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

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robert barron

Humility and submission

pope st. clementi i.jpg

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

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Happiness, Aristotle & Catholicism

Obviously, the “positive” emotions are more enjoyable and easier to life with, but it’s perfectly normal to be occasionally engulfed by waves of grief or sadness, and stymied by feelings of despair, doubt or disappointment. All those emotions have something to teach us about ourselves and, without them, we’d never know what happiness is.

But it all depends on what we mean by “happiness”, so let’s start at the beginning. The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that the ideal life was the life of eudaimonia – a word usually translated as “happiness”. But Aristotle was not talking about a life of sensory pleasure; nor was he endorsing a life detached from reality by the delusion that things are (or should be) better than they actually are.

His idea of happiness comes much closer to our word “wholeness” than it does to the often self-indulgent, pleasure-based feeling we call “happiness”. For Aristotle, eudaimonia was about living in accordance with reason; fulfilling our sense of purpose; doing our civic duty; living virtuously; being fully engaged with the world and, especially, experiencing the richness of human love and friendship.

– Hugh Mackay, ‘Why we sometimes need to be sad’

I came across this in my reading today and found it a fantastic explanation of what Christian joy is.

For a long time I had been struggling to articulate what “Christian joy” means. I hear the term used all the time but didn’t really know how to speak about how Christian joy compared with the “joy/happiness” that people can experience without Christ. So I went and googled it in search for some way to articulate the difference. I didn’t manage to find an answer so I decided to leave it up to the Lord to reveal it to me if it is His will.

When I read this article, I realised that Aristotle’s explanation of “happiness” could be used to describe “Christian joy”

So here’s how I would articulate what “Christian joy” means to me:

Firstly, let’s talk about what Christian joy is not…

Christian joy is not a life of sensory pleasure, nor a life detached from reality by the delusion that things are (or should be) better than they actually are. 

Christian joy is not the self-indulgent, pleasure-based feeling society nowadays call “happiness”. 

Now, let’s talk about what Christian joy is…

Christian joy is living in accordance with reason. To me, living the life Christ calls us to live as Christians is very logical exercise. It’s a series of if this is true/not true… then naturally/logically I would respond in this way… For example, if Jesus is who He says He is, if He is indeed God, then it is only logical that I need to center my life around Him. On the other hand, if Jesus is not who He says He is, if He is not God, then He’s not a nice man, He’s a dangerous fanatic, and therefore I would do well to avoid centering my life around Him.

Christian joy is living in a way that fulfills our sense of purpose. As Catholics, we believe that our hearts are designed for union with God. This is the purpose of our existence that is inscribed into us; to love God and to be loved by God. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” And so, when we live in a way that we were designed to live, we experience a pervading joy and peace that the world cannot give. St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” In other words, to be fully alive is to be who we are meant to be.

Christian joy is living virtuously. The Catholic Church teaches us that there are 7 deadly sins and the antidote to these are the 7 lively virtues. The 7 deadly sins are exactly what they are, they are deadly; they prevent us from being fully alive and thereby prevent us from participating in the fullness of Christian joy. The 7 lively virtues on the other hand are antidotes to the 7 deadly sins; they set us free to experience a deep joy and peace beyond our wildest dreams.

Christian joy is being fully engaged with the world. As Catholics, we believe that to be fully engaged with the world, we have to understand objective truth. Only when you understand something can you engage it as it is. Objective truth is a big topic and of course the Church’s teaching on what the truth of things is very extensive. What helps me to understand the world is the fact that our hearts are designed to love God and to be loved by Him. Therefore, everything we do is ordered to satisfy this desire whether we recognise it or not. If we repress the desire for God, it doesn’t go away, rather, it comes up in a distorted way. If we don’t turn to God to satisfy this desire that is hardwired into us, we try to substitute God with wealth, pleasure, honor and/or power. C.S. Lewis in his work ‘Mere Christianity’ said, “Human history… is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Christian joy is experiencing the richness of love and friendship with God. Ultimately, Christian joy comes down to one thing, being who we are made to be; in communion with the Holy Trinity. We are designed by God from the beginning to participate in the Divine love and friendship of the Holy Trinity. When we are able to do this fully, we experience the fullness of Christian joy; this happens in Heaven. However, the good news is, we can still experience an extent of Christian joy right here and right now on earth to the extent by which we participate in the love of God (that is to the extent by which we allow God to love us and love God in return).

So in a nutshell, Christian joy is living in accordance with reason, in a way that fulfills our sense of purpose, living virtuously, being fully engaged with the world and experiencing the richness of love and friendship with God. 

The Blessed Sacrament

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O Sacrament Most Holy,
O Sacrament Divine,
All praise and all thanksgiving
Be every moment Thine

Today I realised how much the physical presence of my loved ones makes a huge difference to me. I carry my loved ones with me even when they are not physically by my side, but just having them physically in the same room with me makes a world of a difference.

One of the benefits of unemployment on the part of my dear husband and I is that we rarely have to be physically apart. My husband only works outside of the home 2 days a week and nowadays I am home 7 days a week. Today was one of the days where my husband had to work outside home. I missed him so much when he was away, I only realised how much when we were physically together again. The longing that my heart felt is difficult to explain fully.

This longing felt by my heart is infinitely more for my Lord Jesus. I am so grateful therefore to have the great fortune of being a Catholic. In most Catholic Parishes there is a tabernacle that houses the consecrated hosts that is the Blessed Sacrament which is the Real Presence of my Lord Jesus.

Today I am so fortunate to live a mere 8 minute walk away from a Catholic Church that is unlocked during school hours on weekdays and Mass times on weekends. So today when my heart was troubled and my mind had great difficulty concentrating, my dear husband commanded me to talk a short walk. While I was preparing to do just that, I thought to myself, why not sit in front of the tabernacle today to pray and study until my husband finishes work in 2 hours? Why not sit in the physical presence of my Lord if I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to do so? So I did.

I sat 3 meters away from the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of my Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe to pray and study; and I loved every minute of it. While I know that my Lord is always with me wherever I am, it made such a huge difference to me to be physically present with my Lord, my Beloved, and the One whom I am designed to love above all else.

Obedience

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Sometimes I get very upset about the disorder in the world. It is everywhere whether people recognise it or not. I get enraged by it and want to do something about it. Then I realise that my own will will accomplish nothing, and it is only God’s will that will bear lasting fruit.

Instead of discouraging me or making me despondent, this fact allows me to relax because I understand that everything is in God’s hands. All I have to be concerned about is obeying my Lord as best I can. If my Lord wants me to do something, He will make it clear to me. I just have to be attentive to Him. If my Lords invites me to participate in His work, He will give me the strength to do it. All I have to do is rely completely on Him.

I am continually amazed by the parallels between the relationship God calls me to have with Him and the relationship I have with my husband.

The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 2 – Reflection

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Stanza 2:

Shepherds, you who go
up through the sheepfolds to the hill,
if by chance you see
him I love most,
tell him I am sick, I suffer, and I die.

Commentary:

… in this verse the soul does no more than disclose to the Beloved her need and suffering. The discreet lover does not care to ask for what she lacks and desires, but only indicates this need so the Beloved may do what he pleases…

There are three reasons for this: First, the Lord knows what is suitable for us better than we do; second, the Beloved has more compassion when he beholds the need and resignation of a soul that loves him; third, the soul is better safeguarded against self-love and possessiveness by indicating its lack, rather than asking for what in its opinion is wanting.

– St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle

I know that I have needs that are unfulfilled. Often times though I do not know what they are. The Lord knows my needs more than I do. And so, I do not trust myself to ask the Lord for specific things. All I want is His will, so all I ask is for that. I know that the Lord’s will is for me to be fully alive, for my needs to be met. So I trust in His will alone and not my own will.

Bishop Robert Barron mentions in this video that repressed needs will not go away, they will simply resurface in a distorted way.

What areas of my life are a disordered manifestation of repressed needs? The earthly goods of wealth, honor, pleasure and power. I procrastinate turning to God in order to indulge further in these earthly goods. As a result, a disordered desire for these goods grow and grow because I become more and more convinced that they can fill my needs. I need more and more of them because they can never meet the needs that I have. And so these can become an addiction; I can’t turn away from them even if I wanted to.

Earthly affection

mary-jesus

He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things, does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises. A spiritual man quickly recollects himself because he has never wasted his attention upon externals. No outside work, no business that cannot wait stands in his way. He adjusts himself to things as they happen. He whose disposition is well ordered cares nothing about the strange, perverse behavior of others, for a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals.

If all were well with you, therefore, and if you were purified from all sin, everything would tend to your good and be to your profit. But because you are as yet neither entirely dead to self nor free from all earthly affection, there is much that often displeases and disturbs you. Nothing so mars and defiles the heart of man as impure attachment to created things. But if you refuse external consolation, you will be able to contemplate heavenly things and often to experience interior joy.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Every day I learn how I am still attached to earthly affection because of what upsets and distracts me. It always, always, falls into 4 broad categories; wealth, pleasure, honor and power.

I am not surprised by this of course. Without God’s help I can’t free myself from earthly affections as much as I want to. So I ask the Lord to form my soul the way He wants.

I (try to) treat every moment of my life like a learning task that a loving Father gives to His little child who doesn’t even know how to speak. He stands by my side watching over me and offers all the materials, resources and help I need to complete the task. All I have to do is accept His help and to reach up to Him with confident arms for help if I don’t know how to do it.

I watched Bishop Robert Barron’s youtube commentary on violence in the Bible a few days back and what he said really stuck with me. Bishop Barron said that violence in the Bible is symbolic for the need to battle eg. earthly attachment all the way down. I haven’t been doing this and have seen how true it is that if I don’t completely detach myself from earthly things, my disordered desires for them will grow in strength again. It’s a reliable piece of what I think of as spiritual physics. It’s not going to change no matter how much I wish that it would. It’s an inconvenient truth in a way but such as important one.

The freedom I seek; a freedom for excellence

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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.

Absolute self-surrender

Father-Daughter

my little way is the way of spiritual childhood. The way of trust and absolute self-surrender

– St. Thérèse of Lisieux

I have been struggling with surrendering myself completely to my husband and to the Lord.

It is perhaps easier for me to speak about how I have not been submitting to my husband absolutely than it is to speak about how I haven’t fully surrendered myself to God. This is simply because my husband is physically present with me every day. I can literally see him. I can audibly hear his voice guiding me and correcting me.

The one of the reasons I haven’t fully surrendered is because I do not trust completely. When I don’t tell my husband of my thoughts regarding something it is because I don’t trust that he will respond in a way that is in my best interests. In a way, withholding my thoughts from my husband is me grasping for control, because now I decide what he’s ready to hear. This lack of trust results in fear, and therefore results in me trying to grasp at control (which of course explains my action). More importantly, where does the lack of trust come from? I believe that trust comes from believing that I am loved. And therefore the lack of absolute trust comes from not being convinced that I am loved completely.

Love is willing the good of the other, and then doing something concrete about it.  It’s not an emotion, it’s not an attitude. It’s a movement of the will.  To want the good of the other, and do something about it.  That’s love.

Bishop Robert Barron

Of course none of us can say that we love completely because we are only human. However, I think that I can still place absolute trust in my husband because he has proven his love to me over and over again. If he does fail in loving me occasionally, why should I be bothered? It is nothing surprising to me because only the Lord loves perfectly (which is of no surprise either because He is Love itself). No tragedy will befall me if my husband is not perfect in his love because the Lord will turn all moments into lessons for my soul, like a Father who uses every opportunity to instruct his child.

So I will choose and try daily and in every moment to trust my husband completely and therefore to submit absolutely.

If I shall strive for this form of self-surrender to my husband, how much more should I strive to submit completely to God? If I choose to trust my husband completely in spite of his imperfect love, how much more should I choose to trust my God who is Love itself?

My soul desires to give of itself in trust and self-surrender first to my God and then to my husband. At the same time, I know that everything is grace. God will instruct me in the way of spiritual childhood in His own time; using the mundane moments of my life as learning exercises. Perhaps my submission to my husband in our total power exchange dynamic is one of these exercises; a dress rehearsal for the performance.

Link:

Reflections of Love

reflection moon

If God is love, all creation must reflect love. Yet we do not habitually look for these reflections. 

Science’s reductionistic method fails to see cosmic love. Modern science requires the use of the simplest possible explanation. This is the principle called “Occam’s Razor.”

The modern mind always tends to reduce the greater to the lesser rather than seeing the lesser as reflecting the greater…

Premodern thought saw lust as confused love. Modern thought sees love as rationalized lust. This is reductionism.

Christianity is anti-reductionistic…  They know that the universe resembles God rather than vice versa, that God made man in his image rather than vice versa… They know that animal love is a late comer and imitator of perfect, eternal, divine love rather than vice versa.

– Peter Kreeft, ‘Love Sees with New Eyes’

In ‘Love Sees with New Eyes’, Peter Kreeft beautifully explains an idea that I have came across for the first time (and subsequently adopted) when I read Christopher West’s book, ‘Theology of the Body for Beginners’, about a year ago.

The idea is quite simple; creation reflects its creator. Everything we create (eg. our blog posts, our art work) reflect ourselves in some way. In the same way, everything God creates reflects God and spiritual physics.

Many great philosophers (eg. Saint John Paul II) have written books about this idea (that creation reflects its creator) because so many gems can be gleaned by reflecting on this concept.

I am not a philosopher, nor do I want to be, so in my little way I will reflect on how this idea has enriched my life in ways I did not imagine possible.

Just married couple, holding hands and walking in nature

My dear husband (also Catholic) and I have centered our marriage around Ephesians 5:22-33 (RSV). In living out our marriage in this way, with a prayerful heart, points me to the truth about God and has helped me make progress in my spiritual life. And of course growth in my spiritual life leads to a transformation of my mental and emotional responses to things.

The dynamic of my marriage is that of a total power exchange. I will not quote definitions here because the term means slightly different things to different people. Instead, I will explain what I mean by ‘total power exchange (TPE)’.

In our TPE, I cede all authority to my husband in all things. He makes decisions in my best interests because he loves me. He asks me to do something, and I obey. Of course I still share my opinions with him about decisions that he has to make, but ultimately it is he who makes the decision, it is me who obeys, and it is us that will work through any mistakes we make along the way.

As the submissive in this TPE, I am able to practice trusting and surrendering 24/7 to my husband. This in turn helps me trust and surrender in the Lord as like a child. In my mind, our TPE is the dress rehearsal, and my spiritual life is the main performance.

Wives be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Saviour. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body. 

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:22-33 (RSV)

I pray that the Lord will guide my soul to recognise His reflection in His creation.

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