Archive for the ‘Scriptural Exegesis’ Category

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On Divine Providence 4 — Fr. Romano Guardini

June 19, 2014
Gauguin self portrait with The Yellow Christ in background. In this self-portrait Paul Gauguin created an abstract image of himself and his art using large patches of bold colors and heavy black lines. How do the colors, lines, and shapes in this painting express the character of Gauguin? How might the artist want to be remembered? Like many of the Post-Impressionist artists, Gauguin was interested in painting how he felt rather than what he saw. Gauguin began painting in Europe in the late 1800s, around the time that the automobile, airplane, camera, and telephone were invented. As you can imagine, these inventions had a dramatic impact on daily life. Some people enjoyed the comfort and efficiency that modernity brought while others resented the new, fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle. Unlike the Impressionist artists before him, Gauguin was a member of a group of painters and poets who sought to escape the stress of the modernizing world. Many Impressionist painters created scenes of modernity and city life using large brushstrokes and textured surfaces. Gauguin too painted with large brushstrokes and patches of color but instead of depicting European modernity, Gauguin painted serene images of the pre-industrial world. In order to find appropriate subject matter Gauguin traveled to the quaint countryside of Brittany, France, and later to the island of Tahiti. In Brittany and Tahiti Gauguin was sheltered from the modern world. In the background of this self-portrait are images of art created by Gauguin during his time abroad. Gauguin painted The Yellow Christ in the French countryside and created woodcarvings in Tahiti. Gauguin included these pieces of art in his self-portrait in order to symbolize the importance of his experiences abroad. The art that Gauguin and his peers created is now referred to as Symbolist art. This name came from the artists’ desire to create art that symbolizes thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In the late 1800s, the idea of painting to convey emotion rather than physical reality was truly revolutionary.

Gauguin self portrait with The Yellow Christ in background. In this self-portrait Paul Gauguin created an abstract image of himself and his art using large patches of bold colors and heavy black lines. How do the colors, lines, and shapes in this painting express the character of Gauguin? How might the artist want to be remembered? Like many of the Post-Impressionist artists, Gauguin was interested in painting how he felt rather than what he saw.
Gauguin began painting in Europe in the late 1800s, around the time that the automobile, airplane, camera, and telephone were invented. As you can imagine, these inventions had a dramatic impact on daily life. Some people enjoyed the comfort and efficiency that modernity brought while others resented the new, fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle. Unlike the Impressionist artists before him, Gauguin was a member of a group of painters and poets who sought to escape the stress of the modernizing world. Many Impressionist painters created scenes of modernity and city life using large brushstrokes and textured surfaces. Gauguin too painted with large brushstrokes and patches of color but instead of depicting European modernity, Gauguin painted serene images of the pre-industrial world.
In order to find appropriate subject matter Gauguin traveled to the quaint countryside of Brittany, France, and later to the island of Tahiti. In Brittany and Tahiti Gauguin was sheltered from the modern world. In the background of this self-portrait are images of art created by Gauguin during his time abroad. Gauguin painted The Yellow Christ in the French countryside and created woodcarvings in Tahiti. Gauguin included these pieces of art in his self-portrait in order to symbolize the importance of his experiences abroad. The art that Gauguin and his peers created is now referred to as Symbolist art. This name came from the artists’ desire to create art that symbolizes thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In the late 1800s, the idea of painting to convey emotion rather than physical reality was truly revolutionary.

We must learn to make our life itself a prayer
Once man has understood that prayer is not an exceptional state but a permanent element of an existence which is directed toward God, he will extend it to every aspect of his daily life. There are different ways of doing this. 

There is, above all, the contemplative approach. It originates in the act of prayer itself and consists in introducing certain elements of contemplation into the routine of daily life. For instance, if we frequently recollect ourselves and establish the consciousness of the presence of God, a series of stations of prayer will be set up in the course of the day which will draw closer and closer together. Or from contemplation with its explicit focusing on God we may develop a general attitude of reverence which permeates the day’s activity, imparting to it a religious character. Out of this gradually develops what is called “moving in the presence of God” or “life in the sight of God.” 

But we can also make the idea of Providence our starting-point. We can, as it were, live ourselves into this conception and thus establish an intimate contact with God’s rule and a permanent consciousness or feeling that God is at work in every event. If in the course of the day we think again and again of this living, tender, yet mighty mystery, or feel it, this becomes a true act of prayer, which we can extend to any length we desire.

In so doing, we need not turn aside from the normal activities of life because it is just in these activities that the prayer takes place. We receive what happens as coming from the Father and offer our own work up to Him -making it part of His work. We see ourselves in a holy association with Him in the light of which we understand our life from hour to hour. In this armor we can stand forth boldly in the world.

Here life itself becomes prayer. This can bring many profound experiences. Thus St. Augustine tells in the ninth book of his Confessions how he had once suffered from an intense pain and had been delivered from it by his prayer. “But what kind of pain was it? Or how did it leave me? I was startled, I admit, my Lord and God, for I had never experienced anything of the kind in all my life and deep in my heart I understood Thy sign and, rejoicing in faith, glorified Thy name.” [St. Augustine, Confessions Bk9, Ch.4, Para12]

The emotion which even today lives in these words does not spring from the intensity of the pain or its startling relief but from the saint’s experience, in a context of pain, prayer, and liberation, of God’s providential act. It was as if he had been transported to the center of existence of which before he had known only the outer aspect or, at best, had had the merest inkling. Nothing very special had happened. 

Pain is a daily occurrence, and there may be many reasons for its disappearance. But in all this he had experienced the mysterious working of Providence. In it the ordinary daily events suddenly become hints and signs which we under­ stand deep in our hearts and to which we respond with adoration and praise. Such an experience, however, is an extraordinary event and is granted by God’s special favor; it shows the luminous goal of the road which the faithful should tread.

We should offer our lives and suffering to God
Even when we were children we were told that we should, at the beginning of the day and frequently during it, make the “good   resolution” that all our actions should be to the glory of God. The meaning and value of any action ultimately depends on what is intended — that is to say, on the motive and mentality from which it springs. The intention changes from time to time with the alertness and purity of our state of mind and with the character of the object.

Thus we have been admonished that the whole course of our life should be dedicated indeflectibly by an explicit act of resolve to the greater glory of God. Everything, even the most ordinary and insignificant action, can serve this greater glory, as St. Paul puts it in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” [1 Corinthians 10:31]

In the passage leading to these words St. Paul discusses whether one is permitted to eat certain foods. He brings this matter to a conclusion by saying that such distinctions are of relative unimportance compared with the supreme demand that the whole of life with everything that happens should be a holy service performed before the majesty of God. 

By the good resolution our intention should be constantly redirected toward God and the resulting action offered up to Him as a just due. One should not object to this by saying that such an act is contrived and artificial, for what St. Paul had in mind was the basic attitude of the faithful, which should determine every­ thing, both great and small. No doubt, to make the good resolution could be called something contrivedcontrived, however, in the sense of an act of the will which has been mentioned several times in the course of this book. The examining, ordering, and uplifting of our actions to God must, to begin with, be consciously willed until it gradually becomes second nature and can in due course determine our conduct.

The right way to offer ourselves to God
All the same, the way in which this conception should be formulated and put into practice needs to be given some thought. Frequently the so-called ordering of our actions toward God takes very little account of what this really means but merely consists in giving to the action — provided of course it is morally good or at least unobjectionable — a label “To the Glory of God” (rather in the nature of a mathematical sign).

But does not this show a certain disregard for the true essence of the action? The glory of God is not served by doing something merely as a duty or at least to avoid sin, and then offering it up to God, but rather by doing right for its own sake and for what would seem to be God’s own reasons, in the way in which circumstances demand and conscience approves, as men have a right to expect and in accordance with tact, friendship, love, loyalty, and honor. What is thus right in itself is brought by that same dedication before the Creator, the Lord of all things. 

There exists, however, a mentality which would overlook the essential rightness of an action and maintain that, as long as no sin is committed, what is being done is fundamentally a matter of indifference. According to this view, what really matters is that the letter of the law should be obeyed and that this obedience should be inspired by the right intention. This may be appropriate at certain moments of the spiritual life when, for instance, the striving toward objectivity has tempted man to set himself up as the ultimate judge of his conduct. Generally speaking, however, this sort of mentality destroys the responsibility which the Creator has imposed on man toward His creation.

By thismean, of course, that achievement as such is the measure action in the sight of God. If this were so, only the most would be capable of serving Him — quite apart fromthat no human achievement can claim to be noteworthy in the eyes of God.

What ultimately determines the value of our action is the intentionbehind it, whether the results are commensurate with this or not. 

The intention, however, must not disregard the action itself. On the contrary, must see to it, to the best of our ability, that the action is appropriate and sensible. A good deed does not consist inthe right thing and doing it just anyhow, but rather it consists in our doing it as well as we can and in our obedience to will of the Creator as it is expressed in the laws of the world. 

Providence presents to the individual, in the form of an over­ all situation, people, conditions, and circumstances which are important him at that moment, and demands of him that he should act on an abstract principle nor, on the other hand, with subjective arbitrariness, but in accordance with the demands inherent in the situation itself. 

To recognize God’s will in the challenge of a situation and to comply with it in the appropriate way is truly doing everything to His greater glory. 

If, then, the “practice of the good resolution” rests on such foundations, it is endowed with a new depth, and the element of fortuitousness and irrelevance in “everything to the greater glory of God” disappears. The intention to act to the glory of God combines with the responsibility toward His will inherent in the order of reality and the challenge of the situation; thus the action becomes that of a man who is conscious of his responsibility for the care of God’s kingdom. 

God continually transforms creation
It is frequently said that Christianity must regain more of its eschatological character. The eschata the last things — are the things which happen at the end of time: the second coming of Christ, His judgment, the end of the world, and the beginning of the new creation

Eschatological is an attitude in which those last things come into their own. Thus not only does the believer know that the world and history will one day come to an end and that, when everything is submitted to the judgment of Christ, eternity will be in accordance with this judgment; the believer will also realize that that which will one day be revealed openly has now already begun, hidden and denied though it still be. 

This also means that everything in existence now does not yet have its true form. What people and things really are will be revealed when our Lord returns. Everything happens with a view to that event, enclosed, enshrined, in the message of Revelation. “Dearly be­ loved, we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like to Him: because we shall see Him as He is.”

For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be re­vealed in us. For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even until now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen is not hope. For what a man seeth why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience.

The world which is seemingly so clearly defined, distinct, sure, and so utterly concrete, is in fact none of these things; in it God is effecting a constant process of transformation. Under cover of the old, in day-to-day events, encounters, and actions, grows the new world which will be completed at the second coming of Christ. True eschatological feeling consists in bearing the idea of this process in mind and carrying it as a solace and inner strength, putting oneself in contact with the all-permeating mystery of divine government.

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Divine Providence 3 — Fr. Romano Guardini

June 18, 2014
Christ-in-the-Garden

Gauguin is celebrated for his astounding color and ravishing design. But his work is also full of mysteries – idols, angels, spirits of the dead. Detail from Gauguin’s Christ in the Garden of Olives. Photograph: Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida. The 1906 exhibition of Gauguin’s work left Picasso more than ever in this artist’s thrall. Gauguin demonstrated the most disparate types of art — not to speak of elements from metaphysics, ethnology, symbolism, the Bible, classical myths, and much else besides — could be combined into a synthesis that was of its time yet timeless. An artist could also confound conventional notions of beauty, he demonstrated, by harnessing his demons to the dark gods (not necessarily Tahitian ones) and tapping a new source of divine energy.

We must offer ourselves to be instruments of Providence
In the light of these considerations, prayer becomes the request that God may fulfill His holy Providence in the life of the worship­per. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” says the Lord’s Prayer. This will is directed to the coming of the kingdom and the coming of the new earth. Thus prays the man who shares with God the care that His will may be done not only in the general course of history but in his own individual life. 

If this request is to be serious, it must mean that the worshipper holds himself at the disposal of the holy plan, declaring himself willing to do his share and to take upon himself everything that this involves, even though it be very onerous. 

The will of God for His kingdom does not work itself out in accordance with the limitations which He has imposed upon Himself in the laws of nature governing the growth of trees and the course of the stars, but in the fullness of freedom. Thus man in prayer must will the coming of the kingdom. Herein lies the gravity of being a Christian: the inescapability of the call, in which no one can take another’s place because everyone has his appointed part.

We must constantly pray for guidance
Out of this awareness arises the prayer that God may show us what we should do. Here it is not a matter of fixed rules which we must acknowledge and carry out, but of concrete realities which must be understood in the context of divine action and of the reality not yet in being for which man is responsible and in which he must play his part. Thus we must ask God to give us eyes to see. 

“It is a great grace to be allowed to see,” says the poet, and this is true. The will of God may be revealed in everything around us, but we do not see it because our eyes are held down. They art held down by weakness, sloth, cowardice, and self-seeking. They can be opened only from within, from that innermost ground accessible to God alone.

Equally, it is an infinite grace to see “what is not yet” — not the irrelevant or the fantastic, but that which concerns us and can come into being only by our doing. This may be small or great: the good of a person entrusted to our care or a thought which is destined one day to influence the whole world. We must therefore ask God to draw the attention of our hearts to the call of the yet unrealized. Even greater than the grace of understanding is the grace of putting into effect, by which the will is strengthened and made patient so that it may persevere through all difficulties in its endeavors. 

Prayer is also the best opportunity for learning the acid test of faith in Providence, namely the acceptance of difficulty and pain. As long as things go our way or troubles are experienced merely as obstacles that strengthen our resolve, it is easy enough to believe that everything is being guided by providential love.

The greatness of the demand becomes apparent when our vision and will are left in the dark and there seems to be no sense or meaning in what is happening. This is the time for the victory of our faith, which conquers the world. That faith puts its trust in the word of God that everything which happens is within His Providence even though we cannot feel it. It maintains that behind the apparent confusion there is a plan, behind loss a gain which cannot yet be recognized, and that through all trouble something valid is developing. This “yes” to God’s wisdom and power is learnt in prayer. By constant attempts the heart sincerely, generously, and courageously practices this affirmation to the mysterious working of God’s love.

Prayer links the supernatural to the historical
It has been said that Christian prayer is not suited to modern man and that he has outgrown it. True, there have been people in all ages who have advanced this argument, when it would have been more honest to say that man did not want to pray. But all the same there is some truth in this assertion.

Christian prayer has to a large extent lost contact with life as it now is. For instance, it is said with some justification that prayer has become a passive affair of concern only to women, while man, whose nature it is to act can have little part in it. 

Throughout the ages women’s share in prayer has played an important part. When it is revealed at the Last Judgment what has worked in the whole of existence as well as in individual lives, when it is revealed who were the sustained and who the sustainers what has been preserved and what would have been confused without such protection, then it will be seen how much of man’s struggling and striving was made possible by the hidden prayers of women. Life as a whole — the attitude which determines it, the mentality which carries it, the matters which concern it, the words which it uses — is frequently influenced by women in a manner in which men cannot share.

Fundamentally, too, the normal woman cannot exercise this kind of influence because in the relationship between a man and a woman, if one dominates the other in the wrong way, the essential character of each is spoilt. If the feminine aspect is suppressed, the masculine degenerates into the purely male. If,on the other hand, the man ceases to play a part in any particular sphere of life, the woman becomes merely female. The same sort of disturbance of balance has overtaken prayer. 

It often appears that prayer is shunning active participation in life and, having withdrawn into a sphere of its own, is concerned only with otherworldly matters. The future of Christian life depends, among other things, on whether prayer can establish an active link with life as it is and with the stream of history. Here, again, the idea of Providence is the starting-point. In such a conception of prayer, man has as important a place as woman.

We must pray that God’s will may be done
In this context prayer for others assumes its proper meaning. Its most immediate form is making specific requests — for example, that the sick may be well again, that a professional difficulty may be solved, that a threatening disaster may be averted, and so forth. But these are only the outward manifestations of something far more profound . The illness, for example, does not stand by itself, but has its place in the life history of the particular individual. Thus prayer becomes right only if we implore God to fulfill in this illness His providential will over that person and to help him to reach that understanding, undergo that test, or reach that maturity which is meant to come to him through the illness. 

The prayer that God’s will be done therefore does not mean that the inevitable should be fulfilled and that we are prepared to resign ourselves to it. The will of God is not a fate which has to be endured, but a holy and meaningful act which ushers in a new creation . The demand is that the work should be fulfilled in the way which helps that creation most.

This is as true for the world as a whole as for the individual. The course of the world would be very different if the faithful offered up events to God in the right kind of prayer — and not only with the intent that He should help in this matter or prevent that emergency — but that the great work of His will and the glory of His kingdom should come to the earthly fulfillment that is meant for it here and now.

According to the degree of insight, this prayer will demand something specific, but apart from that it will consist in man “seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness,” carrying in his heart the care for the coming of the kingdom and thus creating there a space of realization and an opening for the will of God to pour into the world. 

The externals succeed only if they are supported from within . The world can exist only if it is somewhere known, lived, and suffered in the spirit. This quiet, secret space which the world in its noisy arrogance does not consider, whose existence it ignores, is being hewn by prayer out of Providence .

We should remain constant in prayer
The spiritual masters say that prayer should gradually extend from the short time in which it is explicitly practiced to the whole day.They remind us of the words of the Lord that we ought “always to pray, and not to faint.” [Luke 18:1] This refers, in the first place, to the earnestness with which the believer calls to the Father for help until his prayer is answered.

But beyond this it refers to the constancy of prayer in general, through which his prayers should develop from a specific practice to an intrinsic part of his life and from an act to an attitude or state of being. 

The justification for this is perhaps not easily understood. It presumes that the inner life has already reached a certain degree of development and that conversation with God has become very dear to the heart. This, however, one cannot force. Thus one should not propose to do anything for which the time is not right.

In spiritual matters zeal is important but circumspection, which knows how to wait until the time is ripe, is equally so. 

 

We must offer ourselves to be instruments of Providence
In the light of these considerations, prayer becomes the request that God may fulfill His holy Providence in the life of the worship­per. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” says the Lord’s Prayer. This will is directed to the coming of the kingdom and the coming of the new earth. Thus prays the man who shares with God the care that His will may be done not only in the general course of history but in his own individual life. 

If this request is to be serious, it must mean that the worshipper holds himself at the disposal of the holy plan, declaring himself willing to do his share and to take upon himself everything that this involves, even though it be very onerous. 

The will of God for His kingdom does not work itself out in accordance with the limitations which He has imposed upon Himself in the laws of nature governing the growth of trees and the course of the stars, but in the fullness of freedom. Thus man in prayer must will the coming of the kingdom. Herein lies the gravity of being a Christian: the inescapability of the call, in which no one can take another’s place because everyone has his appointed part.

We must constantly pray for guidance
Out of this awareness arises the prayer that God may show us what we should do. Here it is not a matter of fixed rules which we must acknowledge and carry out, but of concrete realities which must be understood in the context of divine action and of the reality not yet in being for which man is responsible and in which he must play his part. Thus we must ask God to give us eyes to see. 

“It is a great grace to be allowed to see,” says the poet, and this is true. The will of God may be revealed in everything around us, but we do not see it because our eyes are held down. They art held down by weakness, sloth, cowardice, and self-seeking. They can be opened only from within, from that innermost ground accessible to God alone.

Equally, it is an infinite grace to see “what is not yet” — not the irrelevant or the fantastic, but that which concerns us and can come into being only by our doing. This may be small or great: the good of a person entrusted to our care or a thought which is destined one day to influence the whole world. We must therefore ask God to draw the attention of our hearts to the call of the yet unrealized. Even greater than the grace of understanding is the grace of putting into effect, by which the will is strengthened and made patient so that it may persevere through all difficulties in its endeavors. 

Prayer is also the best opportunity for learning the acid test of faith in Providence, namely the acceptance of difficulty and pain. As long as things go our way or troubles are experienced merely as obstacles that strengthen our resolve, it is easy enough to believe that everything is being guided by providential love.

The greatness of the demand becomes apparent when our vision and will are left in the dark and there seems to be no sense or meaning in what is happening. This is the time for the victory of our faith, which conquers the world. That faith puts its trust in the word of God that everything which happens is within His Providence even though we cannot feel it. It maintains that behind the apparent confusion there is a plan, behind loss a gain which cannot yet be recognized, and that through all trouble something valid is developing. This “yes” to God’s wisdom and power is learnt in prayer. By constant attempts the heart sincerely, generously, and courageously practices this affirmation to the mysterious working of God’s love.

Prayer links the supernatural to the historical
It has been said that Christian prayer is not suited to modern man and that he has outgrown it. True, there have been people in all ages who have advanced this argument, when it would have been more honest to say that man did not want to pray. But all the same there is some truth in this assertion.

Christian prayer has to a large extent lost contact with life as it now is. For instance, it is said with some justification that prayer has become a passive affair of concern only to women, while man, whose nature it is to act can have little part in it. 

Throughout the ages women’s share in prayer has played an important part. When it is revealed at the Last Judgment what has worked in the whole of existence as well as in individual lives, when it is revealed who were the sustained and who the sustainers what has been preserved and what would have been confused without such protection, then it will be seen how much of man’s struggling and striving was made possible by the hidden prayers of women. Life as a whole — the attitude which determines it, the mentality which carries it, the matters which concern it, the words which it uses — is frequently influenced by women in a manner in which men cannot share.

Fundamentally, too, the normal woman cannot exercise this kind of influence because in the relationship between a man and a woman, if one dominates the other in the wrong way, the essential character of each is spoilt. If the feminine aspect is suppressed, the masculine degenerates into the purely male. If,on the other hand, the man ceases to play a part in any particular sphere of life, the woman becomes merely female. The same sort of disturbance of balance has overtaken prayer. 

It often appears that prayer is shunning active participation in life and, having withdrawn into a sphere of its own, is concerned only with otherworldly matters. The future of Christian life depends, among other things, on whether prayer can establish an active link with life as it is and with the stream of history. Here, again, the idea of Providence is the starting-point. In such a conception of prayer, man has as important a place as woman.

We must pray that God’s will may be done
In this context prayer for others assumes its proper meaning. Its most immediate form is making specific requests — for example, that the sick may be well again, that a professional difficulty may be solved, that a threatening disaster may be averted, and so forth. But these are only the outward manifestations of something far more profound . The illness, for example, does not stand by itself, but has its place in the life history of the particular individual. Thus prayer becomes right only if we implore God to fulfill in this illness His providential will over that person and to help him to reach that understanding, undergo that test, or reach that maturity which is meant to come to him through the illness. 

The prayer that God’s will be done therefore does not mean that the inevitable should be fulfilled and that we are prepared to resign ourselves to it. The will of God is not a fate which has to be endured, but a holy and meaningful act which ushers in a new creation . The demand is that the work should be fulfilled in the way which helps that creation most.

This is as true for the world as a whole as for the individual. The course of the world would be very different if the faithful offered up events to God in the right kind of prayer — and not only with the intent that He should help in this matter or prevent that emergency — but that the great work of His will and the glory of His kingdom should come to the earthly fulfillment that is meant for it here and now.

According to the degree of insight, this prayer will demand something specific, but apart from that it will consist in man “seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness,” carrying in his heart the care for the coming of the kingdom and thus creating there a space of realization and an opening for the will of God to pour into the world. 

The externals succeed only if they are supported from within . The world can exist only if it is somewhere known, lived, and suffered in the spirit. This quiet, secret space which the world in its noisy arrogance does not consider, whose existence it ignores, is being hewn by prayer out of Providence .

We should remain constant in prayer
The spiritual masters say that prayer should gradually extend from the short time in which it is explicitly practiced to the whole day.They remind us of the words of the Lord that we ought “always to pray, and not to faint.” [Luke 18:1] This refers, in the first place, to the earnestness with which the believer calls to the Father for help until his prayer is answered.

But beyond this it refers to the constancy of prayer in general, through which his prayers should develop from a specific practice to an intrinsic part of his life and from an act to an attitude or state of being. 

The justification for this is perhaps not easily understood. It presumes that the inner life has already reached a certain degree of development and that conversation with God has become very dear to the heart. This, however, one cannot force. Thus one should not propose to do anything for which the time is not right.

In spiritual matters zeal is important but circumspection, which knows how to wait until the time is ripe, is equally so. 

 

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On Divine Providence 2 — Fr. Romano Guardini

June 17, 2014
In March 1892, Gauguin wrote to a friend in France describing a painting he had recently completed, which he considered his best work since arriving in Tahiti a year earlier. ‘A yellow angel points out Mary and Jesus to two Tahitian women. Mary and Jesus are likewise Tahitians and naked, except for the paréo, a flowered cotton cloth tied to suit one’s fancy. In the background very dark mountains and blossoming trees. Foreground emerald green. To the left bananas…’ Entitled Ia Orana Maria (Tahitian for ‘Hail Mary’), the painting embodied Gauguin’s life-long fascination with the exotic. He had traveled to the South Pacific hoping to find artistic inspiration in ‘primitive’ cultures living in harmony with nature and unsullied by European values. Instead, he found a world already transformed by colonial rule and Christianity. Gauguin probably learned the term ‘Ia Orana Maria’ from the Catholic missionaries who had converted Mataiea – the region where Gauguin painted this image – long before the artist arrived. But in his paintings Gauguin created the world he sought, interweaving the mythologies and imagery of the islands with that of the West and his own imagination. Gauguin himself had a relatively exotic background – brought up in Peru, educated in France, Gauguin had traveled the seas as a merchant marine and later became a successful stockbroker in Paris. He started painting in the 1870s, studying with his friend Pissarro and after he lost his job in the 1882 stock market crash, took up painting full time. He exhibited with the Impressionists but by the late 1880s, he had begun his nomadic search for a simpler, more meaningful way of painting and of life. He first traveled to remote Brittany, where, inspired by local folklores and customs, he painted images of flattened, simplified forms and bold colour imbued with symbolic meaning. He employed this same Symbolist vocabulary in Polynesia in works like this one, in which he transforms a Christian subject into a tropical dream. Gauguin derived the scene’s unusual composition from a photograph of a bas-relief from the Javanese temple of Borobodur. Mary is depicted as a beautiful, Tahitian girl wearing a red print sarong with the Christ child, a naked, sturdy-looking toddler, sitting on her shoulder. Both have gold halos and Christ leans his cheek on his mother’s head, looking directly at the viewer. The fruit at Mary’s feet is laid out in a ‘fata,’ a platform used by the Polynesians to make offerings to the gods. Further back, two young girls, naked from the waist up, hold their hands in prayer as if worshipping. Beside them, partially obscured by tropical leaves and flowers, is an almost Botticelli-like angel with colourful wings and long black tresses who seems to act as their intercessor with the holy pair. Gauguin would produce numerous paintings of his exotic paradise, despite his less than idyllic life there. Short of funds, he returned to Paris briefly in 1893 to raise money, selling this painting for 2000 francs. Returning to Polynesia, he continued to paint but descended into poverty and morphine addiction, dying of syphilis in 1903.

In March 1892, Gauguin wrote to a friend in France describing a painting he had recently completed, which he considered his best work since arriving in Tahiti a year earlier. ‘A yellow angel points out Mary and Jesus to two Tahitian women. Mary and Jesus are likewise Tahitians and naked, except for the paréo, a flowered cotton cloth tied to suit one’s fancy. In the background very dark mountains and blossoming trees. Foreground emerald green. To the left bananas…’
Entitled Ia Orana Maria (Tahitian for ‘Hail Mary’), the painting embodied Gauguin’s life-long fascination with the exotic. He had traveled to the South Pacific hoping to find artistic inspiration in ‘primitive’ cultures living in harmony with nature and unsullied by European values. Instead, he found a world already transformed by colonial rule and Christianity. Gauguin probably learned the term ‘Ia Orana Maria’ from the Catholic missionaries who had converted Mataiea – the region where Gauguin painted this image – long before the artist arrived. But in his paintings Gauguin created the world he sought, interweaving the mythologies and imagery of the islands with that of the West and his own imagination.
Gauguin himself had a relatively exotic background – brought up in Peru, educated in France, Gauguin had traveled the seas as a merchant marine and later became a successful stockbroker in Paris. He started painting in the 1870s, studying with his friend Pissarro and after he lost his job in the 1882 stock market crash, took up painting full time. He exhibited with the Impressionists but by the late 1880s, he had begun his nomadic search for a simpler, more meaningful way of painting and of life. He first traveled to remote Brittany, where, inspired by local folklores and customs, he painted images of flattened, simplified forms and bold colour imbued with symbolic meaning.
He employed this same Symbolist vocabulary in Polynesia in works like this one, in which he transforms a Christian subject into a tropical dream. Gauguin derived the scene’s unusual composition from a photograph of a bas-relief from the Javanese temple of Borobodur. Mary is depicted as a beautiful, Tahitian girl wearing a red print sarong with the Christ child, a naked, sturdy-looking toddler, sitting on her shoulder. Both have gold halos and Christ leans his cheek on his mother’s head, looking directly at the viewer. The fruit at Mary’s feet is laid out in a ‘fata,’ a platform used by the Polynesians to make offerings to the gods. Further back, two young girls, naked from the waist up, hold their hands in prayer as if worshipping. Beside them, partially obscured by tropical leaves and flowers, is an almost Botticelli-like angel with colourful wings and long black tresses who seems to act as their intercessor with the holy pair.
Gauguin would produce numerous paintings of his exotic paradise, despite his less than idyllic life there. Short of funds, he returned to Paris briefly in 1893 to raise money, selling this painting for 2000 francs. Returning to Polynesia, he continued to paint but descended into poverty and morphine addiction, dying of syphilis in 1903.

Contemplative prayer reveals the workings of Providence
In the world of the New Testament, Christian consciousness is steeped in the idea of Divine Providence, and with unsophisticated people whose lives are — or appear to be — governed by forces entirely beyond their control, this is still to a certain extent true today.

But, generally speaking, faith in Divine Providence does not now play an important part in Christian life. There are many causes for this which we cannot discuss here, but undoubtedly a more active faith in Providence should be an essential factor in the Christian life and, for that matter, also in Christian prayer.

Above all we should reflect on Divine Providence in order to understand and to absorb its meaning. We have talked about contemplation — one of its most fruitful subjects should be the message of Divine Providence, especially the words of our Lord on this subject, not only in the great passage in the Sermon on the Mount, but also His other utterances, teachings, and parables throughout the Gospels. We should also contemplate Christ’s own relationship to the will of the Father, that experience  which He called His “hour,” [John 2:4; 7:30; 12:27] the way in which He experienced and underwent events, and the temper of His mind.

Then we must learn to understand the world and history in the context of Providence, overcoming the concept of an impersonal, mechanistic world order which has been forced upon us by science and is reflected in the attitude of the masses. This conception is false. By it, the world is taken out of the hands of God, but it does not thereby acquire an independent scientific or cultural status, but passes into the hands of God’s enemy.

Thus the task is, by contemplation, to draw the world back into its true focus. The doctrine of Providence runs counter to the general trend of opinion. Here we must hold our ground. It is the battle of faith whose victory “overcomes the world” — the old regenerate world — and ushers in the new eternal one.

Contemplation reveals what God demands of us in this moment
In the Sermon on the Mount there is the Lord’s Prayer. Its true meaning becomes clear only in the light of the doctrine of Providence. Not until we recognize that it is the living God who governs the destiny of the world and evaluate the meaning of our own individual existence under this aspect and, even more, not until we also understand that the kingdom of God is entrusted to our care, weak and insufficient as we are will we grasp the full import of the Lord’s Prayer.

We are not so much concerned here with the wider implications of Providence as with God’s governance as it is fulfilled from event to event in the life of the individual. Thus it is the task of contemplation to try to grasp the pattern of this life and the meaning of meaning of specific phases and situations in the light of Divine Providence.

This Providence does not unfold according to a fixed program but works through the facts and developments in our lives. The streams of general and personal existence flow together. Irresistibly conditions change and causes act, phenomena appear and disappear. At the same time something strange happens: the flow of events assumes an order around us and seems to pose a challenge.

“Look,” it appears to say, “understand, act, do what is required at this moment for the coming of the kingdom, for if you fail to do it now, it can never be done again.” This is the situation, “the hour,” my hour, in which the will of God becomes concrete for me. This is the situation which I make part of my contemplation and try to understand. “What does it mean in the sight of God? What is my part in it?”

God demands something of me which belongs to “His kingdom and its righteousness.” [Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31] He demands it of me and He demands it now. He will enable me to understand what this is. “How?” we might ask. We obtain this understanding not through mystical experience or illumination but throughout the truth inherent in the situation. The truth of this situation will be revealed as soon as we cease to regard it from the point of view of the world or our own self-will, but take it to God, ready to submit it to His judgment. 

The uncertainty about what to do may spring from various sources. For instance, the situation may not as yet present a clear challenge and one cannot therefore know what is the right course: in this case one should not act but wait. Or vision and judgment may be lacking, in which case one should do one’s best according to one’s lights. The obscurity may be due to the fact that man is not in agreement with God; his own will pits itself against the manifest will of God, blinding vision and blurring judgment.

As soon as he has convinced himself that the will of God is right and salutary, and he has made himself free and ready to act upon it, the uncertainties vanish — although not necessarily all those which come merely from the unripeness of the situation or the incapacity of understanding or judgment, but those which arise from the resistance of the will.

God’s Providence is fulfilled through our actions
The moral judgments of the modem Christian are based on a set of standards and a system of values. Although this is right as far as it goes, there is always the danger that it may become a mere philosophy and thereby lose its connection with God’s free rule in Providence. The life of mankind as well as of the individual does not unfold according to a set of standards which have to be observed or a system of values to be realized, but God Himself is at work deciding, creating, and acting everywhere, including in our­ selves. My life is a point the point which concerns me where God acts, the workshop in which He creates. From me something new is meant to emerge. 

Christian conduct is man acting in harmony with the activity of God: acting with humility because God alone matters, with obedience because from this activity should emerge something which can emerge only through God, and at the same time acting with lively confidence because every individual is a starting-point for the divine creation. 

Undoubtedly the standards of ethics and Christian morality, the tenets of Christian faith, and the rules of the Church are binding. At the same time we must not forget that there are things which cannot be gathered from rules and regulations but only from the day-to-day situation as it emerges from God. Being in each case something new, something unique, they cannot be labeled or classified and yet they constitute at least one half of our existence.

This attitude will strengthen something which in many people has become extremely weak — namely, a Christian conscience. What we usually mean by this is the awareness that the moral law is binding and the capacity of judging how it should be applied in the individual case.

This conception loses sight of one whole side of existence: the feeling for the demands of the hitherto unknown, the capacity to visualize what will happen, the courage to perform that for which there is no example.

All that is part of conscience. But if we fail to see it, something strange happens to our moral life; it becomes monotonous and boring and it may lead (especially in those who are high-spirited) to rebellion, quite apart from the fact that much good remains undone and many noble impulses go to waste. 

The idea of Providence and faith in it are able to awaken that unused side of conscience, and to give it a proper foundation and stability. Left to itself it might prove a breeding ground of rebellion and arbitrariness. This danger is overcome by making ourselves aware that we are not acting, as it were, privately and on our own, but in an allotted place within the wholeness of God’s plan, standing in His sight and accountable to Him.

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On Divine Providence 1 — Fr. Romano Guardini

June 16, 2014
The Yellow Christ was painted by Gauguin at Pont Aven in 1889. It is a symbolic piece that shows the crucifixion of Christ taking place in nineteenth century northern France as Breton women are gathered in prayer. Gauguin relies heavily on bold lines to define his figures and reserves shading only for the women. The autumn palette of yellow, red and green in the landscape echoes the dominant yellow in the figure of Christ. The bold outlines and flatness of the forms in this painting are typical of the cloisonnist style.

The Yellow Christ was painted by Gauguin at Pont Aven in 1889. It is a symbolic piece that shows the crucifixion of Christ taking place in nineteenth century northern France as Breton women are gathered in prayer. Gauguin relies heavily on bold lines to define his figures and reserves shading only for the women. The autumn palette of yellow, red and green in the landscape echoes the dominant yellow in the figure of Christ. The bold outlines and flatness of the forms in this painting are typical of the cloisonnist style.

One of the more complex doctrines that explains God’s intervention in the world. Fr. Guardini will lead us through a four post article that will detail some of the fascinating subtleties.

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The Christian Doctrine of Providence
In the message of Christ there is one doctrine — that of Divine Providence — which embraces the whole of existence and at the same time concerns each person individually. According to this, anything that happens in the world is directed by the love, wisdom and might of the Father for the benefit of the faithful. 

The word Providence is often used rather loosely with no more than a vague or ill-defined meaning. Therefore in the first place we must define its meaning. Christ has frequently spoken of Providence. He did so with special force and detail in the course of that body of teaching which is called the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 6:25-34] There He admonishes His listeners to take no thought for food or raiment, for the heavenly Father knows what man needs. To worry about these things is to act like the heathen. The believer should have confidence that he will not lack anything. 

The listener is not being asked to put his faith in a fairy tale. He is not being told that he can discard all labor and foresight and live heedlessly from day to day because miraculous powers will look after him. 

What is being said takes into account life as it really is and overlooks none of its hardships. Providence is not therefore a flight of fancy but sober reality. On the other hand it is not something that should be taken for granted from a worldly point of view.

For instance, Providence does not mean that everything follows an inviolable order in which one must find a place or that the self-confident can master life more easily than those who are anxious or distrustful. It means something quite out of this world that the living God is personally concerned with every single human being and ready to look after him. 

Thus Providence is neither a fairy tale nor, on the other hand, a piece of natural philosophy; not a code of life but simply a revelation by the grace of God.

Providence calls us to seek first the kingdom of God
In the Sermon on the Mount, as an example of how God feels about the needs of His creatures, Christ points to the birds who neither sow nor reap and to the lilies of the field who neither toil nor spin. This, at first sight, would appear just a pious idyll, but then comes the sentence which shows how serious it all is: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” [Matthew  6:33]

This sentence expresses what Christ means the proper attitude of God’s children to be: that man should first seek the kingdom of God and His justice, that is, before and more than anything else. Man’s concern about the kingdom should be the center and mainspring of his life. 

This is something very great and very difficult which fundamentally assumes that conversion or repentance which the Lord demands at the beginning of His message: “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17]

Whoever thinks in this way is in agreement with God because he wishes that His kingdom and holy justice should come. Out of this understanding, Christ says, the course of events will fall into place around the faithful. Thus things, people, conditions, and destinies do not happen to us fortuitously but form a wholeness: the world of the individual. This wholeness differs according to the mentality and character of the person and, we may add, according to how far we allow for God’s sway in our lives. 

The course of events is not predetermined like the working of a machine but rather is infinitely fluid, full of potentialities, and ready to submit to the will which is able to govern it. A deeper insight into man shows to what an extent the inmost attitude, often quite unconsciously, determines the course of our destiny. Therefore, for the individual who is prepared to submit to the will of God, this destiny will be quite different from that of the man who acts according to his own obstinate and at the same time uncertain will. 

Moreover — and this is the decisive factor — the world is in the hands of God. The laws of nature are His servants. Out of the hearts of men He orders the course of events, in each one of the individual worlds as well as in the world as a whole. Whenever, therefore, the human heart shares with Him the holy care for the kingdom, the word fulfills itself according to which “to them that love God, all things work together unto good.” [Romans 8:28]

This does not mean that the man who has submitted to the will of God will be spared pain and sorrow, but it does mean that he will have what he needs and that everything that happens, including the misfortunes, serves the true end of his life. 

The message of Providence demands something very great of man: that he should make the care for God’s kingdom the prime care of his life. It promises him something equally great: that the events which take place around him occur in a very special way and shape an existence which is determined by God’s care for his particular good.

Faith helps us understand Providence
This promise is not a fairy tale but reality. But it is not that reality which is actually before us in other words, a reality of nature or history but the reality which springs from God. But again, it is not a kind of mysterious reality outside nature and history, but right in their midst. It is not apprehended, like a fairy tale, with our imagination, nor, on the other hand, like things of immediate actuality, by natural observation and intellect

Providence is apprehended through the eyes of faith. We hear of it through the word of God; and having staked our faith on this reality we find it actually does come into being. The world, such as it is, always seems to contradict the working of Providence and our hearts are quickly perplexed and discouraged, so we must always renew our faith. Slowly we begin to see the underlying pattern — for instance, the meaning of an event, of an encounter, of a success or a failure.

We sense behind the forces and necessities which otherwise govern events a new power and a new purpose. We feel that we are included in a holy design which comes from God. This awareness may at times become very vivid and then again disappear. Often it will pervade our life merely as a feeling of quiet confidence. For the rest, it will be based on faith.

The ultimate remains hidden and will be revealed only when, at the end of time, the kingdom of God is fulfilled. That which happens by Providence in the life of the individual is a part and an aspect of the coming world, in which, on a new earth and under a new heaven, the new man will live. [Revelations 21:1]

This world is already in process of emerging around those who open themselves to Providence, but it will be revealed only at the end of all things.

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Discerning the Will of God 2 — Fr. Robert Barron

June 13, 2014
I spoke of the magna anima (the great soul) of the saint in contrast to the pusilla anima (the cramped soul) of the sinner. All of Paul's "fruits of the Spirit" are marks of an expansive and outward-looking magna anima. Love is willing the good of an­ other; joy is diffusive of itself; patience bears with the troublesome; kindness makes the other gentle; generosity benefits the neighbor; faithfulness is a dedication to a partner or friend; self-control restricts the havoc that the ego can cause. Which vocation ought to be mine? The one that awakens in me these attributes; the one that makes great my soul.

I spoke of the magna anima (the great soul) of the saint in contrast to the pusilla anima (the cramped soul) of the sinner. All of Paul’s “fruits of the Spirit” are marks of an expansive and outward-looking magna anima. Love is willing the good of an­ other; joy is diffusive of itself; patience bears with the troublesome; kindness makes the other gentle; generosity benefits the neighbor; faithfulness is a dedication to a partner or friend; self-control restricts the havoc that the ego can cause. Which vocation ought to be mine? The one that awakens in me these attributes; the one that makes great my soul.

Discerning Christians have to move through this third phase, making up their minds, as well. They see God’s work and will in all that surrounds them; they apply a whole series of biblical grids, seeking to relate their story to the Great Story; now, they must decide precisely what God is saying and how God is luring them. Monitoring and encouraging this third step is essential in the work that I do in a seminary context. The men that I deal with are those who are trying, in a very conscious way, to discover how God is calling them. Is it priesthood or not? It can’t be both, and they know it. A judgment, in either direction painful, has to be made, and they know that too.

Often, as they entertain patterns for their lives in relation to God, a number of attractive possibilities emerge, and this multiplicity of scenarios makes the judgment that much more wrenching. But what seminarians do in a particularly focused way is what all responsible Christians must do.

The Flannery O’Connor novel that we examined earlier, The Violent Bear It Away, is nothing but a dramatic presentation of this third step of discernment. Having been introduced to two grids for understanding his life — his great-uncle’s biblical vision and his uncle’s rationalist one — young Tarwater had to judge which was right. As the stranger reminded him: “It’s either Jesus or you.”

And this is the rub. How do we make this all-important judgment, one that touches not simply on what we are to do but who we are to be? How do we know? Scientists proceed in their task by way of controlled experimentation, carefully eliminating hypotheses until they arrive at the most persuasive; and there is something similar in the arena of the spiritual. The discerning and reasonable disciple of Jesus can also employ a process of elimination, setting setting aside, gradually, various inadequate patterns.

Thus, when determining what God wants me to do, I can certainly eliminate a pattern of life that is at odds with the central narratives and symbols of revelation, say a life governed by sensuality, self-absorption, or violence. More pointedly, I can rule out a life that is inconsistent with the basic pattern of Jesus’ life; somehow I know that, whatever form my vocation takes, it will be, essentially , Christoform .

Thus, for example, a pattern of existence that is predicated on the assumptions that there is no life after death or that enemies should not be loved would be necessarily inadequate. But having negated these rather obviously problematic hypotheses, how do I proceed in the face of a variety of Christologically viable options?

Here the discernment must become more refined . One of the best guides is in the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Jesus had said that a tree is known by its fruits, and Paul makes this very specific. He tells us that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), implying that the Spirit’s presence in one’s life can be read from its radiance in these soul-expanding qualities.

Earlier, I spoke of the magna anima (the great soul) of the saint in contrast to the pusilla anima (the cramped soul) of the sinner. All of Paul’s “fruits of the Spirit” are marks of an expansive and outward-looking magna anima. Love is willing the good of an­ other; joy is diffusive of itself; patience bears with the troublesome; kindness makes the other gentle; generosity benefits the neighbor; faithfulness is a dedication to a partner or friend; self-control restricts the havoc that the ego can cause. Which vocation ought to be mine? The one that awakens in me these attributes; the one that makes great my soul. 

Now how do I know that my life is, in fact, bearing these fruits? It is most helpful to consult the Christian community. Just as in Dante our sins are more easily spied by those around us, so our virtues and charisms are often most clearly seen by our colleagues and companions . Therefore, we should listen carefully to others as we discern God’s path for us. John Henry Newman insists that the sensus fidelium ought to be consulted even in matters of doctrine; how much more ought this feel of the community be investigated in the determination of vocation.

Another powerful aid in discernment is honest and hopeful prayer. Over and again in the Scripture we are urged to pray, asking God even for the simplest things. In the New Testament virtually the only kind of prayer taught is the prayer of petition, and we are encouraged to pray ceaselessly, relentlessly. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, is nothing but a string of eight requests, and we say it over and again in the course of the Christian life. Thus, when seeking to know the path, ask. And then ask again. And ask a third time. Then have the imagination and focus to look for the answer. 

Since God loves to work clandestinely, through a series of secondary causes, it is altogether possible that he is providing an answer to our prayer in the ordinary events, conversations, and people around us. But we must be attentive to these signs.

Lonergan’s final step is that of responsibility. Once we have been attentive, intelligent, and reasonable, we must, finally, accept the full implications of the true judgment we have made. Now we must adjust our lives in light of the truth that we have dis­ covered, no matter how uncomfortable that adjustment may be. As Lonergan well knew, many people fail precisely at this point: they have followed the process admirably and have made a correct judgment, but they just cannot bring themselves to act on it. Politicians judge that backing a particular bill is morally wrong, but they do it because of the desire to be reelected; or researchers discover a particular truth but fail to publish their findings for fear of losing their funding. 

I have known seminarians who clearly knew that they were called by God to the priesthood, but who opted not to become priests . And I have known those who determined, by a careful process, that they ought not to be priests and became ordained anyway. Both sets of people tended to go into tailspins. 

And so Christian disciples, on the path of discernment, must abide by Lonergan’s fourth imperative. They must have the courage of their Christian convictions and place in their body the truth that they have accepted. In some ways, this entire book — with its emphasis on embodied practice — has been an exhortation to make this indispensable move. But how can this step be encouraged?

Here again, I would emphasize the importance of the Christian community. As members of a living body, we bear each other’s bur­dens, just as one bodily system will compensate for the weakness of another. Thus, one person compels — by words, gestures, cajoling, and, in extreme circumstances, sanctions — the integration of knowledge and action in another. Frequently in the Scripture, we are urged to warn a brother or sister away from a sinful path, to correct and encourage in the direction of virtue. Another way that we do this is through prayer on behalf of one another. The Irish Dominican poet Paul Murray reported this line from his own spiritual director: “Paul, I’m praying for you;·so take great risks!”

 

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Discerning the Will of God 1 — Fr. Robert Barron

June 12, 2014
By "attention," Lonergan means something very simple and, in practice, very elusive: seeing what is there to be seen. Seeing, not selectively, myopically, or superficially, but really taking in the light, colors, shapes, and objects that surround one. For Lonergan, many scientists go off the rails, not because they lack speculative intelligence, but because they get their data wrong, they don't  look .

By “attention,” Lonergan means something very simple and, in practice, very elusive: seeing what is there to be seen. Seeing, not selectively, myopically, or superficially, but really taking in the light, colors, shapes, and objects that surround one. For Lonergan, many scientists go off the rails, not because they lack speculative intelligence, but because they get their data wrong, they don’t look .

Earlier in his book The Strangest Way, Fr. Barron insisted  that, for Christians, God is not simply “out there” like a mountain waiting tho be climbed by the intrepid spiritual mountaineer; rather, God is himself a pusher, hunting us down with relentless love. I might shift the image a bit and suggest that God is not only behind us in pursuit, but also ahead of us in allurement., like another urging her child to take his first steps.

Alfred North Whitehead argued that a God is the great displayer of possibilities for his universe, the one who arranges and rearranges persons, objects and events in the hopes that his creation might come to richer and more creative expression. During the discourse the night before he died, Jesus summed up his life and ministry in these words: “I have said these things that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” [John 15:11]. And therefore Christians walking the path of discernment confidently and enthusiastically look. They know that God is luring them and so they hunt for signs. 

This process of watching and listening is an ancient ecclesial practice called “discernment.” One of the best guides in this practice is the twentieth-century Jesuit scholar Bernard Lonergan, for, as an academician, he specialized in questions of method (hunting down the truth) and, as a Jesuit, he was trained in the discernment of spirits (hunting down the will and movement of God). At the heart of Lonergan’s method  is a process that he expressed in terms of four imperatives:

      1. be attentive;
      2. be intelligent;
      3. be reasonable; and
      4. be responsible.

Let us examine these by turn.

By “attention,” Lonergan means something very simple and, in practice, very elusive: seeing what is there to be seen. Seeing, not selectively, myopically, or su­perficially, but really taking in the light, colors, shapes, and objects that surround one. For Lonergan, many scientists go off the rails, not because they lack speculative intelligence, but because they get their data wrong, they don’t  look . 

What does this mean for Christians? It means that they take seriously what Aquinas said concerning God’s immanence in all things, “by essence, presence, and power,” and that they see, consequently, everything as saturated with the divine. Many of the spiritual masters have de­fined prayer, not as an escape from the ordinary, but as a kind of heightened attention to the depth dimension of the everyday and the commonplace. 

Where is the divine will displayed? For the one who has the discipline of vision, everywhere and in everything. For many, the spiritual life becomes dysfunctional precisely at this beginning stage -they don’t look.

The next step in Lonergan’s method is the act of intelligence. By this he means the seeing of patterns, or what, in more classical philosophy, are called forms. Some people are extremely attentive, taking in thoroughly even the details of what goes on around them, but they are not intelligent, that is to say, they are not curious about the patterns of meaning that give coherence and order to what they have perceived. The grasping of intelligible structure is what Lonergan calls “insight.”  It corresponds to the “ah-ha” moment the sudden turning-on of the light, the “eureka!”— inducing grasp of meaning. 

In a scientific context, intelligence undergirds the forming of hypotheses or plausible explanations for phenomena; in a more interpersonal or psychological framework, it motivates the proposal of theories to explain behavior patterns; in a philosophical setting, it compels the relentless asking of the question “why?”

How does this second move of the mind play itself out in a properly spiritual context? Having taken in the world around them, confident that God is present in all things, intelligent Christians now seek to discern the patterns, to know precisely what God is up to. In this process, they utilize the lenses of the biblical and theological tradition, having insight by aligning their experience to the Great Story of divine revelation. Guided by the patterns of creation exodus, prophecy, vocation, sin and grace, Incarnation, death and resurrection, second-coming — they seek analogies and correspondences to their own story. 

Thus, as Moses was to Pharaoh, so I am to an oppressive employer; as Yahweh treated the Israelites during their exile, so God is treating me during my depression; as Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach, so I feel a commission to proclaim the word to my family. Picasso once said that the key to his artistic genius was the capacity to see visual analogies: the shape of that pear is like the contour of a guitar, which is like the curve of a woman’s body, etc. The intelligent Christian discerner must have the like capacity to see these analogies (similarities in difference) between the biblical and the experienced. 

Now just as the scientist or philosopher is trained through a long process of apprenticeship to see certain patterns, so the religious seeker must be trained through a long immersion in the universe of the Bible. This has happened over the centuries, as I have been arguing throughout this book (The Strangest Way), in icons, the lives of the saints, cathedrals, poems, songs, and especially the liturgy. The Christian community learns the practice of intelligent discernment through all of these means. 

The third step in Lonergan’s process is the hard-edged and decisive move of reasonability or judgment. Having surveyed perhaps an entire series of bright ideas, the reasonable person must now decide which is the right idea. All hypotheses, almost by definition, are interesting, but only one of them is adequate to the case and the evidence. At the second level of intelligence, playfulness is altogether in order, for sometimes the most outrageous hypothesis is the correct one.

When looking for insights, one should be expansive, wide-ranging, imaginative, even a little silly. But when seeking to make a judgment, one has to be clear, hard, and censorious: there is, after all, only one truly right answer. Many people, Lonergan thinks, are wonderfully attentive and insightful, but, they lack this crucial third intellectual quality of discrimination: they can never finally make up their minds. 

 

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Cardinal Avery Dulles: Roman Catholic Theologian –Joseph Bottum

May 9, 2014
Avery Cardinal Dulles was one of the greatest thinkers in the modern Roman Catholic church and perhaps its most distinguished representative in the United States. The first American Jesuit to be named a cardinal, and for his last two decades a professor at Fordham University, New York, he was acknowledged to be the dean of American Catholic theologians.

Avery Cardinal Dulles was one of the greatest thinkers in the modern Roman Catholic church and perhaps its most distinguished representative in the United States. The first American Jesuit to be named a cardinal, and for his last two decades a professor at Fordham University, New York, he was acknowledged to be the dean of American Catholic theologians.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, theologian, was born on August 24, 1918. He died on December 12, 2008, aged 90

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Avery Cardinal Dulles was one of the greatest thinkers in the modern Roman Catholic church and perhaps its most distinguished representative in the United States. The first American Jesuit to be named a cardinal, and for his last two decades a professor at Fordham University, New York, he was acknowledged to be the dean of American Catholic theologians.

His influence, however, extended far beyond the US. He was a prolific writer and lecturer, whose work ranged from studies of John Henry Newman and Pope John Paul II to original essays in ecclesiology and explorations of the theology of revelation and of faith. Few modern theologians have thought so deeply or so productively about the nature and purpose of their discipline and its role both in the Church and in the world.

Avery Robert Dulles was born in 1918 in Auburn, upstate New York, into the old northeastern US Establishment — a class of privilege, Protestantism, and stern New England duty. His family was not conspicuously wealthy but from its 17th-century origins among the Puritans and down to Dulles’s day, it had enjoyed a kind of complete self-assurance, a perpetual confidence about its place and its duty in the world. Behind the family members stood the elite boarding schools and Ivy League universities, weekends on sailboats, grand tours of European capitals, the house on Long Island, the summer place upstate, the Navy, the foreign service.

Avery Dulles’s looks betrayed those origins. Tall and spare, he was a lanky man with a large square chin, thin lips, and prominent eyebrows over sharp, inquisitive eyes. And from those Establishment origins he chose the unlikely path of conversion in 1940, while a student at Harvard University, to what was, in those days in the US, very much the lower-class religion of Catholicism.

After wartime service in the US Navy, in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant and won the Croix de Guerre for his work as liaison to the Free French, he joined the Society of Jesus in 1946. In 2001 he was elevated to the cardinalate, his red hat a tribute to what he had achieved in the intervening half century.

By the time of death, from the after-effects of the polio that he had contracted during the war, Dulles had published more than 700 theological articles and 23 books, becoming, along the way, the most important American Catholic theologian of the 20th century.

Dulles’s great-grandfather, John Watson Foster, had been President Harrison’s secretary of state. His great-uncle, Robert Lansing, was President Wilson’s. His father, John Foster Dulles, was President Eisenhower’s. His uncle, Allen Dulles, led the CIA from 1953 to 1961. His aunt, Eleanor Dulles, was an influential State Department officer and Washington hostess.

The Establishment of which Dulles’s family was a member reached its peak during the Cold War, but it stood on the shoulders of earlier establishments, particularly the long line of Protestant ministers who had preached Calvinism to America since the days of the nation’s beginning.

Dulles’s grandfather, Allen Macy Dulles, was a Presbyterian pastor and co-founder of the American Theological Society. His father, John Foster Dulles — coming to believe that only the gospel and international organisation could preserve world order — first found wide notice as an expert on international affairs by chairing a 1941 peace commission for the Federal Council of Churches.

Still, Avery Dulles described himself as an agnostic and materialist when he arrived at Harvard as an undergraduate in 1936. The subsequent decade saw many prominent Catholic conversions in the US, particularly intellectual and literary ones. But even for his intellectualized generation, Dulles had a conversion that was curiously cerebral. It began when, as an undergraduate, he became convinced that Catholic versions of philosophy offered more complete accounts of the world than other philosophical systems. Acceptance of the philosophy drew him to acceptance of the theology, which in turn drew him to acceptance of the faith — except, of course, that intellectually accepting the need for faith is not the same as actually having faith.

But then, in 1939, “one grey February afternoon”, in Harvard’s Widener Library, as he wrote in his conversion memoir, A Testimonial to Grace (1946), “I was irresistibly prompted to go out into the open air . . . . The slush of melting snow formed a deep mud along the banks of the River Charles, which I followed down toward Boston . . . . As I wandered aimlessly, something impelled me to look contemplatively at a young tree. On its frail, supple branches were young buds . . . . While my eye rested on them, the thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing . . . . That night, for the first time in years, I prayed.”

By 1940, his first year in Harvard law school, Dulles was ready to be received into the Catholic Church. He founded the St Benedict Centre, an independent Catholic evangelising organisation in Boston, and he fell, briefly, under the spell of Father Leonard Feeney, SJ, a charismatic street preacher later involved in controversy over his strong views of the eternal damnation of all who are not explicitly baptised members of the Catholic Church

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he joined the Navy, and it was not until after his recovery from polio in 1946 that he returned to the US, at which time he decided the intellectual career he wished to pursue called him to become a Jesuit. He joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in 1956.

He thought of himself, most of all, as a teacher, and from 1951 until his post-polio syndrome caused the loss of his voice in 2008, he served as a theology professor — at Fordham University from 1951 to 1960, at the Jesuits’ Woodstock Seminary from 1960 to 1974, at the Catholic University of America from 1974 to 1988, and, for the final 20 years of his academic work, again at Fordham.

One sign of the nearly universal admiration in which Dulles was held is the 33 honorary doctorates he received from European and American universities, but a greater sign may be that he was elected president of both the Catholic Theological Society and the (primarily Protestant) American Theological Society.

His books ran from a 1941 study of Pico della Mirandola, published when he was only 22, to the 2008 collection of his McGinley lectures at Fordham, published when he was 90. Along the way he wrote studies of revelation, dogma, and Christian unity, together with essays and monographs on nearly everyone from St Augustine to Robert Bellarmine to John Paul II. The most cited of his works remains his 1974 Models of the Church, an attempt to identify diverse understandings of the Christian Church and to define a method of theology that can, under the rubric of “models”, seek harmony among hotly disputed positions.

And yet Cardinal Dulles leaves behind no clear Dullesian theology — as one might speak of the unique systems and methods of such other 20th-century theologians as Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

“Christian tradition is marked by a deep reverence for its own content, which it strives to protect against any dilution or distortion,” he once wrote, and he saw that the purpose of theological writing is not intellectual surprise or verbal fireworks. It is, rather, “to impart a tacit, lived awareness of the God to whom the Christian Scriptures and symbols point.”

The result was a kind of sane balance in his thought, wholly within the tradition but willing to examine new ideas and to show how they could fit within the full history of Christian theology.

The writings of the philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi, had a profound effect on Dulles, and he took to heart Polanyi’s insight that all thought depends in some way on authority. The authority to which he devoted his great intellectual gifts was the deposit of faith in the Catholic Church, set in place by its philosophers, its theologians, its councils, its popes, and its collective believers.

Perhaps that is why his greatest influence came as an interpreter of the Second Vatican Council. Explaining the liberalism of Vatican II to an older generation that had experienced only the unified, pre-conciliar Church, he was often identified as a voice for liberal Catholics in the 1970s. Explaining the conservatism of Vatican II to a new generation that had experienced only the fragmented post-conciliar Church, he became something of a leader for conservative Catholics in the 1990s.

But it always remained the centrality of the Second Vatican Council that he set himself to explain. From the beginning, the self-imposed work of the Dulles family — the discipline of their class — was to ensure that the centre held. That was true in the years that followed the Civil War, and again in the aftermath of the First World War, and again, in the long struggle of the Cold War. That was true as well for Avery Dulles, even though he had abandoned the world his family made for him.

The Irish-dominated, immigrant church of US Catholicism made for him something far different — an alien system of thought, an alien class — from anything his fathers had known. But still a Dulles was there, making certain that things did not fall apart.

After his consecration as a cardinal in Rome on February 21, 2001, the Gregorian University hosted a meal in his honor. Over the rattle of after-dinner coffee cups, various high-ranking ecclesial figures rose to praise Dulles’s life and work. The most revealing moment, however, may have come when, unexpectedly, one of his Dulles cousins stepped to the podium.

An aristocrat of that strange, old American variety — tall and puritanically thin, well but primly dressed, a daughter of stern Protestant New England — she explained that she had overheard as a child the outraged family discussions of the young Avery’s conversion. Uncle Allen, Aunt Eleanor, John Foster, all the senior family members gathered around to complain that the best and brightest of the family’s next generation seemed determined to throw his promising life away. “And, of course, they were right,” she said. “He did throw that life away. He threw it away for God.”

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 6 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 26, 2014
Petition and thanksgiving are complementary: they are our way of acknowledging the great mystery of divine love to which we owe our existence. Thus a short reflection teaches us that adoration and repentance, yearning and praise, thanksgiving and communion, petition and reverence, are all interconnected. They are but different aspects of the living relationship of man to God, made possible because God reveals Himself to man and calls him.

Petition and thanksgiving are complementary: they are our way of acknowledging the great mystery of divine love to which we owe our existence. Thus a short reflection teaches us that adoration and repentance, yearning and praise, thanksgiving and communion, petition and reverence, are all interconnected. They are but different aspects of the living relationship of man to God, made possible because God reveals Himself to man and calls him.

Now let us look back over our past week and read Fr. Guardini’s overview of prayer and God

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Summary of the Basic Acts of Prayer.
We have said that in the condition of recollectedness we become aware of the reality of God. We have tried to show how this reality reveals its diverse facets and calls forth the different forms of prayer.

First we spoke of the holiness of God. This calls forth in us awareness of our own unworthiness, acknowledgment of our guilt, repentance, and new resolve. It also calls forth the awareness that God is the Savior and awakens the desire for Him and the longing for union with Him.

We then spoke of the majesty of God. We respond to it by adoration — the act of homage signifying our complete yet voluntary surrender to God’s almighty power. As we rejoice over the glory of God, adoration becomes praise.

Finally we spoke of the bountifulness of God’s ever giving love. To His love we appeal in prayer for our many needs; yet ultimately all our needs may be summed up in the one all-embracing need: to live in the grace of God. By acknowledging as God’s gift our entire existence, we give thanks.

Thus various facets of God’s being reveal themselves. We respond with various facets of our own being, and in so doing become ourselves, for only before God and in the measure in which we receive the truth from Him and respond to it, do we become aware of our humanity.

In the foregoing we discussed those forms of prayer which stand out most clearly; but there are many other forms. God is inexhaustible, and man is — to paraphrase an expression by Anselm of Canterbury — the inexhaustible in the sight of God. Man is (and today even natural science concedes this) not merely a living being among other living beings, but the very principle of life. Hence he is able to respond to God, and this response is, of its very nature, prayer.

Thus there is prayer which responds to the remoteness of God — to His hiddenness and to His unknownness. Conversely, there is prayer which responds to His nearness, His openness, and His accessibility. There is prayer which springs from the direct comprehension of the truth — prayer which is, as it were, a spontaneous confession of faith.

But there is also prayer which is a confession of ignorance, an admission of failure before the mystery. There is the prayer of plenitude, when God’s presence is fully experienced; but there is also the prayer of privation when it appears that God has forsaken us, leaving a great void which nothing can fill.

There are times when everything seems intelligible and familiar, and there are times when nothing seems to make sense or to be worthwhile, when there is no hope and no one to turn to –times when we must persevere in silence. All these different times demand their own forms of prayer.

Yet all forms of prayer belong together. If we were merely conscious of our unworthiness without the reassuring thought that, in spite of it, we belong to God, we could not pray. On the other hand, when we yearn for God we become acutely aware of our failings and imperfections. If we were to make light of them, our yearning would lack humility. Again, if we were unable to apprehend the glory of God and to rejoice over it, the feeling of His power would overawe us. Then again, when praising God we might easily be led into unseemly flattery unless restrained by the awe which His holiness inspires in us.

Petition and thanksgiving are complementary: they are our way of acknowledging the great mystery of divine love to which we owe our existence. Thus a short reflection teaches us that adoration and repentance, yearning and praise, thanksgiving and communion, petition and reverence, are all interconnected. They are but different aspects of the living relationship of man to God, made possible because God reveals Himself to man and calls him.

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 5 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 25, 2014
When we love someone truly -- that is, if we feel not merely respect, sympathy, or desire, but are linked to him or her by that bond of inmost belonging -- we are filled with a sense of constant wonderment, almost awe toward the beloved person. It may reach a degree of intensity which makes us want to explain it: "I thank you for being as you are; I thank you for being." Such things cannot be rationally explained, but the heart understands them. With man this mystery can be no more than an intimation; with God it finds its full consummation.

When we love someone truly — that is, if we feel not merely respect, sympathy, or desire, but are linked to him or her by that bond of inmost belonging — we are filled with a sense of constant wonderment, almost awe toward the beloved person. It may reach a degree of intensity which makes us want to explain it: “I thank you for being as you are; I thank you for being.” Such things cannot be rationally explained, but the heart understands them. With man this mystery can be no more than an intimation; with God it finds its full consummation.

Our last installment of multiple posts from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic.

Another recommendation from a good review: “I also found Guardini’s lack of romanticism very refreshing. No platitudes about mystical union and the like, but the simple and practical advice that I would expect from my priest: Prayer is real work, you likely won’t want to do it often, its purpose is not to produce an emotional state within you, get over yourself, you are not alone when you say your prayers, your whole life can become living prayer and here is how you can do it. Just right. Very honest.

While not really a “how to” book, Guardini’s observations feel to me like the description of a beautiful and rugged journey that I am trying to take, but have yet to progress too far in. But with his descriptions, I have a better map of where I am going, how I can get there, what I can expect as I go and where not to go…”

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

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Thanksgiving is Due to God Unceasingly
As soon as prayer is answered it becomes thanksgiving. It comes naturally from the heart; it is man’s response to God’s grace. We should give thanks not only when a wish has been granted but at all times. Unceasingly the heart of man should respond to the dispensations of Divine Providence. This response consists in man being aware that everything he is and everything that happens to him comes from God and that he should acknowledge and be thankful for it.

The Apostle Paul says: “And be ye thankful … singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him. [Co1ossians 3:15-17]

The seriousness of the offense of forgetting to give thanks is brought out in the story of the ten lepers, of whom only one, a Samaritan, returned to give thanks.

And it came to pass, as He was going to Jerusalem, He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered into a certain town, there met Him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off; and lifted up their voice, saying: “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” Whom when He saw, He said: “Go, shew yourselves to the priests.” And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean. And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God. And he fell on his face before His feet, giving thanks: and this was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering, said: “Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger.” And he said to him: “Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole. [Luke 17:11-19]

This is a cry of sorrow from the divine heart, similar to the one so often uttered through the mouth of the prophets when the people forgot to give thanks to the Lord who had bestowed so much on them.

Gratitude is Due for Gifts Freely Given
For things which happen by necessity we cannot give thanks. If we know the laws of nature and infer that certain causes will produce certain effects, we cannot feel gratitude, however beneficent these effects may be for us: they were bound to happen. In the same manner, we cannot experience true gratitude when we have sold some goods and received the correct payment for them. We receive this payment by right. Only when we receive something freely, without necessity or legal obligation on the part of the giver, do we spontaneously experience that intimate feeling which we express in the words “I thank you.”

Existence Must Not Be Taken For Granted
It is important that we should recognize — not only with our mind but with our heart — that nothing in life can be taken for granted.
In a restricted sense, as we have just seen, certain natural events must be taken for granted, but this is true only when seen from a standpoint which does not take in life as a whole. We live in the world from which we draw the substances and energies to sustain our existence; we are linked to it by innumerable threads of cause and effect.

We therefore take it for granted, never stopping to think that it might well be otherwise, that this world, which appears to us the basis of everything, might not exist. It is an irreligious attitude to take the world for granted. Although in fact it does exist, there is no reason why it should. The world is not necessary; it exists because God willed it. At this point, there is no causation, only pure sovereign freedom.

The world has emerged out of the freedom of God, and His freedom is love; because it is love we can respond to it by gratitude. It is therefore meet, just, and appropriate to give thanks to God for having created the world.

Nor ought I, as an individual, regard it as a matter of course that I should exist. I happen to find myself in this world, and in this body and mind of mine. In consequence, I take myself and my existence for granted, more so even than that of the world. It appears to me the precondition for everything else. Yet I know that I might equally well not exist. To take a thing for granted means “to accept it as a given fact.”

Things Exist Only by God’s Grace
There is a deep double meaning in “to accept it as a given fact.” On the one hand, it stands for “that which happens to be there” and is, by virtue of it, the precondition for everything else; on the other hand, it acknowledges in the word given that it is there neither by necessity nor by right, but by grace.

It is therefore proper that I should know and acknowledge in my heart that I constantly receive myself as a free gift from the hand of God. By the word grace we usually mean everything we receive from God by way of help, enlightenment, and sanctification, as opposed to those things — good or bad — that arise out of the potentialities inherent in conditions and people. Thus we oppose the concept grace to the concept nature. However, we can use the term grace in a much wider sense to include the origin of everything which does not exist by necessity but as God’s free gift.

Thanksgiving is Due for All Of Creation
This term includes the world as a whole, humanity, myself – in fact everything which exists except God Himself. Everything we take for granted is truly granted by Him, the all-giving. There are moments when we suddenly and directly apprehend the incomprehensible, overwhelming fact that we are.

Despite the tribulations and burdens of life it still remains a great grace and wonder that we are allowed to breathe, to feel, to think, to love, and to act — in short, to live. And that things exist: the jug on the table, the tree in the field, the landscape around us, and the sun in the sky; and that other people also exist: this person whom I love, that other one who is in my care. In those moments one realizes that nothing can be taken for granted; that everything has the hallmark of free gift and of grace; that one must give thanks for everything — and even that one must give thanks for being able to give thanks.

We have just said that we should not take it for granted that other people are. When our higher consciousness is asleep — as it mostly is — we do take their existence for granted. During the rare moments when we are fully awake we get a glimpse of the truth.

Human relationships that matter are of two kinds. One kind arises from an encounter: someone has entered into our life, from somewhere. It is always from somewhere — from somewhere unknown. For however much we know about the reasons and the immediate circumstances which lead to the meeting, how much do we really know of the roots of existence even of those whom we know best?

We have met, and out of this meeting something has developed which we call fellowship, friendship, or love, as the case may be. This is endowed with profound significance; for when it has come about, we feel it could not have been otherwise. Yet it might well have been otherwise; it might never have happened at all.

The other kind of relationship is rooted in life itself. The child springs from the life of the parents, and for this reason it is intimately connected with them and with its brothers and sisters. Their solidarity is not brought about by extraneous circumstances but by innate necessity — or so, at least, it would appear. But is it really so?

Father, mother, and child; brother and sister — each one of them is an individual, a person, and therefore free. For this reason, not even blood relationship should be taken for granted. Its true significance can be realized only in the light of this individual freedom.

Once this is understood, blood relationships become as reassuring, and at the same time as wonderful and given, as relationships that spring from encounters. It follows that we must give thanks also for the givenness of our parents, of our brothers and sisters, and of our children.

Thanksgiving is Due for the Myriad Events Of Life
The same holds good for everything that happens in life. Natural science, the administrators, planners, and all those other experts concerned with directing human affairs have taught us to judge everything from the point of view of ascertainable laws. We are therefore conditioned to believe that things happen either because it is in their very nature that they should happen or in accordance with conditions laid down for them by man. In this way life is systematically robbed of its mystery and as a result we are disenchanted.

Many people feel that it is wrong to think in these terms, not only because it deprives life of so much of its beauty but also because it is fundamentally untrue. There are indeed moments –rare moments of illumination — when the most ordinary objects and commonplace events appear to us suddenly quite different. All at once they shed the shackles of arid matter-of-factness and become free; once free, they step out of the prison of contingent existence to enter the realm of mystery. In such moments we realize that they form part of that hidden pattern of which natural laws and human planning are but the visible projection.

We may express this in a different way: all cosmic processes, all phenomena and events to which our sensory perception and intellect give us access, occur within a system of laws — the very same laws to which perception and intellect are themselves subjected. But the system, as such, is but an instrument in the hand of God’s creative freedom; at the same time it is an expression and proof of the consistency with which this freedom works.

Thus everything that happens, and everything which is, has the character of a gift of grace — and must be included in our thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is due for God’s Providence
When discussing petition in prayer, we found that fundamentally our demands are not concerned with the necessities of life or with help in distress, but with everything that comes to us from the divine superabundance through which we have our being. Our existence is encompassed by a double arc, one part of which ascends from us to God and the other — the more important – descends from God to us. Prayer is the continuous call by man for the descending arc, and thanksgiving is the completion of the arc from man to God.

Man says to God: “I thank Thee, O Lord, that I have my being in and through Thee; I thank Thee that I see with Thy light, act through Thy power, and am sanctified by Thy love.”

Our relations to our fellows, to all things, and to all events obtain their true significance from our relationship to God. People, things, and events come to us as parts and aspects of the same world to which we also belong, but they are also messengers and manifestations of the loving governance of God.

That divine governance may prevail and the will of God be done is the real prayer of the Christian. His thanks consist in accepting life, with ever growing awareness, as God’s gift.

Thanksgiving is Due for God’s Existence
There is an attitude of mind which confers on thanksgiving a truly exalted, almost divine character: when man thanks and praises God for His glory and for His very being. But how is this possible? Have we not just said that we can give thanks only for what we receive neither by necessity nor by right? What can be more necessary in this sense than the existence of God, of whom it is said that He is by His very existence “worthy … to receive glory, and honor, and power: because Thou hast created all things; and for Thy will they were and have been created. [Revelations 4:11]

Yet even God’s existence cannot be taken for granted, although not in the sense in which the existence of the world cannot be taken for granted. The world is because it has pleased God to create it. God is because He is the mystery in itself, the living substantial miracle.

In its original, proper sense, mystery does not signify something unexplained which requires, or indeed is capable of, explanation; it signifies that which pertains to the nature of the Deity. Miracle is not in the first place a phenomenon or occurrence which goes beyond the possibilities of known laws; it is a sign from God — a state of transfiguration in which the most ordinary object and commonplace event suddenly shines in the light of God.

Whoever is in the proximity of God experiences His mystery and His all-compelling might and thus knows that he is in the presence of the One who alone is real, substantial, and necessary, the One who calls forth the holy awe in man. From this awe springs thanksgiving.

When we love someone truly — that is, if we feel not merely respect, sympathy, or desire, but are linked to him or her by that bond of inmost belonging — we are filled with a sense of constant wonderment, almost awe toward the beloved person. It may reach a degree of intensity which makes us want to explain it: “I thank you for being as you are; I thank you for being.” Such things cannot be rationally explained, but the heart understands them. With man this mystery can be no more than an intimation; with God it finds its full consummation.

Thanksgiving Is Due Constantly
It is therefore of the utmost importance that we should learn to give thanks
. We must do away with the indifference which takes all things for granted, for nothing is to be taken for granted – everything is a gift. Not until man has understood this will he truly be free.

In the morning, when we are rested from the night and are filled with a pure and exhilarating feeling of life, we should say to God: “I thank Thee that I am permitted to live; I thank Thee that I breathe and that I am; and I thank Thee for all I have and for all that is around me.” After meals we should say: “What I have partaken of is Thy gift; I thank Thee.” In the evening we should say: “That I was permitted to live today; to work, to rejoice; that I met this person; that I became aware of that other person’s loyalty — all that Thou hast given me; for all that I thank Thee.”

We should give thanks for our faith, for the mystery of our rebirth in Christ, for all the hidden and holy bonds between the Creator and ourselves. We should endeavor to extend our thanks to include also all that which is difficult, hard, or incomprehensible in our lives: it is all part of grace. That it should be so is the one aspect of the message of Providence which is for us the most difficult to understand, and demands of us the greatest fortitude – but it is also the one which holds the greatest promise.

To live in harmony with Providence means to live in obedience to the will of God — also against one’s own desires. This submission finds its purest expression in the gratitude which gladly accepts hardship and what appears to be injury from the hands of God. This is not easy and we should not deceive ourselves. We should never go beyond what our sense of truthfulness will permit. But we are capable of greater things than we think at first. Sustained by faith, thanksgiving can extend to tribulations and, in the measure in which it succeeds, it will transform them.

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 4 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 24, 2014
We must not forget that every request is the expression of our will: not only of the rightful and righteous will for existence and life, for fulfillment and expansion, but also the self-seeking, selfish side of that will which puts one's own existence into the center of all things and tries to subject everything to its own ends. This self-assertiveness is contained in our prayers. If, therefore, we expect our prayers to be granted by the Most Holy, we must be prepared to submit them to His judgment, and also prepared for Him to reject or change them. "Thy will be done" must be the core of all prayer, not only because the divine will is irresistible and inescapable, but because it is just and holy and contains within itself everything that is worthy of being.

We must not forget that every request is the expression of our will: not only of the rightful and righteous will for existence and life, for fulfillment and expansion, but also the self-seeking, selfish side of that will which puts one’s own existence into the center of all things and tries to subject everything to its own ends. This self-assertiveness is contained in our prayers. If, therefore, we expect our prayers to be granted by the Most Holy, we must be prepared to submit them to His judgment, and also prepared for Him to reject or change them. “Thy will be done” must be the core of all prayer, not only because the divine will is irresistible and inescapable, but because it is just and holy and contains within itself everything that is worthy of being.

This week I’m featuring a multiple post from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic. From a good review: “The Art of Praying, formerly Prayer in Practice, is one of Guardini’s best books. It is a primer on prayer, and covers all types of prayer, from liturgy, to oral, to contemplative, to all varieties. It is a book to strengthen one in the necessity and possibility of building one’s life around prayer (or at the very least including it in daily actions) and, like all of Father Guardini’s books, profoundly touches on all aspects of the spiritual life in the world – how to seek guidance, the proper deportment in spiritual matters, how to discern God’s voice, the ebbs and flows of our spiritual life, the nature of man, God, and the right relationship of man to God.

It is a book of comfort, acceptance, and the dignity of man. In an age that runs roughshod over the slow, the delicate and the organic, it celebrates the natural rhythms of our lives, and of God’s dealings with us. It is a book that is an experience in prayer itself to read. This is what marked all of Guardini’s actions – to be in his presence OR to hear him speak OR to read one of his books was to come to an experience of the living presence of God, in itself, such was the power of this man.

This is not a book of details about technique – Guardini was not a technician – it is a book of spirituality and philosophy that, by its own holiness, takes one into the presence of God and elucidates timeless, God-given principles on the nature of prayer. Highly recommended.”

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

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We Must Pray For Others
Petition must not forget our fellow men. The believer must include in his thoughts those whom he loves and for whom he is responsible.
God knows of them and loves them with greater purity and power than any human being (even the most loving) is capable of doing. God has the power to protect them, to help them, and to bless them.

It is right that we should think in our prayers of those who are dear to us, dwell lovingly on their problems and cares, and bring these before God. It is comforting to share one’s concern over a person dear to us with the all-providing God and to be able to say to oneself that he is safe in God’s care. It gives peace and confidence; it frees us temporarily from anxiety and torment; and, even if they should return later, the relief which prayer afforded us cannot be undone.

We should also take before God everything that concerns the community as a whole: the events of current history, the needs of the people, the sorrows of the age. Everyone is responsible for the whole of human existence. Although the powers of the individual are, on the whole, very limited, in prayer everyone is able to encompass everything and to take it to Him who guides the destiny of the world. God does not compel man; He has made him free and guides him only through freedom. The door to freedom opens in two aspects of our existence: when we act and when in our prayers we place before God the common cause of mankind.

Prayer is Necessary When Faith Feels Disappointed
We said that man turns to God for succor and comfort by inner necessity and with the same spontaneity and artlessness with which a child turns to his mother. However, it may not always be so. It may happen that we find it difficult, even impossible, to ask anything of God and therefore have to learn anew how to do it. Life brings many disappointments. It may happen that we have prayed in an hour of distress and our prayer has remained unanswered. We may have felt lost and sought God but not found Him.

There may be other reasons: as we grow older many of us also become hardened, relying on our own strength to cope as best we can with the problems of life. This attitude does not favor prayer; it may even make prayer appear childish and futile. If this happens we must strengthen our faith to overrule our feeling. We must seek reassurance in God’s word as revealed to us in the Scriptures and pray in the assurance of His love, even though we may not feel it. If, then, we persevere, our prayers will be heard, even though what we ask for may be granted in a way different from what we had anticipated.

Prayer is Necessary When Faith is Weak
Then, again, we may have the feeling that God is indifferent and is not concerned with mankind; that He dwells in remote spheres while man is delivered up to the hopeless predicament of earthly existence. Such thoughts come readily to people who have gone through much sorrow: to the sad, the silent, and the harassed — and to those who are unable to take things lightly and for whom everything seems to turn out for the worst.

Such people stand in great need of human love and understanding, if only to convince them that things are not as bad as they themselves think. In the absence of such love and such understanding, they must hold on to the faith which tells them that God loves them and they must try again and again to turn to Him in prayer.

Then, again, it may happen that we are unable to conceive of God as a living reality. He appears to us as a pious thought, a holy mood — something beautiful but far away and ephemeral which has no place in the actuality of life. It is not easy to counteract this kind of feeling or mood and to convince oneself that God is a reality, a greater reality than the familiar world.

This understanding cannot be gained by the mind alone but only with the wholeness of our being; for the mind is an instrument which may become blunt and our capacity of feeling may be dulled. We must tell ourselves that the reality of God is of a very exalted and special kind and that, in order to experience it, we must be able to go beyond thought and feeling.

Yet the reality of God is not one which is opposed to the reality of the world which He has created. The familiar world which surrounds us obtains its meaning as an intelligible whole from God. God does not, so to speak, flaunt His reality at the expense of the world. He leaves it to man to recognize it in the things of the world — as it were behind them, above them, and beyond them. Man has the faculty to do this, if he but has the right resolve.

Or it may happen that, confronted with the inexorability of life, we reach the conclusion that God has no power over the world, and that everything happens as it must inevitably happen in accordance with the immutable laws of nature.

Every cause has its effect and every effect in turn becomes a cause. In our own life outward circumstances, inner disposition, and everything that has gone before produce their effect. In all this — in this unbroken chain of causation — there seems little scope for a creative, giving, and helping Deity. This would seem to make prayer for divine intervention an absurdity. Again we must try to probe more deeply; we must try to understand that knowledge, empirically gained, has its validity, but that this validity is limited. As we grow up, understanding gained by observation replaces the more naive beliefs of childhood.

It is quite proper that this should be so, for we have to come to terms with the actuality of life. However, this adult view of life may become destructive if it becomes too rigid, shutting man off from the wholeness of life. Life with all its laws — to which empirical knowledge can give but limited access — lies in the hand of God and can therefore be experienced only in a living relationship between God and man.

If man exercises his privilege of free will and makes the move toward God, he will find that here is the point of growth from which the world may develop and change. For the world as man perceives it is not something which is final and complete. It evolves and completes itself from within man; and for everyone it changes in accordance with his understanding, disposition, and actions. Here, then, man may experience the working of divine government, and may find that prayer (together with faith and obedience) is a means by which he maintains that relationship with God which awakens and keeps alive deeper understanding.

In common experience it is the things and events of the world which appear to be real and effective. To counteract this erroneous notion, we must meditate upon the eternal, timeless reality of God, through whom everything exists. We must dwell upon the ways of God and say to ourselves that He does not work as man does with his tools, but in a thousand mysterious, subtle, and hidden ways through the very essence of things which are His servants. The place where God’s governance is directly experienced is the inmost heart of man: in man’s free will and in his capacity for love.

Wrong Attitudes Interfere With Prayer
Arrogance which consists in wanting to rely entirely on one’s own power may close the door to prayer; so also may hurt pride or shame.
A proud person does not want to humble himself by supplication; he should know that spiritual pride hardens the heart and deludes the mind.

We exist by the grace of God; to admit this and to act accordingly is both truth and humility. This is the lesson the proud must learn. They must also learn that their conception of God is wrong, for they forget that God honors man.

A great deal of harm has been done by a mistaken kind of piety which believes that by degrading man we render honor to God. When this kind of piety speaks of the mercy of God, the term carries the implication of a rich man throwing crumbs to a beggar. The terms love, charity, grace, and help are cheapened by a suggestion of condescension on the part of God toward man which must cause offense to any upright person.Such an interpretation is very wide of the mark. Man is not contemptible. It is true that he has sinned and what this means we can learn from the history of mankind and also by trying to visualize what Christ suffered for our sins.

Yet the dignity which the Creator has bestowed on man is thereby not extinguished. It is his very dignity which is the measure of man’s guilt. Thus everything which comes from God to man contains, as its inmost core, respect; and everything which goes from man to God must contain that which God’s respect has conferred on man namely, dignity. For this reason, praying to God for help can be done in all dignity, as the granting of our wishes is done with honor.

We Must Ask that God’s Will May Be Done
Our prayer should never cease to go out to God, not only as a call in distress but as a constant appeal to His creative might and sanctifying grace.

That is why all prayer must carry by implication the words “Not as I will, but as thou wilt. [Matthew 26:39] We do not know whether what we ask for when we are in distress is good for us. Nor do we know whether the shape we want to give to events in a particular situation will really lead to the proper solution. Our life does not obey the laws which govern business or professional work, where plans are drawn up and put into effect more or less successfully as the case may be. Only a small part of what happens in our life results from what we see and understand; the other, and greater part, comes from unseen realms. It is to the unseen — the mystery of God — that we must direct our prayers; and we must be prepared to receive what is right in the eyes of God.

Moreover, we must not forget that every request is the expression of our will: not only of the rightful and righteous will for existence and life, for fulfillment and expansion, but also the self-seeking, selfish side of that will which puts one’s own existence into the center of all things and tries to subject everything to its own ends.

This self-assertiveness is contained in our prayers. If, therefore, we expect our prayers to be granted by the Most Holy, we must be prepared to submit them to His judgment, and also prepared for Him to reject or change them. “Thy will be done” must be the core of all prayer, not only because the divine will is irresistible and inescapable, but because it is just and holy and contains within itself everything that is worthy of being.

Finally, in the realm to which we direct our prayer reigns not only supreme justice, power, and order, but also the love of the living God. This love He bestowed on us in absolute freedom. In our prayers we take our needs and wishes to God, beseeching Him to act in accordance with the sovereign decisions of His love. The sentence “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt,” ultimately means “may Thy love prevail.”

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