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"Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." – Luke 2:19 (RSV)

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freedom for excellence

Boredom is a spiritual problem

Pope Francis saints.png

True obedience to the infallible teachings of the Catholic Church on faith and morals, does not make one rigid or oppressed, but faithful and free. Yes, free, in the same way that the bird is free to fly in the sky above because it obeys the laws of aerodynamics.

womb and the cloud

Dr. Peter Kreeft said in one of his presentations that “boredom is a spiritual problem”. I agree with him.

I have noticed that before my conversion a couple of months ago (when I read ‘a Story of a Soul’), I was very frequently bored. Sure, the demands of medical school filled my time but once I got free time to myself, I was more often than not bored. It wasn’t that I didn’t do anything with my free time, I often spent it in entertaining myself with movies and books, with learning a new language or playing games with my husband. Without our Blessed Lord as the center of my life, all these earthly pleasure tasted like ash in my mouth. While my pursuit of pleasure was enjoyable it wasn’t fulfilling and the restlessness of my heart never went away.

After my conversion, I have been increasingly striving to become a saint (not necessarily a formally recognized one, recognition by the Church doesn’t mean anything to me). This means that I accept as my vocation the journey of sanctification, to be united with our Blessed Lord, for that is what we are designed for. Since that day, the only boring moments that I experience are those times where I take my eyes of our Blessed Lord and turn my gaze back towards myself.

Ever since I met God I wasn’t able to enjoy my favorite things in the same way. Before I knew God, they were everything to me. They were all I had. But now they were no longer ends in themselves, but pleasant occupations along a journey to a bigger destination.

– Sr. Helena Burns

Accepting the journey of sanctification as my vocation has been such a great adventure that is always interesting and captivating and not at all boring. Boredom only comes when I turn towards my own ego and away from Christ.

I think that boredom in this life is a foretaste of hell where souls are eternally bored and possibly driven mad by it.

 

 

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Humility and submission

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Nature is not willing to die, or to be kept down, or to be overcome. Nor will it subdue itself or be made subject.

Grace, on the contrary, strives for mortification of self. She resists sensuality, seeks to be in subjection, longs to be conquered, has no wish to use her own liberty, loves to be held under discipline, and does not desire to rule over anyone, but wishes rather to live, to stand, and to be always under God for Whose sake she is willing to bow humbly to every human creature.

– Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

I have recently read ‘The Different Motions of Nature and Grace‘ by Thomas a Kempis in his work ‘The Imitation of Christ‘. While Thomas a Kempis wrote about the topic in paragraph form, I wanted to put what he wrote into a table for future reference.

My dear husband loves the idea as well and asked me to print out the table so that the next time I behave badly I can identify which aspect of ‘Nature’ I gave in to and what the corresponding aspect of ‘Grace’ is. I like this idea a lot because it makes identifying the source of and antidote to my ‘problem behaviour’ so much easier! The purpose of this is course is to work towards sanctification. What I’ve come to realize is that self-knowledge is crucial to progressing in holiness. It is when I’m aware of my sins and my weaknesses that I’m able to ask God for help and to accept the Lord’s aid.

Today, I want to reflect on one aspect of ‘Nature’ and the corresponding aspect of ‘Grace’ (see the quote above). There have been many times in my life where I was not ‘willing to die’ or ‘be made subject’. Daily I struggle with this. When I see that Mum needs help, I experience a desire to hide away somewhere else and engage in activities that give me more pleasure. Or, when my husband asks me to fetch him a drink, I feel bitter for ‘having’ to serve. With this in mind, I try to remember the antidote to this aspect of ‘Nature’; to ‘resist sensuality, seek to be in subjection, long to be conquered,’ to not ‘wish to use my own liberty’, to ‘love to be held under discipline’, and most importantly, ‘to live, to stand, and to be always under God for Whose sake I am willing to bow humbly to every human creature’. Of course, this is only possible by God’s grace.

I want to have the freedom for excellence to love my Lord with all my being! And so I love the laws of the Lord and the rules that my husband puts in place that help me on the road to sanctification.

For the freedom of indifference, objective rules, orders, and disciplines are problematic, for they are felt, necessarily, as limitations. But for the second type of freedom (the freedom for excellence), such laws are liberating, for they make the achievement of some great good possible.

– Bishop Robert Barron

Imitating Our Lady the Immaculate Conception

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Our Lady has many titles. I love the title Our Lady Star of the Sea.

He who ponders the law of the Lord day and night will yield fruit in due season.

– Psalm 1: 2-3

Our Lady always points us towards her son Jesus. She is the Immaculate Conception; preserved by God from original sin from the moment of her conception. Therefore, she is what God created us to be; fully alive by being united with God. And so it is only natural to imitate Our Lady because she is the kind of human being that we are all designed and created to be. Saint Irenaeus said “The glory of God is a man fully alive”. Mary is the perfect example of a human being fully alive.

My favourite bible verse about the Blessed Mother is “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, RSV). She “ponders the law of the Lord day and night”.

This makes sense because if we want to have the freedom to be excellent in what we want to do we need to immerse ourselves in that world. We become what we worship. If I want to be an excellent doctor, I have to immerse myself in the world of medicine. If I want to be a good submissive, I have to focus on my husband and keep all my rules in mind constantly.

If I want to be who the Lord has designed me to be, one with Him, I need to immerse myself in Him; to think of Him nor just during Mass but 24/7. I need and want to contemplate His laws, marvel at His creation and adore Him. Meanwhile, I am very aware that, everything good that I can do is God’s grace and not because of my own merits. And just acknowledging this fact relaxes me and gives me great joy and peace.

Jesus, the very thought of You, it fills my heart with love.

Jesus, You burn like wildfire, and I am overcome.

Lover of my soul, even unto death, with my every breath I will love you.

– Audrey Assad, Even Unto Death

The freedom I seek; a freedom for excellence

love-freedom

St. Irenaeus, the great second-century theologian, could express the essence of Christianity with the pithy adage “the glory of God is a human being fully alive!”

Now I realize that much of this is counter-intuitive. For many, Catholic Christianity is anti-humanist, a system characterized by an array of laws controlling self-expression, especially in the area of sexuality. According to the standard modern telling of the story, human progress is tantamount to an increase of personal freedom, and the enemy of this progress (if the darker sub-text of the narrative is allowed to emerge) is fussy, moralizing Christianity. How did we get from St. Irenaeus’s exuberant Christian humanism to the modern suspicion of Christianity as the chief opponent of human progress? Much depends on how we construe freedom.

The view of liberty which has shaped our culture is what we might call the freedom of indifference. On this reading, freedom is the capacity to say “yes” or “no” simply on the basis of one’s own inclinations and according to one’s own decision. Here, personal choice is paramount. We can clearly see this privileging of choice in the contemporary economic, political, and cultural arenas.

But there is a more classical understanding of liberty, which might be characterized as the freedom for excellence. On this reading, freedom is the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good, first possible, then effortless. Thus, I become increasingly free in my use of the English language the more my mind and will are trained in the rules and tradition of English. If I am utterly shaped by the world of English, I become an utterly free user of the language, able to say whatever I want, whatever needs to be said. In a similar way, I become freer in playing basketball the more the moves of the game are placed, through exercise and discipline, into my body. If I were completely formed by the world of basketball, I could outplay Michael Jordan, for I would be able to do, effortlessly, whatever the game demanded of me.

For the freedom of indifference, objective rules, orders, and disciplines are problematic, for they are felt, necessarily, as limitations. But for the second type of freedom, such laws are liberating, for they make the achievement of some great good possible.

St. Paul said, “I am the slave of Christ Jesus” and “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” For the advocate of the freedom of indifference, the juxtaposition of those two claims makes not a bit of sense. To be a slave of anyone is, necessarily, not to be free to choose. But for the devotee of the freedom for excellence, Paul’s statements are completely coherent. The more I surrender to Christ Jesus, who is himself the greatest possible good, the very Incarnation of God, the freer I am to be who I am supposed to be. The more Christ becomes the master of my life, the more I internalize his moral demands, the freer I am to be a child of God, to respond promptly to the call of the Father.

– Bishop Robert Barron

I don’t think that I could explain the difference between the “freedom of indifference” and the “freedom for excellence” more clearly than Bishop Barron has.

I believe that to truly be free is to have a freedom for excellence. I want to be free to respond to and be consumed by the love of my Lord, who is Love itself. I want to be free to live under my husband as his submissive.

I want the Lord and my husband to collar my heart, to make me fully theirs. And so, I love the rules and tradition of the Catholic Church because they show me the quickest way to advance in the way of submitting to God completely. In a similar way, I love the rules that my husband gives me because they allow me to be free to be a good submissive to him.

Laws and rules are liberating because they make the achievement of absolute self-surrender to my God and to my husband first possible, then effortless. This is the freedom I seek, to be able to effortlessly submit myself totally to the Lord and to my husband.


Bishop Barron gives such a wonderful explanation of the “Freedom of Indifference” vs. “Freedom for Excellence” in his opening keynote talk for the World Meeting of Families 2015.

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