The Inner Struggle

The Resurrection of Christ Jesus … Meaning and Communication?

“An Taiseirl (The Resurrection)”, Noirin Ni Riain and The Monks Of Glenstal Abbey, from the album “Vox de Nube”, (1996)

Resurrection, Romolo Tavani

Resurrection, Romolo Tavani

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Peter proceeded to speak and said: “You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.

He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

“Quid hoc ad aeternitatem,” as old Saint Bernard of Clairvaux used to mumble when faced with the usual parade of travail, “what does it matter in the light of eternity?” Well, it turns out that the Resurrection matters rather a lot. St. Bernard had it right concerning all the trials of our daily lives as they relate to eternity, but THE most important thing in all of human history is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why is it so misunderstood and ignored?

I like the term “praxis” meaning “that which people do habitually, characteristically and usually unreflectively“, as a wonderfully concise summary of our polite daily narrative. It gives me a nice handle on the state of action, conversation and thought, or the lack of same, in our social media society.

I have had an on-again, off-again, love/hate relationship with the use of our English language as a means of alleged “communications” for at least 40 years now. I have found that the world shows a distressing lack of precision and understanding of the meaning of common words, used every day, and in the communication of thoughts which when examined, have no relation whatsoever to the words in use to express the “feelings” of the speaker except perhaps in some vague syllabic sort of way, the more syllables the better.

That the speakers lack a basic understanding of what the words they use moment by moment actually mean in English is a never ending source of distress and misunderstanding. Should one raise any objection to this misuse of the language one is immediately vilified as a “pedant”, supposing that term exists in the speakers lexicon, and worse if the vocabulary is lacking. Even questioning “What do you mean?” invites a snarky retort along the lines of “What’s the matter with you don’t you understand plain English?” To which the obvious answer is “Well, yes, but … ”  don’t go there … really, no joy down that  track.

And so we find ourselves back at the start of the trail, with another pair of tracks in front of us added to the ones before … and then someone remarks “Another couple of Heffalumps have joined the herd!” … So goes debate and discussion in polite society.

As I remarked in a previous post, the gateway to Belief is flanked and supported by the two pillars of reality, the Incarnation and the Resurrection supporting the lintel of Faith …  but how can one express such a reality to any person confined to, imprisoned in, secular material reality? How are we to describe color to the blind or music to the deaf? How to communicate when we don’t even have a common language?

How is one to explain “Faith” without a common language, and even the brightest of  us seem to assign rather different meanings to rather common ideas and words. I am still reading “The Resurrection of the Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God” by N.T. Wright, from “Fortress Press” . It is a joy to read, what I have in the past referred to as “Brain Candy”, but not a ripping page turner. I I read a bit when I  am finished daily meditations, along with several others on my list in the same class of books.

And Dr. Wright spends a significant part of the first 70 pages or so clarifying this exact problem of meaning and the need for clarity in the context of historical writing and theology …  and that same confusion is equally prevalent in daily social exchange and is arguably more important, since in the immediate sense, history is only important to historians.

N.T. Wright writes: “What, though, do we mean by ‘historical’?  ‘History’ and its cognates have been used, within debates about Jesus and the resurrection, in at least five significantly different ways.

First, there is history as event. If we say something is ‘historical’ in this sense, it happened, whether or not we can know or prove that it happened. The death of the last pterodactyl is in that sense a historical event, even though no human witnessed it or wrote about it at the time, and we are very unlikely ever to discover when and where it took place. Similarly, we use the word ‘historical’ of persons or things, to indicate simply and solely that they existed.

Second, there is history as significant event. Not all events are significant; history, it is often assumed, consists of the ones that are. The adjective that tends to go with this is ‘historic’; ‘a historic event’ is not simply an event that took place, but one whose occurrence carried momentous consequences. Likewise, a ‘historic’ person, building or object is one perceived to have had particular significance, not merely existence. Rudolf Bultmann, himself arguably a historic figure within the discipline of New Testament studies, famously used the adjective “geschichtlich” to convey this sense, over against “historisch” (sense 1).

Third, there is history as provable event. To say that something is ‘historical’ in this sense is to say not only that it happened but that we can demonstrate that it happened, on the analogy of mathematics or the so-called hard sciences. This is somewhat more controversial. To say ‘x may have happened, but we can’t prove it, so it isn’t really historical’ may not be self-contradictory, but is clearly operating with a more restricted sense of ‘history’ than some of the others.

Fourth, and quite different from the previous three, there is history as writing-about-events-in-the-past. To say that something is ‘historical’ in this sense is to say that it was written about, or perhaps could in principle have been written about. (This might even include ‘historical’ novels.) A variant on this, though an important one, is oral history; at a time when many regarded the spoken word as carrying more authority than the written, history as speaking-about-events-in-the-past is not to be sneezed at.

Fifth and finally, a combination of (3) and (4) is often found precisely in discussions of Jesus: history as what modern historians can say about a topic. By ‘modern’ I mean ‘post-Enlightenment’, the period in which people have imagined some kind of analogy, even correlation, between history and the hard sciences. In this sense, ‘historical’ means not only that which can be demonstrated and written, but that which can be demonstrated and written within the post-Enlightenment worldview. This is what people have often had in mind when they have rejected ‘the historical Jesus’ (which hereby, of course, comes to mean ‘the Jesus that fits the Procrustean bed of a reductionist worldview’) in favour of ‘the Christ of faith’.

If the “authorities”  cannot agree on the meaning of “historical” then what hope for the rest of us on any topic. We are left with “Feelings”?

Anyway, eh? Enough serious stuff for tonight …here is something from around here amongst the frozen chosen:

Cheers

Joe

A Psalm of David: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

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Life in a small town

Render Unto Caesar …

Aki, Inner Thoughts, Rodrigo Rodriguez

So the last few posts since the elections I have been moaning about the world going to hell and how do I make sense of “The World”, the world that is clearly not turning out the way I thought it should. A combination of scripture and meditations and stepping back from my own opinions and desires lets me see things better, always keeping in mind that eternity matters, this world does not. Often my readings for daily meditations allude to the will of God being made manifest in the actions and orders of our “superiors”.

Alberta NDP Education Minister David Eggen (since deposed).

In religious life, within an order of religious in a monastery or in the priesthood it resembles the military in that it is not a democracy, vows of obedience include obeying orders and decisions which we may personally disagree with.

Outside of such societies we have come to feel that our own opinion is more important than anyone else’s but we still have our “superiors”, our bosses, executives of corporations, politicians, bureaucrats who wield much power, all in an ever increasing range or scope of authority the further up the food-chain a person gets.

Of course within the ever increasing “scope” of government authority we also suffer from inevitable “scope creep” as those who find themselves in positions of power struggle and push to increase their power in their various “silos” of responsibility … some would call this corruption but is an every day commonplace in our culture and much worse in other countries. The question I have is do those these persons make manifest the will of God in our lives?

“The Tribute Money” 1612-1614, painting by Peter Paul Rubens.

“19And the chief priests and the scribes sought to lay hands on him the same hour: but they feared the people, for they knew that he spoke this parable to them. 20And being upon the watch, they sent spies, who should feign themselves just, that they might take hold of him in his words, that they might deliver him up to the authority and power of the governor.

21And they asked him, saying: Master, we know that thou speakest and teachest rightly: and thou dost not respect any person, but teachest the way of God in truth. 22Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or no?

23But he, considering their guile, said to them: Why tempt you me? 24Shew me a penny. Whose image and inscription hath it? They answering, said to him: Caesar’s. 25And he said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things, that are Caesar’s: and to God the things that are God’s.

26And they could not reprehend his word before the people: and wondering at his answer, they held their peace.” (Luke 20: 19-26)

So the Gospel outlines clearly the position of the Christian toward civil authority. “Render therefore to Caesar the things, that are Caesar’s: and to God the things that are God’s” (cf Luke 20, 25). There is no opposition between the rights of political power and the rights of God, since “there would be no power unless it were given from above” (cf John 19, 11): political authority, legitimately constituted, comes from God and must be respected as a reflection of the divine authority.

This is precisely the reason why every Christian is bound to fulfill all the duties of a good citizen, and, consequently, must obey political authority, unless its orders are opposed to the law of God.  In that case it would no longer represent divine authority, because God cannot will anything bad or evil being the supreme Good. As St. Peter says, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5, 29). In telling us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, Jesus teaches us to give to the State all that falls under its jurisdiction, that is everything concerning the temporal order and the public good.

But He does not stop there, He says also “Give to God what is God’s”. If the coin which bears the  image of Caesar should be restored to Caesar, then there is much greater reason to restore our soul to God since our soul bears the image of God. This is to say that we owe Him everything, because we received everything from Him. And this carries further, it is the duty and purpose of every human being to restore our souls to God since He is the creator of all of us and everything in the world. We restore our soul to God by putting our will in the service of His will.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the media in the foyer of the House of Commons following the release of an ethics report (on his conduct). December 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld ORG XMIT: ajw105

But if we find ourselves in a political system (as so many of us do) whose orders are opposed to the law of God then that civil authority would no longer represent divine authority, because God cannot will anything bad or evil being the supreme Good. Such a political system would manifestly not be concerned with temporal order and the public good but rather the well-being of its “friends” at the expense of its citizens. What does one do in that case, well … obviously, as St. Peter says, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5, 29).

What does that look like in real life in our modern polite Canadian society?  We read in Luke 17: “1And He said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come. But woe to him through whom they come! 2It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones”.

And then we have The Book of Wisdom in the Catholic Bible, which has this to say about that:

1 Listen therefore, O kings, and understand; learn, O judges of the ends of the earth. 2 Give ear,you that rule over multitudes, and boast of many nations. 3 For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. 4 Because as servants of his kingdom you did not rule rightly, or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God, 5 he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places.

6 For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested. 7 For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike. 8 But a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty.

Pope Francis and the Amazon Synod controversy …

9 To you then, O monarchs, my words are directed, so that you may learn wisdom and not transgress. 10 For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness, and those who have been taught them will find a defense. 11 Therefore set your desire on my words; long for them, and you will be instructed. (Wisdom 6. 1-11)

So, mercy for the lowly, “For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy” but dark days ahead for the mighty … and the realization that there is nothing that we, in our lowliness, can do about the great tides of misfortune in our time nor for the most part is there anything we can do about even the little misfortunes and sufferings of life.

It seems that as we age and become more aware of the inadequacy of our efforts to hold back the wheel of time, to prevail as the body and the mind and our energies decline, it seems that it becomes easier and easier to understand that we are miserable and powerless on our own. A moment’s inattention can lead to a world of hurt and as we age the odds are more and more stacked against us.

We are less and less able to make a material change in our lives for the better and certainly we come to appreciate how little we can affect the “polite society” all around us and the decisions and events which once we though we knew better about. Letting go of everything outside our “circle of control” is hugely liberating. Realizing just how small that circle of control really is is bracing and at the same time can be hugely depressing.

And in this new place of depression and perhaps despair, it becomes easier to understand the sufferings of life as the Will of God designed to purify us and strip us of everything we thought we loved about ourselves, thus making room for love of God to enter into our lives which, up to now, were so filled up with love of self. This progression is the “Dark night of the soul” written about by mystics like John of the Cross, but written  for “Every-man”. The more successful we are the easier it is to think highly of ourselves, to “take credit” for everything in our lives which is actually just a gift. The lowlier we are the easier it is to appreciate what a screw-up we are, how miserable we are, and how much we are in need of God’s Love and God’s help.

So, in our total inadequacy, far from taking the initiative, as Father Gabriel says “… we are reduced to accepting with love, to enduring with patience and humility all that God disposes for us. God generally purifies souls through the ordinary circumstances of life. In the life of every Christian there is always a measure of suffering sufficient to effect the purification of the soul. These are the sufferings which God himself chooses and disposes in the way best suited to the different needs of souls; but, unfortunately, few profit by them because few know how to recognize in the sorrows of life the hand of God who wishes to purify them. 

Illness, bereavement, estrangement, separation from dear ones, misunderstandings, struggles, difficulties proceeding sometimes from the very ones who should have been able to give help and support , failure of works that were cherished and sustained at the price of great labor, abandonment by friends, physical and spiritual solitude, — these are some of the sufferings which are met with more or less in the life of every man, and which we will find in ours” if we live long enough.

We have to accept and understand that all these things are willed or permitted by God, in his plan to purify us to the inmost fiber of our being.  Additionally we must not stoop to blaming others, to blaming the malice of man, or examine the justice of events, but see only the hand of God working to chisel us into a closer resemblance to himself through these trials. We have to accept with patience and constancy, especially constancy, all these trials and tribulations which God sends us from within or without, spiritual or corporeal, great or small.

Sometimes we find it easier to accept heavy trials which obviously come directly from God, such as illness and bereavement, than the myriad daily lighter trials where other people enter into and for which we feel much greater revulsion. The immediate actions of our fellow humans, especially if their malice factors in, makes it more difficult for us to recognize the divine hand in our lives. And in our self love it is very easy to fall into sin by attributing all kinds of malicious motives to folks who have no clue that we even exist except in a general statistical way. How could they possibly do that … they must be screwing with us intentionally, right? Whole categories are malicious enemies, right? Republicans, right?  Democrats, right? Liberals, right? Socialists, right? Gays, right? Bureaucrats, right? You get my drift?

Saint John of the Cross says: “Thou must know that those are no more than workers whom God has placed there only that they might work upon and chisel at thee by mortifying thee. and some will cut at thee through words … others in deed … others by their thoughts, neither esteeming nor feeling love for thee … and thou must be subject to them in all things, even as an image is subject to him that fashions it and to him that paints it, and to him that guilds it.”

Our challenge, the challenge to our faith, is to see in every person a messenger from our Lord Jesus, charged by our Lord to exercise our soul in virtue, particularly in what we lack most. Remember those 10 mile runs in boot? Designed to build strength, and perseverance, both traits that recruits are usually particularly lacking in. This is just another 10 mile run … all these trials and tribulations are just another series of exercises to build up our soul in what we are most lacking.

Instead of rebelling and becoming angry  because of lack of consideration or even injustice we have to bow our heads humbly and accept it all as suitable treatment for our faults and bad inclinations. After decades of talk, this is where “the rubber meets the road”, it is with this realization that “death of self” truly begins. Peace and understanding is truly only found in humble acceptance, to understand in our heart that “this world” truly doesn’t matter. All that matters is God’s will.

Cheers

Joe

As we used to say … “Embrace the suck!”

 

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The Inner Struggle

Awareness of self love

“Deep Peace”, Bill Douglas, from the album of the same name, (1996)

As mentioned in my last post, are not all these special “problems”, my special problems, simply a manifestation of of my own  “Love of self”? Alternatively,  true “Love of others” is a way of accepting all these special “problems” if accepted with humility and meekness, without taking offense and building the castle of self love higher.

The little daily affronts and hurts offer an opportunity for refraining from claiming special victim status, and ceasing to worry about the fairness of life, and feeling sorry for myself. If I can accept each imagined hurt and slight and difficulty not as a personal attack, but as another “splinter of Christ’s cross” I might turn them into an occasion of grace rather than an occasion of sin.

Unfortunately, dawning awareness of my self love often seems to paralyze my trust and love of God. Pride jumps in and with the help and encouragement of my daily demons I repeat with Peter “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5, 8).

It seems at times that the dawning awareness of sinfulness gives rise to awareness of another layer of sin, always the self turning back into itself and its “specialness”, a sin within a sin within a sin, rather like those nesting dolls the Russians produce, the Matryoshka or Babushka dolls.

This seems especially frequent when going through dark periods of struggle, temptation and difficulty, all of which throw me into agitation and confusion. This state of mind interferes greatly with any outpouring of my heart, any attempt to submerge myself and my worries in God.

So we come to humility … again … and my obvious lack of true humility … I have written about this here, and here.

At the risk of seeming repetitive I re-post a litany of humility because it seems overwhelmingly important on this summer morning.

From Wikipedia, (obviously it must be true of it is on Wikipedia, right?)

As usual, anything, any article, that is outside the progressive secular mainstream comes with a neat disclaimer regarding veracity as in: “This article does not cite any sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

But it seems that at least so far, no one has cared enough about humility to make a point of having this article removed from the Wiki. So here it is then”

The following Litany of Humility is a Catholic prayer that the penitent be granted the virtue of humility.

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, (1865 – 1930)

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, (1865 – 1930)

This Litany is commonly attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Cardinal Secretary of State of the Holy See under Pope Saint Pius X, but there is little evidence of this.

C.S. Lewis attributed its composition to Cardinal Merry del Val in his March 1948 letter to Don Giovanni Calabria. Father Charles Belmonte, S.Th.D., a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature, who was inspired by the writings of the Cardinal, included it in a collection, the Handbook of Prayers (Studium Theologiae Foundation, Manila, 1986, and in a later edition, by Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, US.) As editor, Belmonte wrote: “attributed to Card. Merry del Val”.

Subsequent copyists, jumping to conclusions, wrote simply: “by Card. Merry del Val”. (remember, attribution of motive reveals more about the attributer of motive than about those to whom he is attributing motives … just saying, this is one of those areas of sins within sins within sins …)

A “Litany to Obtain Holy Humility” was published in 1867 by “A R.C. Clergyman.” A version very similar to the version attributed to Cardinal Merry del Val was published in 1880, copyright 1879 and “translated from the French of the Fifth Edition.”

Clearly, the good Cardinal was simply using a lesser known, but already published prayer. The original author of the Litany of Humility seems to be lost to history, in the obscurity for which he prayed. SO SPEAKS THE ALMIGHTY WIKI!

Or it might be possible that great and holy minds think alike? I have remarked before that: “It seems a hallmark of Truth that it always believes and expects the best of others and acts accordingly. It also seems a hallmark of untruth that it always believes and expects the worst of others and acts accordingly.” My guess is that it all depends on what your starting assumptions are as to how you believe others will act.

Anyway, what is a litany?

A litany is a form of prayer with a repeated responsive petition, used in public liturgical services of the Catholic Church, and in private devotions of Her adherents.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Make my heart like yours.
From self-will, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire to be understood, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire to be visited, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being abandoned, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being refused, deliver me, O Lord.
That others may be loved more than I,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
At being unknown and poor, Lord, I want to rejoice.
At being deprived of the natural perfections of body and mind,Lord, I want to rejoice.
When people do not think of me, Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they assign to me the meanest tasks, Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they do not even deign to make use of me, Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they never ask my opinion, Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they leave me at the lowest place, Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they never compliment me, Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they blame me in season and out of season, Lord, I want to rejoice.
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Attributed by many writers to: Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, (1865 – 1930)

Cheers

Joe

approach everything with patience, fraternal charity … and humility.

 

 

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The Inner Struggle

Easter Sunday – The Resurrection of Christ Jesus

“An Taiseirl (The Resurrection)”, Noirin Ni Riain and The Monks Of Glenstal Abbey, from the album “Vox de Nube”, (1996)

Resurrection, Romolo Tavani

Resurrection, Romolo Tavani

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

“Quid hoc ad aeternitatem,” as old Saint Bernard of Clairvaux used to mumble when faced with the usual parade of travail, what does it matter in the light of eternity?

Cheers

Joe

1A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.

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The Inner Struggle

Penitence as a way of life …

Mother of Sorrows”, Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles, from the album “Lent At Ephesus”, (2014)

I started this yesterday and posted the beginning  at the end of yesterday’s post. Nothing here is “Real Joe”, just a brief quote from “Divine Intimacy” and a rather long, but extremely important and moving excerpt from Father John A. Kane’s “How To Make A Good Confession”.

Gentle Reader’s mileage may vary if you are not in this head-space … I wouldn’t have given this much thought a few years ago, but when one is ready, then it speaks.

“… This is a sign of real fidelity, to persevere even in the darkest moments, when all seems lost, and when a friend, instead of triumphing, is reduced to defeat and profound humiliation.

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D

It is easy to be faithful to God when everything goes smoothly, when His cause triumphs; but to be equally faithful in the hour of darkness, when, for a time, He permits evil to get the upper hand, when everything that is good and holy seems to be swept away and irrevocably lost — this is hard, but it is the most authentic proof of real love. (Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. from the book “Divine Intimacy” meditations on the interior life for every day of the liturgical year.pp 400).

And from Fr. John A. Kane:

“Repentance (from the Greek: Metanoia) is the mind itself changed and transformed. It is the supernatural conquering the natural. It is the assumption of the spirit of Christ according to the words of St. Paul: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”. (Phil. 2:5)  Thus it is evident that penitence, in its entirety, is perennial.

It has not always the same quality, however. It assumes different phases, and in this respect it is like a lifelong grief. The first outbreak of sorrow will subside. The wilderness of desolation will bloom again with fragrant flowers. In resignation to the divine will, the soul will be flooded with light, peace, and joy. Then it will glory in the consciousness that it is suffering with Christ.

Fr. John A. Kane

Fr. John A. Kane, 1912 – 1962

Its sorrow is now more abiding; it has taken root in the very depths of the soul’s consciousness; it clings to the soul far more tenaciously than the first convulsive paroxysm of grief. Without any external evidence, sorrow has silently transfigured the soul’s life, uniting it more fully, more consciously with its God. A calm and permanent sorrow, which at first terrorized the soul, now lovingly embraces it and gradually sinks into its extreme depths, while externally there may have been no sign of its existence.

Penitence acts likewise. The initial expression of grief will cease; the tears will by degrees diminish; the would inflicted by sin will gradually close. The first instinctive feelings of disappointment with self, loathing, and remorse will quiet down and become more reasonable. But the awful realization of the soul’s spiritual state, the one all-absorbing thought of the horror of sin, will be more vivid, immeasurably truer, and will assume a more disciplined form.

And as the interior spirit of repentance grows and at the same time becomes calmer, gentler, and more enlightened, the sense of the meaning of sin will intensify, and the thought of God’s mercy to sinners will rouse the soul’s hope and dispel the mists and shadows of that first anguish of somewhat unrealistic sorrow and remorse. The soul’s powers, thus renewed, will now live their life in the eternal sunshine of the mercy and love of God.

Peter Paul Rubens - Vision of Ezekiel

Peter Paul Rubens – Vision of Ezekiel

To the superficial observer, repentance may then appear to have ceased. It has, however, only sunk deeper into the soul. It is invisible because it has rooted itself in the soul’s innermost being. Its very hiddenness robs it of all external assertiveness. It has thoroughly intermingled with the soul’s deepest source of life, like food completely assimilated by the body.

It has made the soul far more responsive to grace; it has sensitized the soul’s faculties; it has silently and secretly developed the soul’s realization of God’s most wondrous prerogative: mercy;  it has bound the soul irrevocably to Christ and revived the soul’s adoption by Him who “desires not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Cf. Ezek. 33:11) thus it has become the impetus of the soul’s advancement in virtue, the inspiration of its power for good, and its daily shield in its struggle for eternal life.

The Apostle Matthew and Angel (Rembrandt, 1661)

The Apostle Matthew and Angel (Rembrandt, 1661)

The soul now serves God more freely and more lovingly because it realizes the contrast between its past sinfulness and its present holiness, and the marvelous way in which the mercy of God has affected the change. This perennial penitential state, because of its hidden and profound depth, is all the more real. It is a creature of intelligence and calm confidence, not of blind instinct and selfish sorrow for sin. It transcends the natural because it is born of faith.  A pious legend states that even to the day of his martyrdom, St. Peter, whenever he heard the crowing of the cock, wept anew.

The mighty flood of sorrow still flowed that broke forth within him when, on the night of his denial, he went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75). In his epistles, penitence is not mentioned. But no other letters are more replete with soul stirring pleas for humility, watchfulness, and fear.

St. Peter

St. Peter

“Be ye subject therefore,” he says, “to every human creature for God’s sake.” (1 Pet. 2:13)  In like manner, ye young men, be subject to the ancients. … Insinuate humility one to another, for God resisteth the proud, but to the humble He giveth grace. Be you humbled, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation, casting all your care upon him, for He hath care of you. Be sober and watch, because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:5-8) “Be prudent therefore, and watch in prayers.” (1 Pet. 4:7) “Fear God.” (1 Pet 2:17) “Converse in fear during the time of your sojourning here.”

St. Paul’s letters, on the contrary, are striking for their tone of repentance. The great apostle cannot forget the sins of his youth. “I am,” he says, “the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9)

Saint Paul The Apostle, probably by Valentin de Boulogne

Saint Paul The Apostle, probably by Valentin de Boulogne

“A faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. But for this cause I have obtained mercy, that in me first Christ Jesus might show forth all patience, for the information of them that shall believe in Him unto life everlasting.” (1 Tim. 1:15-16)

Penitence deserving the name, then, is not a mere passing act but a permanent state — a supernatural sorrow not fitfully but continually welling up within us, a condition of soul lasting until death. At no stage of the spiritual life may we dispense with it. It is necessary for the one who has advanced in virtue, as well as for the hardened sinner.

King David Playing the Harp - Gerard van Honthorst

King David Playing the Harp – Gerard van Honthorst

We are reminded of this in Confession. When slight imperfections form the subject matter of our accusation, the priest may well ask us to recall, in a general way, some former mortal sins, if any, or other venial sins, and to include them in our act of contrition. This is done to enliven our sense of sin and to increase our repentance.

Wonderfully retentive is the sinner’s memory. The reason is that the remembrance of past guilt and of God’s grace, which raised the sinner from spiritual death to spiritual life, can coexist in the soul.

God’s own eternity seems to be stamped upon the sinner’s conscience, that he may not be without fear for forgiven sin, that the abiding knowledge of former sin and the punishment thereof may, all his days, wring from him the wail that will finally remove the last vestige of both sin and punishment. “Wash me yet more from my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin.” (Ps. 50.4  Ps, 51:2)

St John the Apostle

St John the Apostle – Pieter Paul RUBENS – Flemish (Siegen 1577-1640 Antwerp) – ca. 1611 / Prado Madrid

As in the physical order, there is no light without its shadow, so , in the moral order, although the light of grace illumines the soul, the dim reflection of the hated past still remains.

The God who assumed our flesh so that sinners might “have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  the God of infinite compassion who came “to seek and to save that which was lost,” (Luke 19:10) would have us ever reflect on our past sinfulness — not to weaken our confidence in His unspeakable mercy and to fill us with despair, but to enliven our sorrow and to strengthen our love of Him, so that “where sin abounded, grace might more abound.” (Cf. Rom. 5:20)

The habitual thought of former sin will invigorate present repentance. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) True self knowledge will beget “the sorrow that is according to God,” which “worketh penance steadfast unto salvation.”

St. Luke The Evangelist - Claude Vignon

St. Luke The Evangelist – Claude Vignon

Thus, the prayer of the publican — “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) we can never repeat too often; his humility we can never assimilate too well. The yearning to return to the God whom he had outraged, the conscious recognition of his sin, which convinced him that he was utterly unworthy of pardon, justified him fully in the in the sight of the divine majesty. “I say to you, this man went down into his house justified.” (Luke 18:14)

Realizing that we are sinners, we must have a godly, and thus a deep, humble, sincere, perennial, and efficacious sorrow for our sins, a sorrow that forces us to quit the broad, rough road of sin and, with renewed spiritual strength, to advance in the way of God.

If we evade the stern obligation of repentance, we shall be lost. “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3) Sorrow for past sin is the infallible means of avoiding future sin. Penitence is, then, the rock foundation of a virtuous life. We must clothe ourselves with the penitential garb here, if we would escape the terrors of the judgement hereafter. “If Thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities, Lord, who will stand it?” (Ps. 129:3 (RSV = Ps. 130:3)

Cheers

Joe

“If Thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities, Lord, who will stand it?” (Ps. 129:3 (RSV = Ps. 130:3)

 

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