Karol Wojtyla was a philosopher, a playwright and poet. He was a priest and bishop. He was called by God to serve many years as Pope John Paul II. His legacy provides us with great insight and wisdom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saint John Paul II - first memorial celebration

Today the memorial of Saint John Paul II is celebrated for the first time on the Roman Calendar. On this day in 1978 he began his ministry as the Pope, the universal Pastor of the Church. I take this opportunity to provide a link to a marvelous talk given by University of St Thomas faculty, emeritus, Rev. Janusz A. Ihnatowicz, on the Sanctity of John Paul II , found on the website of the John Paul II Forum.

His many deeds and writings are too numerous to recount; and today we celebrate his holiness of life. A passage from Raissa Maritain's book, Notes on the Lord's Prayer, strike me as particularly apt for the life of Saint John Paul II. In discussing the third petition, "Thy Will be Done," Ms. Maritain writes the following:

One might say that in passing from one stage to the other the petition becomes more intimate and goes in a deeper way to God's own good. May honor and witness the rendered to His holiness. May His reign come to all men, and that kingdom where His very divinity is participated in by created minds. May the superabounding Love which is one with His Being, may the desire of His heart, may His will find accomplishment without obstacle in the world of men as in the world of the blessed in heaven.

The third petition is a prayer of loving acceptance, which means most often a prayer of abandonment of self and of submission in the midst of crushing trials and ruin, a prayer of prostration in order to participate in the humiliation of the Savior. But it is also, and even more, a prayer of exaltation, zeal and fiery desire, an insatiable prayer, inflamed by Love, a prayer which makes us enter into the primeval desires of God and of his incarnate Son, and which claims for the glory of the Father that which will never be fully realized here below and cannot be, but which must be asked for with all the more fervor and perseverance and which will be accomplished at the end of ends and in so much more beautiful a manner that every created mind among the saved will be in raptures with it.    Notes on the Lords Prayer (New York, 1964) pp. 69-70
Consider how the life of John Paul II always gave honor and witness to the Holy Name of God ("Hallowed be Thy Name"); he allowed God to reign in his mind and heart and shared those marvelous fruits with the whole Church and the whole world in his priestly ministry and especially in his teaching. ("Thy Kingdom come") His encyclicals are nothing less than an extended discourse on the Kingdom of God, from the Trinitarian Life of God to the life and mission of the Church and renewal of man and society through the mysterious leaven of the Kingdom. He superabounded with the Love of God and gave himself daily in seeking to further accomplish the work of Jesus Christ ("Thy Will be Done").  He abandoned himself to God, from his youth with the "Totus Tuus" and the war time sacrifices, throughout his whole life, but especially in suffering the assassination wound, the various illnesses, and at the debilitation at the end of his life, when he, the great actor and spokesman for God, could no longer utter a sound. He participated in the humiliation of the Savior; and yet how much did he pray with exaltation in the Holy Spirit, inflamed by love; how deeply he entered into the Mystery of the Redeemer of Man (Gaudium et Spes §22). And now he is with the Blessed in heaven, in the rapture of the Beauty of God.

We thank God for his presence among us and dedicate ourselves to deepening our awareness of faith and reforming our lives to reflect the visage of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

John Paul II and St Thomas Aquinas: great teachers

John Paul II had a great love for St Thomas Aquinas. He named him the Doctor of Humanity. The young Wojtyla wrote a dissertation on John of the Cross, himself a careful student of St. Thomas. 


In Fides et ratio John Paul II mentions five thinkers for special regard, among them Maritain and Gilson, great Thomists, as well as Edith Stein (Saint Benedicta of the Cross) a Thomist of sorts. (He also mentions Cardinal Newman, not a Thomist but a fellow traveler, and Rev Rosmini). But there is no great mystery as to his endorsement of St. Thomas. 


He said:  “Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason." His was no tepid alliance of faith and reason, but rather the very "newness" of the gospel (e.g., the Beatitudes) challenged and raised up the work of reason to see the deep connection between the virtues and the gifts of the spirit. We find a true, "integral humanism."


Blessed John Paul II also said: “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day, by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism, characteristics which are hard to find in many trends of contemporary thought." Quite an understatement. In this era of the closing of the academic mind through ideology and the politically correct, Aquinas is a fresh breeze bringing in the exotic scent of truth and the balmy air of goodness and holiness. And in a era so torn by partisanship, and a culture so riven by the politics of gender, race, orientation, class, age, and so forth, the universalism and objectivity of Aquinas provide a forum for true dialogue and common understanding.

I think that John Paul II was himself a universal teacher as was Aquinas. Josef Pieper has a marvelous explanation of Aquinas as a great teacher in his book, Guide to Thomas Aquinas. Thomas was one of those who "teach as they grow and grow as they teach." So also Blessed John Paul II. Teaching, according to Aquinas, joins the vita contemplative and the vita active. This is the very hallmark of Blessed John Paul II, the mystic who travelled the world many times over. And in the most beautiful description of a teacher, Pieper (himself a great teacher) explains that "the teacher looks to the truth of things; that is the contemplative aspect of teaching." Without the silence and meditation and study -- the words of the teacher "would be empty talk, gesture, chatter, if not fraud." Indeed, how many professors have nothing to profess, for they have lost the scent of truth and have settled down comfortably into their sinecures to exchange high level chatter about nothing. But Saints Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II daily drank deeply at the springs of wisdom. That radical newness of the gospel opened their eyes and sharpened their ears to discern the truth of the world and human affairs. Then they turn towards their students and "look into the faces of live human beings," and thus "subject themself to the rigorously disciplined, wearisome labor of clarifying, of presenting, of communicating."

As Pieper concludes about Thomas Aquinas, so may we concerning John Paul II: "the more intensively and the more passionately a man in engages in these two activities, the more he is a teacher. On the one hand, there is his relationship with truth, the power of silent listening to reality; on the other hand, there is his affirmative concern for his audience and his pupils." (Guide to Thomas Aquinas, pp. 93-94)

Early in his teaching career, as he launched into his first great systematic work, the Summa Contra Gentiles, Thomas said: "I feel that I owe it to God to make this the foremost duty of my life: that all my thought and speech proclaim Him!" (SCG I.2) From first to last, John Paul II would say no less. What other purpose could sustain such generous work.

If the accolades of Doctor Communis (common teacher) and Doctor Humanitatis (teacher of humanity) were not already given to Saint Thomas Aquinas, we would have to give them Saint John Paul II. But I have no doubt he would be content to be known as a humble student of Saint Thomas Aquinas who went on to teach all of humanity at end of the second millennium, perhaps rising to his own special height through the gifts of his upbringing and education and the grace of his office. His bellowing shook down the Berlin wall and there Iron Curtain and was heard across all of the world and he will be heard into the deeps of the new millennium.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The gift of Piety and the path of penance

How does one advance? how does one rise? 

 Piety and penance. 

Augustine and Francis de Sales often cite Romans 5:5, that the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is grace, a gift of God. Thomas Aquinas speaks specifically about piety as gift of the Holy Spirit. St Thomas explains that "the Holy Ghost moves us to this effect among others, of having a filial affection towards God, according to Romans 8:15, 'You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).' And since it belongs properly to piety to pay duty and worship to one's father, it follows that piety, whereby, at the Holy Ghost's instigation, we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, is a gift of the Holy Ghost." 

John Paul II spoke about the “mysterium pietatis.” What is the mystery of piety? Piety is the latin term for the gratitude due to parents and country, which is part of natural justice; and it is extended to mean gratitude and right relationship towards God, which also is part of natural justice -- it is part of what we call “religion” or the binding of the self to God. The highest manifestation of piety is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which orients the soul to love God as a Father, as Aquinas notes above. (He says: "To pay worship to God as Creator, as religion does, is more excellent than to pay worship to one's father in the flesh, as the piety that is a virtue does. But to pay worship to God as Father is yet more excellent than to pay worship to God as Creator and Lord. Wherefore religion is greater than the virtue of piety: while the gift of piety is greater than religion")

Blessed John Paul II speaks about the "mystery of piety." The idea of mystery invites response and participation. We are not mere passive recipients of this grace; we seek what we love. The mystery of piety ultimately refers to the object of religion, Jesus Christ. The Christian becomes what he loves, Christ, the son of the Father. John Paul II says "the Christian accepts the mystery of Christ, contemplates it and draws from it the spiritual strength necessary for living according to the Gospel." As we look to the mysterium pietatis – Christ – we learn the path of penance. For Christ who “though he was innocent chose the path of poverty, patience, austerity and one can say the penitential life.” (On Reconciliation and Penance, #26). And the Church finds the power for good in this mystery and therefore must “seek to express itself in precise ministerial functions directed toward a concrete practice of penance and reconciliation.”

To evoke conversion and penance in man’s heart, so they may rise, is the specific mission of the church. The Kingdom of God is likened to the sower, and the mustard seed suggesting the power of a secret fecundity, and the power of growth. The Christian faithful are not and can not be sterile. Think how sterile are so many noble visions and ventures to save the world, to help mankind, to rescue people. They run smack into the “mysterium inquitatis.” This is the flaw of so much liberal progressivism and idealism. They are ignorant of evil. They are shocked to find men sink, and fail to rise. They lack the mystery of piety.

John Paul II says so truly that our mission does not "consists merely of a few theoretical statements and the putting forward of an ethical ideal unaccompanied by the energy with which to carry it out.” Ethical idealism is easy; we all can talk the talk.  From whence comes the energy to do good? From whence comes the energy to overcome evil? In vain do we search for the source of discipline, in vain do we search for the springs of good character, in vain do we search for the power of true compassion and even civility; why do “the builders labor in vain?” We lack piety, the gift of the Spirit. The mystery of evil pulls us down. But conversion is always an open path. Along that path we rise. So discovered Solzhenitsyn and Augustine.

From Reconciliation and Penance §4:
The term and the very concept of penance are very complex. If we link penance with the metanoia which the synoptics refer to, it means the inmost change of heart under the influence of the word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom. But penance also means changing one's life in harmony with the change of heart, and in this sense doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance: It is one's whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed toward a continuous striving for what is better. But doing penance is something authentic and effective only if it is translated into deeds and acts of penance. In this sense penance means, in the Christian theological and spiritual vocabulary, asceticism, that is to say, the concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God's grace to lose his or her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail; a continual effort to rise from the things of here below to the things of above, where Christ is. Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds and then to the Christian's whole life.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Advance Always, Solzhenitsyn on "The Ascent"

"Bless you, prison"
"Bless you prison, for having been in my life."

This is surely one of the most remarkable lines, from perhaps the finest chapter, in one of the greatest books of the twentieth century, by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn ("The Ascent" from Part IV "The Soul and Barbed Wire," Gulag Archipelago

Solzhenitsyn leads us to the truth of the Gospel, as he himself discovered it, through the utter desolation of the experience of the soviet prison camps and the searching honesty of concrete, embodied human existence: blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are the merciful  - all summed up in a moment of remarkable insight  and self-knowledge, when he utters that line "Bless you prison." On the rotting straw of the prison bed it became gradually disclosed to him that "the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, not between political parties either -- but right through all human hearts. The line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . .  an unuprooted small corner of evil."

The purpose of the life of a man on earth is to develop a moral life, to decrease the evil in ones heart and to magnify the good; and it is a constant struggle -- leading to an ascent or decline (corruption). Solzhenitsyn saw this truth first as a rebuke to the Soviet materialism, with its emphasis upon concrete results and production ("the result is what counts" and "what more do we want" other than material gain), but he also saw the same error of materialism in the west when he proclaimed at Harvard in 1978 (to hisses and boos) that our purpose on this earth “cannot be the unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life.  It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them.  It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty, so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.”  In the chapter we are reading he says "the only solution [to the problem of injustice] would be that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown use to thinking, in prospering, but . . . . in the development of one's soul."

As for the law of ascent or decline, de Sales' "Advance Always in the love of God and man," Solzhenitsyn says this about life in the GULAG and the sheer determination to survive: "This is the great fork of camp life. From this point the roads go to the right and to the left. One of them will rise and the other will descend. If you go to the right -- you lose your life, and if you go to the left -- you lose your conscience."

Solzhenitsyn said: it is not impossible for your soul to rise in camp. To the contrary, camp became his blessing to learn the way of God. "Along our chosen road are twists and turns and twists and turns. Uphill? or up into the heavens? Let's go, lets stumble and stagger" For the "day of liberation." But it is impossible to "liberate anyone who has not first become liberated in his own soul. The stones roll down from under our feet. Downward, into the past! They are ashes of the past! And we ascend!" Solzhenitsyn repeats that refrain "We ascend" as he learns it is not what you do, but how you do it, that spirit counts more than result. Prison transformed him, he says, in a direction so unexpected. Camp, as life easily rouses up "feelings of malice, the disturbance of being oppressed, aimless hate, irritability," and now with the unmasking of the lie of results, he learns patience and is thus ascending. "Formerly you never forgave anyone. You judged people without mercy , you praised people 'with equal lack of moderation. And now an understanding mildness become the basis for your uncategorical judements. You have come to realize your own weakness  -- and you can therefore understand the weakness of others. And be astonished at another's strength. The stones rustle beneath our feet. We are ascending . . . "

He is this led to his brief prayer "Bless you, prison" concluding the chapter on "The Ascent." This is followed by a chapter entitled "Or Corruption?" He acknowledges the tremendous corruption of soul brought upon so many in the camps. In sub-human conditions, in the effort to survive and not be consumed or flattened by others. But Solzhenitsyn testifies that many did know countless men who did ascend even in the most terrible conditions of the camps: "A sort of silent religious procession with invisible candles." His GULAG is a testimony to them and for them. His counter argument -- "no camp can corrupt those who have a stable nucleus, who do not hold that pitiful ideology which holds that 'humans are created for happiness,' an ideology which is done in by the  first blow of the work assigners's cudgel. This people became corrupted in camp who before camp had not been enriched by any morality at all or by any spiritual upbringing."

The grace of God is behind Solzhenitsyn's account of the ascent. He opens Part IV with this quote from St Paul: "Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." (I Cor 15:51)

And he said in his Templeton Address (1983)
The material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction.  The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly day in and day out, participates in the life of each one of us, unfailing granting us the energy of existence. ...  To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned.
Solzhenitsyn is a fellow teacher with Augustine and St Francis de Sales as draws  forth the riches of the gospel and the reality of grace -- I hear Romans 5:5 as the reason for hope -- the love of God has been poured into hearts and the Spirit hovers over the deep. We are plunging downwards or flying upwards, but not at all stationary or inert.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Advance Always, Augustine's account

St Augustine, Pulpit, Cathedral in Vienna
One semester I provided a student with a special directed studies on the theme of grace in Augustine and Aquinas. It was a splendid set of readings; it was something of repeat class I provided for an Air Force cadet a few years ago, although the cadet wanted us to add readings from Calvin as well. From Augustine we read Nature and Grace and the Spirit and the Letter; from Aquinas, the obvious "Treatise on Grace" from the Summa I-II. During this recent study my student and I were amazed how frequently Augustine cited Rom 5.5, the love of God is poured into hearts through the Holy Spirit. The text proved important as well in the Confessions, particularly Book XIII, in which Augustine uses the Book of Genesis as a framework (the firmament in the sky of our understanding, as he suggests) for understanding the opening line that "our hearts our restless, until they rest in Thee, Oh Lord!" The restless heart has no choice but to walk, run, or fly down the road of life, propelled by one's love. For love is the weight of the soul. We either ascend upwards towards God, or we descend down to our own perdition, on earth and down to hell. In Book XIII Augustine presents to our vision, not sedentary bodies, or inert psyches, wrapped up in some homeostasis of comfort or managed satisfactions, but the soul in motion, the soul in flight. One suffers a salutary spiritual vertigo in making ones way through the final two books of the Confessions. For one peers into an abyss of energy swirling down to the dark abyss of death and peers upward towards the heaven of contemplation of the divine mysteries in a glorious beauty beyond telling. Let's jump right into a passage giving such vertigo. Book XIII chap 7 --
Now let him who is able follow thy apostle with his understanding when he says, "Thy love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us"[Rom 5.5] and who teacheth us about spiritual gifts and showeth us a more excellent way of love; and who bows his knee unto thee for us, that we may come to the surpassing knowledge of the love of Christ. Thus, from the beginning, he who is above all was "moving over" the waters.
The Holy Spirit hovers over the abyss, the depth, from the beginning of time, the moment of creation, and abides in the hovering presence over the abyss of the soul. From the formless depth one can be drawn up by love and into love, or languish in darkness and spiral down. Augustine works this allegorical interpretation for many previous pages, and thus he continues:
To whom shall I tell this? How can I speak of the weight of concupiscence which drags us downward into the deep abyss, and of the love which lifts us up by thy Spirit who moved over the waters? To whom shall I tell this? How shall I tell it? For concupiscence and love are not certain "places" into which we are plunged and out of which we are lifted again. What could be more like, and yet what more unlike? They are both feelings; they are both loves. The uncleanness of our own spirit flows downward with the love of worldly care; and the sanctity of thy Spirit raises us upward by the love of release from anxiety -- that we may lift our hearts to thee where thy Spirit is "moving over the waters." Thus, we shall have come to that supreme rest where our souls shall have passed through the waters which give no standing ground.
There it is the -- in Augustinian terms -- the admonition  to Advance always. Fall with the weight of ones own concupiscence and three fold sin (lust of the flesh, curiosity of the eyes and pride of life) or rise with the Holy Spirit of God, who is love.

In chapter eight, he marks the falling downward motion:
The angels fell, and the soul of man fell; thus they indicate to us the deep darkness of the abyss, which would have still contained the whole spiritual creation if thou hadst not said, in the beginning, "Let there be light: and there was light" -- and if every obedient mind in thy heavenly city had not adhered to thee and had not reposed in thy Spirit, which moved immutable over all things mutable. Otherwise, even the heaven of heavens itself would have been a dark shadow, instead of being, as it is now, light in the Lord.For even in the restless misery of the fallen spirits, who exhibit their own darkness when they are stripped of the garments of thy light, thou showest clearly how noble thou didst make the rational creation, for whose rest and beatitude nothing suffices save thee thyself. And certainly it is not itself sufficient for its beatitude. For it is thou, O our God, who wilt enlighten our darkness; from thee shall come our garments of light; and then our darkness shall be as the noonday. Give thyself to me, O my God, restore thyself to me! See, I love thee; and if it be too little, let me love thee still more strongly. I cannot measure my love so that I may come to know how much there is still lacking in me before my life can run to thy embrace and not be turned away until it is hidden in "the covert of thy presence." Only this I know, that my existence is my woe except in thee -- not only in my outward life, but also within my inmost self -- and all abundance I have which is not my God is poverty.
If we but turn to the light, if we but convert, the love of God will raise us up.  Augustine and St Francis de Sales both appeal to St Paul's precise statement of the reality of grace:

"Thy love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us"

Augustine in this Book XIII formulates the notion that is central to his work in the City of God, namely that "love is the wight of the soul." The love pulls us up to God , or drags us down to perdition. It derives from the allegory of Genesis, "The Spirit hovers over the water."
But was neither the Father nor the Son "moving over the waters"? If we understand this as a motion in space, as a body moves, then not even the Holy Spirit "moved." But if we understand the changeless supereminence of the divine Being above every changeable thing, then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit "moved over the waters."
Why, then, is this said of thy Spirit alone? Why is it said of him only -- as if he had been in a "place" that is not a place -- about whom alone it is written, "He is thy gift"? It is in thy gift that we rest. It is there that we enjoy thee. Our rest is our "place." Love lifts us up toward that place, and thy good Spirit lifts our lowliness from the gates of death. Our peace rests in the goodness of will. The body tends toward its own place by its own gravity. A weight does not tend downward only, but moves to its own place. Fire tends upward; a stone tends downward. They are propelled by their own mass; they seek their own places. Oil poured under the water rises above the water; water poured on oil sinks under the oil. They are moved by their own mass; they seek their own places. If they are out of order, they are restless; when their order is restored, they are at rest. My weight is my love. By it I am carried wherever I am carried. By thy gift, we are enkindled and are carried upward. We burn inwardly and move forward. We ascend thy ladder which is in our heart, and we sing a canticle of degrees; we glow inwardly with thy fire -- with thy good fire -- and we go forward because we go up to the peace of Jerusalem; for I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go into the house of the Lord." There thy good pleasure will settle us so that we will desire nothing more than to dwell there forever.
 Advance always -- by God's gift -- "By thy gift, we are enkindled and are carried upward. We burn inwardly and move forward. We ascend thy ladder which is in our heart, and we sing a canticle of degrees; we glow inwardly with thy fire -- with thy good fire -- and we go forward."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Advance Always says Francis de Sales


From my Alma Mater, Bishop Ireton HS, Alexandria, Va
The Feast of St Francis de Sales brings forth many fond memories of attending a high school taught by the Oblates of St Francis de Sales, Bishop Ireton in Alexandria, Virginia. The school motto is "Advance Always." As a student I thought in terms of advancing from one year to the next -- may I finish this year and advance on to the next grade. Oh Lord may I not be a freshman forever. And as a senior, may I please graduate and advance on to college. And so on up the ladder of achievement and success. I suppose I did not listen too closely to the good Oblates as they explained the full maxim of St Francis de Sales, which is "Advance Always in the Love of God and Man." This morning I picked up a little pamphlet with the Letter of Pope Paul VI commemorating the 400th year since the birth of this great saint (b 1567). He quoted a great passage from the Treatise on the Love of God (find the text hereconcerning the nature of this love in which we must advance always. Here it is:
Charity, then, is a love of friendship, a friendship of dilection, a dilection of preference, but a preference incomparable, sovereign, and supernatural, which is as a sun in the whole soul to enlighten it with its rays, in all the spiritual faculties to perfect them, in all the powers to moderate them, but in the will as on its throne, there to reside and to make it cherish and love its God above all things. O how happy is the soul wherein this holy love is poured abroad, since all good things come together with her! (II.22)
The Holy Doctor had earlier cited that scripture passage so esteemed  by St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, namely Rom 5.5. when he explained the supernatural origin of the love that is charity:
this love is not a love of simple excellence, but an incomparable love; for charity loves God by a certain esteem and preference of his goodness so high and elevated above all other esteems, that other loves either are not true loves in comparison of this, or if they be true loves, this love is infinitely more than love; and therefore, Theotimus, it is not a love which the force of nature either angelic or human can produce, but the Holy Ghost gives it and pours it abroad in our hearts. Rom 5.5 (Ibid)
 As I looked at the next page following the passage pointed out by Pope Paul VI, I found it again, the passage from which our beloved school motto derives. It the very theme of Book III -- "On the progress and perfection of love." And thus chapter 1 is entitled "That sacred love can be increased more and more in each of us." He cites the Council of Trent (concluded about 50 years prior to his writing) that God's friends go from "strength to strength" and are "renewed from day to day."  That is, by good works they increase in the justice received by divine grace, and become more justified. (As much later, Johnny Cash himself will sing in the "Man comes around," "He who is just, let him be justified still, and he who is holy, let him be sanctified more." (Rev 22:11) ) St. Francis then states the principle: "to remain stationary for a long time is impossible. The man who makes no gain loses in such traffic as this. The man who does not climb upward goes down this ladder." If we do not fight, we perish. And he quotes "the glorious St Bernard" to the effect "he must either go forward or else fall back." Then St. Francis asks rhetorically -- do you want to sit? But we are on the road, he answers. Roads are for walking. Nay, for running. "Run ardently and swiftly." I also recall the words of Virgil to Dante in the Purgatorio -- "here a man must fly with the swift wings of desire."

As found on the prayer card pictured above, St Francis says that the measure of love is to love without measure. So how could one not advance? He continues in this chapter to say "true virtue has no limits; it goes ever forward. Above all others, holy charity, which is the virtue of virtues and has an infinitude object, would be capable of becoming infinite if it found a heart capable of infinity." St Francis continues throughout this part of the Treatise to explain that our Lord actually makes it easy for for us to increase in love. The Holy Spirit is poured out from above, and the smallest thing can be pleasing in God's eyes if done with love. Many of the natural virtues require great deeds or heroic striving in order to actually increase. Not so, divine charity. Heroic, yes, after its own fashion, after the fashion of the little ones, the meek ones, the peaceful ones, the merciful ones. For "Divine mercy renders all things useful to us; it puts all things to our advantage; it puts to our profit all our tasks, no matter how lowly and weak they may be."  Moreover, "In commerce in virtues issuing from God's mercy, and above all in charity, our every deed produces an increase." Sacred love, the King of the virtues, "has nothing about it, either great or small, which is not lovable."

So yes indeed "ADVANCE ALWAYS."

Thank you, St Francis de Sales and Oblates of St Francis de Sales, for a lesson for life.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The past is not dead

Head of the Jesus statue in Swiebodzin, Poland
The idea expressed by William Faulkner, "The past is never dead. It's not even past" (from Requiem for a Nun) is richly explored by Karol Wojtyla in a homily delivered on New Year's Eve (1966) when he took the opportunity to reflect upon the year marking the millennial anniversary of Poland's embrace of Christianity. 

He said: "When we speak of the past, we are not referring to what is dead, although this could apply in the strictly material order, it definitely does not apply in the human sphere. The past is always the beginning, the basis, and the framework for the future."

The role of Christianity in Polish history illustrates his point, which is made in opposition to the communist officials who wished to deny the importance of Christ and Christianity in the life and future of Poland.The millenial year "has brought us to see the past" and "we have clearly seen the living presence of Jesus Christ in the history of our ancestors."

The presence of Christ is seen throughout the thousand years of Polish history from 966 to the present, December 31, 1966; his presence is seen in buildings, art, sacrament, and word. But most of all Wojtyla notes Christ is A living presence among living people." He muses that it would be helpful to "call up all those who have been filled with this presence and have them among us now, since if we looked at their lives and saw into the mystery of their souls, we could see to what an extent Christ had been present in them."

This is a striking idea to envision a thousand year vista of Christian souls raised up and present before the faithful living in the present; a cloud of witnesses to be sure. I reach out in historic imagination and try to envision a mere three hundred years of ancestors in this land, stretching back to ancestors who fled Archbishop Laud and sought religious freedom on these shores, and congregationalists who settled across the country settling in South Dakota, and Lutheran forebears in Washington, D.C., up to my Grandmother, a pioneer in Montana, who received the faith of Rome through the great work of Fr De Smet. I should like to see into the mystery of their souls. But alas, as Wojtyla rhetorically reminded his audience "it is not possible to bring the dead back to life," so therefore "we must simply look into the depths of our owns souls, reflecting on the meaning of our lives, examining the joys and sorrows of our consciences. We must reflect on our own hopes and fears and on the tensions in our interior struggles to see that Christ is living his own life among and within us."

So on New Year's eve, this Bishop of Krakow prayed: "My dear ones, we have gathered here in this venerable old shrine of Mary in order to render our final thanks in this millennial year, to sing one last Te Deum, and so to speak, link the past to our future. Our eyes and hearts turn to Christ and to his mother who, by giving birth to him, united the past with the future in him. The whole of the past has its focus in Christ, and the whole of the future has its source in him."

May every New Year's Eve, in looking back and looking ahead, be as far sighted at Blessed John Paul II's vision of faithful Poland in 1966. Semper fidelis. For "Our trust is great, as our faith and confidence in Mary's maternal closeness to our souls. Through this presence, may she unite our past and our future in Jesus Christ."

Amen

Happy New Year