A kind reader and correspondent of mine, Mark at Joe versus the Volcano, has encouraged me to read the work of the great 19th-20th century Dominican theologian, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP. I’ve slowly and gradually begun to read his The Three Ages of the Interior Life, which is available online.
Well, actually, I’ve only just begun reading the introduction–but have already have found lots to think about! Below is an excerpt from the 2nd section of the intro, called: “The Question of the One Thing Necessary at the Present Time.” (The “one thing necessary”–a phrase Christ uses with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:42–is the interior life, which Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says “consists in hearing the word of God and living by it”; “the life of the soul with God”).
The “present time” for Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange when he was writing this work was the late 1930s. As we know, Europe was approaching what was to be a horrific catastrophe. However, as I read, I kept thinking to myself, “My goodness, this could have been written this morning!”
This section caught my attention by its talk of “the seriousness of life.” I’m a pretty serious person. I think one thing that defines a mature adult human being is a certain awareness and observance of the gravitas of life–and certainly the gravitas of religion and the spiritual life. I would consider being serious a virtue. Of course, I’ve also been accused of being a dour, joyless, uptight, crotchety hag. I’m not sure when that became the definition of “serious.” Is it really so awful to ponder what is most important and deserving of devotion?
Without further ado, here is Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, with some reflections of mine interspersed.
Without God, the seriousness of life gets out of focus. If religion is no longer a grave matter but something to smile at, then the serious element in life must be sought elsewhere. Some place it, or pretend to place it, in science or in social activity; they devote themselves religiously to the search for scientific truth or to the establishment of justice between classes or peoples. After a while they are forced to perceive that they have ended in fearful disorder and that the relations between individuals and nations become more and more difficult, if not impossible. As St. Augustine and St. Thomas have said, it is evident that the same material goods, as opposed to those of the spirit, cannot at one and the same time belong integrally to several persons. The same house, the same land, cannot simultaneously belong wholly to several men, nor the same territory to several nations. As a result, interests conflict when man feverishly makes these lesser goods his last end.
I think of the modern Church as I’ve found it so often today: entertaining liturgy, no reverence at all, no talk of the Cross of Christ nor of the need for us to carry our own crosses, no talk of sin and repentance, no Confession lines, no whole-hearted devotion. Replacing all of that tends to be so-called “social justice” activism that is divorced in some way (or in many ways) from Catholic moral teaching and obedience to the Church Magisterium–most often at the expense of unborn children… because what are they going to do, fight back?
I think also of the dreadful insistence on “tolerance” which actually means, “Hey, Catholic Church, you have to tolerate me no matter what I say or do or think or believe or how I define ‘Catholic,’ and if you don’t then I get to scream at you for being a bunch of backward, intolerant bigots. I mean, how dare you stand up for absolute truth and for your own sense of identity! And if you even think the word ‘excommunication,’ you’ll only prove yourselves to be medieval fossils.”
Related to the insistence on tolerance are the insistence on relativism and an indifferentism that favors just about everything and everybody except the Church.
The Church is discriminated against in the name of non-discrimination. The Church is wronged in the name of justice. And it’s done most often by people within the Church–it is what they have chosen as their serious mission in place of a serious Catholic faith. Like the material things Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange mentions, the Church as a human, earthly institution, cannot belong to more than one group of persons at the same time. It either belongs to Catholics, or it belongs to non-Catholics (even if they call themselves Catholics). Until it belongs either to one or the other, interior strife and chaos run rampant. There is nothing but division.
It is very ironic that dissenters scoff at the notion of the “institutional Church” (for them, a code phrase for the real, faithful, orthodox Church they despise). In reality, they are seeking to steal the institution for themselves, to ensconce themselves as the institution, as the face and the voice of the Church on earth. To once and for all have their definition of “Catholic” win out and be universally accepted. “God? Bishops? Ordained priests? Pious laypeople? Who needs them? We are church. [sic] Like it or leave.”
One often feels that they have very nearly succeeded today. “Oh, yes, there are still a few people who blubber over crucifixion, obey the pope, consider abortion the greatest evil ever, hate sex, think only men can be priests, and pray the Rosary. But they’re just crazy extremists. Pay them no mind.”
St. Augustine, on the other hand, insists on the fact that the same spiritual goods can belong simultaneously and integrally to all and to each individual in particular. Without doing harm to another, we can fully possess the same truth, the same virtue, the same God. This is why our Lord says to us: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Failure to hearken to this lesson, is to work at one’s destruction and to verify once more the words of the Psalmist: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.”
True unity, true justice, true tolerance can only exist where there are shared spiritual goods. In contrast to the false tolerance mentioned above, the Church embraces a true tolerance based on shared beliefs and absolute truth. There is a genuine diversity within the Church. In addition to the various liturgical traditions, there are individual people of all races, nationalities, ages, states in life, political viewpoints, socio-economic status, sexual orientation. What binds us together as one Church is our belief in and devotion to “the same truth, the same virtue, the same God.” What unifies us is our common goal of worshiping, knowing, loving, and serving God and seeking the kingdom of God.
This common ground is built into the Catholic Church via Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium, and of course the Holy Spirit’s rule and the discipline of infallibility He exerts over our human leaders where the faith and morals of the Church are concerned. When this spiritual common ground is abandoned and Catholicism is put up for grabs and torn to shreds like a piece of meat by various contenders… when the spiritual common ground ceases to be the most important, most serious part… then we get the chaos described above.
We conclude logically that religion can give an efficacious and truly realistic answer to the great modern problems only if it is a religion that is profoundly lived, not simply a superficial and cheap religion made up of some vocal prayers and some ceremonies in which religious art has more place than true piety. As a matter of fact, no religion that is profoundly lived is without an interior life, without that intimate and frequent conversation which we have not only with ourselves but with God.
What comes to mind here is the sometimes hotly-debated notion of “active participation” in the Mass by the laity. Some claim that the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite by its nature engenders active participation, as opposed to the Extraordinary Form, which by its nature stifles active participation. This claim is only true if “active participation” means exterior actions, such as speaking words and singing songs and shaking hands with your pew-mates. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is saying that such exterior actions by themselves are meaningless, “superficial and cheap.” They do not by themselves constitute “a religion profoundly lived.” They may or may not be an indication of a religion profoundly lived. What constitutes a religion profoundly lived is the interior life.
In my experience, both forms of the Latin Rite can inspire, foster, and deepen the interior life. Both forms can also stifle it. The difference lies not so much in the liturgies themselves. The difference lies chiefly within each and every one of us. How willing are we to dedicate ourselves body and soul, exteriorly and interiorly, to worshiping God? That is, how serious are we about worshiping God? If we worship half-heartedly, lazily, and without seriousness, which liturgy is used at the Mass isn’t going to matter one bit!
This is what it comes down to, dear ones: It comes down to each of us asking ourselves questions. How seriously do I myself take practicing the Catholic faith? How seriously do I take God? How seriously do I take the Mass? How seriously do I take orthodoxy? How seriously do I take the institution of the Church? How seriously do I take the tradition that has been handed down by the Holy Spirit through men? How seriously do I take unity with my fellow Catholics?
We all take things seriously. Our souls are driven by meaning, purpose, and importance. We either take the truly important things seriously (which I think happens only when we take a serious attitude toward life in general), or we take lesser and even foolish things seriously. Such as flawed notions of tolerance, for example.
Let’s get serious and make the right choices.