Month: March 2019

JESUS PROPHESIED TWO JUDGMENTS (ONE OF WHICH HAS ALREADY BEEN FULFILLED)

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THE PROPER MANAGEMENT OF TOXIC EMOTIONS IN JANE AUSTEN’S SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

“Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in every thing: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent.” 

“The prudent carefully consider their steps” (Proverbs 14:15)

The proper management of toxic emotions is the central theme of Jane Austen’s much loved novel, Sense and Sensibility. In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, the psychologist, gives us her version of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by comparing and contrasting the romantic lives of two sisters, Marianne and Elinor. Acclaimed novelist Margaret Drabble surmises that one of the reasons Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility was in response to the prevailing “cult” of the “Sentimental Novel” and the “dangerous emotions it expressed and encouraged.” These popular novels “tended to elevate ‘feeling’ above reason” and were given to “sudden passions, fits of weeping and fainting, and acts of wild generosity.” In Sense and Sensibility Marianne represents this sort of uncontrolled emotionalism, and her older sister, Elinor, by way of contrast, demonstrates that emotional life, properly guided by reason or rational life, greatly assists in negating self-destructive conduct and living a happier, more fulfilling life. We are not talking here about a sort of Platonic superiority of reason over emotions, but of the proper integration of the two for a happy life, which is the happy situation for both Elinor and Marianne at the end of the novel.

Theologically speaking – and Austen will bring God and religion into the equation very briefly at the end of Sense and Sensibility – the beautiful emotions God has given us work tremendous good in our lives when they are under the guidance of our rational and spiritual faculties. A child lives his life primarily on an emotional level, but to mature he must gradually bring his emotional life under the control of right reason and spiritual life. We know very well that letting our emotions flow freely can be psychologically healing –  as in sharing our emotions and feelings with a friend or in therapy. But in a different context unregulated emotional life can be very damaging. In this sense if emotional life is not brought under the control and guidance of rational and spiritual life it can become a tyrant – and, in such circumstances, anger or sadness can even lead to violence or other destructive conduct. Take a look at Marianne Dashwood. What is the outcome of her massive, unchecked emotionalism?: – she nearly dies of mental and physical maladies occasioned by her grief over the handsome but duplicitous Willoughby.

Margaret Drabble comments: “It is in the portrayal of Marianne’s sufferings…that we reach the heart of the novel’s power, and find ourselves face to face with the conflict between emotion and control. [Marianne] suffers more intensely than any other Austen heroine. [Austen’s] description of the first, psychosomatic broken heart illness is particularly vivid and realistic. We learn of Marianne wandering restlessly from room to room, her deathlike paleness, her choking burst of tears, her almost screaming with agony, her hysterical nervous fever, her inability to eat. The psychological details of her illness are extremely convincing. This is not a distressed heroine from a sentimental novel; it is an observed and felt portrait” (as edited).

By way of contrast it would be a mistake to think of Elinor merely as an unimpassioned stoic who spurns emotional influence in favor of a calmer life. This is not how Jane Austen portrays her. Of Elinor Austen says:

“Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart;—her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.”

Austen tells us that Elinor’s feelings were strong, but she knew how to govern them. This statement of Austen is essentially the whole meaning of the novel. It is the lesson Marianne will learn only by way of the most painful of purifications, from which she essentially emerges a new woman, with a deeper understanding of herself and life.

And to demonstrate Elinor’s deep emotional life, we come to one of the most emotional scenes in all of literature, where Austen describes Elinor’s reaction upon suddenly learning that Edward had not married Lucy and was free to marry Elinor:

“Elinor could sit it no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease. Edward, who had till then looked any where, rather than at her, saw her hurry away, and perhaps saw—or even heard, her emotion; for immediately afterwards he fell into a reverie, which no remarks, no inquiries, no affectionate address of Mrs. Dashwood could penetrate, and at last, without saying a word, quitted the room, and walked out towards the village—leaving the others in the greatest astonishment and perplexity on a change in his situation, so wonderful and so sudden;—a perplexity which they had no means of lessening but by their own conjectures.”

“But Elinor,- how are her feelings to be described? From the moment of learning that Lucy was married to another, that Edward was free, to the moment of his justifying the hopes which had so instantly followed, she was every thing by turns but tranquil. But when the second moment had passed, when she found every doubt, every solicitude removed, compared her situation with what so lately it had been,- saw him honourably released from his former engagement,- saw him instantly profiting by the release, to address herself and declare an affection as tender, as constant as she had ever supposed it to be,- she was oppressed, she was overcome by her own felicity; and happily disposed as is the human mind to be easily familiarised with any change for the better, it required several hours to give sedateness to her spirits, or any degree of tranquillity to her heart.”

We must remember, too, that Elinor also had suffered from a broken heart, not only from her knowledge of Edward’s secret engagement to Lucy, but also from the direct communication that Edward had married Lucy (which turned out to be mistaken). But, rather than let her emotions tailspin into a nervous breakdown, she maintained her “composure of mind,” and was the “comforter of others in her own distress,” despite immense personal suffering and the inability of “openly showing that I was very unhappy.” Under all these distressing circumstances Elinor remained “mistress of myself.”

Marianne’s redemption and cognitive rehabilitation comes about through introspection and valuable self-knowledge that causes her to see the rightness of Elinor’s conduct in comparison to her own. This is Marianne speaking in a confessional, remorseful tone near the end of the novel:

“My illness has made me think — It has given me leisure and calmness for serious recollection. Long before I was enough recovered to talk, I was perfectly able to reflect. I considered the past; I saw in my own behaviour since the beginning of our acquaintance with him last autumn, nothing but a series of imprudence towards myself, and want of kindness to others. I saw that my own feelings had prepared my sufferings, and that my want of fortitude under them had almost led me to the grave. My illness, I well knew, had been entirely brought on by myself, by such negligence of my own health, as I had felt even at the time to be wrong. Had I died, it would have been self-destruction. I did not know my danger till the danger was removed; but with such feelings as these reflections gave me, I wonder at my recovery, — wonder that the very eagerness of my desire to live, to have time for atonement to my God, and to you all, did not kill me at once. Had I died, in what peculiar misery should I have left you, my nurse, my friend, my sister! — You, who had seen all the fretful selfishness of my latter days; who had known all the murmurings of my heart! — How should I have lived in your remembrance! — My mother too! How could you have consoled her! — I cannot express my own abhorrence of myself. Whenever I looked towards the past, I saw some duty neglected, or some failing indulged. Everybody seemed injured by me…. Here ceased the rapid flow of her self-reproving spirit; and Elinor, impatient to sooth, though too honest to flatter, gave her instantly that praise and support which her frankness and her contrition so well deserved.”

And at the very end of the novel Jane Austen narrates the conclusion of Marianne’s remarkable transformation into a prudent, mature woman:

“Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another! — and that other, a man who had suffered no less than herself under the event of a former attachment, whom, two years before, she had considered too old to be married — and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat!

But so it was. Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting — instead of remaining even for ever with her mother, and finding her only pleasures in retirement and study, as afterwards in her more calm and sober judgment she had determined on — she found herself at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village.”

CONCLUSION: The inter-relatedness between emotional life (sensibility) and rational life (sense) is the great theme of Sense and Sensibility. Simply put, the proper regulation of emotional life produces well-being and happiness. Left unchecked, excessive sensibility is a sure prescription for disaster as Austen demonstrates through Marianne. But sensibility, properly integrated with sense – that is to say with reason – directs the passions and emotions to be guided by right reason. Marianne and Elinor can teach us a lot about the meaning of life, and the path to emotional well-being, if we take the time to study their character development. Marianne’s mind and heart were sabotaged by her excessively romantic spirit, and her healing came through the profound discovery or realization that she had deceived herself about the true nature of love. The mistake made by so many of the interpreters of Sense and Sensibility is to say that Marianne represents sensibility and Elinor sense. In actuality, Jane Austen shows us that Elinor represents both sense and sensibility, and this too is the happy situation for Marianne at the end of the novel (she, too, now embodies sense and sensibility). By way of her transformation, Marianne did not lose the ability to love passionately, but rather she gained the knowledge to do it prudently and virtuously. “Marianne,” says Austen, “could never love by halves, and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband as it had once been to Willoughby.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

 

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THE IRISH MADONNA AND A SAINT PATRICK’S DAY MIRACLE

The beautiful picture you are looking at is known as “The Irish Madonna of Hungary.” The portrait itself is from Ireland, but it was brought to Hungary by an Irish priest, Bishop Lynch, who was fleeing English persecution in Ireland around the year 1652. Bishop Lynch worked for ten years among the faithful in Hungary, and just before he was about to return to Ireland he fell ill and died, bequeathing  on his deathbed the portrait in question to the Bishop of Gyor in Hungary who hung the painting in the Cathedral of Gyor. The awesome miracle I am about to discuss involves this picture.

The miracle in question did in fact occur on March 17, 1697 (St. Patrick’s Day) while “thousands were attending Holy Mass in the Cathedral of Gyor” (the year 1697 is highly relevant because in 1697 all priests were expelled from Ireland).

Suddenly “the eyes of the Madonna [in the picture above] began to shed tears and blood which ran down the canvas to the image of the sleeping Jesus. The Irish Madonna was weeping for her suffering children [in Ireland]. The people who had been attending [Mass], as well as those summoned to witness the miracle, took turns in gathering around the portrait while the priests repeatedly wiped the face of the Madonna with a linen cloth that is still preserved in the Cathedral. The miracle continued for more than three hours.”

Every lawyer knows the value of credible witnesses! Here then we see that this miracle was witnessed by a whole contingent of extremely credible witnesses. Joann Carroll Cruz relates the following: “Before long not only Catholics, but also Protestants and Jews flocked to see the miracle. Thousands witnessed the event, and many of these gave testimony of what they saw. A document signed by a hundred people bears the signatures of the governor of the city, its mayor, all its councilmen, the bishop, priests, Calvinist and Lutheran ministers as well as a Jewish rabbi. All volunteered their signatures to the document stating they had witnessed an undeniable miracle.”

Our Lady of the Irish Madonna of Hungary, pray for us!

Saint Patrick, Patron of Ireland, pray for us!

Thomas L. Mulcahy

 

Reference: For this note I am relying on pages 130-132 of Joan Carroll Cruz’s book, Miraculous Images of Our Lady (TAN), as edited.

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THREE GRAND HELPS IN THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE FOR OUR SOULS

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          “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

I keep on thinking during this Lent that I want to draw closer to Christ crucified. I want to detach myself from petty and peripheral things, as one writer said, and draw closer to Jesus crucified. Saint Francis de Sales tells us that even some small devotion to Jesus’ passion is filled with special graces, so I want to draw closer to the Lord who died and gave his life for me (Galatians 2:20). Even just to sit or kneel and simply look at the crucifix with love and gratitude “does a good work in our souls.”

I once came across some very powerful notes of Father F.W. Faber (an acclaimed “master in mystical theology” according to Catholic Encyclopedia) from the second to last homily he ever preached (which was during Lent).  He first preached about the importance of penance and then he mentioned three grand helps in the spiritual battle for our souls.

In the homily he mentioned three grand helps,” the last of which, faith in hell, he lays incredible importance on – and this was in 1863. His point is that loss of belief in hell leads to laxity and spiritual death. Thus, a great safeguard against going to hell is belief in its existence, and that is his point. What’s interesting is that Jesus did not avoid telling us about hell. The key point: faith in hell is a sure deterrent from going there. When Saint Faustina was shown hell, she mentioned that so many of its occupants hadn’t believed in hell (Diary, 741).

Here is the note (by Faber):

“I would urge upon you the three grand helps, and not helps only, but facilities also, of penance. 

      
                               1.     Continual remembrance of our sins. 

                               2.    Continual remembrance of His [Jesus’] Passion. 

                               3.    Continual remembrance of an undoubting faith in Hell.”

With respect to the third point, Father Faber states:

“The devil’s worst and most fatal preparation for the coming of Antichrist is the weakening of men s belief in eternal punishment. Were they the last words I  might ever say to you, nothing should I wish to say to you with more emphasis than this, that next to the thought of the Precious Blood there is no thought in all your faith more precious or more needful for you than the thought of Eternal Punishment.“  (Fourth Sunday in Lent, 1863; this was the last occasion but one on which Father Faber preached; from: Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects, p.23)

These profound thoughts of a very great spiritual writer deserve a moment’s meditation.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A. 

P.S. I certainly believe that some of the grave problems the Church is presently experiencing are related to a loss in the belief in eternal punishment. A priest who really does not believe anyone goes to hell is certain to tend towards the relaxation of morality and doctrine.

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GROWTH IN SELF-KNOWLEDGE AS A KEY TO UNDERSTANDING JANE AUSTEN’S PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

                            “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813, and it seems now to be a truth universally acknowledged that it is one of the greatest novels in English literature. I understand, however, that the first draft of the story, entitled First Impressions, was promptly rejected for publication without even being read! The rewrite of the story proved to be a rather worthwhile endeavor, and that is a lesson in itself about perseverance. And Pride and Prejudice is a story about perseverance. After all, Elizabeth and Darcy did end up getting married despite all the obstacles they themselves presented to such a union! I suggest in this short note that there are Christian elements in Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s joint journey to self-discovery, enlightenment and love.

On one level, Pride and Prejudice is a comical masterpiece as the preposterous Mrs. Bennett explores ways to find husbands for her five daughters, while her reclusive husband provides humorous commentary about his rather ridiculous and zany wife. And the farcical clergyman, Mr. Collins, and his devotion to Lady Catherine De Bourgh, has that mark of brilliant – even caustic –  British humor! The humor in Pride and Prejudice is worth the price of admission, and Jane Austen’s wit and satire are part of her literary genius.

But clearly Pride and Prejudice is also a novel about rational life, the powers of observation, and the acquisition of true virtue. Like the British philosophers, Jane Austen placed a high value on the power of observation (sense perception) and the corresponding value judgments that fill the tabula rasa (intellectual assessment and intuition). The human difficulty presented in the novel is poor discernment, or more precisely rash judgments, and I do not think it would be unfair to call Pride and Prejudice a literary primer on the importance of good discernment which, in the field of human relationships, takes time. Overcoming the pitfalls of poor discernment and contorted first impressions are the keys to success and happiness in Pride and Prejudice (and the key to understanding Jane Austen’s epistemology, whatever it may be, is to see it clearly involves a deeper, truer knowledge of self).

Let me add, parenthetically, that it is not necessarily the rightness or wrongness of the first impression that is crucial, but rather the inadequacy of such a truncated view. For example, it is not that Elizabeth’s first impression of Darcy was wrong (he was, in fact, rude at the ball ), but rather that it only showed her a very thin veneer of his true character, whereas Elizabeth’s first impression of Wickham was clearly flawed because she was too easily influenced by appearances. In Darcy’s case there is not only a flawed first impression of Elizabeth at the ball (flowing from his arrogance and sense of superiority), but even more problematic a failure to discern how he has hurt her by his rude conduct. In this sense Darcy lacks insight into his own deficient character, and therefore the rest of the novel is essentially a journey of self-discovery for him (as it is for Elizabeth as well, who was so put off by Darcy’s rudeness but yet so easily deceived by Wickham’s charm and affability).

I certainly do not intend to call Pride and Prejudice a religious novel (as I would, for example, call Jane Eyre, where prayer is seen as foundational to change), but it clearly is a novel about growth in virtue and love through a deeper knowledge of self and confession of one’s faults, so it clearly is a novel with spiritual overtones. Jane Austen was a novelist, and not a theologian, but it would be a mistake to think that she lacked theological formation (and, yes, everyone knows that Jane Austen’s father was an Anglican Vicar!).

Let me state from the beginning that the superficial characters in Pride and Prejudice are those who lack introspection and self-examination and therefore fail to overcome their defects. These characters – often comical and farcical and even tragic – lead highly external lives and avoid self-introspection (think of Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins). These characters lack growth in virtue because they desire not to examine and correct their faults.

Let us turn now to Jane Austen. Although Pride and Prejudice is not a religious novel – and one might rightly call it a secular novel – it appears quite clear that Ms. Austen lived a religious life. As Michael Giffen points out in his book, Jane Austen’s Religious Imagination:

“We cannot understand Austen’s life, or her novels, apart from religion, Anglicanism. While it may seem foreign to us the Austen household would have gathered to say Morning and Evening prayers daily. She would have read and heard all the Psalms once a month, most of the Old Testament once a year, and most of the New Testament twice a year. She wrote intercessory prayers designed to be read out. She cherished her copy of A Companion to the Altar [which she used] to prepare for Holy Communion” (as edited).

A biographer of Jane Austen adds: “Jane Austen’s religion… is an element in her life of the highest significance and importance. The Austen reticence kept her from ever talking much about it. But the little she did say, and what her intimates said about her, show that she grew up to be deeply religious. She actively practiced her faith, and her moral views were wholly, if unobtrusively, determined by the dictates of the Christian religion as interpreted by her church”( A Portrait of Jane Austen by David Cecil, Penguin Books).

Here is an excerpt from a prayer written by Jane Austen:

“Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our hearts, as with our lips. Thou art every where present, from thee no secret can be hid. May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our thoughts on thee, with reverence and devotion that we pray not in vain.

Look with mercy on the sins we have this day committed, and in mercy make us feel them deeply, that our repentance may be sincere, & our resolutions steadfast of endeavouring against the commission of such in future. Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of temper and every evil habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures, and the danger of our own souls.”

Finally, Professor Stovel of The University of Alberta informs us that Jane Austen admired the sermons of Bishop Thomas Sherlock, as seen from a letter she wrote which is quite revealing:

“On the other hand, Jane Austen admired the tough-minded sermons preached by Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London, to an audience of lawyers at the Temple Church: ‘I am very fond of Sherlock’s Sermons, prefer them to almost any’ (Letters, 406).  One of Sherlock’s sermons, for example, takes as its text Psalms 19, verse 12: ‘Who can understand his errors?  Cleanse thou me from secret faults’; Sherlock explains that the deadliest faults are those secret ones that result from self-ignorance, habit, or simply a failure to reflect about the consequences to others of one’s own actions, and he points out that the general petitions of The Book of Common Prayer cover just such faults (142-65).”

Pride and Prejudice – from a spiritual perspective – highlights this process of the purgation of our hidden and secret faults through self-examination, painful humiliations and confession – all leading to a truer knowledge of self and to growth in moral goodness, and ultimately to a deeper capacity to love. Here is Elizabeth’s confession:

She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. — Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! — Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.” (Chapter 36)

And here is Darcy’s confession:

I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoiled by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I owe you! You taught me a lesson hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.(Chapter 58)

From the point of view of Christian spirituality, growth in self-knowledge through the identification and correction of one’s faults (often hidden by self-deception) is one of the most important steps in the spiritual journey. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, explains how important it is to spend time in the “cell of self-knowledge” in order to grow in holiness. And another great spiritual writer says: “No wonder that reliable self-knowledge is rare, when so few take pains to acquire it…All supernatural principles and all religious manliness are based on genuine, reliable self-knowledge. Give that conclusion leave to do its work in your soul, and you will see what a change it will bring about!” (F.W. Faber, Spiritual Conferences). This idea deserves to be explored further from the specific point of view of Anglican spirituality.

What an enormous change genuine self-knowledge brought about in the lives of Elizabeth and Darcy! Humility is a foundational virtue in Christianity that counteracts pride (“God exalts the humble”), and it is humility that softened the hearts of Elizabeth and Darcy and made them more capable of realizing their profound love for each other. Moreover, the confession of one’s faults is a quasi-religious act closely associated with Christianity. As Julie Rattey observes in an essay on Jane Austen’s literary spirituality, “The famous conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth near the end of Pride and Prejudice…is as much a confession of sins as it is a profession of love.” In short, who can fail to see the themes of repentance and redemption in Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s mutual confessions? And often overlooked is Darcy’s prayer for God’s blessings upon Elizabeth at the most crucial moment in the novel, there at the very end of Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth, the one he wrote to her after her rejection of his marriage proposal.

As a final point, Jane Austen specifically highlights Elizabeth’s exceptional growth in holiness at the very end of the novel. In the second to last paragraph of the final chapter we read that Lady Catherine, “extremely indignant” of Darcy’s marriage, sent a letter to Darcy that was “very abusive” of Elizabeth. But we read, amazingly, that Elizabeth prevailed upon Darcy “to overlook the offence, and seek a reconciliation,” until finally Lady Catherine’s “resentment gave way.” This is the happy ending to Pride and Prejudice, an act of profound Christian charity by Elizabeth, giving rise to greater well-being in the community. How much good would we do in our own lives if we didn’t cling so tightly to the injustice of having been offended and chose instead – like Elizabeth –  to overlook the offense? There is a lesson here of profound spiritual importance.

CONCLUSION: We can certainly conclude that the journey to greater self-knowledge and enlightenment – as demonstrated by the novel’s protagonists, Elizabeth and Darcy – is a major theme in Pride and Prejudice.  A more remote conclusion – which seems justified – is that Jane Austen’s Anglican faith strongly influenced her description of the moral development of Elizabeth and Darcy. There are significant elements in Pride and Prejudice that mirror the Christian understanding of growth in virtue through growth in self-knowledge, related especially to painful but purifying humiliations and the confession and extirpation  of one’s hidden faults. Jane Austen grew up in a world permeated by Anglicanism, and it probably was not on her mind to preach Christianity to the choir. Moreover, it would have been awkward for her to mix her biting and sardonic humor with Christian sentimentalism. She seems, rather, to use the theme of moral development to express her Christian beliefs. We see, then, that the healing of pride and prejudice is made possible by a greater openness to self-examination and corresponding acts of humility, all of which leads to growth in charity, to a fuller life, and in Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s case, to a loving marriage that will touch the lives of many other people.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: In addition to the sources mentioned in the note, see the following internet article: “The Theology of Jane Austen” by Guy McClung. Further, there are a number of internet articles on the theme of self-knowledge in Pride and Prejudice that were helpful.

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MEEKNESS IS THE VIRTUE OF VIRTUES!

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7)

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

Here we are in Lent and we are looking for ways to overcome our impulsiveness and to grow in holiness. Saint Francis de Sales, a doctor of the Church renowned for his gentleness of spirit, advises us to “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.” A Lenten resolution to curb our times of anger by making humble acts of meekness is certain to do a good work in our soul! The powerful role meekness plays in the spiritual life is often underestimated. If anger is a cross in your life, meekness will teach you to carry it with charity.

Our discussion regarding meekness therefore 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.

A scholar of Saint Francis de Sales, Alexander T. Poceto, O.S.F.S., PH.D, offers the following rather amazing insights regarding the relationship of meekness or gentleness to God Himself:

“We should review in a cursory manner how greatly Francis de Sales cherished and valued the virtue of gentleness and the great importance it has in his spirituality. The French word he uses for this virtue is douceur or suavité. Unfortunately the word “douceur” is frequently translated as “sweetness” or “meekness.” Neither of these, in most instances, appropriately captures the meaning which the saint desires to convey. It is very revealing to note how the saint views the Incarnation. He describes it as the perfect communication of gentleness: ‘This supreme Gentleness (Douceur) was also so perfectly communicated outside of the Trinity that the created nature and the divinity, while keeping their own properties, were nonetheless so joined together that they were one sole person.’ So the Incarnation is conceived by the saint as God having communicated to us Gentleness itself. For him, the essence of the God-man or the Word made flesh is characterized by gentleness. This idea appears also in the Introduction to a Devout Life, where Francis, after the manner of St. Augustine, urges the devout person to invoke God as ‘O Ancient Gentleness! (O douceur ancienne). Why did I not savor you sooner!’” 

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 diffuse 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.

P.S. It is important to note that Father Garrigou-Lagrange mentions that the deepening of meekness in our life is the prelude to a higher spiritual life (see “gradations of meekness” below. He says, “Supernatural meekness prepares for contemplation.”

Image: Christ Carrying the Cross by El Greco (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: The quotes from Father Garrigou-Lagrange are from The Three Ages of the Interior Life. The article by Alexander T. Poceto, O.S.F.S., PH.D, entitled, “The Sternness of the Gentle Francis,” is available online.

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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