Sepulchre.”

At rare intervals, she came to inject into the soul of that profound artist a little of her peace, of her mysterious grandeur, then she went back to her vast solitude, in the midst of the streets swarming with people.

There is but one sadness,” she told him, the last time she saw him, “and that is for us NOT TO BE SAINTS ..:’

[IN PARADISE.] The basis of Paradise or of the idea of Paradise is union with God starting in the present life, which is to say the infinite Distress of man’s heart, and union with God in the future Life, which is to say Beatitude. ***

Union with God is certainly achieved by the Saints, starting in the present life, and is perfectly consummated at once after their birth into the other Life, but that is not enough for them and it is not enough for God. The most intimate union is not enough, there must be identification, which itself will never be enough, and thus Beatitude cannot be conceived or imagined except as an ascension ever more lively, more impetuous, more thundrous, not toward God, but in God, in the very Essence of the Unbounded. A whirlwind of the knowledge of God without end or surcease, which the Church, speaking to men, is forced to name Eternal Rest!

The raging multitude of the Saints is like unto a vast army of cyclones, hurling itself upon God with a blast able to uproot the nebulae, and this for all eternity …***

It will be a firmament of differentiated, inconceivable splendors. The Saints will rise to God like lightning, supposing that lightning doubled itself in strength, second by second, forever and ever, their charity ever growing along with their brilliance — ineffable Stars who will be followed at an enormous distance by all those who will have known only the Face of Jesus Christ and who will have been unaware of His Heart. As for the others, the poor Christians called practicing, the observers of the easy Letter, yet not perverse, and capable of a certain generosity, they will follow in their turn, not being lost, at a distance of billions of lightning flashes, having previously paid for their places at an unutterable price, but joyful all the same — infinitely more so than could express the rarest lexicon of happiness  – and joyous precisely at the incomparable glory of their elders, joyful in depth and in width, joyful as the Lord when He finished creating the world!

And all, as I have said, will climb together like a tempest without lull, the beatific tempest of the endless end of ends, an assumption of cataracts of love, and such will be the Garden of Delights, the indefinable Paradise named in the Scriptures.


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