08 February 2010

Authentic Catholic Spirituality Vs. Popular "Fast Food" Mentality


Most of us have today either voicemail or an answering machine for missed messages.   We make a point usually to hear what they are when we come home, and/or are available to listen to them.   A message could be important, whether or not we were expecting an important message, so we check to make sure we listen to them. 

Where would we be without answering machines and voicemail?  

Messages between family, friends and colleagues at some point will be left for us to receive at our convenience.  That is a good thing that messages will wait, unless, of course, we let them wait too long.  Then we say, "we missed the message," whether we did not receive the message for some reason, or we did receive it, but past the time the message was relevant. 

God does not use voicemail or answering machines.   He communicates to us through mental prayer.  Unfortunately, most of us never use this.  Those few that do 'listen to their messages', do so without urgency and without frequency as a daily practice.  They say to themselves something to the effect, "afterall, God is omnipotent, and can use other means of communication."  This is true, but God has an order of all things as Creator, and He has ordained mental prayer as the primary means and also a means that is indespensible for a soul to progress in the spiritual life. 

There is another tendency for people to think of mental prayer in such a way that it is not so much motivated by love of God but of love of self.  Certainly, it is good to be reminded that we are loved so much that God humbles himself to communicate his love to us, but not so that we become attached to the experience of him.  Experiences come and go, and what can prevent one from having one?  However, experiences do not make a thing so, because they are merely creatures and not the Creator himself.  It is for this reason that many people mistake experiences for having divine origin when, infact, they do not.  Humility is necessary to discern within oneself potential disordered attachments to spiritual goods, such as consolations in prayer.

Our motivations to listen to God must be born out of love for Him.  The sign of this love is authentic gratitude.  What makes gratitude "authentic"?   Answer: humility.  What is humility?   Humility is knowing what oneself is in respect to who God is.  A false humlity is a type of spiritual sloth and even pride, because it does not discern properly nor accurately the gift of God Himself in the form of grace given to the person.  We are not, as Luther would have had you believe, "dung hills" with grace merely covering us as a blanket of snow.  Rather, God manifests Himself, since grace is actually an imparting of God Himself, transforms the creature, to the extent the disposition of the will is so conformed.  This, of course, is made manifest in both internal and external acts of one's will. 

True gratitude does not rely on one's doing something because it simply must be done in order to prevent a future misfortunte.   Gratitude is not a slave to a cruel or exacting master.  Fruits of gratitude do not contain fear but rather the absence, and often even the relief of fear or what could cause fear.   A fruit of gratitude is also never one that applauds oneself, because one cannot be grateful to oneself!    This point is seemingly obvious, however, how common it is for one young yet in the spiritual life (where even most devout Christians remain) to mentally 'pat himself on the back' for doing the mere, minimum daily practices required to guard and grow in grace.   While it is good to think of the saints, for example, and to contemplate their devotions, what is applicable in significance firstly to us is often not so much the devotions themselves, but their interior motivation towards those devotions.

True gratitude, therefore, is an awareness of the Creator as Creator.  We might start off by first contemplating that the very fact that we are breathing and the fact that life is within us is due to His having created us.  Then there is the fact that creation is God's demonstrates His love.  And even then, greater than our very existence, God, Creator is Love --- and more than the Source of all good, He is Goodness itself.

Are we missing messages each day?   Some days?   Contemplate the fact that you have spent and wasted much time having missed many messages from Him, yet that He loves you so much that He is pleased to forgive you should you begin to show your love, rather, that you should begin to acknowledge his love for you.

But what if we are at a point yet where we do not hear the voice of God?  If we are humble, this should not  become a cause for distress.   Even if we hear His voice as in a locution, it does not necessarily mean that we are united to God, although such a gift is part of His uniting to us, it is not necessarily a sign of union as a state.  It can be rather a consolation to 'egg' us onward.  This is why we must avoid all feelings of extreme zeal or dispondency --- because both distort one's view of God and distance our ability to hear Him.  This fosters bad fruits and greater inconsistencies and furtherance of dichotomies in the spiritual life, as well as disordered attachments to spiritual goods.  This last point is the reason why the charismatic and modernists movements are extremely dangerous to authentic, Catholic spirituality --- they are particularly opposed to humility and quickly instills and carves into the soul vices of pride/false humility and distraction.  By this means the devil finds immediate employment and will often promote natural and preternatural causes for it to remain in and/or tend either extreme.  Thus, the soul becomes more entrapped without even being aware of the fact that he is entrapped, much less become aware of these causes.  This is the reason many Christians are distracted by fighting the wrong spiritual battles, and persist by giving up on the daily practice of mental prayer.

More often than not, what is described as the experience of spiritual "dryness" is caused by level of mediocrity in the spiritual life.  This is merely God's way of purging the soul from the dangers of false zeal, which opens up a flood gate of interior problems, as just mentioned.  It also becomes the means of developing the virtues necessary to honor and and fulfill the higher degree of virtues.   This is the reason why it is so easy to discern a false mystic who although he or she claims to speak frequently with God, there is no apparent progress in the higher virtues (most notably with the virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience, more clearly demonstrating in one's state the eschatological realities).  This is not to say we should make it our business to judge our neighbor's state to the peril of our own, but that we should judge our ourselves in humility.

Let us, therefore, resolve to not take a "fast food" approach to the spiritual life and ask the Holy Spirit to help us grow in supernatural love and gratitude.

Edit:  I want to clarify something: Gratitude of God takes away disordered fear, while holy fear may still remain. Only in the context of disordered attachments and/or the loss of created goods does gratitude of God extinguish (disordered) fear.

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