St Alphonsus Liguori

Maintaining Fortitude

I have been reflecting upon a statement Myron, a respected spiritual director repeated that one could not retreat, nor cease upon the spiritual path.  Once an individual progresses there is no going back, nor is there a point of termination.  One cannot rest upon one’s laurels.  One never reaches an end.  God always demands more, acutely desiring growth, challenging for continual progress in humility and trust (faith), prayer (hope), and charity; a persistent revealing of the utility of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our contemplative and active lives.  I cannot embark upon the contemplative life with a passion; experiencing sweet consolations, enjoying the blessing of graces for myself and those I love, comprehending a presence within prayer efforts possessing poignant profoundness—only to falter when matters become challenging, or personal situations become demanding.  Boredom, sloth, can be crippling quandaries.  Not only do I become still in my knowing, I learn to remain still, trusting God under all conditions.

My spiritual life must become the foundation of my life.  All other activities and experiences nurturing, pointing back, allowing quietness during properly dedicated times of prayer and devotion.  Well rounded socially—not a spiritual glutton, physically active and participating in the world with secular and religious brothers and sisters, absolutely loving life and creation, I place the Creator above and in proper perspective, while active as an ordinary simple man in the world.  I love my Tuesday and Fridays, days every week I play basketball.  The competition and exercise emboldens my spiritual life, even if I have a terrible day on the court.  Contemplatively, efflorescence occurs when a naturally arising, authentic, love for life and creation pours forth.  I found it impressive that St Jane de Chantal, suffering immense spiritual darkness, conducted herself with no bleakness.  She comprehended the vitality of displaying faith, hope, and charity.

I cannot experience God’s approval for furthering contemplative devotion, then respond with a decision to scale back my efforts.  The softer easier road cannot be embarked upon once the narrower road has been presented.  A calling recognized, I must embrace, trusting in God, focused upon revealing further His desires.  There is a former priest I socially encounter that always leaves me disturbed.  During a Christmas gathering this past holiday season, I encountered the gentleman.  Assuming center stage, he led Christmas carols during the large dinner party.  Articulate, highly educated, adept in foreign languages, knowledgeable in worldly affairs, ardently putting forth liberal ideals, he talked unceasingly.  It never ceases to amaze me how awkwardly false the man appears.  Comically, his clothes always seem too big for him, never quite fitting properly.  His behavior comes off contrived and premediated, overly thought out and self-conscious.  His words are too loud, and his tendency to leer at women make him socially graceless.  I know the man’s story for he shared it with me during a private dinner.  His childhood was marked by an early declaration he would become a priest.  A recognized child genius, an extremely high IQ, he graduated from high school in his early teens, immediately entering the seminary.  I am not sure of his tenure as a priest, yet I do know he left the priesthood after discerning marriage as his proper vocation.  The man is now divorced, a recovering alcoholic, and tragically recently endured the suicide of an adult son.  The whole matter leaves me perplexed, a lasting dark feeling–even now I pause to offer prayers for his peace of mind.  Avoiding judgment or affirmations, I just cannot make sense of matters when this man is near.  Everything seems completely out of order, self-will seemingly making an absolute disaster out of life, chaos all too apparent.

He who trusts himself is lost. He who trusts God can do all things. —St Alphonsus Ligouri

With those who are perfect and walk with simplicity, there is nothing small and contemptible, if it be a thing that pleases God; for the pleasure of God is the object at which alone they aim, and which is the reason, the measure, and the reward of all their occupations, actions, and plans; and so, in whatever they find this, it is for them a great and important thing.  — Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez

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Holy Hour and St Jane de Chantal reflection

Background a Crucifix
Forefront the Eucharist
Here am I
Here
I
Am
Fully present
Adoring aware
Transfixed staring
Removed from the world
Silently reposed
Cleverness collapsed
Intellect annihilated
Willing to be dumb
No more bright ideas
Eradicated schemes
As quiet as a mouse
Still
Knowing enough is enough
Lord
Fill me to overflowing

I say know thy self. Understand there will never be a shortage of people willing to throw themselves into the limelight and attention of obsessively active lives. There will always be a shortage of people willing to recede, dedicating themselves to lives of prayer and contemplation, silently and secretly turning to God.

A quote I borrow from Contemplative in the Mud. It precisely states a personal conviction and dedication

“A soul who has this spirit of prayer [contemplation] does more work in one hour than another, who is without it, will do in many; and her work done, she hastens to converse with her God, for this is her repose”.Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

St Jane de Chantal was therefore reduced to such a state that nothing on earth could afford any comfort, excepting the thought of death, “It is now forty-one years that temptations have been overwhelming me,” she said one day. “Ought I therefore to lose courage? No! I am determined to hope in God even though he should kill me and annihilate me forever.” She added these humble and magnificent words: “My soul was a piece of iron so rusted with sin that it needed this fire of Divine Justice to burnish it a little.”

“In the state of abandonment,” writes St Alphonsus, “Her one rule of conduct simply to look at God allow him to act. She always exhibited a cheerful countenance, was pleasant in conversation and kept her eyes continually fixed on the lord, reposing in the bosom of his adorable will. Saint Francis de Sales, her director, knowing how beautiful this soul was in the sight of God, compare her to a deaf musician who produces exquisite music, yet can derive no pleasure therefrom. He wrote to her as follows: ‘You must manifest an invincible loyalty towards the savior, serving him not alone without satisfaction but under the cruel oppression of sadness and fear.’ Later on, Mother de Chantel gave this prudent and virile counsel: ‘Never speak of your troubles either to God or to yourself. Do not scrutinize them. Keep looking at God and if you can speak to Him, speak to Him only of Himself.’. —Abbot Vital Lehodey, ‘The Way That Leads to God’.

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Intense words from St Jane de Chantal.  It reminds me of a recent extremely heated and emotional confrontation I was a part of, a situation that exhausted and defeated to the deepest depths.  The healing necessary to love God on the deepest level, to bring about holy unification, the synchronization of individual will with Divine Will, occurs absolutely within the natural and daily realm.  It is warfare.  Generalizing, the extended confrontation involved myself being wounded within a complex situation.  Creating overwhelming emotional turmoil, I found myself tuned through Eucharistic adoration, mass, the receiving of the Eucharist, and participation amidst a splendid congregation and my favorite Poor Clares.  Something of note I want to stress is that St Jane de Chantal’s words are more than intellectual wisdom, more than an entertaining pursuit.  They are difficult words to embrace, bringing fruition only through struggle.  To advance upon the contemplative path they must become a daily reality.  The sadness and fear she worked through as she concentrated her focus upon God are stark and harsh daily realities to be warred against, individual warfare to the extreme.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the weapons able to provide progress.

The words St Jane de Chantal writes attain profoundness, able to shower graces, when lived.  If intellectualizing about the spiritual life is just that, solely an exercise in cleverness, it is sheer pride, vanity of vanities. To read, comprehend, and admire winged words means nothing if they do not assist us in growth.  The reason I point this is out is that during my recent confrontation a remark was made that I find enlightening, one that must be understood.  Stressing that a certain act I made was soundly grounded in faith, hope, and charity–making the assertion several times, I was rebuked with the sarcastic comment associating my words as cartoonish.  The insinuation being that the ideals pursued during my deepest religious efforts were really not applicable in tremendously challenging and complex psychological moments, including a moment when individual brokenness of two authentically religious pursuing human beings came into severe conflict. The implied message that during extreme difficulties religious ideals are actually humorous if applied is enlightening. The dramatic dark undertone defining the religious life, and therefore God, as purely idealistic.  During the most difficult of moments–beyond self-will, involving individual damage, psychological distortions that are self-inflicted and inflicted by others reaching back to earliest childhood, while always under the watchful tending of God, to the care of Mary, the times St Jane de Chantal describes as presenting her with death as a tender mercy, these brutally problematic times must not be a time of abandoning the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The gifts of the contemplative spirit: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge/piety prove essential in shaping our foundation for employing the active gifts in our daily life, thus the expansion of the virtues within, providing greater contemplation. The natural life properly, penetratingly, and curatively cared for produces immense spiritual growth. It demands individual responsibility, and thus accountability. It is a matter of our doing. Let’s take inspiration from David’s slaying of Goliath. The contemplative gifts are the weapons, the stones waiting in David’s pouch, to be utilized in warring against our Goliaths the deepest parts of ourselves that are not only interiorly wounding, but also dangerous to those who dare to love us.  We are not David.  We do not kill our Goliath with the one stone of charity.  We must utilize all the stones in our holy pouch.  We must not fall away from the gifts of God during personal warfare.  As St Jane de Chantal declares: ‘No! I am determined to hope in God even though he should kill me and annihilate me forever’.  David rejected the armor of Saul, the softer easier path of the worldly.  It is during our most severe struggles that we must be drawn to that which is holy, to that which is above, striving for that which I know in my heart I should be.  It is why the saints are vital to the spiritual life.  The saints not only provide wisdom, they give example.

The saints did not seek out the softer easier way.  A natural tendency is to be drawn away from the difficult, the truly redemptive, seeking comfort in things that are not holy, opting for the shallowness of worldly things and people who do not aspire toward God.  It is important to recognize the opposite softer easier path that being the path of spiritual gluttony, avoiding personal growth through excessive involvement in religious matters.  To over indulge is just as dangerous as being drawn away from the holy.  If I seek the holy for wisdom, while ignoring piety, not on an evil level, but on a level of avoiding the most hurtful growth, I am not expanding my faith, hope, and charity through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  If God has placed holy things in my life and I am drawn to unGodly, not evil but shallow, superficial people, places, and things I am embarking upon a wayward path, especially if I have dedicated my life to the deeper calling of a contemplative in the world.  An immature spirituality seeks out that which possesses no serious depth or maturity.   While embracing the ordinary, not seeking self-inflicted austerities–for such austerities are spiritual gluttony rather than redemptive, I must be able to embrace the difficult.  With respect to eternity, the narrow harder path is truly the softer easier path.

St John of the Cross provides spiritual guidance: Strive always to choose not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult, not that which is most delectable, but that which is most unpleasing; not that which gives most pleasure, but that which gives no pleasure.  To choose not that which is restful, but that which is most worrisome; not that which gives consolation, but that which gives no consolation; not that which is greatest, but that which is least; not that which is loftiest and most precious, but that which is lowest and most despised; not that which is a desire for anything, but that which is a desire for nothing.  To go about seeking not the best things but the worst.  And to have detachment and emptiness and poverty, with respect to that which is in the world, for Jesus Christ’s sake.

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Sweet and sour consolations

Sensible devotion and particularly spiritual sweetness are very precious graces. They inspire us with horror and disgust for the pleasures of the world which constitute the attraction of vice. They give us the will and power to walk, to run, to fly along the ways to prayer and virtue. Sadness contracts the heart, while joy dilates it. This dilation helps us powerfully to mortify our senses, to repress our passions, to renounce our own wills and to endure trials with patience. It urges us to greater generosity and more lofty aspirations. The abundance of divine sweetness makes mortification a delight and obedience a pleasure. We rise promptly at the first sound of the bell. We miss no opportunity for practicing virtue. All our actions are done in peace and tranquility…. Saint Francis de Sales, sweet consolations, ” excite the appetite of the soul, comfort the mind, give to the promptitude of devotion a holy joy and cheerfulness which render our actions beautiful and agreeable”….

With regard to aridities, observe, first of all, with St. Alphonsus, that they can be either voluntary or involuntary. They are voluntary in their cause when we allow our minds to become dissipated, our affections to attach themselves to created things, our wills to follow their caprices and consequence we commit a multitude of little faults without making an effort to correct them. It is no longer a case of simple dryness of sensibility, it is languor of the will. “This state is such,” says Saint Alphonsus, “That unless the soul does violence to herself in order to escape from it, she will go from bad to worse. God Grant she does not fall after a time into the greatest of misfortunes! This kind of aridity resembles consumption, which never kills at once, but infallibly leads to death”. We must do all that depends on us to get rid of it. If it persist in spite of our efforts, let us accept it resignedly as a merciful chastisement of our faults. Involuntary dryness is that experienced by one who is endeavoring to walk in the ways of perfection, who guards against all deliberate sin, practices prayer” and faithfully discharges every duty….

Spiritual aridities and sensible desolations constitute an excellent purgatory where we can pay our debts to divine justice on easy terms. Still more truly can they be described as the crucible designed for the purification of souls. From an abundance of heavenly favors, the soul derives the courage to detach her affections from earthly objects and attach them securely to God.

–Abbot Vital Lehodey

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Chastity thoughts

Prayer to Saint Joseph for Purity. O GUARDIAN of Virgins and holy Father St. Joseph, into whose faithful keeping were entrusted Christ Jesus, Innocence Itself, and Mary, Virgin of virgins, I pray and beseech thee by these dear pledges, Jesus and Mary, that, being preserved from all uncleanness, I may with spotless mind, pure heart and chaste body, ever serve Jesus and Mary most chastely all the days of my life. Amen.

I created this blog with the intention of establishing a venue in which to deepen my faith through the embracing of a contemplative lifestyle. As I hammer out a faith that truly works, I focus upon the concept of chastity, the battle with the flesh. The path I pursue must be firmly grounded in reality, not an idealistic escapism that draws me deeply into the supernatural, while avoiding the demands of daily living. It is an approach I never truly embraced, thus the need to collapse my life through severe alcoholism.

Unable to flee from temptation, unable to honestly and effectively deal with the anxieties of life, I passionately pursued God in a ‘practically atheistic manner’, that is I concluded my life was doomed for failure and collusion, while embracing the lifestyle of an existential, struggling with existence, writer. A modern man, an underground man, life was something that would never make sense. I could love God, accepting austerity in regards to the sufferings of abusing alcohol, and the whole time living a life that could never attain peace. It was an insane lifestyle that only naturally led to the absolute breakdown that occurred.

Impurity, says Saint Augustine, is a vice which makes war on all, and which few Conquer. “The fight is Common; but the victory rare”. How many miserable souls have entered the contest with this vice, and have been defeated! but, to induce you to-expose yourselves to occasions of this sin, the devil will tell you not to be afraid-of being overcome-by the temptation. “I do not wish”, says Saint Jerome, “to fight with the hope of victory, lest I should sometimes lose the victory”. I will not expose myself to the combat, with the hope-of conquering; because, by voluntarily engaging in the fight, I shall lose my soul and my God. To ‘escape’ defeat in this struggle, a great grace of God is necessary; and to render ourselves worthy-of this grace, we must, on our part, avoid the occasions of sin. To practice the virtue of chastity, it is necessary to recommend ourselves continually-to God: we have not strength to preserve it; that strength must be the gift of God. “And as I knew”, says the wise man, “that I could not otherwise be continent, except God gave it, … I went to the Lord, and besought Him” – Wisdom 8:21. But if we expose ourselves to the occasions of sin, we ourselves shall provide our rebellious flesh with arm, to make war against the soul.  –sermon by St Alphonsus De Liguori ‘Occasions of Sin’.

I am actively pursuing the means to recovery from the physical and mental disability of lengthy practiced alcoholism. Those steps have been put into place, a daily ritual focused upon reality and the assistance of others. My journey of life must not be an isolated endeavor, an effort of singularity relying solely upon my faculties. Not only is a distant Divine assistance sought, my brothers and sisters of the world are tapped into regarding lessons on living and the pursuit of meaning within life. People are no longer merely entertainment. They are to be taken seriously and respected as well springs of knowledge.

The isolation I forced upon my life through decadence, lack of discipline, and indulgence forced celibacy upon my life. ‘He that loveth danger shall perish in it’. Enduring over twenty years, the physical demands of my body were not met, while my mind was filled with fantasy, physical indulgence dreamed about, playing through imagination in areas I pretended I abstained from. The unorthodox celibacy was not brought into fruition through a love of God. The spiritual plane could never bring about good fruit with such an obvious perversion being lived.

In preparation for tending to the issue of chastity, I read the Papal encyclical Sacra Virginitas by Pope Pius XII, written in 1954. I quote infallible words: ‘…a consequence of the fall of Adam the lower faculties of human nature are no longer obedient to right reason and may involve man in dishonorable actions.’ Living a life improperly dedicated to Christ, I see now, could never supply the necessary artillery to attain victory in the difficult battle chastity presents. ‘He that can take it (chastity), let him take it: let him who can, fight, conquer and receive this reward’. The battle with the flesh is truly warfare. The means to victory are beyond my capabilities. Pope Pius writes: ‘The virtue of chastity does not mean that we are insensible to the urge of concupiscence, but that we subordinate it to reason and the law of grace, by striving wholeheartedly after what is noblest in human and Christian life’. Lacking sanity and divine intervention, my powerless condition was truly unmanageable.

As I put into living a new way of life, I consider my convictions toward sexuality. How do I want to think and live? My thoughts instantly go to my spiritual partner Ann Marie, a gift from God, a woman who has changed my life. It is a complex relationship for many reasons, one of them being my desire to possess her as a woman, to see into reality a marriage within the Church. She has made it clear that such thoughts must not be entertained, while establishing a commitment to share life. A strong woman, stronger in determination than myself, I recognize her sustained effort of knowing God through diligence, proper living, psychological cleansing, and commitment to daily mass, the Eucharist (as she says her daily medicine), consecration to Mary, and all other ways prescribed by the Church. She is a challenge in deep regards. I am physically attracted to her, attached to her to a degree she identifies as codependent. I cannot imagine living life without her as she has produced natural results in my life that have allowed an authentic path to the contemplative life to come into practice. Our time together has not been easy for either of us.

Overall, I feel a need to acquiesce to the Almighty, to ask God for assistance. Again the words of Pope Pius XII: “…‘God does not command the impossible, but in commanding serves notice that one do what one can, and pray for what he cannot,’ As Ann Marie puts it. God is a gentleman. He invites, making an offer to chastity, yet he allows me to make the choice. In regards to chastity, there is not a right or a wrong choice. God truly places the decision upon my lap. There is no hidden agenda. Either paths, marriage or chastity, can lead to holiness and thus salvation, eternal peace.

I like the space God provides in facing such a serious situation. Being older, not feeling emotionally strong enough to make a declarative statement, I repose upon waiting. Moral behavior lived, sanctifying grace attuned, I allow the options to take shape in my daily life, allowing discernment to form within the spiritual level, which is through the sacraments, Eucharist, Rosary, and prayer. Miracle thinking and despondency eliminated, I move past fear, identifying how best to fulfill my purpose of praising God and serving my brothers and sisters, including through prayer those in purgatory.

I felt I had more concrete thoughts, yet feel satisfied with this outpouring.

In conclusion, I beg for grace from the abundant giver of grace, my love and woman of splendid repute, my Holy Mother. Mary let your virginity inspire me to love God through pure living. Grace me with the wisdom to pursue a path that brings honor to the love we share. I bow to your worldly husband, a model for manhood, St Joseph. St Joseph pray for me.

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