The Field of Our Soul

I came across a wonderfully analogy for the pursuit of the interior life in Dan Burke’s book, “Navigating the Interior Life.”  He also maintains a website promoting the themes in his book.  I highly recommend the book to anyone whose prayer has led them to an awareness that a spiritual director is needed.  While you’re still searching for one, this book is a godsend.

When we begin the work of a serious commitment to holiness, we will discover that the field (the soul) that we desire to plow and plant is riddled with rocks (sins) that need to be removed in order to make progress.  At this point of discovery, the faithful farmer begins to remove these big obvious rocks (usually mortal sins).  At some point the farmer becomes satisfied with this effort, pulls the plow out of the shed and sets out to prepare the soil, but then is startled at a disconcerting discovery: Though all the big rocks are gone, there are many more rocks that are smaller (venial sins) that had not been seen before.  The big rocks had properly drawn all of the attention.  Now that the big rocks are clear, a more detailed and sometimes more rigorous effort is then needed to further prepare the field.  The same is true with the progressive nature of root sin identification and clarification as we grow in spiritual maturity.

Comedian Louis C.K. on Original Solitude

Who would have thought a comedian known for his vulgar jokes would speak so profoundly about Original Solitude?  This YouTube video clip has garnered over 5.3 million views.  The clip specifically addresses this aloneness that leads us to happiness.  In Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the Pope describes this phenomenon as Original Solitude, a realization in solitude that opens up our heart to God.  All the noise in the world is distracting us from entering that solitude.  Louis C.K. definitely hit a nerve:

The Amazing Pope Francis Interview

I nearly cried when I read how Pope Francis saw himself as the sinful tax collector Matthew called by Jesus to follow him.  He referred to Caravaggio’s painting The Calling of Saint Matthew and had this to say: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’  Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.”  I guess I got emotional because I know how power and fame would go straight to my head, but here’s a man who is still filled with so much humility despite that power and fame.  He is living out the virtue of humility in the spotlight for folks like me to follow.

painting-the-calling-of-saint-matthew-caravaggio
“The Calling of St. Matthew” by Caravaggio

The interview is as explosive as the commentators are making it out to be.  Although it’s rather long, I agree with others who say it is worth reading in full, and then again.  The original article can be found at America Magazine.

In his answer about why he chose the Jesuit order and why he decided on a room in the Santa Marta for his Papal Residence, I found myself asking myself why I’m a loner.  Am I really a loner?  Don’t I also yearn for community?  I think I hold onto this idea that I’m a loner as a badge of honor, something to be proud of because I never really fit in with the popular crowd.  It is probably closer to the truth that I desire to be a part of a group, but hold up this shield of being a loner as a defense.  I don’t want to get hurt when a group decides not to include me.

When Pope Francis talked about his management experience as a Jesuit superior of a province, I found myself reflecting on how I am as a manager.  Am I making the same mistakes?  How can I learn from the Pope’s mistakes?  While the virtue of magnanimity was a bit unclear, I think I understand what he was saying better when he described it:

Thanks to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. That means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God.

It’s easy for me to fall into the trap where I desire the bigger office, the corner office.  I even found myself thinking that a good act of humility would be to give up my current office to use as a conference room and take up a cubicle where I’m sharing the space with someone.  It would force me to go out and meet my team instead of waiting for my team to come and speak with me.

His emphasis on discernment is interesting to me.  When I first converted to the faith, I did not trust my discernment.  I always second-guessed myself and asked God to give me signs that this is what He wants me to do.  I guess I still do that.  What I found interesting was how doubt was important in the discernment process.  It’s as if there is a certainty in doubt, if that makes any sense.  By doubting whether a course is the right one, I seek God.  In seeking, I become certain of what God wants — all the while still doubting my motives!  It’s a paradox: the certainty in doubt, but it’s true.  I experienced it when I asked God about Anne Marie, whether she was His choice to be my wife.  [I should blog about that sometime.]

I loved the section when he talked about a “holy middle class.”  It’s true that modern saints like Saint Therese, Mother Teresa, or Jose Maria Escrivá lived lives that may seem far out of reach, the poor working holy class doubting he can ever become a part of the “holy upper class.”  I should not fear because it’s still possible to strive for a middle class in holiness:

“I see the holiness,” the pope continues, “in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity.”

That first example is poignant: a woman who is raising children.  I definitely see the sanctity shine in my wife when she’s with our girls.  She has her flaws of course, but I see her shine with holiness as a mother.  It’s humbling and very inspiring.  And, it makes me love her greatly!

I remember another living saint who once told me, “Don’t be turned off by the hypocrites.  A church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”  So, when I read Pope Francis’ extension of that analogy, I really could relate:

…the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds….

Apparently, there were commentators who wanted to “clarify” what the Pope meant when he said “Who am I to judge?” when it came to homosexuals.  Those commentators wanted to think the Pope meant only priests who were gay.  In the interview, it was clear his sentiments applied to all homosexuals:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’  We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.

I like this focus on the person and on relationships.  We don’t learn truths from books, we learn them through encounters with people.  We may intellectually understand a truth as it is presented in a book, but we don’t really learn it until we live it in the context of relationships (i.e., redemptive suffering via marriage; the inner life of the Trinity via parenthood; virtue of humility via friendships, etc.)

Pope Francis said so much more that his interview is worth reading, again.  I think his words have already begun a change in me, something I know I should eventually do when the time is right.

My Highlights and Notes from Lumen Fidei (Part 3 of 3)

I have a lot of highlights and notes from Lumen Fidei.  Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here.  As before, my own remarks are [in bold & italics].

Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love, and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good.  … it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope.  (LF 51)  [Pope Francis then goes on to highlight Heb 11:33 and 1 Sam 12:3-5; 2 Sam 8:15.  Specifically, how faith helped the rulers be just and provide wisdom that brings peace to the people governed.]

As salvation history progresses, it becomes evident that God wants to make everyone share as brothers and sisters in that one blessing, which attains its fullness in Jesus, so that all may be one….  Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters….  Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity….  At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (LF 54)

Here is the concluding prayer for Lumen Fidei:

Let us turn in prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.

Mother, help our faith!

Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call.

Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.

Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.

Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.

Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One.

Remind us that those who believe are never alone.

Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path.  And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!

My Highlights and Notes from Lumen Fidei (Part 2)

I’d like to continue my notes from reading Lumen Fidei.  There are so many good nuggets of wisdom.  This is Part 2; I posted my first set yesterday.  My goal is to jot them down here and then review them more in depth in the future.  Again, as with the first, my notes are in [bold & italics]:

This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely.  (LF 16)

Had the Father’s love not caused Jesus to rise from the dead, had it not been able to restore his body to life, then it would not be a completely reliable love, capable of illuminating also the gloom of death.  (LF 17)  [If it wasn’t for Christ’s horrible death and glorious resurrection, His saving message wouldn’t have lasted so long.  His self-sacrifice is so compelling.]

Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing.  (LF 18)  [It is so weird to think that when we are in communion with Christ, that we are His eyes and ears.  We are His hands and feet.]

We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court.  We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned.  (LF 18)  [This is why we ultimately need the Magisterium to help interpret Scripture and define core doctrine.  It’s easy for Christ’s sheep, out of misguided sense of justice to redefine right/wrong to fit with the times.]

To enable us to know, accept and follow him, the Son of God took on our flesh.  In this way he also saw the Father humanly, within the setting of a journey unfolding in time.  Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Word and his bodily resurrection; it is faith in a God who is so close to us that he entered our human history.  Far from divorcing us from reality, our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enables us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself.  This leads us, as Christians, to live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity.  (LF 18)

In accepting the gift of faith, believers become a new creation; they receive a new being; as God’s children, they are now “sons in the Son”.  The phrase “Abba, Father”, so characteristic of Jesus’ own experience, now becomes the core of the Christian experience (cf. Rom 8:15).  (LF 19)

Paul rejects the attitude of those who would consider themselves justified before God on the basis of their own works.  (LF 19)

The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being.  (LF 19)

The image of a body does not imply that the believer is simply one part of an anonymous whole, a mere cog in the great machine; rather it brings out the vital union of Christ with believers, and of believers among themselves (cf. Rom 12:4-5).  Christians are “one” (cf. Gal 3:28), yet in a way which does not make them lose their individuality; in service to others, they come into their own in the highest degree.  (LF 22)

Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers.  (LF 22)

In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable….  Yet, at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good.  But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion.  (LF 25)  [Again, a great summary of our current spiritual condition.]

[Paragraphs 26-28 talks about how faith can lead to knowledge about truth and love.  Popes Francis and Benedict compare faith-knowledge to the limits of scientific knowledge.]

Faith-knowledge sheds light not only on the destiny of one particular people, but the entire history of the created world, from its origins to its consummation.  (LF 28)

By his taking flesh and coming among us, Jesus has touched us, and through the sacraments he continues to touch us even today… (LF 31)

One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us.  (LF 34)

The gaze of science thus benefits from faith:  faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness.  (LF 34)

Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God… (LF 35)

Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another.  (LF 37)

It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus.  (LF 38)

We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others.  Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us: in the first place, our parents, who gave us our life and our name.  Language itself, the words by which we make sense of our lives and the world around us, comes to us from others, preserved in the living memory of others.  Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory.  The same thing holds true for faith, which brings human understanding to its fullness.  Faith’s past, that act of Jesus’ love which brought new life to the world, comes down to us through the memory of others — witnesses — and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church.  The Church is a Mother who teaches us to speak the language of faith.  (LF 38)

It is impossible to believe on our own.  (LF 39)

The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories….  The sacraments communicate an incarnate memory, linked to the times and places of our lives, linked to all our senses; in them the whole person is engaged as a member of a living subject and part of a network of communitarian relationships.  (LF 40)

The Eucharist is a precious nourishment for faith:  an encounter with Christ truly present in the supreme act of his love, the life-giving gift of himself.  In the Eucharist we find the intersection of faith’s two dimensions.  (LF 44)  [The two dimensions being “history” and the “supernatural.”]

… the four elements which comprise the storehouse of memory which the Church hands down: the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the path of the ten commandments, and prayer.  (LF 46)

Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity.  Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole… hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized.  (LF 48)  [Another reason for the Magisterium (cf. Acts 20:27).]

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