WHAT THE SAINTS TEACH US ABOUT THE MEANING OF LIFE

             

(Blessed Solanus Casey)                     

                           “[God] is Glorified in His Saints” (2 Thes. 1:10)

We are all looking for evidence and knowledge that points to the ultimate meaning of life. And the purpose of this note is to suggest that the Catholic Saints hold the key (or should I say a key) to unlocking and discovering the meaning of life. Indeed, the more we study the lives of the saints, the more we will discover the meaning of life.

This interest in the saints “is not an interest of mere pious curiosity. It is inspired by the growing realization that the saints, and the saints alone, have found what all other men are vainly seeking – a real life. It is beginning to dawn on the intelligence of those who are sincerely searching for the truth and who, with unprejudiced minds, are seeking for a solution to the problem of existence that the real men and women are the saints and it is only they who know what life is” (The Holy Spirit, p. 11, Father Edward Leen).

Father Leen. a great spiritual writer who died in 1956, adds: “Earnest souls are beginning to regard the saints…as men and women who have received a deep initiation into the secret of living and who are, in consequence, apt to initiate others. It is felt that they alone know while all others are but groping in a state of more or less blindness. The saint is recognized to be the one who really succeeds in finding life and is, therefore, studied chiefly as an ‘essayist on living’. They considered their highest knowledge to be…persevering contact with God.”

Take, as one example, Father Solanus Casey, who lived and worked for many years in Detroit as the door-keeper at Saint Bonaventure’s.  Although he is presently only “Blessed,” having been recently beatified in Detroit on November 18, 2017 (my wife and youngest daughter in attendance), this Capuchin priest who died in 1957 was deeply initiated into the true meaning of life. As a consequence of this initiation he had great confidence in God and a profound love for the poor and sick. A number of books have been written about his ministry to the sick (who would come to see him at St. Bonaventure’s where he was a simple porter) and the many healing miracles attributed to him (from which he got the reputation as a miracle worker). His simple life touched the lives of so many people seeking hope, healing and encouragement, and continues to do so. I have personally sought his intercession at the site of his tomb in the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit, and I know many other people who have done likewise (see solanuscenter.org). Father Solanus, pictured above, is one example of how a “Saint” shows to us the true meaning of life.

Take, as another example, the renowned and holy priest of Ars, Saint John Vianney. He died in 1859 and was canonized in 1925. He labored incessantly to restore the faith and vitality of the villagers in Ars, sometimes spending up to 18 hours a day in the confessional. He lived a very austere and mortified life. One thing we can learn from his life, in contrast to the cynicism and anti-supernaturalism of our age, is that miracles actually do occur. This saintly priest tells us in his own written words of a miracle he personally witnessed. He tells a story  about a parishioner of his who was having trouble believing the host really becomes the body of Jesus Christ at Mass. The parishioner said a sincere prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to help him believe. St. John Vianney then relates what happened as he was distributing communion:

“I do not say this happened to someone else, but that it happened to myself. At the moment this man came up to receive Holy Communion, the Sacred Host detached Itself from my fingers while I was still a good way off, and went off Itself and placed Itself upon the tongue of that man.”

And in more recent times we have the Eucharistic prodigy involving Blessed Alexandrina da Costa. Her life was one of expiatory suffering and was intimately tied to the Passion of Jesus. She lived exclusively on the Eucharist for 13 years and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 26, 2004, now himself a Saint! To understand the incredible magnitude of this Eucharistic miracle, consider for a moment that a human being would be lucky to survive even one week without water.

There is a beautiful book about her by Francis Johnston in which is revealed the revelation she received that many people would become “ardently Eucharistic” through devotion to her. Please note that she was placed in a hospital for forty days and under intense observation was observed to keep her Eucharistic fast, living only on the Bread of Life, which was her sustenance (the official report of Dr. Araujo “confirmed the prodigy as ‘scientifically inexplicable,’ [and stated] it is absolutely certain that during forty days of being bedridden in hospital [Alexandrina] did not eat or drink….”).

She died in 1955. The manner in which she predicted the supernatural decomposition of her body was observed to have occurred, and no doubt this sped up the process of her rapid beatification. If you are looking for truth, the life of Blessed Alexandrina da Costa says look to the Eucharist!

A great spiritual writer, Father John G. Arintero, tells us that “one saint is sufficient to illumine a century.” And in our present times how many of us were greatly influenced – and even returned to the Catholic faith – because of the illuminating life of Saint Pope John Paul “the Great.” It is not possible in this short note to relate how this priest, pastor, philosopher and Pope, not to mention mystic and theologian, profoundly influenced the course of the Church and world events for the better. But his impact and holiness were so huge that he has already been canonized a Saint, and there is little doubt that his encyclicals and other papal writings will greatly guide the church for years and decades to come. And what does this saint tell us?: he tells us that a major turning point in his life, in his growth in holiness, was the consecration of his life to the Virgin Mary.

Saint Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis on September 4th, 2016. And she too had a huge impact on the world through her devotion to the poor. And, like Pope John Paul II, she made and greatly valued the DeMontfort consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Additionally, she placed a high priority on the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration. She was always seen carrying a rosary. An excellent book which sets forth the nature of her mystical life, and the communications she received from Jesus and Mary, is Come Be My Light by Father Brian Kolodiejcchuk.

The great spiritual writer, Father Albert M. Weiss, says that those who “receive the saints” find a “great means of salvation.” He adds: “A people will never fall hopelessly into corruption as long as they have a single saint.”

Can we not see that the lives of the saints, with all their supernatural manifestations of grace, show us what truth really is and WHO truth really is?

The Saints are so many mirrors reflecting the life of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Photo Attribution:  The photo or drawing of Father Solanus Casey is by photographer Mohatma Gandhi under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (at Wikipedia).

ReferencesThe Holy Spirit by Father Edward Leen; Saint John Paul the Great by Jason Evert (see quote by Cardinal George on back cover); Nothing Short of a Miracle by Patricia Treece; Alexandrina: The Agony and the Glory by Francis Johnston; The Mystical Evolution by Father John G. Arintero; The Little Catechism of the Cure of Ars (TAN); and Dictionary of Saints by John Delaney.

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THE THREE MAJOR CHARACTER DEFECTS IN JANE AUSTEN’S PERSUASION

(Bath, England)

“How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been, – how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older – the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.” (Chapter Four)

The final novel penned by Jane Austen was Persuasion, a beautiful and tender love story that rests on the ebb and flow of hope and despondency until a final reconciliation is achieved in the concluding chapters and love wins out after a tremendous battle with fallen human nature. I identify in this short note three primary character defects that delayed and almost completely thwarted the union of hearts between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in loving marriage. These three major character defects in Jane Austen’s Persuasion are: Lady Russell’s poor discernment and resulting bad advice, Captain Wentworth’s pride and Anne Elliot’s “unnatural,” “forced,” or overly-cautious prudence. Anne Elliot’s culpability is significantly mitigated by the severe pressure put on her to break the engagement and the lack of formative love she received in her household growing up (which is, in itself, an underlying, likely cause of her difficulties).

LADY RUSSELL’S REALLY BAD ADVICE

I had to laugh when Lady Russell admitted to Anne in Chapter 17 that “I am no match-maker, as you well know,” and then went on to advise Anne to marry Mr. Elliot! After all, Mr. Elliot is the baddest dude in the novel and the very worse person Anne Elliot could ever marry. If there is one conclusion in the novel which is quite certain it is the fact that Lady Russell gave Anne really bad advice not to marry Captain Wentworth. Still, at the very end of the novel, there is reconciliation between Wentworth and Lady Russell which rests on the fact that Lady Russell really did love Anne and was not motivated by malice in offering her such poor advice.

Jane Austen’s glowing description of Anne and Captain Wentworth establishes quite early in the novel that they were made for each-other. Here I quote from Chapter 4.

“He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling. Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly anybody to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail. They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest: she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted.”

Yet we know that Lady Russell convinced Anne to break her engagement to Wentworth, all of which was the cause of profound suffering to Anne in the years that followed. Of significant interest, I read in one introduction to the novel the following facts pertaining to Jane Austen:

“Literary scholar Gillian Beer establishes that Austen had profound concerns about the levels and applications of “persuasion” employed in society, especially as it related to the pressures and choices facing the young women of her day. Beer writes that for Austen and her readers persuasion was indeed “fraught with moral dangers”; she notes particularly that Austen personally was appalled by what she came to regard as her own misguided advice to her beloved niece Fanny Knight  on the very question of whether Fanny ought to accept a particular suitor….”

It is therefore not surprising that Persuasion ends with the firm conclusion that Lady Russell gave Anne bad advice. I quote from Chapter 24:

“This however was what Lady Russell had now to do. She must learn to feel that she had been mistaken with regard to both [Wentworth and Mr. Elliot]; that she had been unfairly influenced by appearances in each; that because Captain Wentworth’s manners had not suited her own ideas, she had been too quick in suspecting them to indicate a character of dangerous impetuosity; and that because Mr Elliot’s manners had precisely pleased her in their propriety and correctness, their general politeness and suavity, she had been too quick in receiving them as the certain result of the most correct opinions and well-regulated mind. There was nothing less for Lady Russell to do, than to admit that she had been pretty completely wrong, and to take up a new set of opinions and of hopes (emphasis added).

There is a quickness of perception in some, a nicety in the discernment of character, a natural penetration, in short, which no experience in others can equal, and Lady Russell had been less gifted in this part of understanding than her young friend. But she was a very good woman, and if her second object was to be sensible and well-judging, her first was to see Anne happy. She loved Anne better than she loved her own abilities; and when the awkwardness of the beginning was over, found little hardship in attaching herself as a mother to the man who was securing the happiness of her other child.”

CAPTAIN WENTWORTH’S PROCRASTINATING PRIDE

A perplexing question raised by the novel is why Captain Wentworth waited so long to renew his offer of marriage to Anne? Yet, at the end of the novel Wentworth admits that his pride and resentment were a greater obstacle to reunion with Anne  than Lady Russell’s poor discernment. I quote from Chapter 23, where Captain Wentworth is speaking to Anne:

“But I too have been thinking over the past, and a question has suggested itself, whether there may not have been one person more my enemy even than that lady [Russell]? My own self. Tell me if, when I returned to England in the year eight, with a few thousand pounds, and was posted into the Laconia, if I had then written to you, would you have answered my letter? Would you, in short, have renewed the engagement then?”

“Would I!” was all her answer; but the accent was decisive enough.

“Good God!” he cried, “you would! It is not that I did not think of it, or desire it, as what could alone crown all my other success; but I was proud, too proud to ask again. I did not understand you. I shut my eyes, and would not understand you, or do you justice. This is a recollection which ought to make me forgive every one sooner than myself. Six years of separation and suffering might have been spared. It is a sort of pain, too, which is new to me. I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses,” he added, with a smile. “I must endeavour to subdue my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve” (emphasis added).

Austen lets us know that Wentworth gradually came to see the “folly” of his pride and the “madness” of his resentment which had kept him “from trying to regain” Anne.

ANNE ELLIOT’S UNNATURAL PRUDENCE

“Anne must unlearn a ‘prudent’ decision she had been persuaded to make in the past, and instead ‘learn romance’.” (Adele Kudish)

“The belief of being prudent, and self-denying principally for [Captain Wentworth’s] advantage, was [Anne’s] chief consolation, under the misery of a parting, a final parting.” (Chapter 4)

The question of Anne Elliot’s culpability for the broken engagement is a difficult one to answer, ambiguous in nature, and perhaps that is the way Jane Austen intended it to be.

It can be seen, however, from what has already been discussed that Jane Austen clearly views the break-up of Anne’s engagement to be a significant mistake. What is more difficult to determine is why Anne may have been burdened with too exacting a prudence, what one commentator described as an “excessive prudence,” and another as an “economic prudence,” and why she lacked the necessary appreciation of romantic love to balance things out. We do know that Anne’s mother was known for her economy and frugality, traits that were passed on to Anne. And one could argue that Anne’s recommendations for the retrenchment of Kellynch-Hall were so severe, so austere, that she failed to take into account her father’s inability to muster up such heroic mortification and self-denial to make the plan work. In other words, I will offer up some speculations as to why Anne was missing the mark on prudence, knowing as well that it may be the case that she was forced into such prudence in a way that diminishes her responsibility. The point, however, is to demonstrate that Anne’s “forced” prudence isn’t the ideal of moderation but is, more or less, a “self-sacrificing” prudence, a “purely defensive strategy for life,” that would forever hold Anne back from self-fulfillment and “true liberty” of soul and heart. This is why she must “learn romance” to overcome an unnatural prudence.

It is quite clear, too, that Anne Elliot is the hero of Persuasion. Anne’s remarkable display of virtue in the long years following the break-up, her heroic constancy, her perseverance, her hoping against hope, her fortitude, her profound charity to others, her “presence of mind” when tragedy strikes, her gentleness, all demonstrate that she is truly quite a remarkable and virtuous woman.

It is well know that prudence is a huge virtue to Jane Austen (as seen by a number of her novels). Thus, if Marianne Dashwood, excessive in her romantic spirit, was “everything but prudent” in Sense and Sensibility and Emma Woodhouse acted imprudently because she “was led astray by her fancy” and imagination, what are we to make of Anne Elliot who seems to be the very embodiment of prudence? In Persuasion, I shall argue, the situation is reversed and an overly-cautious or “forced” prudence becomes an obstacle to true love and happiness, so much so that Anne must “unlearn” prudence and “learn” romance (the very reverse of Marianne Dashwood’s difficulties)

Psychologically speaking, the strong influence of emotional life in a child is increasingly brought under the control of the child’s emerging rational life. In some manner, and at some point, Jane Austen seems to be suggesting that this normal process of development and integration has been interfered with in the case of Anne Elliot, accomplished perhaps too quickly or with an excessive emphasis on playing it safe, an unnatural development in need of a remedy. My point here is made plausible because Austen highlights Anne’s need for a more romantic love, for a love that is more adventurous, more imaginative and even self-seeking. “She learned romance as she grew older.” 

If indeed Anne Elliot suffers from a lack of romantic imagination and appreciation, then her impairment clearly precedes her ever meeting Wentworth, and one is justified in asking what went wrong in her normal development, something which Jane Austen characterizes as an unnatural development that will only be corrected in the years after the break-up with Wentworth, when she learns romance. But by learning romance what is the deficit that Anne is correcting?

We might remember that exercising a virtue such as prudence involves (classically speaking) choosing the middle path or golden mean between two extremes. According to Tanqueray, “a true prudence holds in check two disturbing elements: prejudice and passion. Prejudice leads us to make decisions under the influence of flimsy and preconceived notions that are liable to prove groundless or unreasonable, and passion leads us to make bad decisions under the pressure of an unbalanced emotional influence.” If Marianne Dashwood acted to her detriment under an unbalanced emotional influence, Anne Elliot, in nixing her engagement to Wentworth, appears to be guided by an “unnatural” and “forced” prudence, to use Austen’s own words.

F.W. Faber says in one of his books that “to be forever safe is to be forever feeble.” And Horace says that “sometimes we must season prudence with a touch of madness.” Anne appears to lack the romantic confidence (or is talked out of it) to take a reasonable risk in the name of love. Austen comments: “She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older – the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.” (Chapter Four). And further, in Chapter 7, the narrator says of Wentworth (mentioning specifically Anne’s “feebleness of character”):

“He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill, deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.”

It is often mentioned in the literature about Persuasion that Jane Austen feared she had created too perfect a character in Anne Elliot. But if Anne does indeed suffer from an overly-cautious, unnatural prudence, then she has constructed a mental road-block that gravely harms her chances of marrying a truly wonderful man. Of course, there is the added difficulty that Sir Walter and Lady Russell do not view a sailor boy (Wentworth) as an appropriate fit for Anne, and the politics of class struggle and “Elliot pride” surface here, and weigh heavily upon the “good” advice that will be given to Anne by Lady Russell. Therefore, I might simply argue that the prudence forced upon Anne are the rules of the established social order which she is obligated to follow.

However, and this is crucial (although again I speculate as I attempt to dig deeper), Anne Elliot suffers from the imperfection of not being adequately loved and appreciated. “She was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way; – she was only Anne” (Chapter 4). “Her father had found little to admire in her…or to excite his esteem” (4). And yes, there are people all around us who are unloved and unappreciated. And so, when love finally comes their way, is it to be expected that they may not know how to respond with love? This seems to be a difficulty with Anne Eliot: she has been so well-trained in an unnatural prudence “of giving way” that she is hesitant to respond with a more courageous love. In other words, her knowledge of love, and its inherent risks, will greatly expand in the years to come (and Anne learns much from the wonderful example of Admiral Croft and his wife).

In fact there is in Persuasion a poignant and even disturbing example of Anne’s repression within her family as related to the expression of her musical talents:

“[Anne] played a great deal better than either of the Miss Musgroves, but having no voice, no knowledge of the harp, and no fond parents, to sit by and fancy themselves delighted, her performance was little thought of, only out of civility, or to refresh the others, as she was well aware. She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; but this was no new sensation. Excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste. In music she had been always used to feel alone in the world (Chapter 6, emphasis added).

This is why I said, at the opening of this note, that Anne Elliot’s culpability for the broken engagement is significantly mitigated by the lack of formative love she received in her household growing up – which is, in itself, a likely underlying cause of her difficulties. In other words, there appears to be a close connection between Anne’s repression and her forced habit of “giving way,” making her prey to the calculations of a false prudence.  Ultimately Anne convinces herself that her decision to break off the engagement is in Captain Wentworth’s best interest and that she is doing it for him (such an overly-rationalized approach speaks to Anne’s unnatural prudence). If human prudence (and human love) failed Anne Elliot, she still retained hope, and a series of fortuitous, haphazard and lucky events gave her a second chance at love: a reminder that we are not always as much in control of our lives as we may think!

Anne’s own retrenchment will involve the passage from prudence to romance, from the repressive community of her unloving household, to the larger community where her full development as a woman can progress. Prudence is not meant to repress the passions, but rather to direct them to the good of the person. In other words, prudence is not really a virtue in-and-of itself, as if the goal of life was to be forever safe, but prudence is meant to direct the passions so that we can love passionately and at the same time love morally. In all of Jane Austen’s novels it is balance which is being urged upon us. To Jane Austen the escape from an enfeebling prudence does not involve a jump to a liberality unchecked by the just moderation of the moral virtues.

Moreover, Jane Austen makes it clear at the end of the novel that it was morally justifiable for the then nineteen year old Anne Elliot to submit in obedience to the counsel of her parent-like guide, Lady Russell, even though Anne admits that she could never give such advice in similar circumstances (23). In light thereof, Jane Austen pretty much exonerates Anne of any blame, and yet Anne does say near the end of the novel, “If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk.”

Still, if the novel seems to create a contradiction regarding Anne’s culpability in the broken engagement, however mitigated it might be, it seems pretty clear that if she could redo things there would be no hesitation in marrying Captain Wentworth (“she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement, than she had been in the sacrifice of it….”).

Finally, to what extent external circumstances such as concerns for class superiority and economic security formed a false or excessive prudence foisted upon Anne through her Father and Lady Russell must not be lost sight of. In other words there was extraordinary pressure put on Anne to break the engagement (and she was only nineteen).

The acquisition of prudence, so crucial in other novels by Austen, is seen differently in Persuasion. In Persuasion the hazards of being prudent are mapped out by Jane Austen, albeit it in a complicated and even ambiguous manner, much being left unsaid or implied in ways that are not easy to reconstruct.

CONCLUSION

Anne Elliot marries Captain Wentworth. She “gloried in being a sailor’s wife.” She fully accepts the risk that war could put her husband in harm’s way. She is now more “fixed” in “truth” and in a “knowledge of each other’s character” and “attachment.” Prudence and romance have joined themselves together in loving marriage, and “Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in Captain Wentworth’s affections,” an “overpowering happiness,” and she “was fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.”

If love is patient and kind, if love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, then what are we to make of Anne Elliot? She is “tenderness itself,” that rare saintly quality we see in a person who has endured tremendous suffering while simultaneously being exceptionally kind to her fellow man. As Anne explained herself, “God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of my fellow creatures.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I gained valuable insights from the following internet articles: “Almost Too Good for Me: The Seasoning of Anne Elliot’s Idealism” by Esther Moon; “Affective Contradictions in Jane Austen’s Persuasion” by Adele Kudish; “What Anne Knew” by Sarah Emsley; “Liberty in Jane Austen” by Katheryn E. Davis; “Persuasion: Jane Austen’s Philosophical Rhetoric” by J.L. Kastely; “Jane Austen and the Limits of Freedom” by John Lauber; and “Persuasion and Prudence: The Characterization of Anne Elliot in Persuasion” by gradefixer.

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THE PHENOMENON OF INCORRUPTIBILITY

“In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being [homo-religiosus] ….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 28)

MEEKNESS DEFUSES ANGER YIELDING A HARVEST OF VIRTUE

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)

“Take care to practice well the humble meekness that you owe to everybody, for it is the virtue of virtues which our Lord greatly recommended to us.” (St. Francis de Sales)

This discussion regarding meekness begins with the teaching of Jesus, who said: “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Of this passage Spurgeon says: “One great lesson of the gospel is to teach us to be meek—to put away our high and angry spirits, and to make us lowly in heart. Peradventure, this is the meaning of the passage— that if we will but come to Christ’s school, he will teach us the hardest of all lessons,—how to be meek and lowly in heart.” In the school of Jesus Christ, we learn the importance of meekness for living a Christian life.

Relying on Surrin, Father Faber states that “gentleness and softness were the graces our Lord [Jesus] most desired that we should copy in Himself; and certainly, whether we look at the edification of others, or the sanctification of ourselves, or of the glory our lives may give to God, we shall perceive that nothing can rank in importance before gentleness of manner and sweetness of demeanor towards others” (The Blessed Sacrament, p. 169).

Why do the meek inherit the earth? “The words [inherit the earth] may be partly allusive to the ‘kingdom of the saints of the Most High’…. They have, however, a wider and continuous fulfillment. The influence of the meek and self-controlled is in the long-run greater than that of the impulsive and passionate. Their serenity helps them to find the maximum of true joy in all conditions of life; for to them the earth is not a stage for self-assertion and the graspings of desire, but an “inheritance” which they have received from their Father” (Ellicott’s Commentary).

“Far from being weak, however, the meek possess an inner strength to restrain anger and discouragement in the midst of adversity” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). In this sense, meekness could never be considered weakness because a beatitude taught by Jesus (“Blesses are the meek”)  “is the original and transcendent synthesis of the Christian ethic or, more accurately and more profoundly, of the spirituality of the new covenant in Jesus Christ” (Saint Pope John Paul II). Simply put, the beatitude of meekness is not only a grace-filled power, but a very elevated manifestation of that power.

The real POWER of meekness lies in its capacity to defuse anger. “Meekness is particularly meritorious when practiced toward those who make us suffer; then it can only be supernatural, without any admixture of vain sensibility. It comes from God and sometimes has a profound effect on our neighbor who is irritated against us for no good reason. Let us remember that the prayer of St. Stephen called down grace on the soul of Paul, who was holding the garments of those who stoned the first martyr. Meekness disarms the violent.” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange)

Additionally, Father Garrigou-Lagrange helps us to understand the difference between the virtue of meekness and mere meekness of temperament. He states:

“Meekness, or gentleness… has as its special effect, not the endurance of the vexations of life [the special effect of the virtue of patience] but the curbing of the inordinate movements of anger. The virtue of meekness differs from meekness of temperament inasmuch as, in widely diverse circumstances, it imposes the rectitude of reason illumined by faith on the sensibility more or less disturbed by anger. Meekness of temperament is exercised with facility toward those who please us and is rather frequently accompanied by ill-temper toward others. The virtue of meekness does away with this bitterness toward all persons and in the most varied circumstances. Moreover, into a just severity that is necessary at times, the virtue injects a note of calmness… Meekness, like temperance to which it is united, is the friend of the moderation or the measure which causes the light of reason and that of grace to descend into the more or less troubled sensible appetites.”

Simply put, when we become ANGRY at someone we need to let grace-filled MEEKNESS descend or enter into that anger to produce the fruit of gentleness and self-control. Meekness, then, transforms the vice of potential inordinate anger into the virtue of meekness towards our neighbor.

“The times call for the manliness of meekness more than the false courage of violence and uncontrolled anger. We need the self-conquest of meekness more than the self-centeredness of hate and brutality. We need the meekness and humility of Christ” (Father Kilian McGowan, Your Way to God, p.57)

CONCLUSION: Are not most of us in need of POWER to control our inordinate anger and resentment? What we need, then, is the virtue of MEEKNESS. “Let us often, in practice, ask our Lord for the virtue of meekness united to humility of heart. Let us ask Him for it at the moment of Communion, in that intimate contact of our soul with His, of our intellect and heart with His intellect illumined by the light of glory and His heart overflowing with charity. Let us ask Him for it by spiritual communion that is frequently renewed and, whenever the occasion presents itself, let us practice these virtues effectively and generously” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The quotes from Father Garrigou-Lagrange are from The Three Ages of the Interior Life. It is Father Faber who mentions our need of power to live the spiritual life.

FIVE LEVELS OR GRADATIONS OF MEEKNESS: Relying on Father Garrigou-Lagrange I note five levels or gradations of meekness:

  1. The natural temperament of meekness.
  2. The human or acquired virtue of meekness, “causing the light of reason to descend into the sensibility”.
  3. The supernatural or infused virtue of meekness flowing from sanctifying grace (associated with the cardinal virtue of temperance, which “moderates the inordinate impulses of our sensible appetites”).
  4. The supernatural virtue of meekness profoundly strengthened by the Gift of Piety.
  5. The beatitude of meekness which is essentially the overflowing of # 4 in a person’s life.

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THE ROSARY IS OUR CHAIN OF PERSEVERANCE!

“The Rosary of the Virgin Mary…is a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness” (Saint John Paul II)

It’s not exactly an earth shattering revelation that we sometimes have dryness in our devotions. Sometimes God does His best purifying work in our souls during the time we are in the desert. How are we going to learn to walk by Faith (which is a theological, God-directed virtue) if we are always hankering after consolations and mystical experience? Ask Saint Mother Teresa whose “dark night” extended two decades. But she never stopped praying her Rosary.

If Saint Louis de Montfort maintains that a strong devotion to the Rosary is a sign of Predestination, consider it a strong delusion if someone should persuade you to slack off on the Rosary. The devil makes saying the Rosary a special object of repugnance, says a great spiritual writer, because of all the good the Rosary does for us. Dear God, what do we need more in these troubled times than perseverance in the Rosary!

I’m sure that when dedicated long distance runners go on a run they don’t always experience that runner’s high you read about, but that doesn’t mean a long and painful run doesn’t do them good. It is probably that long and painful run that does them the most good, preparing them to endure the Boston Marathon at its most difficult moments.

In practicing spiritual discernment consider all the great things that Saints and Popes and great spiritual writers have said about the Rosary! Consider what Mary asked of us at Fatima. The Rosary is our “chain of perseverance.” This is not the time to go light on the Rosary. Say it with special love during those times of dryness. The spiritual life is ultimately lived in the will rather than the emotions. And emotional life is beautifully purified when the will is made holy.

Consider this point ever so briefly: when you pray the Rosary you are meditating on the life of Jesus Christ (and Jesus Christ is the source of every good, every blessing, every grace).

Tom Mulcahy

Ref.  In notes published after his death, the following was said by Father Faber: “In consequence of all these blessings [from saying the Rosary], the devil makes the Rosary a special subject of temptations, weariness, contempt, and the like. Persevere in it, and it will itself be the chain of your own final perseverance.” He also calls the rosary “an instrument of power” (Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects, p. 308).  Three things to ask in our discernment are: Is this thought or suggestion from the Holy Spirit?; Or from my fallen human nature?; Or from the deceptive spirit, the Father of lies?

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A MYSTICAL EXCURSION INTO NATURE

 

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

The child easily experiences joy because she enjoys what is simple. We live in a world of the multiplicity of things and images, which causes a certain overload of life to come down upon us and impedes joy. Contact with nature can lead us back to this child-like simplicity and joy, if we learn to see anew.

Father Irala laments that many of us fail to have “clear sensations” of the beauty of the external world. “Only rarely,” he says, “do we come out into the exterior world, beautiful and joyful as it was created by God.” We are preoccupied, worried, and caught up in our own subjective world. Some people even find it difficult to put down their cell phones as they walk along a beautiful nature trail.

The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber tells this tale: “Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. ‘Yes,’ said Rabbi Elimelekh, ‘in my youth I saw that too. Later on you don’t see these things anymore.’”

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek  states that “there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go.” She says, “When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens , and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.” Father Dubay adds: “The personal inability to perceive truth and beauty is related…to a lack of wonder….It is troubling that in a universe replete with mind-boggling fascinations masses of people live dull and drab lives.” 

Dillard relates in her book that “the secret of seeing is…the pearl of great price.” For “the newly sighted,” she says, vision is pure sensation unencumbered by meaning.” Dillard mentions a girl who, born blind, underwent surgery which restored her sight. “When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw ‘the tree with the lights in it.’” Dillard’s quest was to recover this pure sensation of sight so that she too could see the tree with the lights in it.

We can relearn to receive the true “sensations” of nature’s beauty. Here are instructions given by Father Irala to improve our receptive power in the areas of sight and sound.

Sight: “For your re-education you should apply your sense of sight for about ten or twenty seconds to a landscape, an object, a detail. Keep a tranquil or almost passive attention. Take your time. Consider the object before you and no other. Pay no attention to any other idea. Let the object enter within you as it is in itself, without any special effort. Look at it the way a young child does. [Remain] loose and relaxed.”

Hearing: “Apply your hearing to a near or distant noise. Let yourself be penetrated by the sounds, as above, naturally, without mental discussion of the fact or its cause. Be a mere receiver of sound and perceive it with pleasure and relaxation.”

Dillard learned how to see like the young girl who, through her doctor, received the gift of sight. Dillard relates the following: “One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.”

The great Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, states: “The part played by the senses in the perception of beauty is even rendered enormous in us, and well nigh-indispensable…only sense knowledge possesses perfectly in man the intuitiveness required for the perception of the beautiful.” “At first,” says Father Irala, “it is not so easy to practice these fully conscious sensations with no attention at all paid to anything else. So, in your first attempts, you might find yourself thinking about the process itself, or the cause, effect, or some circumstances, instead of what you perceive. But in a few days, after a series of good tries, you will succeed in separating the pure sensation from accessory mental processes. And then you will find joy or rest in the sensation itself.”

Commenting on the healing power of nature, Saint Pope John Paul II made the following observation: “The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God.”  (John Paul II, 1990 World Day of Peace Message, no. 14.)

Have you seen the tree with the lights in it? Learning to slow down and gather in the beauty of nature with child-like simplicity will be of immense value to all of us – restorative and even transformative in its scope and power.

The beautiful fall season is upon us. Get out and enjoy the spectacular beauty of God’s creation!

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (from where I derive the title to this post); Achieving Peace of Heart by Father N. Irala; and The Evidential Power of Beauty by Father Thomas Dubay. I might add that it is well known in mystical theology that prayer becomes progressively supernatural (or tending thereto) the more simple it becomes, fusing ultimately into a simple gaze upon God Himself. It is for this reason that the “prayer of simplicity” is on the threshold of the life of supernatural prayer and contemplation, and is considered the bridge thereto.

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THREE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN MICHIGAN

“From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines…The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine…All seems beautiful to me.” (Walt Whitman)

The Mackinaw Bridge, pictured above with my nephew, Brendan, is one of the most spectacular sights to see in Michigan, but in this post I am talking about natural wonders, and, in particular, about scenic views that raise the awe factor to its highest level in Pure Michigan! Michigan has more shoreline than Florida or California, and it is not that surprising that all three of my picks are essentially associated with Great Lakes – two with Lake Superior and the other with Lake Michigan (two in the Upper Peninsula and one in the Lower).

Just last Friday I picked up my nephew at 5:45 in the morning, and we headed north up I-75 for several hours eventually reaching Mackinaw City at the tip of the Michigan mitten, and there we stopped for a few minutes to walk the shore and gander at the mighty Mackinaw Bridge (which crosses the strait where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet). Crossing the bridge and into the Upper Peninsula, we entered Saint Ignace, a town named in honor of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

From St. Ignace we headed west on M-28 for the long drive to the western end of the Upper Peninsula, passing by the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, and then the U.P.’s largest city, Marquette, named in honor of the great Catholic missionary, Father Jacques Marquette. We finally made it to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, setting up our tent about twenty-five yards from the shore of Lake Superior. The stars were so amazing that night that it felt as if we were in a planetarium!

The next day we were to be amply rewarded for our journey when we drove a few miles from our camp to the Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains. I knew I had to visit the Porcupine Mountains before I could write this post because so many people had told me about how beautiful they are. The picture below (of the Lake of the Clouds) is from our trip and speaks for itself!

With my trip now completed, here is my selection of the three most beautiful, awe-inspiring places in Michigan.

  1. Tahquamenon Falls (both the Upper and Lower Falls)

  2. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (in particular the scenic drive with its many stop and get out points)

  3. Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains

I believe these three places are three of the most stunning and awe-inspiring places you can visit in Michigan, not that there aren’t many more (but these three make the very top of my list). Here’s a picture of my daughter Bridget and myself at the Sleeping Bear Dunes (taken a few years ago).

The natural world is replete with rays of God’s infinite beauty, so get out there and enjoy God’s creation and reap all the benefits of contact with nature and its rejuvenating qualities.

“The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God.”  (Pope John Paul II, 1990 World Day of Peace Message, no. 14.)

Thomas L. Mulcahy

P.S. I have lived in Michigan most of my life and I have camped at approximately 14 State Parks located in various places on the Great Lakes of Huron, Superior and Michigan.

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A VERY BIZARRE DEVELOPMENT AT THE JOHN PAUL II INSTITUTE IN ROME

“The negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the ‘creativity’ of any contrary determination whatsoever.” (Saint John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 67)

It what can only be considered a very bizarre and incongruous occurrence, the Vatican (after firing professors loyal to Pope John Paul II’s vision of marriage and family) has recruited two professors who argue for the moral goodness of homosexual acts to teach at the John Paul II Institute in Rome (one immediately visualizes Saint John Paul II turning over in his grave!).

These two professors are Father Maurizio Chiodi and Fr. Pier Davide Guenzi. Both of these priests, apparently relying on the rationale of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, have argued for the moral goodness of homosexual acts.

Diane Montagna reports that “in a February 2019 interview with Avvenire, Fr. Guenzi argued on the basis of Amoris Laetitia that homosexual relationships can be morally good.” Guenzi said:

“Urged on by the experiences of homosexual believers today we are invited to understand how … the bond between man and woman does not exhaust all human forms of expression, even from the affective point of view.”

And Father Chiodi (who also maintains that artificial contraception can be morally justified!) stated in July of 2019:

“I would not exclude that, under certain conditions, a homosexual couple’s relationship is, for that subject, the most fruitful way to live good relationships, considering their symbolic meaning, which is both personal, relational and social. This, for example, happens when the stable relationship is the only way to avoid sexual vagrancy or other forms of humiliating and degrading erotic relationships or when it is help and stimulus to walk on the road to good relationships.”

What we see, then, is Catholic morality (via Amoris Laetitia) being turned on its head and essentially destroyed as the very things it declares to be intrinsically evil are taught to be good! Can this possibly work out well for the Church, or does it point to a moral collapse preceded by a spiritual one?

In the meantime the very things Saint John Paul II stood for, and for which his Institute was formed, are in essence being used against him. Perhaps the Institute should be renamed in favor of Pope Francis, architect of the new morality.

Or, if Pope Francis is truly interested in protecting the faithful from such clearly erroneous teachings, he should immediately intervene to stop these types of heretical moral theories from being taught to the faithful. That is precisely what a Pope is supposed to do.

Thomas L. Mulcahy

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HE KEEPS A CAREFUL WATCH OVER ALL THE MOVEMENTS OF HIS HEART

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Father Grou, a great spiritual writer, tells us that one of the means by which we attain to “true and solid virtue” is through the “mortification of the heart.” He states: “We cannot watch too much over our own heart, and all that passes there.” Grou says that to “watch carefully over the heart, to restrain its first motions,” is a “great means” to overcome our fallen human nature and its attendant evil – or at least misguided –  inclinations, and thus to keep ourselves in “peace and self-possession.” Grou advises that this “constant attention” to what is passing in our hearts “is not so difficult as we might think,” and clearly he is suggesting that there are great spiritual dividends to be obtained through this practice of purity of heart.

The Catholic spiritual practice of Purity of Heart is one of the most important spiritual disciplines we can and should make use of. The Catholic cognitive discipline of purity of heart monitors and detects disordered and evil thoughts, capturing them and deleting them as hostile to growth in holiness. Saint Paul says: “We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” -that is, obedient to the Christian law of charity (see 2 Cor. 10:5). Our goal, then, is to detect and weed out thoughts (movements of our heart) that are opposed to growth in holiness.

By the practice of purity of heart we keep a very careful watch over all the thoughts being presented to our mind and over all the affections and passions being presented to our heart. By this careful watch, we almost immediately intercept and delete the thoughts and affections which violate purity of heart. Thus, as a very simple example, should I suddenly feel the desire to gossip about someone, I check out this movement of my heart, examine it, and ultimately suppress or delete it since it violates purity of heart. Or, as another example, should I suddenly feel swelling up in my heart ill-will towards a certain person, the practice of purity of heart obligates me to take a close look at this movement of my heart, and to mortify it, and to replace it with Christian charity and forgiveness. Gradually, by steadfastly and diligently practicing purity of heart, our heart becomes cleaner and cleaner. What do we want more in our lives than purity of heart? 

Purity of heart is a mechanism of introspection whereby we carefully look at our thoughts and affections, even moment by moment, to place them under Christ’s law of charity. As soon as we observe that our mind or affections are tending in a sinful direction, we immediately mortify such thoughts or affections, giving them no chance of growth within our souls.  Its sort of like we’ve installed security software in our brain that immediately detects and deletes bad stuff (God’s given us the software and all we have to do is learn how to use it!!). 

Father Jacques Philippe, the well known spiritual writer, recommends the practice of purity of heart in his very worthwhile book, In the School of the Holy Spirit (see Appendix II beginning on page 70, and pages 40-42 ). But the two giants of our Catholic spiritual heritage who speak so highly of practicing purity of heart are Father Lallemant (in his classic The SpirituaDoctrine), and Father Grou (in Manual for Interior Souls). Both Fathers Lallemant and Grou were French and Jesuit.

Father Lallemant recommends the practice of purity of heart in conjunction with regular, sacramental confession. He states:

“For the oftener we confess, the more we purify ourselves, the grace proper to this sacrament being purity of conscience. Thus, every confession, besides the increase of habitual grace and of the gifts, imparts also a fresh sacramental grace, that is to say, a new title to receive from God  both actual  graces and the aids necessary for emancipating ourselves more and more from sin.” (Father Lallemant, The Spiritual Doctrine, II,  Chapter 6, as cited in The Mystical Evolution, pages 99-100).

What an amazing purifying tool at your immediate disposal for growth in holiness: the practice of purity of heart! Its like an ongoing, perpetual examination of conscience that keeps all the junk out of our hearts and mind. And when the junk is gone, we become, as Father Lallemant insists, more docile to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, which we previously could not hear. This is why Father Lallemant says that “purity of heart accomplishes so much” in the spiritual life.

Dear friend, take captive every thought in obedience to the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

We should practice purity of heart calmy, peacefully, without any panic and with appropriate perspective, with the ultimate goal of keeping ourselves in the peaceful presence of God as much as possible (not being too shocked that from time to time we experience some very disconcerting thoughts).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Sources: Father Lallemant, The Spiritual Doctrine...purity of heart is one of his main doctrines for growth in holiness, and he formed saints!!! Saints Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf were his students. And also Father Grou as mentioned above. Matt Maher sings, “Hold my heart up to the light” in one of his songs. That is what the practice of purity of heart is: holding our heart up to the light!

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THE REAL REASON WHY JESUS CLEANSED THE TEMPLE

 

“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves,  and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.  And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: `My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it `a den of robbers.’”  The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mark 11:15-18).

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