St Ignatius

Today, in both forms of the Roman Rite, is the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola.

The Spirituality Year I recently completed is based upon Ignatian spirituality, and was capped off with a 30 day retreat making the Exercises.

In his honour I will post about the first day of his Spiritual Exercises (as given to the Spirituality Year).

The purpose of retreating and making the Spiritual Exercises are to be free to hear and do God's will for you; to let God draw closer to you; and to regain the heart of a child. You want to make yourself as available to God as possible, by withdrawing from the world and its distractions. You want to be able to make decisions with freedom. Live in the loving gaze of the Father.

Prayer is a patient listening to the voice of God, a making ourselves open to receive the Word of God, asking for the spirit to free us to hear His will for us and to respond generously. Prayer is the courage to "abide in God" and to let Him abide in us (Jn 15:4, 5, 10)

There is a prayer of thanksgiving, repentance, petition, adoration. It is a way of being before God, in God, an attitude which is called "contemplation".

Christian prayer is above all dialogue: God initiates the dialogue, the human creature listens for God's Word and then is invited to respond, to give a living answer to God. Prayer is talking gently to God.

On retreat, let yourself be surprised by God: watch a robin, or follow ducks. God may want to speak to you through a flower, a bird, a memory, or an event in the kitchen. Whatever your experience, ask if he's trying to talk to you through it. Get back in touch with a child's heart, and be docile to the Holy Spirit.

The encounter with God takes place in the heart. Prayer is wasting time with God. The month of the Spiritual Exercises are a good time to come to know the Psalms.

Texts to pray with:
Pss 1, 23

The grace to be asked for the first day: to make a good retreat, place yourself entirely in His care for these days, trusting Him to give you the grace you need to pray as you should; thanksgiving.

Praying with Ps 1 made me think that I need to be ever mindful of how can I serve/love God in whatever situation I'm in. Verse 3 seemed to me parallel to Jn 4:14. And verse 6 is speaking of covenant knowing; the way of the righteous is His way.


Bernard's On Conversion

This is based on the treatise itself.

I.1 God's will is that we be converted, that we turn around, repent, think again. Because God has said he wants us to be converted (Ps 89:3) it can happen. We have to make the effort, but he will give us the strength.

I.2 We have to be freed from our sluggishness. Our soul isn't really happy, but is sluggish any way, because at lesat it's in control. When I'm in habitual sin, I know the pattern: I can anticipate, I'm in control. But if I follow God, I don't know what will happen; our sluggishness comes out of our fear of relinquishing control over our lives.

VI.8 Bernard speaks of an "overflowing sewer" contaminating the house of our soul. The only way to get the sewage out is to shut the door and window, where it's coming in from; and to get to the door and window, you have to wade through sewage. Conversion is a messy business. Stop sinning, live a disciplined life. You can't repent while you're still in sin. When we see the sewage, it's so nasty that we want to avoid it, but we do need to engage it to clean it up.

VI.10 He talks about how our very self resists our conversion. He describes our diseased, ill-formed will as an ulcerous, nasty old woman, who complains at our beginning conversion. We've been our whole life satisfying our will's desire for pleasure: our will feels it has something like a conjugal right to pleasure, which you're now denying it. This is why we resist our conversion so very strongly.

VI.11 Evil comes into our self through the will.

VII.12 Bernard applies the beatitude of the poor in spirit to those who are starting their conversion and finding that their will is opposing them. "Who is poorer in spirit than he who in the whole of his own spirit finds no rest, nowhere to lay his head?"

IX.23 Similarly does he talk of "blessed are they who mourn". Bernard applies this to the person whose flesh is opposing their converting spirit, and who mourns his condition and hopes for consolation from God.

And this is Dr Lilles' reflection based on Bernard's treatise.

If a man discerns out of the seminary, he shouldn't date for about a year. At that point he is as vulnurable as he's going to be; women are attractive particularly because we can in them hide from the ugliness inside us; we're vulnerable to fantasy (ie oh she goes to daily Mass. She's perfect for me) and need to live in reality. If we let ourself get distracted with a woman, we can ignore the things that are wrong with us; but we must see the ugly part of our souls; don't run from it, don't hide; embrace it; you must not run away; embrace it, and submit it to Christ. Women are particularly attractive for the seminarian because they give us an opportunity to hide from self; and if we run to that, we will live superficially, never able to help anyone (eg her, kids, neighbours).

How is it that we're able to stop sinning? What Jesus did for us counts. His blood is more powerful than sin. O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you. It is God's will that we be converted: if I rely on God alone, I will commit no mortal sin; if you rely on God's will, you won't fall into mortal sin. We must have confidence..we must have confidence.
Make this your prayer: "Jesus, help me. I am a sinner."
My sin has no chance against Jesus: he created the universe by willing it. The only problem is me; my self-sufficiency get in the way.
Jesus could never sin, because he loved/trusted in God the Father so totally. Mary had this. We can acquire this by grace. But when you receive this grace don't assume that your conversion will be easy: one cannot love God except at one's own expense. You must do the work of fighting, keeping vigil, being strong, and never wavering. Ask the Lord to be with you in the fight, and you'll be victorious.
Protestants' theology can get in the way of their conversion, in its aversion to works. You have to work with God in your conversion. That is the gist of the statement that you can't love God except at your own expense. It isn't easy, you don't just accept Jesus as your lord and saviour and it's over. There's a ton of work after that. Jesus won't bring you to conversion; he invites you, and gives you the grace, but you have to actually do it yourself. Conversion is a hell of a struggle: it is a fight for life or death.
We can resist the divine voice by gluttony, curiousity, and pride. Too much food/drink makes us spiritually lazy. Watch your snacking: when you're tired and want a snack for a pick me up, go instead to pray, to the chapel, rather than the refectory/kitchen. Ask Christ for refreshment. Living such a disciplined life will give us strength. If you really like the soup today, only have one bowl. Leave half a cookie on your plate so that you can more attentively engage the brother next to you.

I live with the illusion that I'm a pretty good guy; that I'm a fixer-upper; but I'm not a fixer-upper--I am a train wreck. We need to face the ugly nasty sin in our life. Basically we're so used to the stench of our sin that we can't even smell it anymore.

Try to recognize the lack of love in yourself, and weep for it: this is compunction, the gift of tears.

We run from our inner self because it is too painful to see. St John Vianney got a glimpse of this and wanted nothing but to run to a monastery and atone. I must accept myself, and be completely honest with both God and myself. "Lord Jesus, reveal to me the truth of who I really am." "Lord, pierce me to the heart." "I do not have a sense of why you needed to die for me." "Please let me have sorrow." Let me have sorrow over my life: not to wallow, but recognize self and offer those wounds and thank God for revealing them to me. God isn't going to despise me because of my sin; but he will save me because of it. Have the courage to go in and confront your spiritual sewage.

In each of us is an abyss of misery, created by our and other's sin. But there is an abyss deeper than my misery: the abyss of his mercy. We can be healed by submerging our misery in his mercy.

Bernard's On the Steps of Humility and Pride

This was probly my favourite work the whole year. I used it as part of my examination preparing for the general confession in the Spiritual Exercises.

This treatise addresses the problem of your own "big fat ego". (One of Dr. Lilles' favourite phrases.) Learning to die to self is the most important thing we learn in seminary. We create the myth that "I'm a pretty good guy", because it is too hard to deal with the truth about ourself. When we start to see ourselves as we are, that's the beginning of humility. Humility helps us see that the world revolves around God (not us). This humility regulates self-esteem, which is very important in our day and age. People get hooked on drugs, sex, porn, etc because they don't esteem themselves correctly. To have no self-esteem is not enough of it, and to esteem yourself more than God is too much of it. So you can esteem yourself wrongly, to excess or deficiency. If you do esteem yourself wrongly, you won't do what you need to do for your good. If you have too little self-esteem, you won't think it's worth it to do good things for yourself, because you aren't worthy (or capable) of doing good anyway.

Before describing the steps in detail, Bernard has a beautiful discussion on Christ's condescension. (III.6 ff) "He learned mercy...what he knew by nature from eternity he learned from experience in time." Christ had a perfect, infused knowledge of our human condition by virtue of being God, but out of love for us he wanted to experience all our miseries. This helped me develop a peri-communion prayer to him thanking him for his condescension in becoming man out of love for me, becoming passable, and suffering the Passion, though he is by nature infinite and impassable. He chose to suffer with us, that we might more readily entrust ourselves to him, since he experienced our weakness and limitations. Most encouragingly, he learned obedience, the hardest lesson we have. Bernard refers to Hebrews in saying that "we can be sure he will have compassion on us because he has suffered himself."

He treats of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (V.17) "The Pharisee waved mercy away when he denied his [own] wretchedness." We must acknowledge our sinful state before we can receive mercy from our Lord.

Bernard's steps of humility and pride can be seen here.

The first choice is to be (unduly) curious or not. Studiousness is the virtue that regulates curiousity. This is a big one for seminarians, who usually need to regulate their curiousity so it doesn't get out of hand. We have curiousity, and need to exercise it on studies, or else it will be exercised on other things, either trivial or bad. The positive choice here is self-possession: being content with yourself, with what God has done in your life. The example of bad curiousity Bernard gives is Eve looking too intently at the fruit she was not allowed to eat--her curiousity about that fruit led to the Fall.

The second step is light-mindedness; looking at others, comparing yourself to them.

The third step of pride is foolish merriment; this isn't speaking against joy and mirth, but against sarcasm and cynicism, or using humour to avoid or relieve stress.

The fourth step is boasting.

The fifth is trying to be different; claiming special rights. The person at this stage is concerned with appearing good, rather than actually being good.

The sixth step is thinking that you're holier than everyone else.

The seventh step is presuming to put yourself where you don't really belong, or talking back when you're reprimanded.

The eight step is justifying your sinful actions

The ninth is public confession of sin/fault so that people will admire your "humility".

The tenth is rebellion against superiors.

The eleventh step of pride is feeling a freedom to sin.

The twelfth is habitual sin, lacking the fear of God, and instead having contempt for him.

Bernard of Clairvaux's On Loving God

This is the first treatise of St Bernard that we read; this is our edition, from the wonderful Classics of Western Spirituality. Bernard says that there are four degrees of love.

The first is when man loves himself for his own sake: The first reason to embrace Christian discipline is because it's good for you--it is the best way to take care of yourself; you need to learn to take care of yourself, to love yourself. A discipline of daily prayer keeps you from being buffeted this way and that by the world, by random persons whose desires may be disordered. For Bernard, the self is not the rugged invididuality of conservative America--there is a radical solidarity among persons. For Bernard, you love others for your own sake: you intuit your connection with others, in a realization that we're all in the same boat; when we take care of eachother, we're loving ourself for our own sake. This sense of solidarity leads us to the realization that we're not self-sufficient--that we depend upon God and that he comes through for us. Self-sufficiency will block us from the second degree of love. God breaks us of this self-sufficiency by trials so that we will rely on him. This is to teach us that he is good and helps us to love him.

The second degree is when man loves God for his own good: Wanting our own good, and coming to realize that God wants our good, we have a basis for friendship with him. This is love on a natural (pre-Christian) level. It gives God joy, but he does want us to move to supernatural love.

The third degree is loving God for God's sake: This is expressed by David in Ps 62. Having tasted the sweetness of the Lord, we are lead to "love God in purity more than our need alone would prompt us to do." (IX.26) This is trusting in the Lord because he is good, not because he is good to you.

The fourth degree is loving self for God's sake. Again, this self is not isolated, but a self in communion, enveloping all persons; so this can also be called loving others for God's sake. God loves you because he sees something good in you, despite the bad that's there; and in this stage I see the good which he sees. Seeing this good, I can love as he loves.

There is a letter appended to the treatise which has a good reflection on conversion (XII.34)
There are some who praise God for his power, some who praise him for his goodness to them, and some who praise him simply because he is good. The first is a slave, fearful on his own account. The second is mercenary, and desires profit for himself. The third is a son who honors his father... Neither fear nor love of self can convert the soul. They change the appearance of one's deeds from time to time, but never one's character. A slave can sometimes do God's work, but because he does not do it of his own free will he remains in his former state of hard-heartedness. The hireling can do it, too, but because he does not do it for nothing he can be convicted of being led by his own desire.
We must pray for the grace to praise God because he is good.


Augustine's Confessions

This work is just beautiful. If you haven't read it, do. It was a part of my conversion to the Church. Sadly, we got behind and didn't finish it; we only read through book 9, and parts of 10. The same thing happened in another class I took where we read Confessions. Books 10-13 are fascinating, but much neglected.

Here is the beautiful opening to the work:
“Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom.”And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee. Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art. It may be that we should invoke thee in order that we may come to know thee. But “how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?” Now, “they shall praise the Lord who seek him,” for “those who seek shall find him,” and, finding him, shall praise him. I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.
The whole work opens with a beautiful chapter praising God for his greatness and glory in and of themselves, not just for what he has done for us. It shows us that the work is basically about man's search for God that he might praise him; it is Augustine's attempt to praise God, his Magnificat. Who we are is lessened, if we do not praise God. Confessions defines the fundamental relationship between God and man: that of Creator and creature.

Who shall bring me to rest in thee? Who will send thee into my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted out and I may embrace thee, my only good? What art thou to me? Have mercy that I may speak. What am I to thee that thou shouldst command me to love thee, and if I do it not, art angry and threatenest vast misery? Is it, then, a trifling sorrow not to love thee? It is not so to me. Tell me, by thy mercy, O Lord, my God, what thou art to me. “Say to my soul, I am your salvation.” So speak that I may hear. Behold, the ears of my heart are before thee, O Lord; open them and “say to my soul, I am your salvation.” I will hasten after that voice, and I will lay hold upon thee. Hide not thy face from me. Even if I die, let me see thy face lest I die.

The house of my soul is too narrow for thee to come in to me; let it be enlarged by thee. It is in ruins; do thou restore it. There is much about it which must offend thy eyes; I confess and know it. But who will cleanse it? Or, to whom shall I cry but to thee? “Cleanse thou me from my secret faults,” O Lord, “and keep back thy servant from strange sins.” “I believe, and therefore do I speak.” But thou, O Lord, thou knowest. Have I not confessed my transgressions unto thee, O my God; and hast thou not put away the iniquity of my heart? I do not contend in judgment with thee, who art truth itself; and I would not deceive myself, lest my iniquity lie even to itself. I do not, therefore, contend in judgment with thee, for “if thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”
Here (book 1, chapter 5) Augustine shows us that the spiritual life is mostly God searching us out, seeking to dwell in us. We're afraid to let the Lord into our heart because if he sees it, he won't love us; but the joke is on us, because he already knows. And he knowing, he already loves.

Much of the Confessions covers the time in Augustine's life when he was caught in sexual sin. This saps our confidence, makes us feel alone, enslaved; we feel that we can't master it. Sin has this effect on you, but it is totally irrational. God will always give us the grace to stay out of mortal sin. And the battle for chastity is won in prayer; we must rely on Christ--it will not be won by white-knuckling it.

Augustine's 'tolle, lege' experience in 8,12 shows how conversion happens. He examined himself and wept; then he recognized the voice of the Lord, speaking through the child, telling him to "take, and read"; and he obeyed it immediately. He had the works of St Paul near him, and read what he first opened to. On doing this, he received a great sense of relief, melting away all his anxiety. Augustine's story shows us that we need the passions to get out of our sinful state; until you experience the movement of compunction (tears for sin--Jesus weeping over you), you can't change.

His experience following his mother's death (9,12) shows us how to deal with death. Without Christian faith and hope, funerals have inconsolable grief; Catholic wakes have a real mixture of joy and sorrow. We need to pray for the deceased, but also have thankfulness to God for their life.


Cardinal Van Thuan's Testimony of Hope

I wasn't crazy about this work, but it is a good one. It is very accessible and easy to read. And Cardinal Van Thuan was a most impressive person: shortly after becoming archbishop of Saigon, he was imprisoned by the Vietnamese government for 13 years, most of which were spent in solitary confinement. He endured these years with a spirituality rooted in the virtue of hope. At SJV we also believe him to have been an instrumental intercessor for our seminarian Huy while he was sick.

Some of the points I particularly liked included:

*We resist God's love because we tune him out with things to distract us, and because we don't want to hear him calling us to give up the habits we have which are bad for us.
*The discipline of charity, of real love, is always in the present moment. Each moment gives us choices, and those choices turn (convert) our heart, towards or away from God.
*You must follow God, not the works of God. It is too easy for many of us, especially men, and especially Americans, to put our effort into being successful at doing God's work. Rather, we need to set ourselves at following him for his own sake. Be ready to give up success at his works, to follow in whatever he may call you to do. Without first following the Lord, you won't know what his work is; you're idea of God's work will be something you imagined. It's too easy for us to have inordinate attachements to God's works. My love for the liturgy may be somewhere in that direction...
*Christians' apostolate is to "reveal to every person, without discrimination, that God is close to them and loves them infinitely." S**t. I don't think about this anywhere near often enough. It sounds so simple to do this, but I just don't keep it at the front of my mind. And how exactly do I do it anyway?

Guigo's Ladder of Monks

This work (available here) is about lectio divina, a traditional method of prayerfully reading Scripture. This was our edition, from which I have quoted a little in the post. Guigo was a Carthusian monk of the 12th c. At the seminary each Monday we use the method he described to pray over the readings for the coming Sunday's Mass. We have the gospel proclaimed to us, and then lectio with it for 45 minutes or so, and then are able to share our reflections with each other.

The four rungs of the ladder are:
lectio (reading)
meditatio (meditation)
oratio (prayer)
contemplatio (contemplation)

Lectio is a careful study of scripture; it is the seeking of a blessed life. In lectio try to pick out the words/phrases that move you, in a good way or ill, so that you can focus on them later. See what words connect in your mind to other parts of scripture, or to the liturgy. Ask what is the good while you read: what is the good I'm supposed to be getting out of this, here and now? Repetitive reading is characteristic here.

Meditatio is the application of the mind and reason to the reading; it is the perception of a blessed life. Think about the benefit of the good about which you read, that desire for it might be built up in you. Ask, what does this reading mean for my life? For me, lectio and meditatio are very intertwined. I flow between them easily and maybe don't even distinguish them as much as I ought. But this whole process is a guideline, you can't pray to a method. In my marginal notes from class, I have "try n think of related Scripture passages" in the meditatio section, though in practice I think of that as part of lectio. Clearly this is a fluid process, and the rungs are just meant to guide you along your prayerful way.

Oratio is the heart's turning to God to obtain the good; it is asking for a blessed life. It is taking all the matter from lectio/meditatio and taking it to God in prayer; taking a desire born by the meditatio to God.

Contemplatio is "when the mind is in some sort lifted up to God and held above itself, so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness"; it is the experience of a blessed life. I tend to think of this as theoretical, something I haven't had, but re-visiting its definition, I think I have. "Contemplatio" sounds very up-there in the spiritual life, having ecstasies like St Teresa of Avila. But if you think of it as a sweet fruit of prayer, then sure, I've been given that.

Guigo gives a simile for lectio from eating: lectio is like putting food in the mouth; meditatio is mastication; oratio is extracting the flavour; and contemplatio is the sweetness and savour of the food gladdening and refreshing us.


Benedict's Rule

This was one of my favourite readings in the year. We actually read only bits and pieces of it, mostly the beginning. But the entire work is good. It is available here. Reading it made me think: "Wow, if I actually put this stuff into practice...I'd be a good person!" It is inspiring, and its discipline explains why the Benedictines were so formative in European civilization.

In reading the Rule, we need to be mindful that St Benedict is in heaven, loving each of us, right now. He is inviting each of us to be his spiritual child by listening to his fatherly advice.

Prologue: St Benedict tells us to listen with our heart to Jesus. We need to let Jesus' and Benedict's words of instruction enter our heart. When you hear the voice of Jesus act on it. Good intentions with respect to Jesus' voice don't do anything; they're the cobblestones forming the path to hell. Not acting on Jesus' words is like falling in love with a girl, imagining marrying her and raising a family with her, but never actually talking to her; you have many feelings in your heart, but they aren't doing any darn good for anyone. We need to act in obedience to Jesus. Much of the rule is about obedience, and Benedict calls this a labor: obedience is hard work, and he doesn't skirt around that. We do need to be aware of our hate for obedience.

Benedict is telling us that we should right now, today, change and start acting for Jesus, not as a spiritual froot loop, even though that's what we've done until now.

Benedict reminds us, and it is good to be reminded of this, that the whole point of this life of ours is to get to heaven.

Chapter 7: Humility. This is such an important and foundational virtue, and will be treated again in further detail by Bernard. Benedict has 12 not-so-easy steps of humility. The first is:
"that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes (cf Ps 35[36]:2), shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that he always considereth in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And whilst he guardeth himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh. Let a man consider that God always seeth him from Heaven, that the eye of God beholdeth his works everywhere, and that the angels report them to Him every hour."
If you don't get this one, the others don't matter. God watches us because he yearns for us to go to heaven so much; he's scared of losing us, because he knows how dangerous our world is; it is like a father watching his kids to make sure they don't hurt themselves. He also watches us because dads get a kick out of seeing their kid do something really good: when we do something right, God's heart thrills. When we see an angry God watching us, as in this text, we're carrying our own baggage into it. He isn't watching us because he's angry, but because he loves us, and thus desires what's best for us. This step is about living in intimacy with God the Father; it orients us to his continual presence.

The other steps: 2) a person loves not his own will 3) he submits to his superior in all obedience 4) when hard and distasteful things are commanded, his heart quietly embraces suffering 5) a person confesses, and does not hide, their secret sins 6) to be content with the worst of everything 7) to see yourself as the lowest and vilest of persons (cf But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people" Ps 21[22]:7) 8) to do only what is in the Rule and what is endorsed by his superiors' example 9) to control your tongue 10) to not be easily moved to laughter 11) to speak modestly, briefly and reasonably 12) to always manifest humility in bearing and in the heart.

St Benedict tells us that the person having accomplished these will have perfect love of God, and will observe the steps easily and out of love for Jesus and delight in virtue.

The purpose of Benedict's ladder of humility is for us to hear the voice of God by climbing it. Sin makes the ears of the heart de-sensitized to God's voice--it gets harder to distinguish his from others' voice. To hear the voice of God, you must have a discipline of live; this is regardless of your vocation. Benedict's Rule is one such discipline, for those called to monastic vocations, but such a discipline is appropriate to secular priests, married folk, and single persons. The Rule is about a discipline of life which makes it possible to hear God's voice; its purpose is to hear God's voice, to discern his voice from other voices.