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Because so many dear, thoughtful people have taken the time and care to check in on me to make sure I am OK… and also to drop reminders–subtle and not-so-subtle–that it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything here… And because I am so touched and grateful for it all…

I just wanted to let everybody know that I am indeed OK and that I am not unmindful of how long it has been since I posted here.  :)

In fact, I should love very much to flood you with fresh blog posts.  The only problem is that I’ve had trouble thinking of anything worth posting about (with the exception of the upcoming retreat with my Lay Dominican community, of course).  I’ve had considerable writer’s block with regard to the blog.  However, I have not been letting my creativity wither away.  In fact, I have been quite busy with various off-line pursuits: writing fiction, doing some drawing and coloring, reading.

I wish I could say that my spiritual life is going swimmingly… but it’s not.  It hasn’t been for quite some time.  I’ve experienced a long arid spell.  Loving God has been mostly cold-steel sheer will–it’s been a while since my love has been the unquenchable, all-consuming fire that it is often capable of being.  Which is not to say that I love Him any less.  Just that it is a different sort of love.  Love would be pretty boring if there weren’t some variety to it, right?  I often experience God’s love of me in a similar way–sometimes it’s all warmth and tenderness and beauty, almost a kind of romance, and then sometimes it’s like being cranked through a wringer or tossed off a cliff, tough as nails (yes, Lord Holy Spirit, I’m talking about You!), and then sometimes it is reserved, still, silent, a desert wind, an encompassing darkness–but never empty or indifferent.

So, it’s not going swimmingly, no.  But it is all right.  It is going.  It is bringing me somewhere.  Teaching me something.  It always does.  In hindsight, I always look back and can’t believe I didn’t realize how very close God was to me, and how much He was saying to me and doing for me.

Health-wise, I can’t complain.  The worst I’ve had to deal with is bursitis in my foot.  The depression is under control.

At least, the physiological aspects of depression are under control.  I still have lots of emotional and psychological stuff to work through.  Mainly grief and sorrow.  I know that the physical elements are under control because I have once again turned my mind to the elements that are beyond the reach of medical science.  They are quite huge and intimidating–even frightening.  But I can stand them now and begin my passage through them.  And that is quite a relief, actually.  I want, and need, to set out on that path.

We are in the middle of a long, extremely hot, drought-ridden summer here in Texas.  We’ve had about 27 consecutive days with high temperatures above 100° F (38° C).  It’s gone on so long that I dare say (while shuddering) that I am almost used to it!  But I still avoid being outdoors as much as possible.  Summer has always been my least-favorite season.  But in general, as I have matured, I have come to appreciate some things about summer.  As long as there are luminous, long-lingering evenings, glowing fireflies and singing cicadas, and a bottle of Sho Chiku Bai chilling in my refrigerator, I find that I can face summer with a rather peaceful and poetic outlook.  I think it is this outlook that has so inspired my artistic endeavors of late.

So this is where I am.  Typing words about love and summer and God and life.  Admiring the silhouettes of trees against a powder-blue sky sketched over with faint apricot-colored mares’ tails.  Holding a cold sake cup delicately in my fingers.  And thinking about you, whoever and wherever you are, very thankful that you have paused to read these words.

God bless you.


We’ve had quite a winter storm this week.  I think the Super Bowl teams brought it with them from up north!  This whole region has been iced over since yesterday.  Most roads are impassable.  All the schools, including my university, have been closed since then, and some will be closed again tomorrow.  So, needless to say, I haven’t left home!

Although I worry about people who have no homes, or no power, or no choice but to get out on the hazardous roads… I have to say I am thankful for this respite.  It has helped me to relax and to get my head on straight, without the stress of missing work or class.

What I need more than anything is to re-focus on my relationship with God and my spiritual life.  Both have been a little… cold, if you will.  I feel the iciness outside within me.

I’m sure it’s partly the usual pall that grief and clinical depression cast over them, and everything else.  But it’s partly just me.  I’ve been focusing on the wrong things and the wrong people.  Getting my priorities mixed up.  Lacking in discipline.  And then, there’s discouragement.

Sometimes I feel like I have completely regressed and devolved in my spiritual life.  That all the experience and insight I’ve received over the last 5-6 years has up and abandoned me.  I sometimes feel that even God has abandoned me.  I feel so in the dark.

I know intellectually that there is probably a good reason.  Maybe I’ve been relying on my own knowledge too much, fancying myself to be wise, when in reality I’ve been losing touch with true wisdom, divine wisdom, He who is Wisdom.

I know intellectually that I will learn and grow and benefit in many other ways.  Virtues will flourish, my spiritual compass will sharpen, my trust and devotion will deepen.

I know intellectually that God is still with me, just as close as ever, and perhaps even more so.  A priest told me that sometimes God becomes so close to us, so entwined with us, that we can’t see Him.  It may seem like He has gone away, but He is really closer than ever.  I believe that.

I know all of this.  But it certainly doesn’t feel good.  I feel lonely and lost and on the verge of hopelessness.  Spiritually frozen.  Yearning for warmth and light.

I’m trying to think of it as just a natural season, like a winter that will soon enough turn into spring and bear fruit.

But it’s still difficult.

(photo source)

One of my Lay Dominican sisters gave me this wonderful little bitty book called The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life by Father Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP.  It’s basically a brief outline of his larger works on the spiritual life.  I highly recommend it!  I find it very easy to read and to understand, but also challenging and inspiring.

I thought I would share a couple of excerpts that have stood out to me and pertain to things I have been pondering lately.

Such are the inexhaustible riches of the spirit that they can be the property of all and yet satisfy the desires of each.  Indeed, only then do we possess a truth completely when we teach it to others, when we make others share our contemplation; only then do we truly love a virtue when we wish others to love it also; only then do we wholly love God when we desire to make him loved by all.  Give money away, or spend it, and it is no longer yours.  But give God to others, and you possess Him more fully for yourself. (pg. 2)

I find this passage to be an excellent reminder of how important it is to evangelize.  To not keep God and our faith hidden away, but to proclaim them joyfully, passionately, and unabashedly.  I know how difficult it can be.  Being an evangelist is not a popular thing in our society.  We don’t want to offend anybody or hurt anybody’s feelings.  We don’t want to be unpopular.  But if we truly love and believe in our Lord and our faith–how can we hide it away and deny it?  How does that make us better people?  How does it serve our fellow man?  How does it testify to the enlightenment and civility of our culture?  How does it give God the honor He deserves?

I’m sorry if my love of God and Church upsets anybody–sorry not because it’s my problem, but because it’s such a shame that there is such immaturity and inability to live harmoniously in this pluralistic society of ours.  Oddly enough, I manage to get by just fine, without throwing any hissy fits, whenever I find myself bombarded by the evangelization efforts of the many different belief systems that exist in this country.  I’m cool with it.  I may argue against some of the ideas, but I have no problem with people expressing them.  I expect the same courtesy in return.

But whether I get that courtesy or not, I must evangelize.  Not only because I’m a Dominican with a special charism of preaching and the motto about sharing with others the fruit of my contemplation.  No, I must evangelize above all because I love God and the faith, because they enrich my entire life and being, and because I have no right not to share them freely with others.  We mustn’t hoard nor waste these riches of the spirit.  We must share them generously and gratuitously, just as God shares Himself with us.  It is the duty of every Catholic, no matter what their state or walk of life.

Here’s another excerpt, from the introduction of the book:

… [We] are apt to forget that the most sublime and most vital truths are precisely elementary truths, deeply studied, prayerfully considered and made the object of supernatural contemplation.

[The footnote here reads:]  The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, which we shall quote often in thesepages, is a case in point.  Read at the age of twenty or twenty-five, it may fail to bring home the doctrine which it expounds, seeming, as it does, to emphasize only elementary truths and making little appeal to the sensibility and the imagination.  But when it is read at a later age, and with a maturer judgment, it is seen that the elementary truths which it contains are expounded in a manner which is very profound and sublime, and at the same time with great sobriety.  (pg. x-xi)

This struck me in the context of a discussion I had with my theologian friend, Mark Armitage, about what theology is all about and what it really means to be a theologian.  (Mark shares some thoughts on the topic here and here.)  I was complaining that today people think that all there is to being a theologian is earning a degree from a school, and that theology is just another academic discipline.  All too often, these paper-based theologians are quick to dismiss all previous theologians–including the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and all the many canonized theologians–because we know so much more now than they did then.  Which I guess you would think if you only regard theology as an academic thing.  But what of the intense spiritual lives of those Saint-theologians?  What about the prayer, the devotion, the meditation, the contemplation, the discipline and obedience, the striving for Truth and personal sanctity?  What about these sources of knowledge and understanding?  If the aim of theology is knowledge of God, how can theology be merely academic?  How can one be a true theologian without a strong interior life?

Mark shared with me Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s distinction between “theology on the knees” and “theology at the desk.”  I think that is a great way of summarizing the difference between many of today’s theologians and those whom they dismiss.  This dismissive attitude also has to do with the academic milieu, in which careers are built upon novelty and innovation.  And it has to do with the general “hermeneutic of rupture” we find almost everywhere these days–it’s simply fashionable to break with the past and with tradition.  Whereas we used to think it good to stand on the shoulders of giants, today it is considered better to slay the giants and be some sort of rebel hero.

Getting back to that little excerpt from Father G-L, I think he makes the point that in order to really grasp the truths of God and our faith, we have to be willing to dwell upon them, to patiently ponder them, and to pray over them, to ask for supernatural guidance and understanding.  We must not look upon even the most elementary truths with arrogance–we must never imagine that we have already exhausted them, or that they are boring and out-dated, or that we are too sophisticated for them.  To do so indicates intellectual and spiritual immaturity, and we will never arrive at those “most sublime and most vital truths.”  Instead, we will go running around with sledgehammers, tearing down those truths in desperate search of the Next Big Thing… which, in reality, will usually be merely the latest re-hashing of some very ancient error.

Instead of going broader in our pursuit of Truth, we need to go deeper.  And we do that by living out our faith and growing more intimate in our relationship with God.  Theology is not just something to study, it is something to live out.

This is a sequel to an earlier post. Basically, I was in the awful position of having a mortal sin on my soul, and despite my best efforts, couldn’t get to Confession for a couple of days.  But God was merciful to me in wonderful and unexpected ways.  I took comfort and strength in that, but also reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible.

Which raised the question:  Why go to Confession anyway?

All that Sunday, I had these niggling little temptations to just say, “Oh well, God has forgiven me, He has accepted my contrition and my efforts at reconciliation, and after all it’s not my fault that the chaplain didn’t allow enough time for Confession.  And now that I think of it, was it really so horrible what I did?  Do I really have to give up Communion?  There’s still time… the last Mass at my parish is still an hour away…”

I could have quickly and easily rationalized my sin away–the human mind is so very good at that!–and just ditched Confession.  And many people would have applauded that.  Many decent, sincere, and well-meaning people have tried to convince me that I don’t need Confession.  In their minds, they have tried to liberate me.  I love liberty as much as anybody, but as appealing as it may seem, there is something very wrong and discomforting about the notion of giving up Confession.

In my heart of hearts, I knew the fact of the matter: I am in no position to ditch Confession.  I am in no position to absolve my own sins and declare officially that everything is once more hunky dory and peachy keen.  I am in the position of convicting myself of sin, mourning the rift I’ve caused between God and me, and seeking reconciliation with Him.  And you know, there is the greatest of freedoms in that!  To grit your teeth and face reality, to take responsibility for your actions, to seek to make amends with another, to be reunited with One you love.

And the ordinary means–the only certain means–I know of doing that is the Sacrament of Confession.

Yes, God is merciful.  Yes, He is good to me even when I mess up and turn my back to Him.  Yes, He used my pitiful failing to bring about a greater good.  Yes, He let me know He was still there for me.  It may very well be that He, in His own ineffable way, unbound as He is by the Sacraments of the Church, had already made my sins disappear and restored me to a state of grace.  He can absolve whomever and whenever He wills.  I don’t doubt that.

But we are bound. We are bound by love and justice, faith and trust, loyalty and obedience, to the Sacraments of the Church, Sacraments Christ established for our welfare.  We don’t get to presume upon Him and His own superior ways and privileges.  We don’t get to cleverly rationalize things away and fly the coop.  We don’t know what is best for us.  We don’t fully know the state of our own souls as God does.  We are not authorized to make the binding and loosing declarations that God, in His mercy, enables His ordained priests to make.

We are bound for our own good, and assurance.  Consider what the Psalmist says:

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are mischief and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
(Ps. 36:1-3, RSV-CE2 translation)

Now, I realize that it’s easy to say, “Oh well, that’s talking about wicked people, not me!” But think about it. If you honestly can’t see yourself in that description of “the wicked,” if you have never “ceased to act wisely and do good”–even for a short time–then you should become the first living person to be canonized a Saint.  I was actually struck first by the translation of this Psalm used in the Divine Office here in the U.S. (and other English-speaking lands):

Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.

“Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.”  That definitely struck close to home for me.  That was the voice I kept hearing in my head that morning.  Sin trying to convince me that it was not sin at all.  I’ve paid heed to that voice before.  So do many people.  So many people within the Church and in the world at large have completely lost all “sense of sin.”  Guilt is seen as baggage to be shed.  We are taught that certain sins (most often of the sexual nature), far from being sinful, are actually normal, healthy, even good for us–and that to repress them is dangerous and maddening.  I believed that for many years.  And looking back, I see that my life then was far more repressive, dangerous, and maddening than my life is now.  That’s what happens when you pay heed to sin.

I was also recently struck by these words of Père Garrigou-Lagrange:

I certainly know the interior of my soul better than other men do; but it has secrets from me, for I cannot measure all the gravity of my directly or indirectly voluntary faults.  God alone knows me thoroughly; the secrets of my heart are perfectly open only to His gaze.
(The Three Ages of the Interior Life, part 1, chapter 1 ¶9)

On the surface, this may seem to argue against the necessity of Confession: if only God knows what is in my soul, if even I myself can’t clearly see and know it, then why on earth should I tell my sins to another human being, a person who may know nothing about me? Why not just confess to God instead and let that be the end of it?

First, I would say that 1) confessing to God, and, 2) confessing to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession do not constitute an “either/or” dichotomy.  Rather they constitute a “both/and” unity.  We do both.  In fact, I don’t know that it is possible to make a good confession to a priest without having first made a good confession to God.  Confessing to a priest does not replace confessing to God… it adds to it.

I am highly uncomfortable with the notion of confessing to God and letting that be the end of it.  It seems so… easy.  So… convenient and comfortable.  So… undemanding of personal accountability and responsibility, personal freedom and action, personal reaching out and striving.  It’s one thing to pray to God in privacy.  It’s another thing to speak your sins out loud to a human ear.

In the private confession to God, I think there’s the danger of complacency and pride, the danger of it becoming routine and mechanical–“All I have to do is get down mutter some words, and then I’ll be scott free.  OK, yeah, sorry God, I won’t do it again.  We’re good now, right?  See ya!”  On the other hand, I have yet to meet anybody who harbors complacency and pride while standing in line outside a confessional.  Truly, I don’t think it’s possible.  And it never becomes routine or mechanical either; it doesn’t matter how many times I go to Confession–each time seems like the first time.  Easy, convenient, comfortable, undemanding–no way.  It takes heart, it takes devotion, it takes courage, it takes will.  And doesn’t God deserve that?  If you want to be reconciled with God, must you not put everything into it?  Heart, soul, mind, and body?  Do that, and God will do all the rest.

So, confessing to a priest instills humility and conscientiousness and it calls us out of ourselves–it demands a selfless act, a giving of self.  It demands making a connection with another.  Ultimately, it’s about giving ourselves and making a connection with God.  Believe me, I wouldn’t go through with Confession if it weren’t all about God–who would?  And the Sacrament, by its nature, brings that connection to a concrete, human level.  It brings us the experience that the sinners in the Gospels had–facing Christ on a concrete, human level, being before Him in all their weakness and brokenness and wickedness, and hearing Him say in a human voice, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”  That’s a much different experience than praying in silence.  It’s a more certain experience.  Again, not a replacement for prayer, but a powerful addition to it.  A powerful living out of it.

Is it not apparent that sacramental Confession has benefits and sound reason to it?  Is it not clear that we are bound to the Sacrament for our own welfare, as well as for love of God?  I cannot imagine my life without it.  I can’t imagine my soul being sustained without it.  I feel that I would be lost in very dangerous waters without it.  I would forever be second-guessing myself, wondering if I couldn’t perhaps do more to be reconciled with God and pledge to Him my good faith.  That would be agonizing!  There would be no liberty or re-assurance in that.

Walking out of the confessional with the glorious declaration of absolution still sounding in your ears–that’s true liberation.  That is just as irreplaceable as prayer.  And I, for one, am grateful for it!  Being deprived of it for a couple of days was enough to make me appreciate it.

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.

I’ve had a busy but wonderful weekend.  The retreat on faith and science was fantastic!  A lot to absorb, a lot to think and pray about.  Of course, I will try to share some of what I have learned and pondered.

One thing we discussed at the retreat is the nature of faith: that it is an act of trust and steadfastness.  One phrase I wrote down and that has really stuck with me is: “Faith is the habit of trusting God.”  I think that came from St. Thomas Aquinas.

Faith is the habit of trusting God. I have to say, this makes me a bit uncomfortable.  To tell you the truth, it makes me seriously question just how much faith I’ve got.  Looking back over the last couple of months, I see a pattern of me not trusting in God.  It’s something I’ve have to bring up with my confessor a few times.

Oh, I know God is good.  I know God is generous.  I know God has saved my skin (and my soul) more times than I can remember.  I know God is trustworthy and constant. I know, I know, I know.  I believe in God’s goodness and generosity.  I believe that He will not cease to save me, provide for me, be good and generous to me.  I believe, I believe, I believe.

And yet… I still have the awful habit of worrying that my life is just going to be a huge disaster and I’m never going to be happy.  I still have the awful habit of demanding that God prove to me His goodness and love… usually by demanding that He do what I want Him to do, give me what I want Him to give me–and do it now because I’m tired of waiting!

Where is the trust?  Where is the steadfastness?  Where is the good habit?  In short–where is the faith?

As if I weren’t already being haunted by these questions, our parish priest (who is also my confessor), gave his homily this morning on pretty much the exact same topic: faith as trust.  I got that sinking “This is not a coincidence” feeling deep in my gut.  That unnerving “Here we go again, the Holy Spirit is not going to let me go until He’s thoroughly banged this into my head!” feeling.

I felt like Father was speaking directly to me this morning when he said that faith is much more than just checking off the list of beliefs you assent to.  Rather, it is based on steadfast trust, on a strong personal relationship with God that perseveres even in the times when we don’t understand, even when we feel doubt.  Faith pushes us beyond the comfortable things we think we know about God and draws us into the mystery of who He really is.  It draws us into the “hard sayings,” such as that He gives us His flesh to feed, indeed to gnaw, upon.  And at that point, we, like the original disciples, have to make a choice: do we stay with Him or do we leave?

I realized that lately, in my life, I’ve come to a point where I don’t know what God is doing.  I don’t know what He’s got in the works.  I can’t see, and I don’t understand.  Doubt, frustration, and impatience creep in.  And I make the wrong choice.  I choose to go my own way.  I choose to walk away.

It’s not a permanent choice, obviously.  Something brings me to repentance.  Something opens my eyes and makes me say, “Oh Lord, what have I done?”  I think that something is the personal relationship I have formed with God so far.  It’s remembering that His love and goodness are real, that they are not just a list of things I believe.  They are the fabric of my life and who I am.  They have been proven over and over, without my demanding it.  There is something more there.

I am not without faith (thank God).  It just needs to grow.  I need to let it grow.  If I can’t see things clearly now, as is bound to happen, I don’t have to bang my own head against it–nothing is more futile than that.  Rather, I can take that opportunity to look back on all that God has done for me and given to me.  In fact, this was my confessor’s advice on a recent occasion: stop and look back to where you have been.  See the ways in which God has led you and provided for you, and see how you have received and responded–or not.  Get your bearing so that you can stay the course.

This also relates to some things Father Powell told us.  That faith is a gift from God, among countless other gifts He gives us.  God’s giving is a given.  The question is: Do we receive?  Do we receive with gratitude?  So, gratitude is an important piece of the puzzle also.  What other reaction can we have when we realize just how good God has been to us?  Does not gratitude engender trust?

So, you can see, even beyond the retreat, I have lots to think and pray about.  Lots to learn and lots to overcome.  And I’m sure the Holy Spirit will bang me on the head as much as needed.  But as always, that is a good thing.  Sometimes we need our walls torn down, and our foundations built up.

[UPDATE 1] Oh, and this section from today’s Evening Prayer scripture passage (1 Peter 1:3-7) struck out at me as one more bang on the head:

You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that you faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.

[UPDATE 2] And then I found this quotation over at Exultet:

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”

–G.K. Chesterton

I think this advice may resonate with me most of all.  Leave it to good ol’ G.K.!  :D

St. Dominic statue, Hawkesyard, Staffordshire, UKHappy feast day to my beloved spiritual father, St. Dominic!

Appropriately, I will be on retreat today with my Lay Dominican chapter, praying, studying, fellowshipping.  What better way to spend our founding father’s feast day?

There are two things that struck me early on about St. Dominic, and still today spring to my mind whenever I think of him: courage and trust in divine providence.  Probably because they are two lessons that I most need to learn!  Here are a couple of quotations from Dominican Spirituality : Principles and Practice by Fr. William A. Hinnebusch, OP.

An example of courage:

With courage he traveled through the Albigensian country. At times he knew his enemies were planning to kill him, yet he continued on his way. Once they took him, but seeing that he offered no resistance, they asked: “What would you have done, had we carried out our plans?” “I would have begged you to put me to death in the slowest possible way, to cut me to pieces bit by bit so my martyrdom would be prolonged for the good of souls.” Realizing how much he wanted martyrdom, they did not kill him. He was a martyr by desire.

A martyr by desire.  How many of us can say that about ourselves?

On his trust in divine providence:

The very fact that Dominic was willing to found a mendicant Order, one that owned no property and had no revenues, indicates his mighty trust in Divine Providence. He relied on the free-will offerings the faithful would give him. He so believed in God’s help, that he did not want the brethren to store up more food than they needed for a day. That is why they sometimes went hungry. But his faith was rewarded, more than once, by the miracle of the loaves. Both in Bologna and in Rome there were days when the early friars, unknown newcomers, did not get enough from their begging tours. Then they found a bare refectory. There was nothing to place before them. But the Founder had them offer the grace and take their places just the same. At Rome the angels came and distributed a loaf of bread to each friar. This was the answer of Providence to Dominic’s trust.

The sad thing about my having to constantly learn to trust divine providence is that… I know I can trust in it!  I because it has come through for me time after time after time.  Maybe not via the miracle of the loaves, but still in some pretty marvelous ways.  And yet… I still need to work on it.  Why, why is it so easy to lose sight of things like that?

At least I am in good hands.  If anybody can help me master it, it’s St. Dominic.

May his prayers and blessings be with you all… especially my fellow Dominicans!  :)

(photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

Somebody recently mentioned indulgences to me.  I am very dedicated to seeking indulgences, especially for the poor souls in Purgatory.  I’ve actually been meaning to write about this topic for a while, and especially since I’ve been trying to write about the Rosary–there are special indulgences related to rosaries (the objects) and to the Rosary (the prayer).  I will highlight these below.  So here we go: indulgences!

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1471)

I’ve heard temporal punishment explained very simply thus *: say that you drop a glass that has a drink in it and make a big mess.  You tell your mother that you are sorry, and she forgives you.  But the mess still needs to be cleaned up.  In justice you should be the one to clean it up.  Having to clean up the mess is your “temporal punishment.”  Every sin we commit makes a mess.  Contrition and forgiveness heal our relationships with God and others, but they don’t clean up the messes.  We each have to clean up our messes, either in this life or in Purgatory.  Indulgences are a divine gift by which we can be freed even from having to clean up our messes.

We can obtain indulgences for ourselves, or for souls in Purgatory.  We cannot apply them to other living persons, however.  Obtaining indulgences for the souls in Purgatory is a great and generous act of mercy.  Personally, I make that my focus.  I consider it a win-win situation; the souls get freed from Purgatory, and I get some new friends up in Heaven to pray for me!

Indulgences are granted via specified actions.  Here are a couple of examples of common indulgenced actions (including the rosary-related ones).  These and many, many more can be found in the Enchiridion of Indulgences along with all the other norms and regulations relating to indulgences.

35. Use of Articles of Devotion (Obiectorum pietatis usus)
The faithful, who devoutly use an article of devotion (crucifix or cross, rosary. scapular or medal) properly blessed by any priest, obtain a partial indulgence.

Get your rosaries (and other items) blessed by a priest!  It’s so quick and simple to do.  I’ve just gone up to my priest after Mass and asked him to bless rosaries.  It takes maybe 20 seconds, and he is always more than happy to oblige.  After it is blessed, you can receive a partial indulgence just by using it.  Partial indulgences, as their name suggests, remove part of the temporal punishment you’ve amassed.  But you can gain them again and again–they are unlimited!

But if you think that’s simple, check this out:

55. Sign of the Cross (Signum crucis)
A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly sign themselves with the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The first time I read that, I was like, “Seriously?  Nah, an indulgence can’t be that easy!”  The thing to remember about partial indulgences is that the extent of the indulgence (whether “partial” means a little or a lot) depends on the devotion with which we perform the prescribed action.  It’s not the size of the action, but how well we do it.

But back to #35 above, rosaries can be used for a variety of prayers, such as the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  The above indulgence would apply to any devotional use of a rosary!  This next one, however, applies specifically to the “capital-r” Rosary, and it is an example of another kind of indulgence, a plenary indulgence:

48. Recitation of the Marian Rosary (Rosarii marialis recitatio)
A plenary indulgence is granted, if the Rosary is recited in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association; a partial indulgence is granted in  other circumstances.

“Now the Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of fifteen decades of “Hail Marys” with an “Our Father” before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption.” (Roman Breviary) The name “Rosary,” however, is commonly used in reference to only a third part of the fifteen decades.

The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:

1) The recitation of a third part only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously.

2) The vocal recitation must be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries.

3) In public recitation the mysteries must be announced in the manner customary in the place; for private recitation, however, it suffices if the vocal recitation is accompanied by meditation on the mysteries.

4) For those belonging to the Oriental rites, amongst whom this devotion is not practiced, the Patriarchs can determine some other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for those of
the Byzantine rite, for example, the Hymn “Akathistos” or the Office “Paraclisis”); to the prayers thus determined are accorded the same indulgences as for the Rosary.

Note that it specifies that one must meditate upon the Mysteries of the Rosary–just saying the vocal prayers is not enough.  Also, the 5 decades must be said “continuously”–you must pray them all in one sitting, as opposed to praying one Mystery then doing something else and coming back later to pray the others.  Not all plenary indulgences are specified at such length.  Here is another common universal one:

3. Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Adoratio Ss.mi Sacramenti)
A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament to adore it; a plenary indulgence is granted, if the visit lasts for at least one half an hour.

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?  There are a number of indulgences which may generally be called partial, but in certain circumstances may be plenary.  For example, devoting a longer period of time to the action, or doing the action on a particular day or during a particular season (e.g. when the Tantum Ergo is recited on Holy Thursday or Corpus Christi)

A plenary indulgence such as this remits your entire temporal punishment, no matter how great it may be.  It’s a very powerful thing, and a very huge gift from God.  We are limited to receiving only one plenary indulgence per day.  The only exception is that plenary indulgences can be obtained at the point of death, even if one has already obtained a plenary indulgence earlier that day.

This brings me to the conditions that must be met in order to obtain any indulgence:

22. § 1. To be capable of gaining an indulgence for oneself, it is required that one be baptized, not excommunicated, in the state of grace at least at the completion of the prescribed works,  and a subject of the one granting the indulgence.

§ 2. In order that one who is capable may actually gain indulgences, one must have at least a general intention to gain them and must in accordance with the tenor of the grant perform the enjoined works at the time and in the manner prescribed.

Essentially, you need to be a Catholic in good standing and in a state of grace (no unconfessed mortal sins on your soul).  If there is an indulgence specified by a particular bishop for a particular diocese, you have to be part of that diocese and subject to that bishop.  The rosary-related indulgences are universal.  Also, you have to want and intend to obtain the indulgences.   This is why it is so important that we all be aware of indulgences–and believe in them!  If, after reading all this, you decide you just don’t believe what the Church teaches about indulgences, well, then you’re never going to obtain one.  And that would be very unfortunate.

To obtain plenary indulgences, additional conditions must be met:

26. To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental Confession, eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.

If the latter disposition is in any way less than perfect or if the prescribed three conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence will be partial only, saving the provisions given below in Norm 34 and in Norm 35 concerning those who are “impeded.”

While to receive a partial indulgence you simply have to be in a state of grace, for the plenary indulgence, you must go to Confession, even if you have only venial sins to confess.  And note that requirement that “all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent”!  That’s a tall order.  I think the key word is “attachment.”  We may fall into venial sin, but that’s not the same as being attached to it.  We have to detach and reject sin–we have to be pure of heart and pure of intention.  We have to keep our eyes on our goal, which is to free ourself or some other poor soul from the results of sin.  We can’t very well do that if we ourselves give in to sin all too willingly and perhaps even eagerly.

Note that even if you don’t fully meet the conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence, you can still obtain a partial indulgence.

27. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the
intention of the Sovereign Pontiff be said on the same day the work is performed.

28. A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff must be
recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.

29. The condition of praying for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, each one is free to recite any other
prayer according to his piety and devotion.

More details about those conditions.  Regarding the first sentence in 27, “may be fulfilled several days before or after”: traditionally, the set time-frame was 8 days.  In 2000, the Great Jubilee Year, it was specified as “about 20 days.”  This longer time-frame remains in force, per the Apostolic Penitentiary.

I know this may all be a little overwhelming.  All these rules and regulations may seem burdensome.  Really, though, the rules basically come down to simply living out the faith.  If you go to Confession pretty frequently, you’re going to be in good shape to meet all the requirements.  And what Catholic wouldn’t want to offer prayers for the Holy Father’s intentions?  Or be detached from sin?

Furthermore, God is merciful.  There is nothing He would rather do than relieve us from troubles and suffering.  That’s the reason Christ died.  And it is only because Christ died that the Church can offer indulgences.  The graces we receive as indulgences were gained on Good Friday.  So if we approach His great mercy, if we seek out the graces of indulgences for ourselves, or especially for others, following the rules and regulations to the best of our ability, God isn’t going to say, “Oh, you didn’t do x perfectly, so no deal!”  God is not held to the rules and regulations of the Enchiridion.  We are bound to fulfill them the best we can.  They are the Church’s way of showing us what is the best way to follow, the Church’s way of saying, “If you abide by these, your success will be assured.”

So, whatever you do, don’t be discouraged by the rule book.  Of course, don’t toss the rule book aside, either.  Respect it for what it is and try to abide by it.  The rest will be taken care of by God’s mercy.  I think this is especially true when we seek indulgences for the souls in Purgatory.  I pray a little prayer that goes something like this:

Dear Lord, today I wish to obtain every possible grace and indulgence for the poor souls in Purgatory.  Please don’t look on my unworthiness to obtain such tremendous graces, but look in mercy upon those poor souls who are longing and suffering so greatly to be united with You at last! Thank You.  Amen.

If you want more information, take a look at the Enchiridion.  This is a PDF copy that you can search if you’re looking for something particular.  Definitely look at pages 19-40, where the various indulgenced actions are listed.  You might be surprised, as I was!

Really, there is no excuse for not seeking to obtain indulgences.


* I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly who gave this explanation.  I remember hearing it on the radio, and I’m almost positive it was a priest, so I’m thinking it must have been either Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ on EWTN Open Line, or Father Vincent Serpa, OP on Catholic Answers Live.  Many thanks to whomever it was!

Friar with Rosary in handWhat would a blog by a Dominican be without some writings about the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary?  I’m preparing a variety of Rosary posts.  But it’s funny–I thought that writing about the Rosary would be the easiest, most natural thing in the world for me.  It’s not really, though.  It’s actually pretty challenging.  The Rosary is so fundamental to my spiritual life, that writing about it is sort of like trying to write about  air or water in relation to my physical life!

But there was a time when the Rosary was not part of my life at all.  And just to perhaps get the ball rolling, I thought I’d ponder how that changed.

One of the first things I did when I joined my parish was stop at the parish gift shop and purchase a rosary.  It was nothing fancy, but it was very pretty.  Honestly, that’s one of the main reasons I bought it!  That, and because it just seemed like a Catholic thing to own.  My faith was not deep yet, it was shallow.  So was my attraction to the rosary.  It was a pretty object.  It lay untouched on my living room mantle for several weeks.

And then came the dark, painful, difficult days of grieving and struggling with conversion.  That’s when the rosary came down from the mantle and became a life-line.  I remember feverishly clutching it, staring at the little instructional leaflet that had come with it, reading and repeating the vocal prayers over and over.  I read the names of the Mysteries, but I was in no state of mind for actually meditating upon them.  I had some vague notion that Christ and Mary were present within them.  That was all I needed to know–that they were there.  I was not alone.  And they in Heaven were close, very close, and able to provide singular comfort and even peace to me, in some ineffable way.

As time went on, I became more and more deeply moved by those holy and loving persons.  I became moved to respond and reach for them.  The Mysteries became more than just vague remembrances of stories from the Bible.  Jesus and Mary became more than just nice, comforting presences.  The rosary (the object) became the Rosary (the prayer).  And I came to sense that the praying of it involved much more than just saying words.

I began to seek out how to properly pray the Rosary, how to delve into it and unlock its tremendous power.  I found the Rosary Center online and their “How to Pray the Rosary” page. For each Mystery of the Rosary, they provide 10 simple meditation points, one for each Hail Mary.  With daily practice, I began to understand and to explore each Mystery.  And I learned to do it while praying the vocal prayers.  It was difficult and felt strange at first, but before I knew it, it was completely natural.

I came to realize that the real meaning and the real glory of the Rosary is that meditation on the Mysteries, that forging of a connection and a personal relationship with Christ and Mary and with the wondrous ways in which God worked in their lives, and continues to work in ours too.  The Rosary is a true divine encounter.  In it, our mother whom Christ gave to us, reflects Him for us and guides us closer to Him.  She wants us to know and love Him as she does.  If she is in a position to “pray for us sinners, now and at the our of our death,” it is solely by His grace.  And so, the Rosary is not, as is often misunderstood, an act of worship toward Mary.  She is merely God’s instrument, and the greatest instrument of them all.  And the Rosary is her instrument, and ours.

Now, I cannot imagine life without it!  It is still a life-line, of course, more than ever before.  It is a direct and powerful line straight to Him who is Life Itself.

(photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

I just feel like I’m running and running, on empty… getting tangled up and bogged down… crashing into walls, usually of my own construction… So much noise and murkiness…

In short, my spiritual life seems to be at a chaotic dead end.

I need a break.  I need some quiet and some stillness.  I need to rid myself of all the junk and get reconnected with God and with the most essential, truly necessary things.  I need to blot out all the glare and focus on the eternal light, my guiding light.  I need to tune out all the noise, so much of it within my own head, and listen to and learn what God wills for me.  I need to break down the barriers and lay myself open to Him, both to receive from Him and give to Him, without any of my silly and finite expectations or opinions of what is best for me.  I need to know, or recall, who it is He means me to be and what it is He means me to do.

A private, silent retreat of some sort sounds incredible to me.

Can anybody recommend something that might help me?  I’m really not sure what all is available.  Or where to start looking.

I just want a beautiful, peaceful, spiritually nourishing environment.  One that is absolutely faithful to and supportive of the Catholic faith (none of those retreat houses that offer reiki, tai chi, Zen meditation, etc.!).  The Mass and Eucharistic Adoration are a must.

Meanwhile, I do have my Lay Dominican retreat coming up on 8 August (St. Dominic’s feast day!), and that’s nothing to sniff at.  I always look forward to our retreats, and they are always excellent.  The wonderful Father Philip Neri Powell, OP, of Hanc Aquam fame, gives our talks, and this time he will speak on “Faith, Science, and the Contemporary Catholic.”  It’s sure to be fascinating!

[UPDATE] Thanks for the suggestions – they all sound like good places for retreat!  I’m nowhere near deciding yet, although, at the moment, I’m feeling sort of attracted to this Dominican monastery. [/UPDATE]

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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