Archive for the ‘Léon Bloy’ Category

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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.

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[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.

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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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On Suffering, Faith, Sanctity II – Léon Bloy

November 29, 2011

Portrait of the Young Léon Bloy

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

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[OBEDIENCE.] There is but one action, and that is Obedience, which is the characteristic mark of superior men, of true men; that sublime and holy and salutary and virginal and miraculous and primitive Obedience which is quite simply the theological term for the lost earthly Paradise … So go out and find a poor priest, the one I mentioned to you or any other, but a Priest, O my child, that is to say a man, good or bad, but invested with the sacerdotal character, and thence having the very power of God to give peace to your soul, which is an empire the greatest of which you do not know. “Father, have mercy upon me, wash me, purify me, loosen me!” And then, the heavenly sweetness, the eyes streaming with tears, the racing heart, the burning heart, the joy of which one seemingly would die.. . Ah! If you but knew, if you but could get a glimpse of this just once! There is Activity! Do you know that the mass, the Sacrifice of the mass, is the sole act of obedience, the essential Act.

[WE ARE ON THE RACK ONLY IN ORDER TO AVOW GLORY.] Christ said in the Gospel: “I am the Truth,” and the truth, my dear Henri, is that we all must suffer, since He who calls Himself the Truth, He who thus states His Family Name, is precisely the Chief of the suffering and of the tortured. We must suffer even as He suffers, for others and in others, men or beasts, telling ourselves that God’s words are not in vain, and that it is wholly certain that the humblest among the oppressed will in the end be avenged and in the end consoled, when will come the hour of the infallible retributions. We are on the rack only in order to avow Glory.

Do you know that to be a real Christian, that is to say a Saint, one must have a tender heart within a shell of bronze? Saint Luke tells that in the midst of the most unutterable suffering, Christ had pity on the brutes who were crucifying Him and that He entreated His Father to forgive them. “They know not what they do,” He cried unto Him. Now remember that a filthy butcher or pig-sticker who, not satisfied with slaughtering his poor animals, unworthily and ridiculously mutilates them after their death, carries on — after a fashion — in the most unfathomable darknesses, the immolation of the Saviour, and that they are enfolded in His Prayer. All the more do they need it as they are more abject, more unfeeling, more snug in an appalling ignorance of what they do.

Christ is at the center of all things, He takes all things upon Himself, He bears all things, He suffers all things. It is impossible to strike a human being without striking Him, to humiliate someone without humiliating Him, curse or kill anyone without cursing Him or killing Him, Himself. The lowest of contemptible fellows is forced to borrow the Face of Christ in order to receive a blow, from no matter what hand. Otherwise the buffet could never reach him and would remain hanging in interstellar space, through the ages of ages, until it should have met with the Face which forgives…

The altogether noble sorrow and indignation which make your stomach turn at the sight of the disgusting degradations whereof you tell me would serve you as a counterpoise were you habitually mindful of deep realities to think about the vast scope of that Forgiveness.

People who kill or cause suffering, people who degrade or who dishonor in any way whatsoever the divine work and who, consequently, cannot know what they do, are themselves in such horrible wretchedness that it was needful for the dying Jesus to insert them into the testament of His Passion, in order that they might obtain mercy.

So raise up your soul by contemplating the things that are not obvious. Be a man of prayer, and you will be a man of peace, a man living in peace. Tell yourself, I beg of you, that everything is but appearance, that everything is but a symbol, even the most heart-rending sorrow.

We are sleepers who cry in their sleep. We cannot ever know whether this or that which grieves us is not the secret principle of our later joy. At present we see, said Saint Paul, per speculum in aenigmate, literally: “into a puzzle by means of a mirror,” and we cannot see otherwise before the coming of Him who is all aflame and who is to teach us all things. Until then all we have is obedience, the loving obedience which restores for us, on earth, the paradise lost through disobedience.***

I knew well what fatherhood would accomplish in you. Before becoming a father myself, I ill understood the Our Father. Our Father Who art in heaven … When my little daughter speaks to me, it seems to me that my kingdom comes … You will feel that.

All that happens is divine: this I maintain with all the authority of my utter poverty, which is perfect as God is perfect, and which is therefore itself divine. Complain all we will, you and I, we cannot escape from this law, and we shall never succeed in giving life to a plausible grievance against Providence. If we lack money, it is because money would be baneful to us, and we shall certainly be rolling in it whenever that metal will have ceased to be, for us, an occasion of peril.

To believe this, fully to see this, such is the sole means offered us not to fall below the level of brutes. If your foot hurts you, my poor Henry, it is because moving about would be harmful to you at the moment, and if I myself am stuck, with my wife and child, for some time more in this devilish blind alley, [In the Petit-Montrouge suburb of Paris] it is doubtless because pure air and the perfume of flowers would be less advantageous for us than the odor of cesspools and the nasty smell of carrion which we breathe here.***

Do we not know, at the very moment when we suffer some painful blow, that it is Jesus, covered with wounds, who is tumbling upon the muddy carpet of our souls, begging us, at the least, not to bristle too much against Him, and that thus we are filled to overflowing with the most unimaginable happiness?

You know how Job speaks of the world: Terram tenebrosam (this darksome earth), etc. What about it? Remember that this is the dwelling place of fallen man, the tabernacle of the disobedient, this is what we refer to as our spinning ball of earth, and we have been amply warned, by these sure Words, that it would be either idiotic or ill-willed to suppose that what the Church calls a “vale of tears” is, on the contrary, a luminous and comfortable place. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who weep and those who hunger for justice, blessed also are the merciful, the pure of heart and the peacemakers. Blessed, finally, are those who suffer persecution. Ah! Yes indeed. Don’t you see that all these Elect, among whom we belong, more or less, even though we be most unworthy, are in an admirable position to decipher Job’s text and that it is always a beginning of Paradise to glimpse, even if barely at all, a lineament of the Word of God.

[THE TEARS WE HAVE SHED.] Dear friend, you have written me a beautiful and painful letter. I would that God might give me words of comfort for you. In my helplessness and sorrow which are indeed great I wish first to try to answer your question: “What have you been doing with yourself?” It would be easier for me to tell you what I have not been doing. Here it is more than thirty years that I have sought the one and only happiness, Sanctity. The result makes me ashamed and fearful. “I have this much left, that I have wept,” said de Musset. I have no other treasure. But I have wept so much that I am rich after this fashion. When you die, that is what you take with you: the tears you have shed and the tears you have caused to be shed, your capital of bliss or of terror. It is on these tears that we shall be judged, for the Spirit of God is always “borne upon the waters.” A sculptor of great talent is at present finishing my bust. “Do not forget the furrow,” I said to him, “this gutter here under each of my two eyes.”

That is what I wish for you, my dear Rouault. I should like you to be bathed in tears at the feet of Jesus. Quare tristis es, anima mea … why art thou sorrowful, my soul, and why troublest thou me? Spera in Deo. As I read this sublime beginning of the mass, how often have I not shed those tears that are worth more than canticles and that place the heart in the meadows of Paradise.

You are among those whom God seeks. Quaerens me, sedisti lassus… As you sought me, you sat down, outworn with weariness. Let yourself be found, go forth to meet that shepherd … Then He will make you weep so sorely that almost you will be no longer able to suffer.

[SORROW IS NOT OUR LAST END.] Your whole article “De Profundis” bears witness to and heralds a religious, ardent and profound soul. When you wrote me in answer to my friendly counsel, you declared yourself without appetite for happiness — which is obviously absurd. It is in the power of no man not to seek Paradise, were it even in despair. But in that case it is the earthly Paradise.

Sorrow is not our last end; it is Blessedness which is our last end. Sorrow leads us by the hand to the threshold of eternal Life. There it takes leave of us, that threshold being forbidden to it. You yourself see it this way, when you write: “The solid understructure of every great moral edifice is despair,” an utterance that would be a contradiction in terms if you had in mind philosophic despair alone, which consists in expecting Nothing from men and All from God, “the great starry despair,” to use your magnificent phrase. “From this do hope and religion take their flight toward heaven.” So here we are wholly in agreement. A new edition of my Le Desespere could bear this epigraph drawn from Carlyle: “Despair carried far enough completes the circle and becomes once more a kind of burning and fruitful hope.”

As for the other despair, the theological, the despair that expects nothing from God, we shall leave it to the bourgeois who seek the joy of their bellies.

“I am too beautiful to be loved!” says Sorrow.

[I HAVE ASKED TO SUFFER.] I find in your dear letter a phrase that worries me. You tell me that you want to sacrifice your time to prayers. I fear you may be under an illusion. What God asks of each of us is the sacrifice of our will, nothing more, and that includes everything.

If circumstances demanded that for a while you give to lesser pursuits the time you could give to prayer, you must look upon this as an order from God and believe that that sacrifice is more agreeable to Him than your prayer, that it is itself an infinitely better prayer.

As for my sufferings, my beloved Jeanne, accept them generously as having been willed by God and, I beg of you, do not pay too much attention to my complaints. If I must be unhappy, very unhappy, for a long time still — which I do not believe is the case — all the better for you. The reason would be that it is needful for the payment of your debt. When we receive a divine grace, we should be confident that someone paid for it on our behalf. Such is the law. God is infinitely good, but He is at the same time infinitely just and, as such, He shows Himself an infinitely rigorous creditor. About fifteen years ago, when you were still a little girl, I spent months asking God, in prayers that were like the tempest, that He should make me suffer all a man can suffer, so that my friends, my brethren, and souls unknown to me who lived in darkness might be helped, and I assure you, my love, that my prayers have been granted in a terrible fashion. Well, I am just about convinced that it is thus that I have won you, and that it is through the infernal sorrows of fifteen years that I have paid for the extraordinary joys which will come to you.

[SUFFERING IN OTHERS.] Do you know, my love, that what is hardest for the soul is to suffer, I do not say for others, but IN others. That was the most terrible of the Saviour’s

agonies. Underneath the appalling visible Passion of Christ, beyond that procession of tortures and ignominies, to form a vague idea of which in itself gives us so much trouble, there was His Compassion, which we shall need eternity to understand — a heart-rending compassion, absolutely beyond words, which quenched the sun and made the stars waver in their courses, which made Him sweat blood before His last agony, which made Him cry out His thirst and beg His Father for mercy during His agony.

[THE COMPASSION OF JESUS.] Reflect that Christ suffered in His heart with all the knowledge of a God, and that in His heart were all human hearts with all their sorrows, from the time of Adam until the consummation of the ages.

Ah, yes! Suffering for others, that can be a great joy when one has a generous soul, but suffering in others, that is what really deserves to be called suffering!

When he in whose church you go to pray every Sunday, when the wonderful Saint Vincent de Paul, having no other means of redeeming a poor galley convict, paid with his own person by taking on his irons in his place, this Christian hero must have felt a great joy, but at the same time a most great sorrow, a sorrow that infinitely surpassed that joy, when he said that his sacrifice could serve for only one miserable wretch and that around him a multitude of captives continued to suffer.

[REFLECT, MY GENTLE REDEEMER.] “My divine Saviour Jesus, who for two thousand years are crucified by me, for me, in me, and who Yourself are waiting to be set free while bleeding upon us, from the height of that terrible Cross which is the image and the infinitely mysterious likeness of Your devouring Spirit — I implore you to look upon my appalling wretchedness and utterly to have pity upon me. Reflect, my gentle Redeemer, that I, I too, have had pity on You, that Your sufferings have very often torn my heart, and that I have wept day and night tears without number while remembering Your agony. Have You not seen me whole years through at Your holy feet, shot through with love and compassion and turning away with horror from the joys of life in order to sob with Your Mother and the throng of Your dear martyrs who did not blush at accepting me for their companion? Nor can you have forgotten that out of respect for Your divine Wounds I have seldom neglected to suffer for the unhappy, and that I have drawn a few of them from the bottom of all abysses to bring them with brotherly love into Your presence.

“Nonetheless, You have demanded much of me, You have overwhelmed me with a very heavy burden, and You have willed that I should endure sorrows so great that You alone, my God, can know them. When I wanted, in these latter days, no longer to hope in You, to part from You forever, You sent me, in Your mercy, this sweet creature who loves You, who has been seeking You for so long a while and whom You have at last pushed into my arms. My divine Master, Yourself put to death, You cannot be the executioner of the poor souls for whom You are in agony. I implore You, by the sacred name of Joseph, by the pierced heart of Your Mother, and by the glorified bones of all Your saints, have pity upon my well-beloved Jeanne and upon me. Fill us to overflowing with Your grace and unite us into Your service forever.”

… WE must pray. Everything else is fruitless and stupid. We must pray to endure the horror of this world, we must pray to be pure, we must pray to obtain the strength to wait.

There is neither despair nor bitter sadness for the man who prays much. It is I who tell you that. If you but knew how much I have the right and with what authority I speak to you!

You know the commonplace troubles of life, but you do not know true Sorrow. You have not received the true blow that pierces the heart. Perhaps you never will receive it, for very few do, though many claim that they have.

There is an infinite number of men who have never grown up and think they suffer immeasurably while actually suffering very little. There is an infinite number who imagine that they have the Faith, yet whose faith would not raise a grain of dust. As for Hope and Love, what words have been more prostituted?

Faith, Hope and Charity, and Sorrow which is their substratum, are diamonds, and diamonds are rare, as you have learned. They are very expensive, never forget.

Diamonds of such sort cost Prayer, which is, itself, a priceless jewel only wrested by conquest.

[WHEN WE PRAY.] Christians know or ought to know that prayer is the surest of all forces, but its effects are unknown. When we pray we place in God’s hand a naked, magnificent and dread sword wherewith He doeth as He listeth, and we know nothing more. Prayer for a little child is surely the most mysterious of all with respect to its effects. We are then ourselves like children at the edge of the sea, or like beggars who look upon the Milky Way. In the heights and in the depths lie treasures or terrors beyond conception.

I feel strong, my dear Benoit, that is to say, able to act upon God (praevalens Deo), only when I feel my utter wretchedness and when this makes me weep. I refer, of course, to the wretchedness of my soul and mind, which in far more real than one might think. Believe me, all I may ever have written that was good, beautiful if you prefer, all that was profitable to a few souls, was given me because I wept over myself at the same time as I wept over many another, over the whole creation mutilated by the fall, and those blessed tears, they too, were a wonderfully free gift, so that I am, in truth, a very poor man, the poorest of the poor, God knows.

[ALONE IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.] To Jean de la Laurencie: Dear friend, my wife, who saw you today, tells me that you ascribe to me the power of comforting you. You have already written me similar things and it always astounds me. Does no one of your own age exist, so that you think you need me! What need have I not myself to lean upon someone! How many times have I tried it! How many times have I thought I had found columns of granite which were nothing but ashes, or even worse! And I am truly fearful that I myself am nothing more.

What little I have, God gave me without my playing any part in it, and what use have I made of it? The worst evil is not committing crimes but failing to do the good one could do. It is the sin of omission, which is nothing other than non-love, and of which no man accuses himself. Anyone who might watch me every day, at the earliest mass, would often see me weeping. These tears, which might be holy, are rather tears of great bitterness. I do not, at such moments, think of my sins, some few of which are enormous. I think of what I could have done and did not do, and I tell you it is black indeed .. .

Do not tell me that it is the same with everybody. God had given me the feeling, the need, the instinct — I do not know how to put it — of the Absolute, just as He has given quills to the porcupine and a trunk to the elephant. An extremely rare gift, of which I was aware even in childhood, a faculty more dangerous and tormenting even than genius, since it implies a constant and ravenous appetite for that which does not exist on earth, and since through it is infinite isolation acquired. I could become a saint, a worker of wonders. I have become a man of letters.

If only people knew that these sentences or pages they choose to admire are merely the residue of a supernatural gift of which I have made a hateful mess and for which I shall be required to make a fearful accounting!

I have not done what God wanted of me, that’s sure. I have dreamt, on the contrary, of what I wanted from God, and here I am, at sixty-eight, with nothing in my hands but paper! Ah! I know well that you will not believe me, that you will assume this to be some quirk of humility. Alas! When one is alone, in the presence of God, at the entrance of a most darksome avenue, one sees into oneself and is in no position to overrate oneself!

True kindliness, unadulterated good will, the simplicity of little children, all that calls for a kiss from the Mouth of Jesus — you know very well that you have none of this and that you really have nothing to give to poor suffering hearts which beg for succor. Here is my position with regard to you, dear friend. Certainly I can pray for you, I can suffer with you and for you, by trying to bear a little of your burden; yes, but the drop of water drawn from a chalice of the earthly Paradise it is impossible for me to give you. I have felt today I had the duty to tell you this so you might not count too much on a weak and sorrowful creature…

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On Suffering, Faith, Sanctity I – Léon Bloy

November 28, 2011

The Fiery Léon Bloy

“Bloy is quoted in the epigraph at the beginning of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair, and in the essay “The Mirror of Enigmas”, by the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who acknowledged his debt to him by naming him in the Foreword to his short story collection “Artifices” as one of seven authors who were in “the heterogeneous list of the writers I am continually re-reading”. In his novel The Harp and the Shadow, Alejo Carpentier excoriates Bloy as a raving, Columbus-defending lunatic during Vatican deliberations over the explorer’s canonization. Bloy is also quoted at the beginning of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, and there are several quotations from his Letters to my Fiancée in Charles Williams’s anthology The New Christian Year.

Bloy was born in Notre-Dame-de-Sanilhac, in the arondissement of Périgueux, Dordogne. He was the second of six sons of Voltairean freethinker and stern disciplinarian Jean Baptiste Bloy and his wife Anne-Marie Carreau, pious Spanish-Catholic daughter of a Napoleonic soldier. After an agnostic and unhappy youth[2] in which he cultivated an intense hatred for the Roman Catholic Church and its teaching, his father found him a job in Paris, where he went in 1864. In December 1868, he met the aging Catholic author Barbey d’Aurevilly, who lived opposite him in rue Rousselet and became his mentor. Shortly afterwards, he underwent a dramatic religious conversion.

Bloy’s works reflect a deepening devotion to the Catholic Church and most generally a tremendous craving for the Absolute. His devotion to religion resulted in a complete dependence on charity; he acquired his nickname (“The Ungrateful Beggar”) as a result of the many letters requesting financial aid from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers, all the while carrying on with his literary work, in which his eight-volume Diary takes an important place.

Bloy was a friend of the author Joris-Karl Huysmans, the painter Georges Rouault, and the philosopher Jacques Maritain, and was instrumental in reconciling these intellectuals with Roman Catholicism. However, he acquired a reputation for bigotry because of his frequent outbursts of temper; and his first novel, Le Désespéré, a fierce attack on rationalism and those he believed to be in league with it, made him fall out with the literary community of his time and even many of his old friends. Soon, Bloy could count such prestigious authors as Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Renan, Alphonse Daudet, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Paul Bourget and Anatole France as his enemies.”
From the Wikipedia article on Léon Bloy

The following quotes are taken from Jacques and Raissa Maritain’s tribute to Bloy Pilgrim of the Absolute.

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[SUFFERING.] Freedom, that prodigious, incomprehensible, indescribable gift by means of which we are given the power to vanquish the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to kill the incarnate Word, to stab seven times the Immaculate Conception, to excite at a single word all created spirits in the heavens and in hell, to hold God’s Will, Justice, Mercy and Pity in abeyance on His Lips and to prevent them from flowing down upon His creation; this inexpressible freedom is nothing but this: the respect God has for us.

Let us try to picture it a little to ourselves: God’s respect! And so great is this respect that never, since the law of grace, has God spoken to men with absolute authority. On the contrary, He has ever spoken with the timidity, the gentleness, I would even say the obsequiousness, of a poor petitioner whom no affront could rebuff. By a highly mysterious and inconceivable decree of His eternal will, God seems to have condemned Himself until the end of time never to exercise over man any immediate right of master to servant, of king to subject. If He desires to have us, He must seduce us, for if His Majesty does not please us, we can throw it from our presence, buffet it, scourge it and crucify it to the applause of the vilest rabble. God will not defend Himself with His power, but only with His patience and His Beauty.***

Between man involuntarily clothed in his freedom, and God voluntarily stripped of His power, it is normal that there be an antagonism; attack and resistance reasonably balance each other, and this perpetual combat between human nature and God is the gushing fountain of inexhaustible Suffering.

Suffering! Here then is the key word! Here the solution for every human life on earth! the springboard for every superiority, the sieve for every merit, the infallible criterion for every moral beauty! People absolutely refuse to understand that suffering is needful. Those who say that suffering is useful understand nothing about the matter. Usefulness always supposes something adjectival and contingent, and Suffering is necessary. It is the backbone, the very essence of moral life. Love is recognized by this sign, and when this sign is lacking, love is but a prostitution of strength or of beauty. I say that someone loves me when that someone consents to suffer through or for me.***

Well, we are — what, Lord God? — yes, we are the MEMBERS of Jesus Christ! His very members! Our unutterable wretchedness comes from our continually taking for figures or inanimate symbols the clearest and most living assertions of the Scriptures. We believe, but not substantially. Ah! the words of the Holy Ghost should enter and flow through our souls as did molten lead in the mouth of a parricide or a blasphemer. We do not understand that we are the members of the Man of Sorrows, of the Man who is supreme Joy, Love, Truth, Beauty, Light and Life solely because

He is the Lover eternally stricken with the supreme Suffering, the Pilgrim of the last torment, who, to endure it, rushed up through infinity, from the far deep of eternity, and on whose head have been heaped in an appallingly tragic unity of time, place and person, all the elements of torture, collected from every human act performed during each second, over the whole surface of the earth, for the length of sixty centuries! ***

We can use this as a starting point to measure all things. In declaring us members of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit clothed us with the dignity of Redeemers, and, when we refuse to suffer, we are straitly guilty of simony [vocab: Simony is the act of paying for sacraments and consequently for holy offices or for positions in the hierarchy of a church, named after Simon Magus (Also, Simon the Sorcerer), who appears in the Acts of the Apostles 8:9-24. Simon Magus offers the disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment so that anyone on whom he would place his hands would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the origin of the term simony; but, it also extends to other forms of trafficking for money in "spiritual things.”] and betrayal of trust.

We have been made for that, and for that alone. When we shed our blood it flows on Calvary, and from thence over the whole earth. Woe to us, therefore, if this blood be poisoned! When we shed our tears, which are “the blood of our souls,” they fall on the heart of the Virgin, and from there onto all living hearts. Our standing as members of Jesus Christ and sons of Mary has made us so great that we can drown the world in our tears. Woe, then, and three times woe upon us, if these tears are poisoned!

Everything in us is identical with Jesus Christ, to whose likeness we have been naturally and supernaturally shaped. So when we refuse suffering, we adulterate as much as we are able our own substance; we cause to enter into the very Flesh and even the Soul of our Head, a profanating [vocab: to profanate = to profane] element which He must afterwards cast from Himself and all His members by an inconceivable redoubling of torment.

Is all this clear? I have no idea. The gist of my thought is that in this tumbling world, all joys burst forth in the natural order, and all suffering bursts forth in the divine order.* * *

The Saints have sought the society of Jesus’s Passion. They believed the saying of the Master when He said that he possesses the greatest love who gives his life for his friends. [John 15, 13] In all ages, ardent and magnificent souls have thought that in order to do enough, it was absolutely necessary to do too much, and that thus did one ravish the Kingdom of the Heavens…

[PARADISE LOST.] Look about you on the distant mountains, on all the balconies of the horizon; look at those panic-stricken heads, those millions of faces taking on expressions of horror and grief as soon as the Fall and the lost Paradise are mentioned. Here is the universal testimony of men’s consciences: the deepest, the most invincible testimony.

There is but one sorrow and that is to have lost the Garden of Delights, and there is but one hope and one desire, to recover it. [There is but one regret…there is but one sorrow…Bloy seems to like this pattern. It’s a powerful one. dj]The poet seeks it in his own way, and the filthiest profligate seeks it in his. It is the only goal. Napoleon at Tilsit and a foul drunkard picked up in the gutter have precisely the same thirst. They must have the water from the Four Rivers of Paradise. All know instinctively that it cannot be bought too dearly. The ditch digger and the tinker spend their fortnight’s salary on it, and Napoleon, four million men.

Empti estis pretio magno (You have been bought at a great price). That is the key to everything, in the Absolute. When you know this, when you see it and realize it, you are like a God and ceaselessly do you weep. Your wish to see me less unhappy, kindly Raissa, is a thing that was in you, in your substantial being, in your soul which prolongs God, long before the birth of Nachor, who was Abraham’s grandfather. Strictly speaking, your desire is the desire for the Redemption accompanied by the presentiment or the intuition of what it cost Him who could pay. It is Christianity, and there is no other way of being a Christian. Kneel then at the edge of this fountain and pray for me thus:

“My God who has bought me at a great price, I most humbly beg You to make me at one in faith, hope and love with this poor man who is suffering in Your service, and who is perhaps suffering mysteriously for me. Set him free and set me free for the Eternal life which You have promised to all those who would hunger for You.”

Here, my most dear and blessed Raissa, is what a man truly sorrowful is able to write you today, but a man filled with the most sublime hope for himself and for all those he bears in his heart.”

[FAITH.] To Jacques Maritain:
You are seeking, you say. O professor of philosophy, O Cartesian, you believe, with Malebranche, that truth is something one seeks! You believe that the human mind is capable of something! You believe — in other words — that with a certain degree of effort a person with black eyes could manage to acquire green eyes spangled with gold! You eventually understand that one finds what he desires only on that day when he has most humbly renounced seeking what lay under his hand, unbeknown to him. For my part, I declare that I never sought or found anything, unless one wishes to describe as a discovery the fact of tripping blindly over a threshold and being thrown flat on one’s stomach into the House of Light. [Guess that takes care of Jacques’ pretentions…dj]

[THE FRIEND OF GOD] … At bottom, what should you do to avoid being an idiot or a swine? Merely this: you should do something great, you should lay aside all the foolishness of a more or less long existence, you should become resigned to the fact that you will seem ridiculous to a brace of janitors and a notary if you are to enter the service of Splendor. Then will you know what it is to be the friend of God.

The Friend of God! I am on the verge of tears when I think of it. No longer do you know on what block to lay your head, no longer do you know where you are, where you should go. You would like to tear out your heart, so hotly does it burn, and you cannot look upon a creature without trembling with love. You would like to drag yourself on your knees from church to church, with rotten fish strung from your neck, as said the sublime Angela da Foligno.

[I AM A PILGRIM WHOM THE VERY SUN DISSATISFIES.] To Henriette Charasson [Henreitte was part of a stable of writers who wrote for The Monthly Magazine, founded by Jean Daujat in 1933 and published until 1939. In addition to its own articles and those of Yvonne Estienne, there were many prestigious authors who wrote for the magazine, such as Father Garrigou-Lagrange, Mgt Ghika, Father Lallement, Jacques Maritain, Henri Gheon, Charles Du Bos, Stanislas Broth, Robert of Harcourt, Gustave Thibon, Henriette Charasson, Olivier Lacombe, Merleau-Ponty, and Jacques Madaule. dj]:

You say you are “anaesthetized,” which is the ugliest way of being dead. Why could you not be mistaken? Your love of the Beautiful shows you to have a lack of certainty which cannot help make you suffer. You have too much insight to hope that works of art will be able to satisfy your heart. You know very well that beyond the masterpieces there is a burning hearth of Love from which artists must necessarily draw their inspiration, without ever becoming satisfied, and that they cannot, even with genius, give more than a very faint echo, a most pallid reflection of that thunder and that furnace.

“You do not know,” says Ruysbroeck the Admirable, “the delights God gives, and the delicious taste of the Holy Spirit.” You know what that means. You must have lodged in your past, prior to the disaster that has befallen your faith, some remembrance of the joy of love, of the dazzlement of which he speaks; and the feelings or stirrings you have experienced over beautiful human works must have seemed little, compared with that wondrous moment.

Talent does what it wants, genius does what it can,” is Hello’s magnificent statement. The more a man has genius, the more he gives evidence of his incapacity. Here is what deep souls feel. An artist of talent shows all there is to be seen; an artist of genius imparts the desire for what cannot be seen, and so the matter stands. I am one of those whom nothing can satisfy, I am that pilgrim in La Femme Pauvre “whom the very sun dissatisfied.” How could I not have pity on you? The greatest poet, the greatest musician in the world is a beggar, a pitiable ragamuffin, a man dying of hunger and thirst, whom your alms of admiration is prodigiously, ridiculously incompetent to assuage. I have believed I saw a soul within you, and that is why I am writing you these things.

“When the first doubts pierced me,” you have written me, “I was stricken with horror because I thought that there was the breath of the Devil.” You were right, but this devil would certainly and on the spot have lost all his power had he told you his name: “I am the devil of the Hackneyed.” Everything you tell me is worn utterly threadbare. “I spent hours before my crucifix in order to find the truth … I could not accede to intellectual dishonesty, I could not practice when I no longer believed . . . I had acted as I thought I ought to.” Poor pensive lamb, who would have no further dealings either with grazing or with shepherd! “I no longer had a God, but I had the hope that someday I should cease being.” As though this frightful hope were a conceivable thing! And to this loss and hope you add “the love of the Beautiful”! But child though you are, how can you not have been aware that all this was hideously commonplace and mediocre, that the ringing of this change is to be found in every cheap novel? …

God refuses His grace to no one. If He has withdrawn it from you for a time, which I do not know that He has, it is because there lies within you some obstacle unknown to me, but which your conscience must surely point out to you. You speak of dishonesty, as if it could ever be dishonest to obey! To practice when one no longer believes! You are very wide off the mark and the meaning of the words escapes you. Here is simply a case of seasickness. One day I was on the Baltic, making my first sea voyage. As I stepped aboard, I decided I should not be seasick — an ailment as ridiculous as it is painful. An hour later I felt it coming on. My will to resist thereby grew all the firmer, and I began to walk about like a wild man, telling myself that I would not give in. Complete victory, dizziness and nausea disappeared, and my joy at having triumphed over them was a delight.

Well, my poor little one, you are doing the exact opposite; though you know better, you cowardly retreat before phantoms. Pretty and clever, either by choice or by laziness you pledge your troth to ugliness and folly. What a future is ahead of you! A sophist against yourself and a sentimentalist against God, it is all too easy for me to challenge you to scorn that which I adore.

As much as I reread your letter, I do not find a single intellectual objection in it, a single argument, even though specious. Nothing but literary cant phrases. Make a clean breast of it; confession frightens you, pure and simple obedience revolts you, and the Hail Mary or the Our Father seem less beautiful to you than a poem by Baudelaire. How you must suffer at having come down to so low a level!

This morning at mass I was reading the liturgical words of the day’s communion: “Qui manducat meam carnem … He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him.” I thought of you, of others who are dying of hunger and thirst, and tears welled up within me. These inexpressibly holy and mysterious words became a gulf of splendors for me. I shall try to translate this into a book which I have tremblingly in mind. Trembling from what I see, trembling from what I know, trembling from what I do not know. More and more I work in this way. I go to mass, I go to communion. I say the rosary with the joy or the hope of being with the simple and the little ones, to whom belongs the “kingdom of heaven.” The vast door, then, half opens … I come back twice as strong, often heaped with delights, having God in me.

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