…If therefore we are to follow the divine laws, we must struggle with all our strength against the demon of anger and against the sickness which lies hidden within us. When we are angry with others we should not seek solitude on the grounds that there, at least, no one will provoke us to anger, and that in solitude the virtue of long-suffering can easily be acquired. Our desire to leave our brethren is because of pride, and because we do not wish to blame ourselves and ascribe to our own laxity the cause of our unruliness. So long as we assign the causes for our weakness to others, we cannot attain perfection in long-suffering.
Self-reform and peace are not achieved through the patience which others show us, but through our own long-suffering towards our neighbor. When we try to escape the struggle for long-suffering by retreating into solitude, those unhealed passions…are merely hidden, not erased: for unless our passions are first purged, solitude and withdrawal from the world not only foster them but also keep them concealed, no longer allowing us to perceive what passion it is that enslaves us. On the contrary, they impose on us an illusion of virtue and persuade us to believe that we have achieved long-suffering and humility, because there is no one present to provoke and test us.
But as soon as something happens which does arouse and challenge us, our hidden and previously unnoticed passions immediately break out like uncontrolled horses that have long been kept unexercised and idle, dragging their driver all the more violently and wildly to destruction. Our passions grow fiercer when left idle through lack of contact with other people. Even that shadow of patience and long-suffering which we thought we possessed while we mixed with our brethren is lost in our isolation through not being exercised. Poisonous creatures that live quietly in their lairs in the desert display their fury only when they detect someone approaching, and likewise passion-filled men, who live quietly not because of their virtuous disposition but because of their solitude, spit forth their venom whenever someone approaches and provokes them. This is why those seeking perfect gentleness must make every effort to avoid anger not only towards men, but also towards animals and even inanimate objects. –St John Cassian ‘Philokalia’
The word temperance can be employed to signify either the moderation that reason imposes on every human act of passion, in which case it is not a special virtue but a general condition that should characterize all the moral virtues, or a special virtue among the moral virtues. As a moral virtue, temperance is a supernatural habit that moderates the inclination to sense pleasures and keeps them within the limits of reason illumined by faith.
We refer to temperance as a supernatural habit in order to distinguish it from the natural or acquired virtue of temperance. The proper function of temperance is to refrain or control the movements of the concupiscible appetite in which it resides, as distinct from the virtue of fortitude, which controls the irascible appetite. Although temperance should moderate all the sense pleasures to which the concupiscible appetite is drawn, it refers in a special way to the pleasures of taste and touch, because they provide the most intense sense delectation and are, therefore, most likely to draw the appetite beyond the rule of reason. That is why the special virtue of temperance is reguired.
Natural or acguired temperance is regulated simply by the light of natural reason, and therefore contains or restricts the functions of the pleasure emotions within rational or purely human limits; supernatural or infused temperance extends much further because it adds to simple reason the light of faith, which imposes superior and more delicate demands. The virtue of temperance is one of the most necessary virtues in the spiritual life of the individual.
There are two integral parts assigned to the virtue of temperance: a sense of shame and a sense of honor. The sense of shame is not a virtue in the strict sense of the word, but a praiseworthy emotion or feeling that causes us to fear the disgrace and confusion or embarrassment connected with a base action. It is an emotion because it is usually accompanied by a change in the body, such as blushing; it is praiseworthy because the fear, regulated by reason, arouses an aversion to anything that is base and degrading. It should be noted that we are more ashamed of being embarrassed before wise and virtuous persons — by reason of the rectitude of their judgment and the worth of their esteem — than before those who have little education or virtue. Above all, we have a feeling of shame and a fear of embarrassment before our friends and the members of our own family, who know us better and with whom we have to live; with strangers the sense of shame is much weaker.
The sense of honor signifies a certain love or appreciation for the spiritual beauty and dignity connected with the practice of temperance. It is properly connected with the virtue of temperance because this virtue possesses a certain degree of spiritual beauty, and the beautiful is opposed to the base and ugly. Therefore a sense of honor pertains to the virtue that helps us to avoid base and ugly actions. The importance of cultivating a sense of honor can hardly be overemphasized, since sense pleasures readily lead to excess. –Father Jordan Aumann ‘Spiritual Theology’
I am finishing Donald Cozzens ‘Notes From the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest’. He is a priest serving as the writer in residence at John Carroll University. Complex while unassuming, the book has antagonized, compelled indifference—the sort I have always felt when considering Thomas Merton, and deeply inspired—piercing with insight from an authentic individual committed to the contemplative path. I will post some of his thoughts I am convinced deserve profound reflection. I was impressed with his insistence to transcend Catholicism beyond superstition and dogmatic practices. The need to forego exterior exertion aimed toward righteousness. The importance of interior transformation usurping rigid adherence that only adds to worldly division and the severe angst of modern times. He guides to the practice of faith profoundly consisting of the ability to let go, the exercising of prayer dominating, and the elevation of trusting in God all coalescing to form a superior hope and love; a living example of peace, gentleness, and kindness pointing toward eternity through Christ. Yesterday during early morning Mass at St Dominic’s, the priest was ranting dogmatically regarding Catholicism being the one true way. He sarcastically remarked that if you were going to explore outside Catholicism to please go to an Eastern Orthodox church. I smiled since I have been fascinated with the Orthodox faith for the last several months. The utilitarian ‘Jesus Prayer’ evolving into a life companion, a metamorphizing mantra compatible to moments throughout the day. The last several nights I have been viewing documentaries on Russian monasteries: Valaam—Step to the Skies and the world’s northern most monastery, invigorating with exoticism, while familiar through simplicity and romance. Today, we toured a Greek Orthodox church in Cleveland, The Annunciation, a quaint vibrant church whose interior, brushed with a soft aqua blue backdrop, offered images and information on the practice of the Orthodox faith. The church is a highly visible adornment to the Cleveland landscape as it is perched majestically along side interstate ninety just south of downtown; its peculiar golden domes announcing something foreign. The parishioner presenting today’s tour, a fifth-grade religious teacher, possessed a passion for his faith that easily accentuated his words. He commented that he would like to claim he was a devout Eastern Orthodox practitioner, however he found that every day he was discovering new aspects of his church, historically and theologically, and within that discovery his place within the church of his upbringing. Every day he felt he was starting anew. He spoke of an entrance: the Narthex, a part of the nave, entering the church being the entering of an alternate reality, the altering of time. Everything changes as one enters and leaves the world behind. The temporal is replaced by the eternal. The focus of the church once entered is three doors, Holy Doors, holy being associated with the presence of God. The doors stand amidst an array of large icons illuminated by presence candles. The central door, the Eastern Door of light, opens to the sanctuary, the Crucifixion and tabernacle. The King of Glory returning to His people. Only the priest and deacons, who bear the Eucharist, use the Eastern Door. The Northern Door is the entrance door. Once opened, colorful icons display to the congregation the resurrection of Christ. Counter-clockwise, time is tampered as the end of the story is told first. The Southern Door, the departing door, exhibits the beginning of the story, the birth of Jesus. It was a pleasant day. I want to post the words of Donald Cozzens.
I’ve written at some length about the silent, wordless, often imageless, prayer called contemplative or centering prayer. Now, from a different perspective, this “sitting in the presence of God prayer” has a purifying power that allows us to see instinctively what really matters most, “Be still,” the psalmist says, “and know that I am God.” Be still, in other words, and know that you are not God. Be still and have faith, be still and hope, be still and love. Our stillness, metaphorically speaking, breaks down the walls of our monasteries and lets the contemplative charism escape into the streets of our global village where it’s “infecting” ever growing numbers.
People tired of being out of balance, out of sync, tired of being spiritually sick are experimenting with contemplative prayer and reporting extraordinary, if subtle, changes in their lives. They say they are more centered and less restless; they tend not to judge others, they seem more content with what they have; they are more patient with spouses, children, and co-workers. They report being less neurotic, less anxious, less fearful. In a word—they are peaceful….
Contemplative prayer, as we have seen, sooner than later leads to contemplative living. And contemplative living makes a defining difference in our broken world. By contemplative l;iving I’m referring, with repeated urgency, to the quality of awareness, of mindfulness, that prompts to live fully in the present moment. Contemplative living honors the now. It is instinctively willing rather than willful….
Contemplative prayer, while not the only path to contemplative living, remains the truest path, at least from my experience. I sometime think our only hope rest in an ever-expanding arc of men and women, from all corners of our planet, living contemplatively. More than through diplomacy, government intervention, military power, or economic policy, the violence and injustice of our world will be diminished by men and women leading contemplative lives. Put less starkly, only a contemplative factor in diplomacy, politics, and economics will prove ultimately effective.
I’ll conclude this section with striking words from two of the twentieth century’s major theologians. Turning to the level of the individual, Raimon Panikkar writes, “In this crucible of the modern world, only the mystic (contemplative) will survive. All others are going to disintegrate; they will be unable to resist either the physical strictures or the psychical strains.” And from Karl Rahner, “The Christian of the twenty-first century will be a mystic (contemplative) or not at all.” –Donald Cozzens ‘Notes From the Underground”
A silver lining the underside of a shadow, a cloak,
Darkness pretending while penetrating, violet lashings,
Sending out waves in a softening, putting to sleep,
The beauty laden orchestra practices precision,
Two harps sounding, twenty violins bowing, eight cellos pacing,
Tens, hundreds, and thousands of moments passing,
Until now the weakness harbored savage repercussions,
Pouring rain, thunder and lightning, the gloom of a cloudy evening hiding the moon and stars,
The difference between being alone and loneliness, solitude and isolation,
Unseen footsteps traced upon the scattered remnants of a multitude of lives,
Wearied without worry, destiny appears claimed, a mountain range looms,
Skipping over dejection, detached from desolation, attention accentuates perception, confidence carries,
So close yet far away, the peace of Christ, the wedding of bliss, nothing amiss,
For now warfare wages upon subtler terms, fortitude silent and still, inner and personal the struggle lingers.
Poetry By Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
If the house is all still,
Why the agitation at the slightest noise?
If there is no longer anything to protect,
Why is everything constantly being protected?
If there is detachment,
Why all the attachment?
In the aftermath of a hurricane,
The humility of a hospital bed calms to a rebirth,
Greater the effort of laying quiet and defeated,
Something whispers amidst the conditions,
A kiss of love and mercy,
A Mother never parting,
Two saints standing,
An earthly father residing in heaven,
And one on a mission of the impossible,
All the while chanting,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Have mercy upon me a sinner.