Author: tomlirish

SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES AND DEVOTION TO THE HOLY INNOCENTS

(THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS BY GIOTTO, CIRCA 1304)

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16)

I have to admit that I have a special fascination with obscure devotions in the Church that have largely fallen out of practice. It is like discovering a hidden mine, full of gold! After all, these children of Bethlehem – these murdered children – were the first Christian martyrs. That has to mean something. That has to mean a lot. The Church thinks so – the feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28.

Some biblical scholars have questioned whether the massacre of the Holy Innocents (as related in Matthew’s Gospel above) is more of a midrash than literal history, and yet we know from genuine historical sources that Herod was a ruthless madman who even killed his own sons. “Extrabiblical history paints a similar [Biblical] portrait of Herod; he murdered his favorite wife, three of his sons, and others who threatened his throne” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p.10). “The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod” (Catholic Encyclopedia). Scripture scholar Scott Hahn adds that Herod “slaughtered Jerusalem priests whose scriptural interpretations made him anxious, and his other sporadic purges claimed victims by the hundreds” (Joy to the World, p.138).

“The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted….” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Add to this the testimony of a great saint regarding the efficacy of this particular devotion and you have ample reasons to practice it! A gifted spiritual writer, F.W. Faber, relates the following: “The revelations of the Saints also tell us of the singular power now accorded in Heaven to these infant Martyrs, especially in connections with death-beds, and St. Francis of Sales died reiterating with marked emphasis and significance the invocation of the Holy Innocents” (Bethlehem, p.198).

Of these infant martyrs Faber states: “They were [Jesus’] companions in nativity, His mates in age and size; and though it was no slight thing to have these natural alliances with Him, by grace they were much more, for they were likenesses of Him, and they were His Martyrs” (Id). “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1258).

Faber relates that this devotion has a special relationship to Mary and to growth in the virtue of purity.

“A twofold light shines in the faces of this infant crowd, the light of Mary and the light of Jesus. They resembled Mary in their sinless purity; for even if our Lord had not constituted them in a state of grace before, their Original Sin would be more than expiated by their guileless blood, when it was shed for Him. It was a fearful font, a most bloody sacrament…. They were like Mary in their Martryrdom for Jesus, as all the Martyrs were; but they were like her also, in that their Martyrdom was as it were the act of Jesus Himself….It is only more remotely so with the other Martyrs. This is one of their distinctions. They resembled her also in their nearness to Jesus. They were among the few who were admitted into the hierarchy of the Incarnation” (Bethlehem, p. 198).

Finally, these infant martyrs remind us that meritorious suffering has a special place in a Christian’s life. Father Faber reminds us that the “law of the Incarnation is a law of suffering. Our Blessed Lord was the man of sorrows, and by suffering He redeemed the world….Calvary was not unlike Bethlehem….This same law of suffering, which belongs to Jesus, touches all who come nigh Him, and in proportion to their holiness, envelops them, and claims them wholly for itself” (The Foot of the Cross, p. 13, as edited). Pertaining specifically to these Holy Innocents, Faber states:

“These infant Martyrs represent also what must in its measure befall everyone who draws near to Jesus. Suffering goes out of him, like an atmosphere. The air is charged with the seed of crosses, and the soul is sown all over with them before it is aware. Moreover, the cross is a quick growth and can spring up, and blossom, and bear fruit almost in a night, while from its vivacious root a score of fresh crosses will spring up and cover the soul with the peculiar verdure of Calvary. They that come nearest to our Lord are those who suffer most, and who suffer the most unselfishly” (Bethlehem, p.198).

CONCLUSION: An intense, mysterious, supernatural aroma hovers over our devotion to the Holy Innocents, teaching us to “manage our sorrows” and sufferings according to “supernatural principles”. Certainly this devotion teaches us that there is “no solid peace to be found among the perishable things of this life.” This devotion seems to focus light and grace in three areas: it has a special efficacy for the dying; it helps us to grow in purity and in devotion to Mary; and finally it teaches us to value and see all our sufferings in a supernatural light. All of the Holy Innocents lived less than three years, but now they live in the glorious splendor of an untiringly joyous eternity! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and forever. Amen.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: All the quotes in the conclusion are from Faber, so you can see I am relying on him for the conclusion; and it is Faber who writes in one of his books about an “untired eternity.” Pope Benedict XVI defends the historicity of the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in his series of books, Jesus of Nazareth. See page 119: “The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted, and thus he helps us to understand the mystery of Jesus more deeply” (The Infancy Narratives, Image).

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YOU’VE REALLY HAD A WONDERFUL LIFE!

guardian_angel_clarence-1

(GEORGE BAILEY AND HIS GUARDIAN ANGEL, CLARENCE)

           “You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life”

It’s that time of year again! Time to watch one of the most meaningful movies of all time – a movie which gets more meaningful each time I watch it. I understand Frank Capra made It’s A Wonderful Life after an experience of deepening faith that would ultimately (under the influence of his wife) lead him back to the Catholic church. There is more good theology in this movie than in some theology texts!

The movie starts off with people in the town praying for George Bailey – one of the prayers is to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is through prayer that God is going to transform George Bailey’ life and show George all the good he has done in the world. In fact, just before George is about to commit suicide, he makes a short prayer to God, saying, “SHOW ME THE WAY.” It’s hard to imagine a more powerful prayer. And God hears George’s prayer and begins to unveil to him (George Bailey) the rich tapestry of his life.

Everything is accomplished through PRAYER.

The key point in the movie is that every person’s life touches the lives of many others – either for the good or bad. This is all about the solidarity that exists between human beings. Our sin hurts others, but our personal holiness and good works “put into motion powerful spiritual forces” that help out other human beings (and thus help to create a good and just society). If George Bailey hadn’t lived, Bedford Falls would have been Pottersville – a corrupt and immoral town (as George Bailey was allowed to see). When George prays for his life back, the town changes back to Bedford Falls (and the movie theater, as one example, reverts to showing The Bells of St. Mary’s, whereas in Pottersville it was a place to watch 20 show girls). We will never know this side of Heaven how much our good works and love of neighbor help out other people, but we can rest assured that they are helping out many souls. I think the guy who authored #1475 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church must have had It’s a Wonderful Life in mind when he said:

“In the communion of saints,  ‘a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.’ In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.”

George didn’t realize that through his mundane and hum-drum life in Bedford Falls, God was accomplishing much good. When the veil was lifted from his eyes, and he was allowed to see how different things would have been without him, he was filled with the deepest gratitude for all the great things in his life – most especially his family and friends.

its_a_wonderful_life-1

Let us rejoice and be thankful for all the good things God has given to us. By the way, The Bells of St. Mary’s is also a powerful movie (and my second favorite Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife).

Merry Christmas!

Tom Mulcahy

Ref. Images at Wikipedia, Public Domain, U.S.A.  See “The Catholic Vision of Frank Capra” via Google. “Puts into motion positive spiritual forces” : a phrase borrowed from Cardinal Ciappi he used in the context of Marian consecration (see CCC 1477). In his great spiritual classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Father de Caussade wrote something which applies very well to George Bailey:“Faith, piercing the superficialities, disclosed that God was accomplishing very great things [in his life].” Let us pray for a great spirit of faith.

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OVERCOMING WOUNDED FEELINGS

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

There comes a time when we get stuck in our wounded feelings, and we simply must bring them into the light and heal them.

Advent is a wonderful time to forgive and heal – as we prepare for the Prince of Peace to bring God’s forgiveness and reconciliation to the world (and to each person, in particular).

Sensitivity can be like a virtue, as in a mature sensitivity to sin, or as in sensitivity to those in need of emotional or material help. A sensitivity to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit is a pathway to great holiness. But in this note we are addressing over-sensitivity as a hindrance to spiritual growth and well-being. We are talking primarily about superficial wounds that should have been healed a long time ago, but wounded feelings gave a seemingly small hurt a much longer life than it deserved as it was magnified, day in and day out, completely out of proportion to the harm it should have caused. Hopefully, we will find a remedy to this problem!

Oh those wounded feelings – we give such power to them to become much more than they ever should have been! A great spiritual writer of keen psychological insight, F.W. Faber, states that oversensitivity manifested in wounded feelings “is the secret cause of one-half of the disedifying inconsistencies of religious people. It rules us more powerfully than any of our passions. It absorbs our character into itself, until it alone almost becomes our character.” He adds: “We behold every day into what depths of incalculable meanness it can plunge” otherwise “affectionate hearts” (Spiritual Conferences, p.230, as edited).

“Thus the mortification of it becomes one of the primary duties of the spiritual life; and the intense suffering which this causes is the ladder by which we climb higher” (p. 232). The “mortification of sensitiveness is a peculiar process. It is not a blunting…or putting to death of sensitiveness, as it is with vices. But it is a brave making use of the torture of our wounded feelings to get nearer God and kinder to men.”

“Sensitiveness affects us in various ways. We imagine offense has been intended where it was never dreamed of. It constructs entire imaginary histories upon what is often no foundation at all . It magnifies and exaggerates things. It puts the wildest construction upon innocent actions. It throws a monstrous significance into a catch phrase, and then broods upon it for years. Our mind is crowded with suspicions. We are hardly able to distinguish between what is shadow and what is substance. We forget God. We give shadows the power to harm us. We grow moody and bitter. Now, what grace, what conceivable Christ-like thing, can grow in such an atmosphere as this” (pages 233-34, as edited)?

This “morose brooding” over our wounded feelings can become “almost incurable.” The judgment is “burned into our mind” that this person has been so unkind that we simply cannot forgive him. “We have now gone very far. We have come in sight of hatred. It is possible now for us to hate. These “ugly developments of our sensitiveness” must be overcome. We must get this “ruin out of the way” (pages 234-35, as edited).

REMEDIES

Because of all the harm oversensitivity can cause to our life in general, and to our spiritual progress, it is ALL-IMPORTANT that we find the grace and strength to overcome it. Contance Hull relates that Saint Therese became overly sensitive at a very earl age secondary to her sister’s death. “She became overly-sensitive and cried easily. This would be her battle for ten years, when at fourteen, she found the grace and strength to overcome this oversensitivity and truly began to live her journey of spiritual freedom.”

The first step toward the healing of oversensitivity would seem to be an honest recognition of all the harm oversensitivity is causing in our life, together with a strong desire to overcome it (or to moderate it). In modern psychology the recognition of distorted thinking patterns is essentially curative. Our conscious thoughts, when exaggerated or magnified, become distorted and this can become the source of much unhappiness – especially for an oversensitive soul. When we learn to check these distortions, essentially keeping them down so to speak, we are on the road to recovery! This proper management of our thoughts, this “cognitive therapy,” is very helpful.

Father Faber, who lived well before the advent of cognitive behavioral therapy but seemingly anticipated its value, urges us to suffer bravely in this mortification of oversensitivity. He says: “There is abundance to mortify in all this. We must be very unsparing of ourselves. A touch will not cure the matter. We must hold the caustic firmly, and press it hard, and keep it long on the place….” We must overcome “the quickness to feel an unkindness” and the “subtlety which causes us to fancy unkind intentions when there were none.” Further, “we must check ourselves sharply whenever we have caught ourselves brooding on the matter [in our mind]” (pages 236-37, as edited).

Now in the spiritual life mortification of oversensitivity is aided by prayer and sacramental life. The call of the spiritual life is toward the love of God and neighbor. When we keep this primary call in mind – that we are under a profound obligation to love God and neighbor – it brings a proper perspective not only to all our relationships but also to all our thoughts. If to fulfill this duty we must thicken our skin a bit, and mortify our unkind thoughts, and keep a forgiving heart, all of these acts are supernaturally meritorious, causing us to grow in holiness. Let us therefore contemplate, as Faber says, “the magnificent fruits of wounded feelings when they are consecrated by grace.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I am relying primarily on Father Faber’s essay, “Wounded Feelings,” in Spiritual Conferences (TAN Books). The essay is about thirteen pages long.

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SPENDING TIME OUTSIDE IN THE BEAUTY OF NATURE DURING THE WINTER MONTHS

“The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power” (Saint Pope John Paul II)

I was out on Paint Creek Trail today, walking at a fairly brisk pace, although I stopped for a few minutes to look at the adjacent river at a point where a small rapids is created by fallen trees and other circumstances. It was somewhat cold out, around thirty-two degrees, but it wasn’t windy, but it was overcast and somewhat dreary. At one point I saw a few white-tailed deer who scampered away when they heard me coming. Suddenly, on the walk back, it began to snow! It was a beautiful, fluffy kind of snow and as I looked down the trail I could see the ubiquitous snowflakes falling gently to the ground in a panoramic, picture-like splendor! At that moment the mundane was turned into the beautiful and the ordinary into something extraordinary. I should have cried out, like Whitman, “All seems beautiful to me.” Feeling good about the moment, I even took a very rare selfie of myself!

Once again, winter is upon us here in Michigan. The trees are leafless and the amount of sunlight has drastically declined. By dinner time it seems that we are already engulfed in physical darkness. And as it gets colder it seems as if we spend most of our time indoors. Under all of these circumstances it probably is not that unusual that some of us begin to experience a type of mild depression or malaise known as “seasonal affective disorder” (a/k/a the winter blahs).

I believe it is important and helpful under these circumstances to maintain contact with the beauty of nature, and that such contact with God’s creation enhances our mental well-being and outlook.  Father Irala, in his popular book, Achieving Peace of Heart, tells us that “we must live beauty.” He maintains that we need to be “reeducated” to “receive the external world.” This priest tells us that we need to learn to let “beauty enter deep into us.” Please refer to my previous post:

Contact With Nature is Very Healing and Very Necessary …

It just so happens that a few days ago I came across a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking. In Chapter Three of that book Peale tells the story of a very popular university professor who was experiencing  radical burnout. Ultimately, a solution was designed by a member of the board of trustees to send this professor on a six month sabbatical out into the wilderness where he would live in a simple cabin and spend his time walking, fishing, doing some manual labor, and reading the Bible every day. Peale relates that the professor discovered that “outdoor living… had an immense appeal for him,” and that daily Bible reading helped him to find “faith, peace and power.” In six months, says Peale, the professor “was a new man” and a person of “compelling power.” In other words, contact with nature, and contact with the word of God, are very essential to our well-being!

Now maintaining this essential and curative contact with nature is fairly easy in spring, summer and fall, but how do we carry it out in the dead of winter? Some people head down to Florida for a while!, but many of us have to endure the cold and dark winter season.

My basic recommendation is that we should become highly cognizant of the fact that we need to maintain contact with the beauty of nature during the dead of winter. Some people ski, or snow-mobile, or do other outside activities that place them directly in the beauty of winter. But many of us look at winter as something to endure, to get through, until finally the weather becomes more bearable. If, like me, you fall into this latter category, then you run the risk of being cut off from the mental well-being contact with nature provides. Thus, it is essential that we hibernating types take positive steps to maintain contact with nature during the winter months. Here are some ideas that may help.

The other day (here I am reflecting back a few years back) it was dark and only 12 degrees Fahrenheit as I stepped outside at 6 am to get into my car, but I stuck to a ritual I have of momentarily looking up at the sky to glance at the stars. I probably spent less than 25 seconds looking up at the beauty of the firmament (yes, some days there are no stars, but most days there are!), and I then said a short prayer praising God for His Infinite Beauty, and then I got into my car and turned the heat on! But there you go: even though it was very cold I made some minimal contact with the beauty of God’s creation.

Another ritual I utilize in the winter is to open the top half of an upstairs window and to peer out meditatively – as the cold air brushes up against my face – at the sky, or at an evergreen covered with snow, or merely at the breadth of the world outside as it presents itself. The point is that this simple exercise assures me of some contact with the beauty of nature in a palpable, less attenuated, manner. Keep in  mind that the sky is an eminent (though frequently overlooked) source of beauty. Today (here again I am reflecting back) the sun was out, along with a beautiful blue sky and billowing white clouds. The sky – even in winter – can be a source of profound beauty, a reflection of God’s grandeur (and yes, I realize that there are many days when the sky is dreary and depressing, so we must take advantage of the good days!). And since the winter blues seem directly related to a lack of sunlight, be sure to get outside when the sun is shining! Sunshine makes us happy.

But most importantly (even if the sun isn’t shining): get outside! Snow is very beautiful. Look at the snow. Study its beauty. As Father Irala says, train yourself to receive in the influx of nature’s beauty. If you walk a trail in summer, why not give it a try in winter (assuming it can be safely done; I forego walking trails that are icy, preferring a crunchy kind of snow for walking, and good boots)! And when the snow falls and lands like countless ice-cycles on the barren trees, making them shine like a festival of heavenly lights, you can say in those immortal words of the poet: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Glory be to God for winter!

Tom Mulcahy

P.S. Here is a very helpful link:

5 Reasons to Spend More Time Outside — Even When It’s Cold

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OUR JOURNEY TO HOCKING HILLS

(A PANORAMIC VIEW OF ASH CAVE TAKEN DURING OUR TRIP TO HOCKING HILLS)

“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” (Saint John Paul II)

If you were to ask someone in Michigan – especially a kid or teenager – what their favorite place in Ohio is it is highly likely that the answer will be Cedar Point (the amusement park located on a peninsula of Lake Erie in Sandusky). How many times have I been to Cedar Point! But in this post I would like to bring to your attention another amazing place to visit in Ohio, namely, Hocking Hills, which is located about an hour’s drive southeast of Columbus. Frankly, it’s hard to believe (until very recently) that I had never heard of this incredible place!

“The Hocking Hills is a deeply dissected area of the Allegheny Plateau in Ohio, primarily in Hocking County, that features cliffs, gorges, rock shelters, and waterfalls. The relatively extreme topography in this area is due to the Blackhand Sandstone (so named because of Native American graphics on the formation near Newark, Ohio), a particular formation that is thick, hard and weather-resistant, and so forms high cliffs and narrow, deep gorges” (Wikipedia).

So, feeling a sort of urgency to visit Hocking Hills, I recruited my nephew, Brendan, to drive with me for an overnight camping trip to Hocking Hills State Park. We left early on the morning of October 14, packing extra blankets for the cold night ahead, along with our normal camping gear. After crossing into Ohio from Michigan on I-75 south, we passed by Toledo and made our way to Findlay, Ohio where we  exited the freeway and hopped on US-23 towards Carey, Ohio, where we briefly stopped to visit  the National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, where a famous statue of Mary is located to the right of the main altar. US-23 took us into Columbus, Ohio’s Capital, and from there US-33 took us into Hocking Hills.

At Hocking Hills State Park we put up our tent and then walked over to nearby Rose Lake. Here is a photograph I took of this beautiful, seemingly pristine lake (which is actually man-made), preceded by a picture of Brendan standing in front of our tent.

Now here is the main point I want to bring to your attention about Hocking Hills – that there is no lack of adventure in this wonderland of gorges, rock shelters and waterfalls! But be careful, for there are hazards in traversing and hiking these marvelous venues. The seven main attractions at Hocking Hills, which include a combination of cliffs, gorges, waterfalls and caves (and trails for hiking) are:

  1. ROCKHOUSE

  2. CONKLES-HOLLOW

  3. OLD MAN’S CAVE

  4. HEMLOCK BRIDGE AND WHISPERING CAVE

  5. CEDAR FALLS

  6. ASH CAVE, AND

  7. CANTWELL CLIFFS

On the first day of our trip we drove to nearby Cedar Falls, and from there we hiked a decent distance on the Upper Gorge Trail over to Old Man’s Cave. Here is a professional photograph of Cedar Falls taken by Thomas Ramsey in July of 2008 (full attribution below). There wasn’t nearly as much water during our visit there in October.

And here’s a picture I took of Old Man’s Cave (be sure to stay on the designated pathway or you could be seriously injured).

The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast, packed up our tent, and then proceeded to visit Ash Cave, Conkles Hollow, and the Rock House. We wanted to visit Cantwell Cliffs but we ran out of time. Immediately below is a professional photo of Ash Cave followed by a picture of Brendan at the entrance to Conkles Hollow, which is purported to have the “highest cliffs in the area,” with beautiful scenic views along the lower and upper trails.

Our final destination in Hocking Hills was the Rock House – which was pretty amazing!  It is “a tunnel-like corridor situated midway up a 150-foot cliff of Blackhand sandstone.” Here is a picture I took of the inside of the Rock House, although there are some stunning views on the outside as well as you follow the designated trail (the first picture below is Brendan at the entrance way to the trail).

If you are looking for a camping trip with plenty of adventure, Hocking Hills State Park is highly recommended. If you love the outdoors, and contact with the beauty and majesty of God’s creation, you are in for a wonderful time. But once again, be safe!

Tom Mulcahy

Photo Attributions: The photo of Cedar Falls taken by Thomas Ramsey in July of 2008 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The photo of Ash Cave is in the Public Domain per Wikipedia.

P.S. You can obtain an excellent map of the Hocking Hills area, along with trail maps on the back, at the camp office.

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THE PILGRIMS’ JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF FREEDOM OF RELIGION

(THE MAYFLOWER IN PLYMOUTH HARBOR BY WILLIAM HALSALL)

“The dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties were many, but not invincible… their ends were good and honorable… and therefore they might expect the blessing of God.” (William Bradford)

The Pilgrims had left England in order to freely practice their faith in the Netherlands. But then they decided to make their way to the “New World,” where they felt they would have a better opportunity to preserve their religious identity and customs. From England they left on two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. Approximately three hundred miles out the Speedwell began to leak, so both ships turned back and docked in Plymouth, England! Some of the ships’ passengers, apparently exasperated, decided to call it quits and stayed in England. Everyone else boarded the Mayflower on one of the most historic journeys ever taken, arriving in Cape Cod Bay in 1620! It was these Pilgrims who celebrated the first “Thanksgiving” in November of 1621 with the Wampanoag Indians in gratitude for the harvest.

The Pilgrims’ difficult journey to America teaches us a deep spiritual lesson. We are all travelers here on earth journeying to the eternal shores of Heaven. Whatever obstacles we may encounter, however difficult they may be, we cannot let them prevent us from “advancing towards our destination” – Heaven.  “All the masters of the spiritual life agree in this maxim, that not to advance is to fall back” (Father Lallemant). Thus, we must continue to move forward, like a traveler, not stopping until we have reached the end of our journey and are “safely home” in the Father’s house.

Father Garrigou-Lagrange adds this observation regarding our growth in charity:  “…the Christian on earth is a traveler, viator, who is advancing spiritually toward God. His spiritual advancement is made by more and more perfect acts of love, “steps of love,” as St. Gregory says. We must conclude from this that charity on earth can and should always increase, otherwise the Christian would cease in a sense to be a viator; he would stop before reaching the end of his journey.” “I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

FREEDOM OF RELIGION

The Pilgrims journeyed to America yearning for religious freedom. These Pilgrims endured tremendous hardships and significant risks in order to freely practice their faith. They teach us an incredibly important lesson about the importance of religious liberty, and our concurrent obligations to protect such a treasured right.

In 1791, just over a 150 years after the Pilgrims made their journey, and about three years after the ratification of the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights was enshrined in that same Constitution. Of the ten amendments constituting the original Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment guarantees the “free exercise” of religion, and prevents the government from establishing any sort of religion. The right to freely practice one’s religion is therefore a hallmark right of American democracy.

The Pilgrims, who journeyed to America in search of religious freedom, remind us that the right to practice our Catholic faith cannot simply be taken for granted. Many Christians in the United States have experienced an erosion of their religious liberties in recent years, this as emerging secular ideologies gain momentum in the culture and seek to impose their version of rightness on Christians. Many Christians have essentially lost their right – in the public square – to express their faith beliefs on important moral issues for fear of reprisal, ridicule and even losing their jobs. We have seen, as well, various attempts to force Christians to do things that fundamentally violate their religious beliefs. Finally, there is a growing concern about censorship of conservative viewpoints – including Christian ones – on social media.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year let us say a prayer of gratitude for our religious liberties. Let us learn from the Pilgrims that we may have to face hardships in order to protect our precious Catholic faith and our Constitutional rights. May God give us the courage and perseverance to do so as we advance the Kingdom of God.

AN ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATION

A pressing and related issue is whether American Democracy can survive in a post-Christian era? In a recent article in The Catholic Thing, entitled “Post-Christian America?”, Gunnar Gundersen offers this assessment:

“We tend to discuss the religious state of America the same way we do social fads. Like powdered wigs or VHS, we will just kind of move on – society will just forget. America will experience Christianity fatigue.

But Christianity is not a theory – it is an encounter with a Person – the Alpha and the Omega. Christ is the end of all things. It is not possible to just move on once you have accepted Him.

As Pope Benedict XVI points out in Spe Salvi, a society that rejects Christ does not simply move on. Rather, this kind of society, echoing Kant, must be in opposition to Christ. So instead of post-Christian, a society that has rejected Christianity, must necessarily become anti-Christian: ‘There is no doubt, therefore, that a ‘Kingdom of God’ accomplished without God – a kingdom therefore of man alone – inevitably ends up as the ‘perverse end’ of all things as described by Kant [reign of the Anti-Christ]: we have seen it, and we see it over and over again’ (quoting Spe Salvi).”

These are important insights to ponder and reflect upon. The question that arises is what happens to a nation, once blessed by the Gospel, when it then chooses to reject it?

Tom Mulcahy, J.D.

References: The historical facts regarding the Pilgrims are from various internet sources.

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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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