DCMission Statement

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fr. Wade Menezes, C.P.M. on Mt. 10:24-33 -
Fear of the World and Its Complexities

"Even so, my child, your changed life may be attended with some inward discomfort, and you may feel some reaction of discouragement and weariness after you have taken a final farewell of the world and its follies. Should it be so, I pray you take it patiently..." ~St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Ch. 2.

Throughout the writings of the spiritual masters, we see an emphasis on the importance of a devout prayer life - so much so that one could easily get the impression that a life of prayer per se is a reliable means to attaining holiness. One might come to the conclusion that amidst the trials that he will inevitably encounter in the world that he will always be able to find peace and consolation in prayer. Indeed, the importance of prayer cannot be overstated. The Doctors of the Church have assured us of this. Ralph Martin has stated:

"Teresa of Avila tells us that the entrance into the mansions (or stages) of the spiritual journey begins with prayer." ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints, p. 121.

He goes on to quote several other Doctors of the Church in support of this point:

"Prayer opens the understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love - nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its many ignorances, or the will from its perverse affections." ~St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Ch. 1, No. 1.

"How wonderful is the power of prayer! ... With me prayer is an uplifting of the heart; a glance towards heaven; a cry of gratitude and love, uttered equally in sorrow and in joy. In a word, it is something noble, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites it to God." ~St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, Ch. 9.

"So, dearest brothers, I exhort you to participate always in the divine praises correctly and vigorously: vigorously, that you may stand before God with as much zest as reverence..." ~St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, vol. III, sermon 47, no.8 .

Fr. Jacques Philippe, a French priest and author of many books on the spiritual life, has emphasized that prayer is indispensable in the search for interior peace:

"Acquiring and maintaining interior peace, which is impossible without prayer, should consequently be considered a priority for everybody, above all for those who claim to want to do good for their neighbor." ~Fr. Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, p. 8.

While the importance of prayer cannot be overstated, it has also been made clear that it is wrong for us to always view prayer as a means to receiving consolation from God. Again, the Doctors of the Church have taught us:

"What a farce it is! Here are we, with a thousand obstacles, drawbacks, and imperfections within ourselves, our virtues so newly born that they have scarcely the strength to act (and God grant that they exist at all!) yet we are not ashamed to expect sweetness in prayer and to complain of feeling dryness." ~St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Second Mansion, Ch. 1, No. 14.

"These persons have the same defect as regards the practice of prayer, for they think that all the business of prayer consists in experiencing sensible pleasure and devotion and they strive to obtain this by great effort, wearying and fatiguing their faculties and their heads; and when they have not found this pleasure they become greatly discouraged, thinking that they have accomplished nothing." ~St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, Book I, Ch. 6, No. 6.

"I would say, then, that devotion does not consist in conscious sweetness and tender consolations, which move one to sighs and tears, and bring about a kind of agreeable, acceptable sense of self-satisfaction. No, my child, this is not one and the same as devotion, for you will find many persons who do experience these consolations, yet who, nevertheless, are evilminded, and consequently are devoid of all true Love of God, still more of all true devotion." ~St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Ch. 13, No. 1.

And Fr. Philippe, quoting another Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, ensures that we are aware that the journey to interior peace through the life of prayer is indeed a struggle:

"Every Christian must be thoroughly convinced that his spiritual life can in no way be viewed as the quiet unfolding of an inconsequential life without any problems; rather it must be viewed as the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle, which will not end until death - a struggle against evil, temptation and the sin that is in him. This combat is inevitable, but is to be understood as an extremely positive reality, because as St. Catherine of Siena says, 'without war there is no peace'; without combat there is no victory. And this combat is, correctly viewed, the place of our purification, of our spiritual growth, where we learn to know ourselves in our weakness and to know God in His infinite mercy. This combat is the definitive place of our transfiguration and glorification." ~Fr. Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, p. 9.

Fr. Wade Menezes, C.P.M. has explained that in the journey to God, there is a "Holy Separation" that must take place between us and all things that separate us from God, to which Jesus refers in Mt 10:34 when he speaks of bringing "not peace but the sword." Relying upon Isaiah, Fr. Menezes goes so far as to say that God will even separate us from our own prayer, insofar as it separates us from union with Him:

"...and, if necessary, His ministry of division might include - even for a short time - separating Himself from our prayers. Let us not forget that the book of Isaiah, chapter 1 verse 15, says, 'Though you pray the more, I will not listen.' Why? Because the people were living, knowingly, sinful lifestyles, and refused to turn away from them." ~Fr. Wade Menezes, CPM, Homily for 16 July 2012, @13:42.

The image of the sword as a weapon in the "spiritual combat" in which each of us fights daily is used elsewhere by St. Catherine of Siena. Ralph Martin states:

"Catherine of Siena talks about fighting the spiritual battle with a two-edged sword in our hands, with hatred of sin as one edge of the blade and love of virtue as the other." ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 155.

In the midst of this tension between seeking peace through prayer and the temptation to presume that we will receive consolation in it, it is easy for one to become fearful of the adversities, temptations, and struggles that lie ahead. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux has warned us:

"Our common experience tells us that it is fear which disturbs us at the beginning of our conversion, fear of that dismaying picture we form for ourselves of the strict life and unwonted austerities we are about to embrace. This is called a nocturnal fear, either because in scripture adversity is usually represented by darkness, or because the reward for which we are prepared to suffer adversity is not yet revealed to us." ~St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, vol. II, sermon 33, no. 11.

But from the Scriptures, the addresses of Bl. Pope John Paul II, and the lives of the martyrs, we have been taught repeatedly, "Do not be afraid." We will inevitably face adversity in our efforts to attain uniformity with the will of God, but as Fr. Menezes, in his homily on 14 July 2012, states:

"...we should not fear death, dying, pain, persecution, rejection, loneliness, poverty, old age. We should not fear having a large family, evangelizing, defending traditional marriage as God's masterful design for the continuance of the human race. We should not fear going to confession, being a priest, a religious, or a missionary. We should not be afraid of tithing and giving alms, of downsizing our lifestyles and the like. We should fear none of these things, my dear friends." ~Fr. Wade Menezes, CPM, Homily for 14 July 2012, @8:14.

Amidst all of these challenges and tensions within the struggle for holiness, there is yet another threat that we face, and that is the danger of becoming overwhelmed by the complexities faced in both the intellectual endeavors of the spiritual life and also those in our secular affairs. However, with her life and her writings, St. Thérèse has shown to us that we may rest assured that union with God requires of us a child-like simplicity.

"As Thérèse grew in the simplicity of her relationship with God, she found it increasingly difficult to speak about what was going on inside her soul even to her wise and kind superiors. One day an elderly nun spoke to her about why this was the case.

`"[It is] because your soul is extremely simple, but when you will be perfect, you will be even more simple; the closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes." The good Mother was right.' " ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 154, quoting St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, Ch. 7.

From St. Thérèse, we have assurance that our struggles are not in vain, when our hope is placed in seeking uniformity with God's will:

"The saints tell us that usually, even in the very midst of exterior and interior trials, a deep-seated peace is felt. Perservering in the midst of these trials is a very important part of uniting our will to God's - and in His will is our peace.

Thérèse testifies to this reality in her own life especially as she approached its end.

`For seven years and a half that inner peace has remained my lot, and has not abandoned me in the midst of the greatest trials.'

Indeed, in His will is our peace." ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 178, quoting St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, Ch. 7.

21 July is the feast of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, O.F.M Cap. (1559-1619) (General Calendar) and St. Praxedes († 165) (Traditional Calendar). Orate pro nobis.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fr. Pacwa, S.J. on Verbum Domini #38:
On the "Spirit" of Sacred Scripture

One of the many features of the Catholic Church that I cherish is that the greatest biblical scholars are Catholic. It is a popular misconception that it is protestants who best know Scripture and that their extensive knowledge of it is something that Catholics should learn from them. But the evidence of the unrivaled excellence of Catholic biblical scholarship is readily available, now that we have in recent decades broken ground upon the Digital Continent and have access to the great writings and commentaries on Scripture by popes, bishops, and priests over the centuries. Although it may be true, in general, that the average protestant has more Bible passages memorized than the average Catholic (although even this fact may be debatable), rote memorization of the letter of Scripture is limited in usefulness if one has not begun to attain a spiritual comprehension of Scripture. But what exactly does the "Spiritual" comprehension of Scripture entail? Fr. Pacwa here has given us a discussion which addresses this very question.

I found this discussion to be particularly important today, as the idea of the "spirit" of the law - both in the context of Scripture and elsewhere - has been greatly misconstrued. We often hear of people referring to the "spirit" of the law as a means to relax the strictness embodied by a written rule when interpreted literally.

For example, let's consider a situation in which a police officer finds his friend's car parked illegally over the lines in a parking lot with no other cars in it. In such a situation, one might not be surprised if the officer were to pardon the offense on the grounds that, although the letter of the law has been broken, the "spirit of the law" allows him to excuse it. Although this may be permissible on the grounds of common courtesy, the truth of the matter is that such a pardon opposes both the letter and the spirit of the law, in their true senses.

To consider an ecclesial example, we hear frequently of certain questionable activities in the Liturgy being justified on the grounds that they are being done in the "spirit of Vatican II" (a talk by Bishop Athanasius Schneider in January on this topic can be found here). For one who has an apprehension of what the "spirit of the law" really means, this is quite confusing when it is used to permit actions that are not supported by the Council's texts themselves. Even more perplexing are cases in which the actions permitted by the "spirit" of the Council go so far as to contradict what is written in the conciliar documents. A particularly noteworthy example of this is the common practice of the complete elimination of the use of the Latin language from the Mass, a practice which is allegedly justified by the following of the so-called "spirit of Vatican II," while being expressly forbidden within the documents themselves (see Sancrosanctum Concilium, #36).

The truth regarding the "spirit" of the law - as presented by Pope Benedict in Verbum Domini, Fr. Pacwa here, and Eric Moore elsewhere - is that it builds upon and even transcends the letter - rather than working in opposition to it - and it is vital that we grasp this point.

Toward this end, in this episode of Threshold of Hope, Fr. Pacwa gives a discussion of paragraph 38: The Need to Transcend the "Letter," from Pope Benedict's apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini. You can follow along with Fr. Pacwa by reading the document online here.

Fr. Pacwa begins by emphasizing what is needed to gain a "Spiritual" comprehension of Sacred Scripture, which requires that one understands the text in four senses:
  1. The Literal Sense: To understand the "meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture" (CCC 117) - "All other senses ... are based on the literal" (St. Thomas Aquinas).
  2. The Allegorical Sense: To understand what we believe, the doctrines.
  3. The Moral Sense: To understand right from wrong.
  4. The Anagogical Sense: To understand life and the after-life, or what happens when we die.
As Fr. Pacwa mentions in the previous episode of Threshold of Hope, these four senses are presented in greater detail in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #118.

Two important points Fr. Pacwa goes on to make are that:
  1. The "interplay between the different senses of Scripture is essential in order to grasp the passage from letter to spirit" (4:38).
  2. "...this is not an automatic passage, and it is not spontaneous - it takes some work." (4:55)
Fr. Pacwa then begins a discussion of what such an understanding of these senses entails. He emphasizes that we must look at the passages of Scripture in context: that is, "not only the context of the other words around it, but also to see various elements of the Bible in the context of the whole of Scripture and the whole development of the history of the people of Israel from Abraham forward..." (12:39). Hence, we see here the importance of not only the Scripture itself, but also of Sacred Tradition, which is rejected by many heretical teachings today. In this paragraph of Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict explicitly highlights the importance of Scripture through a reference to Pope Paul VI's 1965 dogmatic consitution Dei Verbum, and through making this reference, implicitly highlights the importance of Sacred Tradition. In opposition to this fact regarding the emphasis that the Church has placed on the study of Scripture, some protestants have propagated the falsehood that a distinguishing feature of Catholic Church history is that the Magisterium has discouraged or even forbade people from reading Sacred Scripture. To counter this, Fr. Pacwa mentions Pope Leo XIII's (R. 1878-1903) order to print in every Catholic Bible that Catholics would receive indulgences for reading Scripture (19:55). Although there may have been Catholic individuals who were discouraging laypeople from reading the Bible, this has not been the official teaching of the Church.

So we see here that the interplay of these two contexts illustrates the timelessness - manifesting itself through temporal universality - of the Truth embodied within Christianity. The Tradition of the Faith was an inextricable component of the Councils of the early Church at which the Bible was compiled, as it continues to be an inextricable component today, and will continue to be in the future life of the Church. However, this vitality of Scripture within the Church does not sustain itself automatically, but rather requires a volitional participation of learning and living the Scriptures from each of its members. Fr. Pacwa, quoting Verbum Domini, states, "There is an inner drama in this process, since the passage that takes place in the power of the Spirit inevitably engages each person’s freedom" (13:23). This deep level of understanding of Scripture will necessarily involve an act of one's will and will affect his daily decisions as he lives, "demanding full engagement in the life of the Church" (9:48, quoting Verbum Domini).

July 3 is the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle († 72) (General Calendar) and Pope St. Leo II (R. 682-683) (Traditional Calendar). Orate pro nobis.