Browse by Topic: Contemplation

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Resting for God

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We live in a workaholic culture. Production. Efficiency. Success. Go. And Keep Going. These are the watchwords of our busy society. Jewish and Christian tradition, however, places a high value--as in, it's a commandment--on the centrality of rest, leisure, and worship, for human life. For an observant Jew, to work on the Sabbath Day is equivalent to choosing to go back to slavery in Egypt! The Lord calls Christians too (indeed, he calls all) to rest in Him every Lord's Day. It is a commandment, yes, but one essential for offering worship to God and renewing the vital energies of our soul, mind, and body.  I've given this talk on many occasions--this one was recorded at a Theology on Tap event in Monterey, CA, in February of this year. Enjoy. And REST!

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture

Status Viatoris

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Pilgrims on Earth

The beatific vision of God is the goal of life and the perfection of our quest for holiness. The complete and final satisfaction of all our desires and pursuits is to rest in the divine embrace of the Most Holy Trinity. How can we grow closer to this goal and receive a foretaste of heaven while we are pilgrims on this earth? The central way is through the reception of the Blessed Sacrament at Mass. But Our Lord has also provided us a variety of means to sanctify and enrich our lives. Below you will find a short reflection on five ways to grow in holiness and seek God, all granted through His grace.

Making the Sign of the CrossLast Judgment Window, St. Albert's Priory

God, knowing the needs of our human condition as an embodied soul, has provided us physical signs that express and harmonize our interior state. The most prominent and recognizable is the making of the Sign of the Cross with our hand, crossing ourselves with thesignum crucis. The act itself is a prayer. When we combine the intention to worship God with the gesture it becomes a powerful aid to holiness and a defense against evil. It is a public witness to our status as children of God in His new covenant through the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Crucifixion and Resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. It is worthy of our careful attention and devotion, and can sanctify any place or moment. Saint Dominic was known to fortify himself repeatedly with the sign of the cross whenever he travelled. As we travel through this life we too fortify ourselves by making the sign with reverence and devotion.

 

Adoration

Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is a chance to spend time with the Lord in preparation for the reception of Eucharist at Mass. Discussion and directions on ways of ‘doing’ adoration abound, but they all rely on one simple fact: you must be there and spend time with the Lord. Imagine a man who tells his wife, “Honey, I love you so much that I’m going to go read a book about you in the other room instead of embracing you.” Absurd! How lamentable! Reading and studying about God is also essential but it doesn’t replace the actual act of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The positive testimony of those who make adoration a consistent part of their Catholic faith is overwhelming. Put simply, it transforms lives and converts hearts. It strengthens the will to do good; it obliterates vices; it calms the troubled mind and prepares our mind to receive deeper insights when we do sit down to study. Only God knows completely what graces and gifts He has prepared for those who devote themselves to the Eucharist in adoration. It is rest, medicine and light for the pilgrims of earth.

 

Bowing and prostrations

When someone is out walking in the open fields it is natural to stop and gaze into the vast sky above. In the same way, when devotion grows in our hearts we naturally bow before the source of all that is good, the Holy One who offers eternal salvation. Saint Dominic would bow deeply whenever he passed by an image of Christ or a crucifix. He also had the private practice of fully prostrating himself on the ground in prayer, or of falling repeatedly to his knees before God. He also prayed by lifting his hands up above his head or spreading his arms wide in imitation of the cross as he stood at great or short lengths in prayer. This robust, manly saint prayed with his whole body and intellect yoked together in seeking God above all things. He was an ascetic who did not shy away from complete devotion, yet he did not become overly severe and intolerant to those weaker than him. On the contrary, he was known to be full of love, compassion and good humor. Olympic athletes, soldiers and even some musicians go through much more severe and exhausting training; shouldn’t we too express our devotion with appropriate ascetic practices?1

 

 

Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity

Here we have a mainly internal act, but you can lightly tap your hand on the wood of the pew, your desk or bed if it will help you concentrate on making an act of Faith, Hope and Love. An intentional act is an act. Whenever we choose, or will, to do something it is an act of some kind. The most obvious are physical acts, like picking up a book, pouring milk or throwing a ball. But speech and thoughts are also acts. We will and choose what to say and we can choose what to think, although random thoughts will always appear that are of little concern. What we are concerned with is what we actively, intentionally think. The acts of Faith, Hope and Love are thoughts that must be repeated, repeated, repeated. Habits of the will are formed through repetition; whatever you do, say or think again and again, will become habitual to you. You become disposed to a certain way of doing, saying and thinking until it stabilizes as a virtue or vice. Our minds are shaped, colored and molded by the objects we concentrate on or encounter frequently. By choosing to repeatedly give our thoughts over to God through acts of Faith, Hope and Love we dispose ourselves to listen to God and receive the gifts He wants to give us. In the end it is God who gives through grace: but he does not despise our efforts to grow in holiness. You will find numerous ways to formulate these acts of Faith, Hope and Love in any good Catholic prayer book. Here are three simple versions:


Act of Faith: Most Holy Trinity, I believe the truth you have revealed. Increase my faith. Amen.

 

Act of Hope: Father in Heaven, I hope in your great mercy. Grant me the gifts of the Holy Spirit as I look forward to eternal life through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Act of Charity: O God, I love you above all things. Through your Love I love myself and my neighbor. Amen.

 

May the daily repetition of the Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity bring you much joy and consolation as you progress in holiness.


The Most Holy Name of Jesus

Finally, the word that has sustained men and women, monks and nuns, saints and sinners-who-are-becoming-saints, in every place, through all ages: the Name above every other name. The Most Holy Name of Jesus, be praised! Love the Name of Jesus. Let it be in your minds, on your lips and in your heart. The Most Holy Name of Jesus is the sure defense; it is light, joy and truth. At the Name of Jesus every knee should bend. May the Name of Jesus guide us. Whatever names or words we bend our minds and our wills to becomes our focus, to which our soul is continually drawn. All other names lead to false ways, despair and are man-made idols: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21). With God’s help we can scrutinize our life and be free of what is false, what holds us back from more consistent and dedicated worship; we can become more free to express the charity that is building in our lives through God’s free gift.

 

But rejoice you who honor the Most Holy Name! For by freely accepting Christ, it is the Good Shepherd who becomes our Lord and Master. We are drawn ever more into the loving depths of the Most Holy Trinity when we proclaim Jesus Christ is LORD. All the goods of the earth and of our earthly life are allowable when properly ordered to God. For the pilgrim on this earth the Most Holy Name of Jesus is found most fully in the reception of the Eucharist at Mass, a foretaste of the eternal Feast and beatific vision in heaven. Acts, signs and devotions assist us in leading a sacramental life. We have received from the Church established by Our Lord Jesus Christ the sacraments and a host of sacramentals, blessings and practices that flow from and must return to the Eucharist. Sanctification comes through grace, and the Blessed Body and Precious Blood consecrated on the altar by a priest is the central mystery and privilege of the Christian.

 

Finally, as social beings directed to God in community, it is an act of justice for the faithful to witness to the Gospel for the salvation of souls in public as well as at home. This is done whenever we make the sign of the cross or pray before a meal in a restaurant; when we truly say a blessing out loud when speaking to others; or when a religious friar, monk or sister wears the habit of their Order in daily life so that the non-converted may wonder about the holy calling, and the faithful be encouraged by those who seek God in the consecrated life. None of the above is done to draw attention to ourselves but solely to give to society what is due through justice. This justice must come from the heart, not simply legislation. But it is ultimately a matter of giving God what is due through proper worship, through acts of what is rightly called the "virtue of religion," a sure means to holiness. 

 

The Peace of the Risen Lord be with you!

 

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1 Prostrations are good for your back, blood circulation, reduce headaches, clear the mind for studies and relieve insomnia, but that’s just a bonus. Or is it? Maybe God created us so that physical and mental devotion would lead to some degree of physical and mental health. Perhaps what’s good for the soul redounds to the body in this life even as it will in the beatific vision to the glorified body.

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Extraordinary Glory: On the Beauty of Nature, Plane Flights, and Obscure Rubrics

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"And when they came to threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God."(2 Sam 6.3)

Day Flight

I recently had the tremendous opportunity to fly in a single engine prop plane. A friend of mine with a pilot's license is part of a club that shares planes and resources and such, and had been inviting me to go up with him for some time. Stupendous. Majestic. Enthralling. Wonder-filled. Got me, naturally, thinking about liturgy! Specifically, about the ancient liturgy proper to my order, also known as the Dominican Rite.


Chasuble, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-14-13

The archdiocese of Miami posted a few months back one laywoman's account of experiencing the Extraordinary Form for the first time.1 She relates that, despite the preconceived notions about this mass she had imbibed from the media, her experience was remarkably enriching. She recounts an initial confusion, bridging into an entranced awe, and then a gradually free surrender to the beauty of a liturgy which was, on the one hand, entirely outside her experience, yet on the other, mysteriously and profoundly united with the saints in heaven and through history. Fr. Z linked her article on his blog, which seems to have spawned several more accounts (here, here, and here).


I add my voice to this growing and, as it were, polyphonic chorus. As a Gen-X convert to the Catholic Faith (raised Presbyterian, entered the Church in 2003), my exposure to any mass prior to about 2001 was rare, much less the old rite(s) of preconciliar days. The last thing on my mind upon initial conversion was the existence or possible importance of older liturgical forms. Although I did tend to drift towards more relatively sober and reverent liturgies, at that point most of my needy soul's gaze was inebriated with the riches of Sacred Tradition, the philosophical and theological patrimony of the Church, the gift of an ecclesial hierarchy that unites the Church's faith across space and time, and above all the supreme gift of the Blessed Sacrament. The more I have grown in my Catholic faith, however, the more I have come to realize the importance of liturgical form.

Unison Bow, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-8-13

On this question, one often hears it said that the "externals" of liturgy are secondary to the really important thing, which is one's relationship with Christ. This is true in principle, but misleading. Outward forms matter for the same reason the Incarnation matters: as bodily creatures we perceive the invisible through the visible; the form through the accident, to use scholastic language. When the "accidents" of liturgical aesthetics are shoddy, undignified, or banal, this can implicitly communicate -- especially through long repetition -- false ideas about the character of God. But I get ahead of myself.


My first consistent encounter with the Extraordinary Form was on my "residency" year in Anchorage, Alaska (2010-11), where one mass every Sunday is offered according to the Dominican Rite, the ancient rite proper to the Order of Preachers.2 At the time these were Low Masses (no choir, one server, much silence) and my initial experience of it was a kind of dumb reverence. I sat and gazed inquisitively at the priest facing away from the congregation -- or rather, towards the East(!), at the server bustling back and forth seeming to obey minute rubrics with military-like precision, and on certain intermittent occasions being graced with the priest's voice or direct address: a "Dominus vobiscum" here, a "nobis quoque peccatoribus" there.  The feel and flow of the Mass was unfamiliar but silent and rather unassuming. I was not distracted or paying much attention to the priest's personality quirks; I was not even so conscious of the words being spoken, except for trying to pick out a Latin phrase here or there. Yet it was all oddly entrancing. In a way I could hardly describe, I felt transported into a reverence for something mysterious I did not understand, but in which I sensed a profound unity, coherence, discipline, and depth.


PaintedLady @ Rae Lakes, Kings Canyon NPark, CA, 8-4-11, Author-Jeffrey Pang, Source-WikimediaCommons

The rhythms of the natural world come to mind. Some may have seen the excellent, excellent (did I say excellent?) BBC series Planet Earth. Transported to inner sancta of the jungles, deserts, ice plains, sea-depths, and mountain ranges of our world, one frequently wants to burst out while beholding the marvels, "this looks like another planet!" All manner of bizarre, enchanting, and startling phenomena carry themselves out day-to-day on earth, in an order mind-bogglingly elaborate, yet somehow reassuringly solid, steady, and consistently turning. Hamlet was right: there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Horatio's philosophy; or in anyone else's for that matter. Such expansive complexity overspreads every inch of the cosmos, yet underneath it a profound and awe-inspiring order shines through. God apparently was interested in aesthetics, in the "externals" of the cosmos, when He created it.


Lift Off, Monterey Bay 10-2-13

Which brings me back to the liturgy and planes. The wonder one experiences when watching Planet Earth occurs in concreto, as it were, by going up in a single-prop plane. Part of nature's power to evoke awe lies precisely in its lack of familiarity, in its uncontrollability, in the fact that it can bedazzle you (like this) but also spike your neck-hairs (like this). Part of the thrill of a plane flight, too, lies precisely in a certain "cost" paid up front: the danger of being thousands of feet up in the air, your life at the mercy of the human engineers who designed the plane, and the sheer know-how of the pilot guiding it. In other words, the experience of anything transcendent evokes a reverence for something other, unfamiliar, unpredictable, and even dangerous. It should not surprise us, then, that a Mass with centuries of venerable tradition behind it expresses the adoration of God in forms and appearances -- governed by minute and complex rubrics -- that are unfamiliar to our daily experience. If Nature is complex, yet profoundly beautiful and ordered, all the more the outer-reaches of reality we peer into when the Triune God is adored at the Mass. God's exceeding beauty, goodness, and majesty would seem to call forth naturally -- or supernaturally, as it were -- liturgical forms that are unfamiliar to us, that enkindle the twin instincts of admiration and, well, something that makes your neck-hairs stand up.


Before Take-Off, Livermore Airstrip

To carry the plane analogy a bit further, I recall sitting on the runway before take-off that brisk early morning.  With a certain reverential wonder, I admired the symmetry of the plane's wings, the aerodynamic perfection of the body, the simple and compact yet, used rightly, wonderful winged potential of this piece of modern machinery sitting silently before me in the pre-dawn light. Awesome. So too, I was glad my friend Doug was scrupulous in checking the specs of the plane before flight (every door, tire, wing flap, and fluid level) since in a few moments this elaborate device would soar us into the heavens at the peril of our lives. His technical knowledge had to be quite elaborate, and his execution virtually flawless, in accordance with the greatness and difficulty of the task. Similarly, it is fitting that liturgy, which is ordered to offering the God of Heaven right worship and lifting souls to union with Him, should reflect the majesty of this God by being complex yet ordered, diverse in movement yet unified in purpose, highly detailed in rubric yet graceful and awe-evoking in overall appearance. If planes that launch bodies into both awe-inspiring and potentially dangerous physical flights require diligent and careful attention, even more the liturgy, the privileged flashpoint where Heaven itself shines through to us who dwell upon the earth.


In the last half-century it has been common to want and "design" liturgies that are more simple, common-place, and closer to the informal and popular customs of the surrounding culture. Whatever we want to say about the manner in which this "inculturation" occurs, what Newman called the "unutterable beauty" of the Mass hangs absolutely, I would assert, on the manner in which the liturgy respects and so reflects, God's simultaneous immanence and transcendence. God humbles Himself to appear as bread and wine, yes; God is closer to us than our inmost self, yes; God is compassionate, gentle, and forgiving, yes -- thank God for our sakes that He would come so near to us! But He is also infinitely removed from our experience, and acts in unpredictable and often very politically incorrect ways. He zapped Uzzah for the apparently understandable action of trying to steady a tottering ark, since Uzzah was not a priest (2 Sam 6:3); He killed Nadab and Abihu for using the wrong type of incense for sacrifice (Lev 10:1); and He metes out punishment to those who would contravene His commands, even disciplining those he loves (cf. 1 Sm 15.3, Ex 12.2, Num 31.7-18; Heb 12.6). He is "good to all, and has compassion on all He has made" (Psalm 145:9), but is also a "consuming fire"  whose holiness excludes anyone who is not themselves holy from seeing Him face-to-face in heaven (cf. Heb 12:29 and 12:14).

High Altar, St. Albert's Priory, Oakland, CA

Today we are not used to thinking of God in these terms. But we cannot get God's immanence without respecting His transcendence. If we want the fullness of God's love, we must (by grace, of course) accord with the strictness of His justice. Adoring His infinite majesty is the condition for uniting with and growing in His intimate love. I have been drawn to the ancient rite proper to my order quite simply because there is a depth and beauty in it, experienced precisely through the complexity and "other-ness" of its outward form, that (for many reasons) is often not accessible in vast swaths of the Church today, where the new Mass was not implemented in a way that organically developed from the pre-Vatican II years.3 And it is precisely, in one sense, this outward and highly ordered complexity that kindles the twin instincts of admiration and fear, of astonishment with a hint of alarm, which one feels in the natural wonders of earth, or in the experience of flight. Instead of the "externals" of Mass being odd and annoying superfluities one must "get past" in order to focus on the really important thing, I have discovered rather that they are genuine reflections of the honor, attention, and dignity due the Triune God, as well as highly fitting for facilitating the individual believer's personal encounter with this God.

Consecration/Elevation, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-8-13


As my formation has proceeded (I look forward to ordination in May, 2014), my liturgical sensibilities have come to be deeply shaped by the Dominican Rite, with a practicum offered now in our formation by Fr. Augustine Thompson -- perhaps the world expert on the rite -- and plentiful opportunities for serving, both at our house of studies and in the Bay Area. It seems a wise proposal of Pope Emeritus Benedict that, for now, the two forms of the Mass -- old and new -- should exist side-by-side, that they may influence one another. The old rite needs to undergo legitimate, careful, and discerning reform; and the new mass needs to re-establish a more direct and organic continuity with the Church's sacred tradition and practice. I would go so far as to assert this sort of legitimate liturgical reform as "storm center" of the vaunted New Evangelization, insofar as John Paul II launched the latter in 1992 as a Eucharistically centered affair -- but that would require another article. For now, we pray God would give all Catholics the fidelity, awareness of his Presence, and single-minded devotion to His glory upon the earth, to order our lives around worship in Spirit and in Truth.


Hoods Up, Photo by Jay Balza & Anna Guerra, 12-8-13


All liturgical images above were taken at a Solemn High Mass recently celebrated, according to the Dominican Rite, at Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco, with Fr. Anselm Ramelow, O.P. presiding, and all other ministries served by student friars of the Western Dominican Province. They appear here courtesy of the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco.

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1 Sometimes misnamed the "Latin Mass," since of course the new mass can be done in Latin also.


2 See my confrere Fr. Augustine Thompson's website for the most comprehensive internet resource on the Dominican Rite. Incidentally, Holy Family Cathedral now has Missa Cantata's regularly, and recently offered a Solemn High Mass.


3 To be clear, I do not assert the intrinsic superiority of the Extraordinary Form over the New Mass. The Holy Spirit evidently wanted, and still wants, a genuine liturgical reform to occur in the contemporary Church. My assertion is rather of a piece with Pope Emeritus Benedict's frequent observation through his career: liturgical reform was needed by the mid-20th century, but the way it happened in practice after the Council too often resulted in hasty decisions to jettison traditional forms, without respect for the internal dynamics of the liturgy that could have led to authentic development. Click here for a recent article by respected liturgical theologian Dom Alcuin Reid, O.S.B., on the ambiguities that lent Sacrosanctum Concilium to misinterpretation, and the positive seeds that are still to be nourished.


Br. Pius Youn, O.P.'s picture

Shifting Gears

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A new chapter has begun. What seemed like a chapter of blurry words, with stains of bitter coffee, has come to an end. Yes, the novitiate year. I cannot quite comprehend how I persevered through it. Even a couple of weeks after making simple profession, I catch myself pondering whether I should ask Fr. Anthony, our novice master, for permission to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby coffee shop. With a few giggles, I walk out of the priory with a sense of relief. One thing is clear: the life as a novice and the life as a simply professed brother are radically different. 

The novitiate was not the most "feel-good" year, subjectively speaking, but it was the most contemplative year. There were moments of bumpy trials, but consoling moments along the way. I cherished these moments of consolations. It surely is edifying to be consoled, yet if our faith and our discernment are solely dependent on consolations, we are only left with what "feels right." People, nowadays, especially in prosperous nations, stubbornly hold on to comfort, and prefer what "feels good." Reason itself is losing its pure meaning as many compulsively give into their passions. I sense a certain fallacy here. Has reason lost its strength to guide emotions? Has faith been stripped down to mere feelings?

As Christians, we believe that God initiates his call to us and we respond with humility. God consoles those who follow him, but what are we to do when God seems to be absent? Of course, if you have been living a life with "feel-good" luxury, following the call of God may be a stepping stone. As a religious and as a Dominican, community life is not always a "feel good" experience, for what "I want" is secondary to the common life--even though many of us have strong opinions about every bit of everything. What is it we must do when we are desolate, when a certain idealism that we were looking for is stripped away?

If we look to the Scriptures--as we should always, for it is the Word of God--those who lose the sight of God look for fulfillment elsewhere. In Exodus 32, while Moses is absent from the Israelites for forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, the Israelites, by persuading Aaron, create a false god--the golden calf. This "golden calf" is looked at not as a "false deity" but as the "god" who brought them out of Egypt. Michael D. Coogan, in his book, The Old Testament, states that this act of using an animal to represent the deity is following the Egyptian tradition, whereas elsewhere in the Near East at this time, the custom was to use the human form to represent gods or goddesses. Fashioning the golden calf violated the second commandment for the Israelites: "You shall have no other gods before me." But why were the Israelites looking elsewhere to find other gods?     

The Israelites created the golden calf because they lost sight of God. One reason for this was the absence of a prophet to counter the desire; but more importantly, the Israelites were not patient enough to continue with their journey of faith. They gave into their feelings of inadequacy and ended up worshipping the golden calf. Just as the Israelites were "stiff-necked" and lost sight of God, we may find other ways to fulfill our passions and desires when we feel the absence of God. If feelings are what give credibility of God, then no wonder God seems to be absent when we are not feeling so well.

The life of a student brother is filled with activities. Being a student brother is fun, but busy. As I write, I am thinking of many other activities in my mind: demands for classes, unwanted chores in the house, consistent liturgical duties, and so on. I am constantly out of breath and I have deadlines coming up. In our busy schedules, it is easy to lose sight of God. While living a busy life may bring immediate joys, we must always strive for an authentic contemplative life. If we lose a sense of contemplation, then all that we do is simply "doing for the sake of doing." St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of contemplation as “delightful by reason of its object...insofar as you are contemplating what you love; just as with ordinary physical seeing, which is delightful not only because the act of seeing itself is pleasurable but because you are looking at someone you love.” If this "someone" you love is God, then everything we do starts from contemplation of the Creator. What other mission do we have, other than to "see" the one we love, to be a creature geared towards the Creator? Or better yet, all of our mission and activities per se start from contemplation.

If we are not rooted in contemplation, then managing time will be stressful, because our "study" or "work" is geared towards personal status and ambition, rather than giving the glory to God. It is through contemplation that kairos (God's time) becomes geared towards chronos (human time), and our actions begin to arise from contemplation. In our busy schedules, despite our demands and deadlines, let us first ask ourselves whether what we "do" is flowing from contemplation. Let us be reminded in moments of difficulties to contemplate God: by contemplating, reason will guide emotions. Let us not build a golden calf for ourselves as the Israelites did, but root ourselves in contemplating the Creator before we act like "busy-bodies" (2 Thess. 3:11).  

                   

 

   

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

On Silence and Schizophrenia, or, How to Use the Internet Without Losing Your Soul

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Pascal famously remarked that “the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” There is much in this, and it is difficult to think of a simpler, more practical and pertinent recommendation for our contemporary world.

Mary & MarthWhen I was growing up in the 1980s, my parents were firm that I and my sister would not have televisions (or, by extension, video game apparati) in our rooms—too much distraction and too many other worthy things to occupy time, like, say, organizing a baseball card collection.  My parents—I thank them now!—went so far as to regulate the amount of television we did watch by a “marble system” invented by none other than my mom.  A double-sided tupperware container was assigned to each of us, and six marbles were placed in one side of the container at the beginning of the week, each marble standing for half an hour.  When I or my sister watched television for half an hour (or, for myself, when I played those very primitive video games like Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and R.C. Pro-Am!), we would transfer one marble over to the other side.  Three hours a week of television or video games, and my sister and I had to apportion the time according to our tastes and prudential judgment.

 

By this simple system, my parents effectively trained me and my sister to acquire the habits of mental and emotional self-discipline in the area of media use.  How times have changed!  The internet and the multitudinous clever devices that can activate it, any time, any place, has introduced a kind of Copernican Revolution in such media availability.  The conditions my parents’ system worked in have multiplied, mutated, and expanded outward (inward? upward? where is the Internet?!) in an almost impossible-to-contain complexity.  One generally must have an e-mail account to get along in the contemporary world.  Cell phones—save for very select groups like Dominican students in formation—are generally expected for normal participants in human society.  The entire gaping abyss of the world-wide-web, filled with infinite amounts of useful and edifying material, alongside much foolish and even dangerous content, lies at most people’s finger-tips 24-7.

 

Much has been and continues to be said on how this new media milieu has radically altered the way our society is structured and how human interaction and relationships are conducted.  Here I point to one simple way it challenges our spiritual—and with it our psychological and emotional—health.  Put simply, “sitting quietly in our room” is the foundation for knowing God and thus for being happy.  Insofar as our media use engenders in us a restless and agitated spirit that is incapable of this, it is compromising our spiritual life, as well as our psychological and emotional health.

 

Reginald Garrigou LaGrange masterfully formulates the basic human need for quiet in his magisterial Three Ages of the Spiritual Life.  Contemplation and an “interior life” begins, LaGrange says, when a person is alone and begins to talk to himself.  If amidst this inward self-reflectiveness, which opens itself only in silence, one begins to seek truth and goodness, “this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God.”  An interior depth opens up in the person where important matters rise to the surface, unimportant matters fade, and we begin to gaze on the “whole” pattern of life, its meaning, origin, and end.  The “one necessary thing”—knowing God and sitting at the Lord’s feet—becomes for us a salve for our personal wounds, a strength for our weakness, and the life-breath and due nourishment of our soul (see Luke 10.39-42).  We begin to see more clearly the contours of our lives and their ultimate foundation in God, thus welling up with an inward thankfulness to the Almighty for His blessings and ever-present help.

 

The challenge is not to let our media use snuff out this inner-reflective depth.  A noted psychologist once actually connected the way modern technology affects us with a tendency to produce schizoid-like mental habits.  In the 1960s, Rollo May identified the constant barrage of television, media, and other modern technological forms as inducing a kind of social fragmentation where the individual becomes easily disconnected from others, losing the capacity to empathize and preserve inwardly a vital center of self-awareness (the excellent book is Love and Will).  The phenomena is counter-intuitive: though technology has connected human society in myriad ways previously unthinkable, it can simultaneously disconnect individuals and uproot the interior life precisely because external stimuli are so relentless.  Such overstimulation indulged in for long periods actually begins to scramble our brains, acting virtually as a narcotic drug in its attraction and potentially addictive qualities.

 

I am accused by my Dominican brethren of being  “Luddite”—one who spurns the use of technology on principle.  There is truth in the accusation (insert me smiling), but when it comes down to it I realize that social media, like all technology, is a tool that can be used well or ill.  Perpetually available internet access is in some ways the culmination of an increasingly dominant place technology has come to play in modern life since the Industrial Revolution began in the 19th century.  Amidst this milieu, the Christian today must develop a discipline respecting the internet and media use.  If the “marble system” is not effective anymore, since the internet is a repository not only for entertainment but many necessary things, we can still establish set times within our daily and weekly routine to devote to the Lord, to “contemplation,” to reflection on the good and important things of life.

 

I myself have taken to “internet fasts” on Friday—“abstaining,” as it were from all internet use save in instances where charity demands it (like, say, a lunch meeting I had e-mailed someone on and must check again that day).  The rest of the week I try to limit myself to one morning check and one evening check of no more than half an hour; and “sign off” by 9pm every evening from even non-business use.  The classic virtue that applies here is studiositas (“studiousness”), a disposition of healthy and vigorous intellectual inquiry, versus curiositas (“curiosity”), an unmitigated and arbitrary seeking after anything that stimulates.  The latter is the beginning of a soul-sapping road to psychological agitation and spiritual death, the former a healthy and ordered summoning of our natural human desire to know to worthy ends.  (See here for a short and insightful account of studiositas and curiositas by one of my Eastern Province confreres.)

 

Beyond the healthy ways to use media, nothing can take the place of the portion of our lives that each of us needs to carve out for the deeper contemplation in which God comes to us as a friend, “makes his dwelling within us,” whereby we become more aware of his Presence in our souls and the exceeding mercy and grace by which he would lead us to eternal life.  To sit quietly in one’s room is the beginning, an idea Pascal probably learned from one far greater: “Go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father in heaven...”  This is a different task and graver obligation, I daresay, than seeing what one of my 500 friends on Facebook has happened to have thought worthy to post within the last five minutes.

 

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In this spirit, see here for a quick and informational video on how internet use affects our intellectual capability.  For a longer but thought-provoking recent interview of a Stanford psychologist on similar issues and the "myth of multi-tasking," see here.

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Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Spiritual Journey

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Last Friday I gave a talk to the Korean Catholic Fellowship group at UC Berkeley on some aspects of the spiritual life according to St. Thomas Aquinas. This was a rather daunting task, since so much of what Aquinas says in his theological works can be applied to the prayer, worship, life, and belief of everyday Christians. I settled, then, on giving a broad picture of the spiritual life and then focused on several aspects in particular. In general it is important to recall God as the creator. For Aquinas, God is not the "Enlightenment" era watchmaker-god who wound the universe up, and now sits in aloof ennui as we mortals are left to our own devices and desires. Rather, all creation is being sustained by God, at every moment in time. If God were to remove his presence, the universe would simply be brought to nothing (ad nihilo, annihilation). Every moment we are being spoken into being by the Word. As rational creatures who may know the Word, we are meant to journey to God by His grace and our will. In particular, we find that the various elements of our journey to God are oriented towards charity. Love, Aquinas points out, begins by knowing, and so through discursive reasoning about God (meditation) and the resting intellectual vision of divine truths (contemplation) we begin to know God, which, in turn, allows us to love God. Love, however, is not complete until the lover and beloved are united, so our entire journey is not complete until, at last, we are united with God to the greatest extent possible on earth, and to the fullest extent ordained in heaven.

Fr. Gabriel Mosher, O.P.'s picture

Subdeacon

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I want to begin with a disclaimer. I've been trying to figure out how to articulate an experience I had on Christmas. I'm not sure words can do justice to the experience. But, I figured that I should try.

Over a decade ago, while I was a diocesean semenarian, I was taught by some great guys how to properly serve the Holy Mass. I had, of course, learned the rubrics at my home parish. However, the guys at the seminary taught me how to internalize those rubrics. I was taught how the order of worship and the physical actions are an intrinsic part of Liturgy. They taught me the significance of each action. But, more importantly, they taught me how to make each step, each gesture, an act of prayer. 

I've always treasured this gift. It's always served me in my Catholic life. After all, does not the Church affirm that the Sacramental Life, i.e., the liturgical life, is the constitutive character of Christianity? Everything is ordered to worship and everything flows from worship. The physical movements in the Liturgy, regardless of one's mode of participation, serve as the vehicle for offering a spiritual sacrifice to the Lord. This is why fidelity to the rubrics of the Liturgy, especially the Mass, is so important. It's only through the fixed structures in the Liturgy that the authentic spontaneity of the spirit becomes fully manifest. It is a fundamental mistake to think that the reverse is true. Regularity is a necessary condition for contemplation.

As a Dominican friar the gift that those men gave me has grown, developed, and flowered in various ways. Yesterday, however, that gift reached a level of intensity that heretofore I'd never experienced nor anticipated. 

There's a new monastery of Carmelite Nuns here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of us friars have been offering Mass for them at their chapel when we are able. These nuns exclusively use the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. So, when we come to their Monestary we celebrate our own Dominican Rite of Mass. Usually it is a Low Mass or a Missa Cantata (High Mass). However, on Christmas we were able to celebrate a Solemn Mass for them. I served as the Subdeacon for the Mass.

[For those unfamiliar with the Dominican Rite, or other more ancient forms of Mass as celebrated in the Latin Church, it is similar to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.]

The order of Mass according to the Dominican Rite is complex. There's a lot to remember –– especially for the Subdeacon. You'd think that, as a result, it wouldn't be conducive to contemplation. My experience, however, was remarkable. I've served as an acolyte for both the Low Mass and the Missa Cantata regularly. However, serving as a Major Minister in our Rite had a different feel to it. It was intense.

God has granted me, over the years, a few opportunities where I've found myself in a spiritually enraptured state while serving Mass. It can be embarrassing when it interferes with liturgical duties, but my experience on Christmas was different. It was as if I was given an opportunity to experience the truth about liturgical time. We say: in the Divine Liturgy of the Church our human time enters into eternity. This is how the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ's Paschal Mystery. It's not a repetition of it, simulation of it, or some new sacrifice. Each time Mass is offered we access the one Sacrifice that Christ made for us all. We stand at Calvary with the Blessed Mother and all the faithful. I believe it! The Mass lasted about one and a half hours; yet, it felt like five or ten minutes. But again, it wasn't like getting sucked into the online world, or video games, or some task of interest. Indeed, a similar phenomenon can occur in those sorts of activities. Instead, it was ... well ... different. The experience had a different character, a different feel. The intensity I experienced was radically peaceful. Saint Theresa of Avila's "sober innebriation" is the only phrase that seems to fit.

My mind is still swimming as a result of this experience. I'm still trying to fit together and articulate its profundity. Each detail of the experience held deep significance. For instance, wearing a dalmatic for the first time was really akward at first. Yet, on the other hand, it was a tremendous confirmation of my vocation to be a priest. Holding the paten before my eyes while covered with the humeral veil brought to mind the descriptions of those holy angels who veil themselves before the presence of the Lord. The symbols used in the rite are amazing. They help the human mind realize that in the Liturgy we are joined with heavenly realities. We become true participants in a Cosmic Liturgy. For that brief time I was deeply aware that we were in the midst of the angels and saints worshiping God in both spirit and truth. 

[Modified from its original: eighthway.com/home/2012/12/26/subdeacon]