30 March 2011

War

Well, here I go into politics. For the life of me, I cannot understand what we are doing in Libya. I cannot see that any component of the just war rationale is clearly fulfilled by this reckless venture. Does anyone think that this will "work"? I do not think that we even know whom we are supporting or what a good outcome would be.

When will we stop rationalizing war? In every case, war is a moral catastrophe. If we are driven into a conflict by the demands of justice, then it should be with a sense of penance. Rather, what seems to happen is that we use just war theory to rationalize what we want to do anyhow.

29 March 2011

A Reflection on L&R Week, 3TGM, etc.

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- There's an ill-fated separation going on within love itself, according to the preacher of the Pontifical Household. Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa says that "in the world we find eros without agape; among believers we often find agape without eros."

The preacher illustrated this dangerous divide today in the Vatican when he gave his first Lenten sermon before Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia. The sermon is titled "The Two Faces of Love: Eros and Agape."

Father Cantalamessa noted that his Lenten sermon series would continue with the aim of his Advent reflections: making a "small contribution" to re-evangelization efforts, "which at this moment is the main concern of the whole Church and in particular of the Holy Father Benedict XVI."

In this context, the Capuchin pointed to a realm where "secularization acts in a particularly pervasive and negative way, and it is the realm of love."

"The secularization of love consists in detaching human love in all its forms from God," he said, "reducing it to something purely 'profane,' in which God is out of place and even an annoyance."

Love can be defaced not only in "the world," Father Cantalamessa continued. This theme is also important for the internal life of the Church: "Love suffers from ill-fated separation not only in the mentality of the secularized world, but also in that of the opposite side, among believers and in particular among consecrated souls. Simplifying the situation to the greatest extent, we can articulate it thus: In the world we find eros without agape; among believers we often find agape without eros."

Eros without agape is a "love of conquest which fatally reduces the other to an object of one's pleasure and ignores every dimension of sacrifice, of fidelity and of gift of self," he said.

"[A]gape without eros," meanwhile, "seems to us a 'cold love,' [...] more by imposition of the will than by an intimate outburst of the heart, a descent into a pre-constituted mold, rather than to create for oneself something unrepeatable, as unrepeatable is every human being before God."

These "acts of love addressed to God," he said, "are like those of certain poor lovers who write to the beloved letters copied from a handbook."

Expelled

Father Cantalamessa explained that such an eros/agape separation is erroneous since the human being is "soul and body substantially united."

"[E]verything he does, including loving, must reflect this structure," the preacher affirmed.

Father Cantalamessa went on to outline a theological and philosophical background to this separation of agape and eros. He cited Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren, who interpreted Luther's faith-works separation in an agape-eros light.

"The repercussion of this operation is the radical worldliness and secularization of eros," the priest explained. "While in fact a certain theology was busy expelling eros from agape, secular culture was very happy, for its part, to expel agape from eros, namely every reference to God and to the grace of human love."

Freud was at work in this, the Capuchin said, and in modern man, eros -- or eroticism -- comes to have an indissoluble bond with death.

"Love which by its nature should lead to life," he said, "leads now instead to death."

Reunited

Father Cantalamessa acknowledged that it won't be easy to reunite the separated faces of love, particularly in regard to the worldly error. "[W]e can however correct the theological vision that, unwittingly, fosters and legitimizes it," he said. He added that this is what Benedict XVI did in "Deus Caritas Est."

The preacher went on to sketch an "eros for the consecrated."

He said that rescuing eros "helps first of all human couples in love and Christian spouses, showing the beauty and dignity of the love that unites them. It helps young people to experience the fascination of the other sex not as something torbid, to be lived taking cover from God, but on the contrary as a gift of the Creator for their joy, if lived in the order willed by him."

A rescue of eros should also help consecrated men and women, the preacher confirmed.

"We are creatures, we live in time and in a body; we are in need of a screen on which to project our love which is not only 'the cloud of unknowing,' namely, the veil of darkness behind which God hides himself," Father Cantalamessa said. "We know well the answer given to this problem: precisely for this reason God has given us our neighbor to love!"

But there is another element, he continued: "Before the brother that we see there is another that we also see and touch: It is the God made flesh; it is Jesus Christ! Between God and our neighbor there is now the Word made flesh who has reunited the two extremes in one person. It is in him, moreover, that love of neighbor itself finds its foundation: 'You did it to me.'"

All this signifies, according to the preacher, that "the primary object of our eros, of our search, desire, attraction, passion must be Christ."

"It is true that not even Christ is seen, but he exists; he is risen, he is alive, he is close to us, more truly than the most enamored husband is close to his wife," he said. "Here is the crucial point: to think of Christ not as a person of the past, but as the risen and living Lord, with whom I can speak, whom I can even kiss if I so wish, certain that my kiss does not end on the paper or on the wood of a crucifix, but on a face and on the lips of living flesh -- even though spiritualized -- happy to receive my kiss."

Father Cantalamessa affirmed that the "beauty and fullness of consecrated life depends on the quality of our love for Christ."

"Jesus is the perfect man; in him are found, to an infinitely higher degree, all those qualities and attentions that a man seeks in a woman and a woman in a man, a friend in a friend," he said. "His love does not subtract us necessarily from the call of creatures and in particular from the attraction of the other sex -- this is part of our nature that he has created and does not wish to destroy; he gives us, however, the strength to overcome these attractions with a much stronger attraction. 'The chaste one,' writes St. John Climacus, 'is he who drives out eros with Eros.'"

None of this destroys the "gratuitousness of agape," the Capuchin clarified. "Not at all, rather it exalts it. What in fact do we give God in this way if not what we have received from him? [...] The love we give to Christ is his same love for us that we return to him, as the echo does the voice."

Learning the Human Heart

The Pope is right about this. It is one of the things I love about hearing confessions. I learn mercy and compassion:

The Holy Father said that the teaching-learning aspect of confession is not sufficiently considered, despite its spiritual and pastoral importance.

"In what way does the sacrament of penance educate?" he asked. "In what sense does its celebration have a pedagogical value, first of all, for the ministers?"

To respond to these questions, he suggested starting with the recognition "that the priestly ministry constitutes a unique and privileged observation post, from which, daily, we are enabled to contemplate the splendor of divine mercy."

"Fundamentally," the Holy Father said, "to confess means to assist in as many 'professiones fidei' as there are penitents, and to contemplate the action of the merciful God in history, to touch the salvific effects of the cross and resurrection of Christ, at all times and for every man."

The Pontiff reflected how in the confessional, the priest in a sense visits the "abyss of the human heart, also in the dark aspects." And this, he said, also tests the "humanity and the faith of the priest himself."

"On the other hand," he continued, "it nourishes in him the certainty that the last word on the evil of man and of history is God's, it is his mercy, able to make all things new."

From confession, in fact, the priest can learn much, the Pope said, above all "from exemplary penitents by their spiritual life, by the seriousness with which they conduct their examinations of conscience, by the transparency in recognizing their sin and by their docility to the teaching of the Church and the indications of the confessor."

"From the administration of the sacrament of penance we can receive profound lessons of humility and faith," he assured. Confession is "a very strong call for each priest to the awareness of his own identity."

"Never, in the strength of our humanity alone, would we be able to hear the confessions of brothers," continued the Pope. "If they approach us, it is only because we are priests, configured to Christ, High and Eternal Priest, and made capable of acting in his name and in his person, of rendering really present God who forgives, renews and transforms."

Prayers, please!

I ask your prayer for Fr. Jim Socias who has suffered a stroke. I do not know any more about his condition.

Fr. Socias is Midwest Theological Forum, and among other things the spirit of the Rome Experience.

27 March 2011

Vocations

I am in the midst of a very vocational weekend. Friday was the anniversary of my ordination, and this weekend is our 3 To Get Married Retreat for engaged couples. On top of that has been Love and Responsibility Week, which has been all about marriage in its earthy and heavenly manifestations. It is blessing to live this way: vocationally. I do realize, however, that most people do not. On the other hand, I actually have to temper some of the enthusiasm for vocational living that appears in some of the devout students I work with. It can become overheated!

Yesterday, we had a speaker on campus from BYU whose thesis is that friendship is a far better basis for marriage than emotional passion. He was speaking empirically using the sort of research data that a place like Vanderbilt believes in. I was comforted that his conclusion was much the same as the point I had made in my first Fireside Chat a few months ago, and I didn't have to do all the research. (Faith is such a shortcut to truth and happiness!) The same path is really true for vocations to the heavenly wedding feast -- priestly celibacy and consecrated virginity: intimate friendship with the Bridegroom. And such intimate friendship takes time.

To live vocationally, begin the hard work of emotional intimacy or friendship, as non-academics would say. The emotional fireworks are so much more realistically launched from this foundation and can better sustain the long haul of committed love.

26 March 2011

17 Candles

Well, I am into year 18! Maybe I will grow up as a priest this year :-)

Yesterday was a great day. Busy and full of love. What could be better?

20 March 2011

The Usefulness of Poetry

"She went to bed thinking more about another person than about herself. This goes to prove that even minor poetry may have its practical uses."
Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night, chapter 18

Here is what I like about this quotation. It is always a practical good to be thinking about the good for another person rather than about oneself. Good poetry does this. (This is why I think that so much Romantic poetry is not good -- beautiful perhaps, but not good. The poem in question is more in the line of the metaphysical poets.) Anything good does as well. Self-absorption is the essence of sin; self-gift is the essence of virtue. We need to be giving ourselves away, even in our thoughts. Of course, any desire to possess or control the other is really about self. Good art (or anything) draws us out, not in.

18 March 2011

Let's Do This!

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The prefect of the Congregation for Clergy says the value of Eucharistic adoration cannot be overestimated, and he is recommending that every diocese have an adoration chapel or shrine dedicated to the intentions of consecrated vocations and the sanctification of the clergy.

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza affirmed this in a March 4 note to Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, France. The bishop is promoting an international conference on Eucharistic adoration, to be held June 20-24 in Rome at the Salesianum.

"We cannot overestimate the importance of adoring the Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament, knowing that worship is the highest act of the People of God," the cardinal wrote.

He described Eucharistic adoration as "an effective means toward promoting the sanctification of the clergy, reparation for sin, and vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life."

"With courage, we must ask the Lord to send forth new laborers into the harvest," Cardinal Piacenza affirmed.

He added the recommendation that "in every diocese there should be at least one church, chapel, or shrine set aside for perpetual adoration of the Eucharist, specifically for the intention of the promotion of new vocations and the sanctification of the clergy."

The clergy congregation prefect expressed his hope that bishops, priests and religious would consider attending the Eucharistic adoration conference.

"A renewed sense of devotion to Christ in the Eucharist," the cardinal declared, "can only enrich every aspect of the Church's life and mission in the world."


Cardinal Piacenza met with the seminarian group I was with in Rome last summer. He is very impressive and rare in the Curia -- he came to Rome from being a parish pastor! Maybe we could use some more of that kind in the Curia...

14 March 2011

Mission Trip: Catholic Worker

Here is one of the promised posts!

The work part of the spring break trip was with the Catholic Worker houses in South Bend, IN. Their outreach is to the homeless.

There was also time for discussion about the philosophy of Catholic Worker. I knew something about it from reading about Dorothy Day in the last couple of years. I also know that some Catholic Worker groups have moved away from the piety and orthodoxy of Day. I think that the South Bend houses try to keep her spirit and faith. Those that we met are an inspiring group of Christians. Still, they have some ideas on the fringes.

One is "Christian anarchy." I really think that they could do better coming up with a term for what they believe. (When I think of anarchists, I think of bomb throwers. I do not think I am alone in this.) From what I understand (and I realize that I understand a very limited amount), they think that we should do away with government and replace it with Christian charity -- love of God and love of neighbor. They are very distrustful of government, it seems, at all levels, especially the bigger. OK -- but they mean it seriously. My fear is that the "anarchy" would overtake the "Christian" pretty quickly. Also, it presupposes a world made up entirely of saints. And finally it is so serious. There is nothing too small not to be uptight about with them. When you choose Malcom X as a Friday night movie, something is a little too intense! Philosophically, my objection is that for Christian anarchy to work (just like integralists at the other end of the religio-political spectrum) everybody has to do it. It is an absolutist position. For better or worse, I think we live in a time (and perhaps a world) of creative minorities rather than of absolutist uniformity.

Got to go now. I will try to continue. Look for posts on pacifism. I will also try to say what I agree with! That would be a change :-)

12 March 2011

Home Again

Sorry for the lapse in posting. I have been in South Bend, IN with a group of students on a mission trip, and I haven't figured out how to post from my iPad yet. The work was with the Catholic Worker houses there. We stayed with a wonderful group of Franciscan Sisters who have maintained perpetual adoration since the 1850s! I think that this trip was just what one would hope for -- some good work, time to pray, and much good food for thought and discussion. Of course, there was time to visit Notre Dame -- itself also an opportunity for reflection.

So you may be getting some posts about all of this.

08 March 2011

My favorite teacher

Pope Benedict is such a great teacher. Yesterday, he was teaching his seminarians -- the seminarians of the Diocese of Rome. One of his points offered for the formation of his future priest is formation in humility. Let's listen to him:

"Humility": the Greek word is "tapeinophrosyne," the same word that St. Paul uses in the Letter to the Philippians when he speaks of the Lord, who was God and humbled himself, made himself "tapeinos," and descended to the point of making himself a creature, to the point of making himself man, to the point of obedience on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:7-8). So, humility is not just any word, just any modesty, but a Christological word. Imitating the God who comes down to me, who is so great that he becomes my friend, suffers for me, and dies for me. This is a humility to learn, the humility of God. It means that we must always see ourselves in the light of God; thus, at the same time we can know the greatness of being a person loved by God, but also our littleness, our poverty, and this is the right way to conduct ourselves, not as masters, but as servants. As St. Paul says: "We do not intend to be the masters of your faith; we are instead helpers of your joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24). Being a priest implies this humility, more so than being a Christian does.

How I would hope to be a "helper of your joy"!

(The expression "humility of God" reminds me of a chapter by that name in Romano Guardini's The Lord, a series of meditations on the Gospel. Flannery O'Connor loved it.)

07 March 2011

Who Says There Isn't Good News?

I read it and weep...for joy!

Sunday Afternoon

Yesterday, I had a Sunday afternoon. I celebrated Mass at 8:30 A.M.! I had brunch with two friends. I took a nap. I went to McKay's used bookstore and spent a lot of time but not much money for a whole arm-load of books. I never have a Sunday like that. It's spring break!

Well, I sort of had to pay for it because of some electrical craziness in the evening at Frassati House caused, I believe, by NES. Actually, a small price to pay...

06 March 2011

Sharing Life

I want to take the time to share what I understand about the need and desire for common life. At this moment, I think that what is needed here at Vanderbilt is the experience of communio, a sharing in the shared life of the Holy Trinity. In the natural order, God imprinted this experience of communion within marriage and family. In the order of grace, He formed the Church as a holy communion. Both of these realities are to be models of the loving communion of persons which is the Holy Trinity. Families should be schools of love, and the Church the embodiment of the family of God. We express the loving Fatherhood of God when we live as brothers and sisters. I have a funny idea that we become better signs of the love of God, of charity, when we live in loving communion.

I am tempted to go on to show why this is so needed particularly now. I am tempted to show the many countersigns of communion that undermine both the family and the Church today. Let it suffice for me to point to the practice of cohabitation before marriage. Couples want to "practice" marriage by cohabitation or by the practical equivalent of cohabitation of being completely emotionally and physically bonded before marriage. I think that practicing marriage is a good idea, but that should have been done by growing up in a loving home and then perhaps by a common life with others after leaving home. College students and young adults find themselves with out communion in daily living. Cohabitation seeks to ease the alienation of the prolonged "bachelorhood" of contemporary young adult living by playing at marriage. Rather than playing at marriage, why don't we try actually living as brothers and sisters, which is what we are? What I am proposing (or perhaps just musing about) are the possibilities for this common family life within the family of God.

Those of you who know me know how lazy I am. Why do the hard work of making something, if it already exists? That's my motto. Never come up with an original thought if there is one to steal! So here I go again. This time I am stealing from St. Philip Neri and his idea of Oratory. More than anything else, the Oratory is a family at prayer. I grew up in a devout family, a praying family; but somehow I missed out on the experience of praying as family. I grew up in the Episcopal Church with its Book of Common Prayer. Again, somehow I never experienced that form of prayer as common prayer. It was beautiful, but I did not have the sense of praying with anyone else -- other than getting really good at knowing the mechanics of that form of prayer so much so that I became a great critic of how other people were praying. (Screwtape, take note!) I firmly believe that we need form but we also need the freedom found within loving communion. I believe that the Oratory provides this -- certainly not exclusively, but effectively.

St. Philip proposed the idea of the faithful gathering, indeed with a father but as a family, to pray. This prayer included meditation, sacred reading, commentary by all present, intercessory and other prayer in common, as well as reflection on the saints and the Church, and singing -- and, of course, invocation of Our Blessed Mother. Works of charity were also supremely important as were opportunities for common recreation, like the walk to the seven churches. Eventually, the Congregation of the Oratory came into existence which established common living, not under the rule of vows like religious life but under the rule of charity alone.

Of course, this ideal has proven at times not to be wildly practical -- like St. Philip himself. And yet it speaks to me of the spirit of the early Church. Indeed, one of St. Philip's favorite places was the catacombs. This ideal also seems to speak to our times.

A few brothers have begun to meet on Wednesday night late to pray in this Oratorian fashion. It has immediately become one of the high points of my week. I am trying to promote such practices more widely within Vandy Catholic. I also think that there are more opportunities to live as brothers and sisters. Last night, I was trying to explain what I meant by "common life" to some young gentlemen who have already experience the joy of living with friends. But I was proposing something further, and the best I could do to explain it was to propose living as family. It is not the same thing. There is more commitment to family, even though the commitment might not be easy to spell out in a rule. The best example that I could come up with was laundry. I don't think that friends do laundry for each other much but family do -- well, you know what I mean, I hope!

This may not make much sense to you, but it has helped me to clarify my vision. This post is not at all about "nuts and bolts" but about the why. I think that we should live as brothers and sisters because we are. We become a better sign of the fundamental reality of our lives that we are children of God.

04 March 2011

Vandy Catholic Wish List

New Missals!

Also, a sponsor for our silent retreat. The students' fees cover the retreat site expenses, but I need about $1,000 for the travel expenses and stipends for the women's and men's retreat directors.

Can anyone help?

03 March 2011

le Dieu du coeur humain

Pope Benedict spoke yesterday about St. Francis de Sales. You know how happy that makes me! I am going to give you the whole thing:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Dieu est le Dieu du coeur humain" [God is the God of the human heart] ("Treatise on the Love of God," I, XV): In these seemingly simple words we see the essence of a great teacher's spirituality, St. Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church, of whom I would like to speak to you today.

Born in 1567, in a French border region, he was the son of the Lord of Boisy, from an ancient and noble family of Savoy. Living across the span of two centuries, the 16th and 17th, he brought together the best of the teachings and cultural conquests of the century that was ending, joining a heritage of humanism with mysticism's longing for the absolute. His formation was quite complete: He did his higher studies in Paris, dedicating himself to theology as well, and at the University of Padua, he studied jurisprudence as his father wished, finishing brilliantly with a degree in utroque iure, canon law and civil law.

During his tranquil youth, while reflecting on the thought of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he had a profound crisis that drove him to question his eternal salvation and God's predestination in his respect, thus suffering as a true spiritual drama what were the principal theological questions of his time.

He prayed intensely, but doubt tormented him so strongly that for some weeks he could scarcely eat or sleep. At the height of this trial, he went to the church of the Dominicans in Paris, opened his heart and prayed thus: "No matter what happens, Lord, you who have everything in hand, and whose ways are justice and truth, whatever you have established in my regard ... you who are always a just judge and merciful Father, I will love you, Lord [...] I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy, and I will always repeat your praise ... O Lord Jesus, you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living" (I Proc. Canon., vol I, art 4).

The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating reality of the love of God: to love him without asking anything in return and to trust in his divine love; not to ask any longer what God will do with me: I will simply love him, regardless of what he does or does not give me. Thus he found peace, and the question of predestination -- which was being discussed at that time -- was resolved, because he no longer sought what he could have from God; he simply loved him, abandoned himself to his goodness. And this would be the secret of his life, which would shine in his principal work, "Treatise on the Love of God."

Overcoming his father's resistance, Francis followed the Lord's call and on Dec. 18, 1593, was ordained a priest. In 1602 he became bishop of Geneva, at a time when the city was the stronghold of Calvinism, so much so that the episcopal see was "in exile" in Annecy. As pastor of a poor and tormented diocese, in a mountainous landscape in which he knew well both its harshness and beauty, he wrote: "I found [God] full of sweetness and gentleness among our highest and roughest mountains, where many simple souls loved and adored him in all truth and sincerity; and deer and chamois ran here and there among the frightening frost to proclaim his praises" (Letter to the Mother of Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, Mackey publishers, T. XIII, o. 223).

And yet the influence of his life and of his teaching on the Europe of that time and of the following centuries was immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and prayer; committed to carrying out the ideals of the Council of Trent; involved in controversy and dialogue with Protestants, experiencing more and more more the efficacy of personal relationships and of charity, beyond a necessary theological confrontation. He was charged with diplomatic missions at the European level, and with social tasks of mediation and reconciliation.

However, above all, St. Francis de Sales was a guide of souls: from his meeting with a young woman, Mrs. de Charmoisy, he got the idea to write one of the most well-read books in the modern age, "Introduction to the Devout Life." From his profound spiritual communion with an exceptional personality, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, a new religious family was born, the Order of the Visitation, characterized -- as the saint wished -- by total consecration to God lived in simplicity and humility, in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well: "... I want my Daughters -- he wrote -- to have no ideal other than that of glorifying [Our Lord] with their humility" (Letter to Monsignor de Marquemond, June 1615). He died in 1622, at 55 years of age, after an existence marked by the harshness of the times and apostolic toil.

St. Francis' life was relatively brief, but lived with great intensity. An impression of rare fulfillment emanates from this saint, demonstrated in the serenity of his intellectual research, but also in the richness of his affections, and in the "gentleness" of his teachings, which have had great influence on the Christian conscience. He embodied several meanings of the word "humanity," which, today as yesterday, can denote culture and courtesy, liberty and tenderness, nobility and solidarity. His appearance had something of the majesty of the landscape in which he lived, also preserving simplicity and naturalness. The old words and the images with which he expressed himself surprisingly sound like a native and familiar language to people's ear even today.

To Philotea, the fictional recipient of his "Introduction to the Devout Life" (1607), Francis de Sales addressed an invitation that might have seemed at the time revolutionary. It is the invitation to belong completely to God, living his presence in the world and the tasks of one's state in fullness. "My intention is to instruct those who live in the city, in the conjugal state, in the courts [...]" (Preface to "Introduction to the Devout Life"). The document with which Pope Leo XIII, more than two centuries later, would proclaim him doctor of the Church insisted on this extension of the call to perfection, to sanctity. He wrote there: "[true piety] has penetrated to the throne of the king, in the tents of army heads, in the praetorium of judges, in offices, in shops and even in shepherds' huts [...]" (Brief "Dives in misericordia," Nov. 16, 1877).

Thus was born the appeal to the laity, that care to consecrate temporal things and sanctify the every day, on which the Second Vatican Council and the spirituality of our time insist.

He spoke of the ideal of a reconciled humanity, harmony between action in the world and prayer, between the secular state and the pursuit of perfection, with the help of God's grace, which permeates the human and, without destroying it, purifies it, raising it to the divine heights. To Theotimus, the adult, spiritually mature Christian to whom he would address a few years later his "Treatise on the Love of God" (1616), St. Francis de Sales gives a more complex lesson. It supposes at the beginning a precise vision of the human being, an anthropology: man's "reason," in fact the "reasonable soul," was seen as a harmonious structure, a temple articulated in more spaces around a center, which, together with the great mystics, he called the "summit," the "point" of the spirit, or the depths of the soul. It is the point in which reason, having passed through all its degrees, "closes its eyes" and knowledge becomes altogether one with love (cf. Book I, Chapter XII). The fact that love, in its theological, divine dimension is the reason for being of all things, in an ascending ladder that does not seem to know fractures or abysses, St. Francis de Sales resumed in a famous phrase: "Man is the perfection of the universe; the spirit is man's perfection; love is the perfection of the spirit, and charity is the perfection of love" (ibid., Book X, Chapter I).

In an epoch of intense mystical flowering, the "Treatise on the Love of God" was a true and proper summa, as well as a fascinating literary work. His description of the itinerary toward God starts from the recognition of the "natural inclination" (ibid., Book I, Chapter XVI) inscribed in man's heart to love God above all things, despite being a sinner. Following the model of sacred Scripture, St. Francis de Sales speaks of the union between God and man by developing a whole series of images of interpersonal relationships. His God is Father and Lord, spouse and friend; he has maternal and nursing characteristics. He is the sun of which even the night is a mysterious revelation. Such a God draws man to himself with bonds of love, that is of true liberty: "because love does not force or have slaves, but reduces everything under its obedience with such a delicious force that, if nothing is as strong as love, nothing is as lovable as his force" (Book I, Chapter VI). We find in our saint's "Treatise" a profound meditation on the human will and the description of its flowing, passing, dying, to live (cf. Ibid., Book IX, Chapter XIII) in complete abandonment not only to the will of God, but to what pleases him, to his "bon plaisir," to his approval (cf. Ibid., Book IX, Chapter I). At the summit of union with God, in addition to the raptures of contemplative ecstasies, is placed the reappearance of concrete charity, which is attentive to all the needs of others and which he calls "ecstasies of life and works" (Ibid., Book VII, chapter VI).

Reading the book on the love of God and even more so the many letters of direction and of spiritual friendship, one perceives what an expert St. Francis de Sales was on the human heart. To St. Jane of Chantal, he wrote: "[...] Here is the general rule of our obedience, written in capital letters: DO ALL THROUGH LOVE, NOTHING THROUGH CONSTRAINT; LOVE OBEDIENCE MORE THAN YOU FEAR DISOBEDIENCE. I want you to have the spirit of liberty, not the kind that excludes obedience -- this is freedom of the flesh -- but the liberty that excludes constraint, anxiety and scruples" (Letter of Oct. 14, 1604). Not for nothing, at the origin of many paths of pedagogy and spirituality of our time we rediscover the stamp of this teacher, without whom there would be no St. John Bosco or the heroic "little way" of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks liberty, even with violence and disturbance, the timelines of this great teacher of spirituality and peace should not be missed, a teacher who gave to his disciples the "spirit of liberty," the true one, as the culmination of his fascinating and complete teaching on the reality of love. St. Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his accessible style, with words that at times have the touch of poetry, he reminds that man bears inscribed in his deepest self nostalgia for God and that only in him is found his true joy and most complete fulfillment.

[Translation by ZENIT]

01 March 2011

Lent is Coming!

Argh! Lent is coming...oh, I mean, I am so glad that Lent is coming. Conflicted much? I am.

Could I make some suggestions as to Lenten disciplines? First, I like the old fashioned kind. Good old self-denial for the Love of God. What could be wrong with that?

I also like more psychological ones. Fast from introspection. Make alms of emotions. Just as giving money away is more fulfilling than keeping it so too are emotions more fulfilling when used for the happiness of others.