Sunday, December 21, 2014

Demographic Gauges

It's not just that we live in a democracy and in a capitalist economy that causes us to care about what people in general think about things, despite the inner-voice of our Christian consciences that tells us that the world must hate us. (Jn 15:18) No, it is not these things, primarily. It is human instinct. Human instinct has always relied on the tactic of going with the flow for survival. Birds flock, fish school and people mob. This is good for survival, but not necessarily for moral progress.

In fact, early on, at the very birth of moral philosophy as a coherent field, with Socrates, it was realized that morality is that one thing that really distinguishes people, that makes certain individuals really stand out from the pack.

To be an animal is one thing, to be fully human is something quite different.

Yes, we are animals, but we are not only. We need to be cognizant of our animal dimension, if we are to keep from surprising ourselves and undermining our better plans for ourselves. But we are not to be led by it.

In his great exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, on priestly formation, St. John Paul spoke about three kinds of formation. (MY GOODNESS PEOPLE, READ THIS, ESPECIALLY YOU PEOPLE WHO ARE OH-SO SPIRITUAL!) These three levels are: human, spiritual and intellectual (there is a fourth called pastoral, but that is specific to priests, so I am not going to talk about that here.)

So many times I have seen one, two, and even three of these ignored. Often, with a serious Catholic, one might be ignored for sake of the other two. Grad students, for instance, might ignore 1 and 2, for sake of 3. People interested in Carmelite spirituality might ignore 1 and 3. (I am picking on Carmelite on purpose, but this for a future post, perhaps.) Pope Francis is often worried about people who dwell on 2 and forget 1 (what about 3, Your Holiness?) In my years teaching I was so often frustrated by my students' lack of 3. If you have ever had the good blessing of listening to OLSWA chaplain, Fr. Paul Burchat's homilies, it was neglect of number 1 that vexed him! Some Catholics - yes, you know I am talking to you - put too much emphasis on 1, with their obsession with food, and do not see how this detracts from 2.

Holiness comes from wholeness. Saint, sanitary, sanity: soundness, health. A truism that we need to keep reminding ourselves of. This was the genius of great St. Benedict. Ora et labora. Work and prayer. But his prayer was two-pronged: prayer and worship as we know it, but also sacra pagina or lectio divina (study, specifically study of Scripture).

Holiness, in other words, is not something easily attained.

So, if holiness is not a common thing, why do we care about common values and opinions?

"Test everything; hold fast to what is good."
(1 Thess 5:21)

In the previous post talked about how readily many of us have assumed the idea that there are good emotions and bad ones. That's something from the world, not from the Catholic tradition.

Holiness is a rare thing. It is based on the perfection of those three things: our humanity, our spirit, and our intellect. I need to weed out a few doubt of doubters here. Some of you might be saying that intellectual perfection is only for the few and it is not nearly as important as number 2, and besides 1 is only important insofar as it permits number 2 to happen.


Intellectual perfection:

Test everything; hold fast to what is good (1 Thess 5:21)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ who... (Ph 2:5)

For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:16)

Sure, St. Therese was no St. Theresa, but certainly her mind was completely conformed to Christ's.

In other words, a stupid person cannot be holy. Stupid is opposed to wisdom, not knowledge of facts, but knowledge of important things.

So, anyway, spiritual growth is attained through devotion to prayer and to overcoming inertia to evil.

It cannot happen without intellectual configuration to Christ. How many of us have actually devoted our minds to God? Please pay attention to this last sentence: devotion of the mind to God. Intellectual devotion to God is about presenting all our ideas to God in light of His Holy Gospel, it is about questioning ideas we have picked up from society at large, it is about overcoming mental laziness, it is about leaving behind pursuits fueled by our ego and embracing the pursuit of knowledge joyfully.

There are very few people whose opinions you should regard. All Cretans are liars. (Titus 1:12)

But what does any of this look like in the concrete?

Take politics for instance. Do you worry about political events? How do your political views reflect the Gospel?

How deeply do you understand the Gospel? How much time do you devote to reading/studying it? How would you rank your expertise in theology relative to what you have attained in other fields of knowledge?

What are your spiritual goals? Do you even have any? How do you define holiness? What words do you use to do so?

Is there a decisive break between your Sunday mind and your Monday morning mind?

What gives you pleasure?


  1. I don't have a particular comment to this post but I just wanted to say that is probably my favorite icon, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. We have I believe that exact one.

  2. Have you read Climacus' Ladder yet? I have it, but haven't read it yet. They say it's the quintessential Orthodox spiritual read, the Orthodox Imitation of Christ.