A Jesuit and His Faith ~ Frederick C. Copleston, SJ (1907-1994)

This article was taken from the Fall 1996 issue of “Sursum Corda!”
Published quarterly and mailed in December, March, June and September by the Foundation for Catholic Reform.

Francis Phillips recieved this article from the author and I thank her for sharing this article with us.

Frederick_Copleston_1987

by William Doino, Jr.

In its long and illustrious history, the Society of Jesus has produced many outstanding figures who have made a unique impact upon Western culture. One thinks of the Society’s founder and leader, Ignatius of Loyola; the great missionary and ‘Apostle of the Indies,’ Francis Xavier; the famed Catholic apologist and bishop, Robert Bellarmine; St. Isaac Jogues and the North American martyrs; and the eminent poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is undoubtedly true that the twentieth century, with its rampant secularism, has proven less fertile ground for the role of such men. Yet even here, numerous Jesuits have risen to modernity’s challenge, and brought the treasures of Christianity to an unbelieving world. One such priest was Fr. Frederick C. Copleston, SJ, who recently passed into eternal life at the age of 83.

Born on April 10, 1907 in Taunton, England, the future Jesuit was the son of Frederick Selwyn Copleston, a distinguished judge, and his demure wife, Nora. Both adherents to the Church of England, they raised their son to be a strict Anglican; so it came as quite a shock to both when Frederick Jr., soon after reaching his eighteenth birthday, announced he would be entering the Church of Rome. The elder Copleston was so appalled by this decision that he threatened to disown his son; fortunately, his anger soon passed, and he saw to it that Frederick Jr. received a proper education at Oxford University. Upon graduating in 1929, the young Copleston entered the Society of Jesus; he was ordained a priest in 1937.

Always concerned with the deeper questions about life, Copleston became a professor of philosophy and joined the faculty of London’s Heythrop College in 1939. It was there, where Fr. Copleston taught for over thirty years, that he undertook the project that was to forge his reputation: the nine-volume A History of Philosophy, which covers the entire span of philosophy from ancient Greece to the present day. So lucid and superb are Copleston’s explanations of the most complex intellectual matters that his work is still the first place many philosophy students go to comprehend their subject. Indeed, the nine books that constitute A History of Philosophy are as popular today as when they first appeared, if not more so. As The Washington Post Book World recently commented: “Copleston’s volumes are still the place to start for anyone interested in following man’s speculations about himself and his world.”

Fr. Copleston’s intellectual achievements earned him many accolades and honors throughout his career, including visiting professorships at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome (1952-1968), and the University of Santa Clara (1974-1982); selection as a lecturer for the British Council in nine European countries; and membership in the Royal Institute of Philosophy, the Aristotelian Society and the British Academy. Remarkably, despite a full-time schedule of teaching, lecturing and writing his History, Fr. Copleston found time to publish separate studies on Nietzsche (1942), Schopenhauer (1946) and Aquinas (1955), as well as volumes entitled Contemporary Philosophy: Studies of Logical Positivism and Existentialism (1956); A History of Medieval Philosophy (1972); Religion and Philosophy (1974); Philosophers and Philosophies (1976); On the History of Philosophy (1979); Philosophies and Culture (1980); Religion and the One (1982) and Philosophy in Russia (1986).

Shortly before his death, Fr. Copleston received the Queen’s “Commander of the British Empire” honor (1993), and also published his long-awaited Memoirs (Sheed and Ward, 1993). It is in this latter, autobiographical work that we discover Fr. Copleston’s profound spirituality, and learn of his lifelong commitment to Catholic orthodoxy.

Spanning the greater part of the twentieth century, these Memoirs provide a moving and fascinating account of Fr. Copleston’s eventful life. He begins by recalling the earliest reservations he had about the Church of England, which coincided with his growing interest in the Church of Rome.

When I was still a boy… about fourteen or possibly fifteen… I wrote an essay in which I castigated the Church of England for reducing Christianity to bourgeois mediocrity and for failing to uphold the ideals of the New Testament. I do not remember precisely what I wrote, but I have no doubt that I compared the Church of England with Catholicism to the former’s disadvantage…. My main point was that though the Church of Rome certainly had its dark aspects (Torquemada, the fires of Smithfield, some of the Popes, and so on), it had at any rate upheld ideals of sanctity and otherworldliness and had not equated true religion with being an English gentleman. At the time I had not heard of Kierkegaard, but my line of thought bore some similarity to his in his attack on the State Church of Denmark.

The reference here to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is relevant, since his famous blasts against his country’s Lutheran establishment were frequently contrasted with his high regard for the Catholic Church.

Indeed, Kierkegaard’s biographer, Walter Lowrie, as well as Fr. Henri de Lubac, maintain that the officially Lutheran Kierkegaard was in many respects Catholic – at least in thought, if not in practice-and that he would have converted had he not died so young, or been placed in different circumstances. As Fr. de Lubac comments:

In spite of… a body of thought strongly marked with the heritage of the Reformation, M. Paul Petit observes that, in the last years of his short life, Kierkegaard seems to have increasingly followed a course which was clearly taking him towards positions not far removed from Catholicism. He is ready to admit, in the realm of critics like Brandes and Hoffding, that if Kierkegaard had been born later he would have been a Catholic…. That, with slight shades of difference, is the contention of the Rev. Fr. Przywara also. In his book Das Geheimnis Kierkegaards he “proposes to show that in Kierkegaard an anonymous Catholicism is to be found”; by his call for objective authority and by his views on the ordination of priests as an intermediate objective authority, Kierkegaard is asserted to have crossed the border-line of Lutheranism and pointed the way to “Holy Mother Church.”

It was precisely this “objective authority” that Fr. Copleston found in the Catholic Church; an authority that he eventually recognized as emanating from the will of Christ. He writes: “It seemed to me that if Christ was truly the Son of God and if He founded a Church to teach all nations in His name, it must be a Church teaching with authority, as her Master did. Obviously, one might deny that Christ was the Son of God, and one might reject the claim that He founded a Church. But if these two claims were accepted, it seemed to me that in spite of all its faults the Roman Catholic Church was the only one which could reasonably be thought to have developed out of what Christ established.”

Ultimately, what played a decisive role in Fr. Copleston’s conversion was the spiritual pull he felt toward the Catholic saints and mystics. “St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross opened up for me vistas of a new world, which exercised a powerful attraction on my mind,” he writes. “I was indeed aware … that some Anglicans had written profoundly spiritual works. At the same time it seemed to me that mystical religion was a foreign body, so to speak, in the Church of England, and that religiously inclined Anglicans were inclined to turn to Catholic writings, such as the Imitation of Christ and books by Pere Grou. The atmosphere or tone of Anglicanism, as I had experienced it… seemed to me to be far removed from the sort of ideals which had been exhibited in a concrete manner in the lives of Catholic saints.”

Father Copleston’s reflections on the Anglican and Catholic communities call to mind those once voiced by John Henry Newman. Shortly before his conversion, Newman remarked: “If the Roman Catholic Church is not the Church of Christ, there never was a Church established by Him.” Later, as an esteemed Catholic prelate, Newman wrote: “From the time I became a Catholic, I have been at perfect peace and contentment. It was like coming into port after a rough sea.” Despite such clear and unequivocal statements, Cardinal Newman often had to endure rumors and insinuations-planted by disgruntled Anglicans-that his conversion was insincere. When the London Globe published a report suggesting that he had become disillusioned with Catholicism, and was preparing to return to the Church of England, the Cardinal could take no more, and retaliated in kind. In a widely publicized statement, he declared: “I have not had one moment’s wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I have no intention, and never had any intention, of leaving the Catholic Church and becoming a Protestant again. And I hereby profess ex animo with an absolute internal assent and consent that the thought of an Anglican service makes me shiver, and the thought of the Thirty-Nine Articles makes me shudder. Return to the Church of England! No! I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if in my old age I left ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’ for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.”

In his Memoirs, Fr. Copleston makes his commitment to Rome equally clear, albeit in a less combative fashion: “If anyone feels prompted to ask whether I have ever thought seriously of returning to the Church of England, the answer… is a decided ‘no.’ …I have great respect for sincere Anglicans, whether clerical or lay, and I have been much impressed by devoted Nonconformist and Presbyterian Christians whom I have come across. But I still believe that the centre of Christian unity is to be found in the Catholic Church, and that though Anglicanism certainly has a contribution to make to Christian life (as, indeed, have other Christian religious bodies too), this contribution should be made through some form of real communion with the Holy See.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Copleston’s Memoirs is his description of how he was able to maintain his religious faith despite encountering constant challenges against it. Secular philosophy, by its very nature, is a discipline that lends itself to doubt, relativism and irreligion. It is a rare scholar who is able to immerse himself in its precarious world without somehow being affected-usually for the worse. Copleston acknowledges that his prolonged study of a wide spectrum of philosophical thought “could hardly fail to exercise some influence” on his mind. He admits to having experienced doubts-even serious ones- about his religion, but realizes that this is a common temptation among Christian believers, even for the most committed. Indeed, the saints themselves have not been immune to doubt. One thinks particularly of St. Therese of Lisieux, who underwent a profound crisis of faith during her short life. The year before she died, she told her Mother Superior that the worst kind of atheistic arguments had entered her mind-specifically, the notion that science, by making ever-increasing progress, would eventually explain everything away naturally and would provide a materialistic answer for all that exists, thus destroying the basis for Christianity. According to Fr. Guy Gaucher, the foremost authority on St. Therese, some anti-Christian literature apparently fell into the hands of the young nun, and when she read it, her faith was shaken to its core. Only after undergoing an intense psychological struggle, culminating in a profound mystical experience, was St. Therese able to secure the peace that permitted her a tolerable death. (For a full account of the saint’s religious travails, consult Fr. Gaucher’s definitive biography, The Story of a Life: St. Therese of Lisieux, Harper & Row, 1987.)

On a more intellectual level, Fr. Copleston experienced a similar crisis of faith. Fortunately, he was able to overcome it, as he tells us-

by employing a distinction, well known to moral theologians and spiritual counsellors, between doubt and difficulty, a distinction which had been made by J.H. Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua (chapter 5), when he stated that “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” He had certainly been conscious of difficulties, but a hundred difficulties, he claimed, do not amount to one doubt….[This] can be explained easily enough by an example… Consider a student of theology, who in the course of his studies is introduced to a number of difficulties or possible objections to this or that Christian doctrine. The lecturer, let us suppose, offers solutions of the relevant problems. The student, being a bright youth, finds the alleged solutions intellectually unsatisfactory or inadequate. For him, the difficulties or problems remain unsolved. But it does not necessarily follow that he therefore doubts the truth of the relevant articles of belief. For in spite of difficulties, problems or puzzles which can be brought against certain doctrines, he may still accept the doctrines on faith, as revealed by God through the mediation of the Church. Again, many people have seen in the evil and suffering which permeate human life and history a powerful objection to belief in the existence of God as conceived in traditional Christianity. But even if a Christian is quite ready to acknowledge an inability to provide any complete solution of the so-called “problem of evil,” he or she may nonetheless cling to faith in the divine love and providential care.

These reflections are reminiscent of Cardinal Newman’s line of argument in his famous essay, “Faith and Doubt.” Newman held that Christian faith is invalid if it does not have the courage of its convictions, and that no true Christian could believe that his faith might someday be undermined by a scientific discovery or scholarly argument. For if he believed such a thing, his faith was empty to begin with. As the Cardinal remarked:

If it is true that God became man, what is the meaning of my anticipating a time when perhaps I shall not believe that God became man? This is nothing short of anticipating a time when I shall disbelieve a truth. And if I bargain to be allowed in time to come not to believe, or to doubt, that God became man, I am but asking to be allowed to doubt or disbelieve what I hold to be an eternal truth. I do not see the privilege of such a permission at all, or the meaning of wishing to secure it:-if at present I have no doubt whatever about it, then I am but asking leave to fall into error; if at present I have doubts about it, then I do not believe it at present, that is, I have not faith. But I cannot both really believe it now, and yet look forward to a time when perhaps I shall not believe it; to make provision for further doubt, is to doubt at present. It proves I am not in a fit state to become a Catholic now. I may love by halves, I may obey by halves; I cannot believe by halves; either I have faith, or I have not.

Once in possession of a secure faith, Fr. Copleston waged intellectual warfare against the errors of his age, engaging the most influential minds of the twentieth century. The most famous of these battles was undoubtedly his legendary debate with Bertrand Russell over the existence of God. Aired by the BBC in 1948, the debate culminated in a technical knockout for the Jesuit philosopher. In his Memoirs, Fr. Copleston is far too humble to gloat over his victory, but he does expose Russell’s viewpoint as morally bankrupt. Commenting on how he cornered Russell into defending an extreme brand of relativism, Copleston writes: “Russell agreed, of course, that he felt this way. But he found some difficulty, he admitted, in squaring the implications of this admission with his professed ethical theory. He even said: ‘I find myself in a dilemma. On the one hand I certainly want to condemn the Nazis’ behaviour towards the Jews as wrong in itself. On the other hand, my ethical theory does not allow me to say this.'”

Father Copleston is equally adept at detecting the errors within his own community-exposing charlatans like Teilhard de Chardin, and arguing against Modernists who try to “redefine” or “re-formulate” Christian doctrine until they empty it of all supernatural content. But Copleston is at his finest in expounding the necessity of orthodoxy. Copleston on the ecumenical movement, for example: “Christians should certainly be prepared to recognize the values present in other religions. Short of embracing all mankind there can be no limit to the reach of the out-going love which lies at the heart of the Christian religion, and which can be seen as demanding the extension of the ecumenical movement to relations between Christians and adherents of other religions…. [But] one should not close one’s eyes to the danger of abandoning Christian belief in the unique status and role of Christ and treating him simply as one among other prophets and religious leaders, a danger which is by no means illusory.”

Copleston on dissenting theologians: “We are sometimes told by ‘progressives’ that we should think of the Church as seeking the truth, rather than as being in possession of the truth. That the Church’s theologians seek truth is not a claim which I would venture or wish to deny. But they discharge this function as members of the Church, not simply as lone individuals. And the final court of appeal in doctrinal issues can hardly be anything but the Church herself, speaking as a teaching authority, through what is called the magisterium… My point is simply that if a theologian claims to be a Catholic, he or she should act as such, operating within the Church, as one of its members.”

Copleston on the afterlife and the reality of Hell: “The ideas of Heaven and Hell are complementary… if the one idea expresses revelation, so does the other. The orthodox Christian can be expected to accept both; and I do accept them…. Possession of freedom implies that a human being can accept or reject God…. I do not see how one can exclude the possibility of a human being persisting in his or her choice against God and so remaining in a state of alienation from God. Given this possibility, Hell would be more something chosen by the human being in question, than simply imposed by a ruthless judge.”

Copleston on the current-and apparently weakened-state of Christendom: “The Christian is not committed to believing that if Christianity finds itself widely regarded as moribund and as unable to act as an effective source of inspiration, this shows that Christ has failed. Where in the Gospels is He “recorded as having assured His followers of a triumphal march through history? Perhaps I may add that Christ did not claim that if His followers encountered difficulties and opposition they should set to work revising His teaching and adapting it to the spirit of the age. He called for persevering loyalty.”

Looking back over his career, Fr. Copleston’s Memoirs express profound gratitude for a life richly blessed. He had no regrets about devoting his life to the study of philosophy, despite its inherent risks. Indeed, Copleston maintained that, far from weakening or confusing his Catholic faith, his conflicts with alien philosophies ultimately sharpened and strengthened it. He also provided a measured defense of historical study, arguing that “it is rash to assume that the study of the past is necessarily irrelevant to life and action in the present. After all, historical study is study of some aspect of the one developing world in which we live and act.” Yet as valuable as academic scholarship was to the success of his life, Fr. Copleston never lost sight of his true goal. For as he movingly states in the last sentence of his book, “The only really important evaluation of one’s life and work is God’s evaluation. And in the closing years of one’s life it is just as well to bear this in mind.”


You may also be interested in this video: Frederick Copleston on Schopenhauer


William Doino, Jr. freelances for, among others, National Review, Modern Age and Crisis.


Copyright (c) 1997 EWTN Online Services.


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Silence

All Around the Western Front

Vigil Mass

Let all mortal flesh keep silent, standing there in fear and trembling, let all things of earth vanish from our thoughts; for the King of kings, the Lord of lords, Christ our God, is about to be sacrificed and to be given as food to the faithful. Before Him choirs of Angels go, clothed with power and dominion, with faces veiled, chanting the hymn, Alleluia. __ St. James Liturgy, 4th Century.

What is the value of silence? It is nothing, it is emptiness, it communicates nothing and yet by abiding in it we gain all, we find fullness and learn everything we must know; God Alone. It is the desire of the Church that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be observed and participated in with a certain type of spiritual quiet. The instruction for the Missal requires that a period of silence be observed after the hearing of the Gospel and also after the reception…

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Apologies for my short absence from this site

I’ve been working on revamping an old news website: News for Catholics. It has a feature where you can write a post/opinion piece or article and submit on the site as an editorial. It will appear in posts and in the editorial tab where people can discuss the post. It also has many links to news and opinion pieces from the secular news to Cathoic news and blogs etc. Id be interested in your feedback: what could make it better, what you like, what you don’t like etc. Let me know.

Failure to Commit

"It is love alone that gives worth to all...

“It is love alone that gives worth to all…” _ St. Teresa of Avila

Sometimes a failure to commit is telling us something quite different than what we usually take away from the experience. For instance, in my case, I have a long history of these events and they have carried over in life to the present day.

While attending Long Island University in Brooklyn back in the 60’s I had a desire to get my degree in philosophy and eventually teach at the college level. However, as a philosophy major, I blamed the philosophy courses and especially the teachers for being second rate at best. So, using the wisdom of my twenty some years of life, I changed majors to English Literature and after a few more years of boredom quit college to pursue my real attraction: worldly distraction. It was a fall not unlike that of Adam. Strike one, for failing to commit. The question which I now pose to you is, was the fault in someone else or within me?

After bouncing around New York, earning rent and food money driving a cab, it struck me that it would be nice to follow my latest dream of being a blues guitar player. With guitar in hand I left for Boston. So I entered Berklee School of Music and pursued music along with some very talented people. But once again, I failed to commit. My excuse this time was that I just wasn’t good enough to continue this dream. The way I looked at it, was this: if I were an artist, my genius would most likely be in painting pictures of Elvis on black velvet with glow-in-the-dark colors. So whether or not I had the talent is not the question anymore because, for all my excuses, Berklee had accepted me into their musical studies program. Therefore, in their opinion, I had the ability to succeed. Strike two, for failing to commit. So I was back to driving cabs again; this time for many years. Was that failure based on lack of talent or lack of motivation or just plain sloth?

God had a plan to rescue me and I almost failed to commit here as well. But thankfully I did commit to my wife of thirty-four years who I fortuitously met while earning a meager living as a cab driver. Well it was about time that I committed to something. Halleluiah, for commitment number one! Was this commitment made because I saw the imperfections in my wife or in myself that would destine us to failure? Obviously not. True love it seems, makes the imperfect, perfect. It heals the wounds of life while making the impossible, possible. We become blind to any obstacles that might stand in our way.

Well life proceeds and I earned a living selling industrial products, becoming adept in electric motors, solenoids, transformers and industrial fans, to name a few. It supported my family a whole lot better than driving a cab and took me all over the country. I committed to a career in life which was made not because I loved selling and loved what I did but because I loved my family and their well-being. This commitment was also made for love and not for my own fulfillment. Another lesson to be learned.

My wife was a Catholic and I was a ‘nothing’ at the time we met and married. I had always been interested in religion but again, I could find nothing that I was willing to commit to or fully have faith in. I was a fallen-away protestant.

Years before I met my wife I had become a lover of Buddhist writings, especially in Tibetan Buddhism. But I did not get Buddhism: it was for an Eastern mind and that was just too abstract from my nature. However, some Buddhist writer, who I cannot remember, suggested to his readers the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. So I read Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross as well as another Catholic Book he suggested; The Cloud of Unknowing which had been written anonymously. Both of them are on Catholic mystical prayer. They had more impact on me than I realized at the time because I read them through the spectacles of Buddhist thought.

Years later, my wife was raising our children in the Catholic faith and as a dutiful but unbelieving father I would accompany them to Mass on Sundays. It was during this period, inspired by the Franciscan Monks who were the pastors of the church I attended (which looked like a Spanish mission from the Middle Ages), I began to read again the mystical writings of Catholicism. My reading accelerated as I became convinced of the truth of what I read. God tested my commitment by delaying my entrance into the Church by almost 3 years as I watched with sadness the old Franciscans, who were becoming a bit senile, forget that I was even getting religious instructions from them. So I awaited a new pastor and after he got his footings in his new assignment, I again started the whole process anew with him. Yes, maybe I can form a new habit of commitment after all: this was commitment number three. I had committed to read about the faith, to go through with the sacraments to gain membership to the faith and to abide as best I could, to the teachings of the faith.

My intentions and my desires, however, were not to merely be a pew sitter. I wanted more. I wanted what St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avilla had: a real substantial union with God while still in my human condition. In other words, I wanted to be a saint in this life; to enter by the “narrow gate.” My desire drew me to Carmel and to spiritual retreats given by traditionalists who said Mass according to the Missal of 1962; which is sometimes referred to as the Tridentine Rite or the Extraordinary Rite. I attended classes for the Third Order of Carmelites or OCDS. Once again, I saw my interest wavering. I judged everyone and everybody and only saw an order that did not live up to what I had imagined in the writings of the Carmelite Saints. Was it the Order that was changed by the modern world or was it me, once again? I could not commit and therefore retired to my own hermitage hidden within my family life. Strike three, you’re out!

Apparently not in God’s game of baseball. We get many balls to hit and many strikes that we take while we just watch them cross the plate, right in the sweet spot, without even taking a swing.

So here I am, still drawn to a life of prayer, to which I am not willing to commit. I pray but I am no prayer warrior. I am weak and suffer from the capital sin of sloth. My inabilities to commit in life always show me the same things should I care to watch and listen: commitment comes from love and sacrifice not just because we want it. Pray for me, that Christ might increase my faith, my hope and my love: and that through this increase find the courage necessary to make a sacrificial commitment to Him through my prayer and all my actions. Commitments are sometimes hard to make and even harder to keep. Pray for me, as I also pray for thee.__ a favorite form of ‘goodbye for now’ from my old and honorable friend and mentor, to whom I simply refer to as Monsignor. May his prayers from heaven have even more effect now than they did while he walked this earth.

 

Silence

Vigil Mass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let all mortal flesh keep silent, standing there in fear and trembling, let all things of earth vanish from our thoughts; for the King of kings, the Lord of lords, Christ our God, is about to be sacrificed and to be given as food to the faithful. Before Him choirs of Angels go, clothed with power and dominion, with faces veiled, chanting the hymn, Alleluia. __ St. James Liturgy, 4th Century.

What is the value of silence? It is nothing, it is emptiness, it communicates nothing and yet by abiding in it we gain all, we find fullness and learn everything we must know; God Alone. It is the desire of the Church that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be observed and participated in with a certain type of spiritual quiet. The instruction for the Missal requires that a period of silence be observed after the hearing of the Gospel and also after the reception of the Eucharist. It allows us to quiet our spirits and meditate on the moment. We do not obtain this stillness in a conversation with our friends or in the waving and holding of hands in Mass. Nor do we find it by smiling at all our friends that we spot in church. It is found in interior solitude. The exterior stillness is only a help and a symbol to aid the soul who wishes to enter that moment. The St. James Liturgy, the oldest existing liturgy known to us, knew the value of the silence of which I speak, as you can quickly see from the excerpt above.

Silence is the ultimate reverence. It is the humility and homage that Christ should demand of us. And if He doesn’t, we should demand it of ourselves. It is an expression of true dignity, respect and worship. How dare I make a sound lest I miss His whispers within my soul?  “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language He best hears is silent love.” (St. John of the Cross)

As a dog shows his love by lying silently at the feet of his master, so too should a soul lay in quiet expectation for the slightest movement that His Lord might make: for whatever the Lord demands, that we should faithfully, willfully and lovingly fulfill. It is how we come to a complete reliance on God while ridding our minds of any consideration of self.  “The most generous choices, especially the persevering, are the fruit of profound and prolonged union with God in prayerful silence.” (Pope John Paul II)

Silence informs our prayers. We cannot possibly pray as we ought if we do not allow God to speak to us and our prayers become merely a list of personal requests and demands. “God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen. And then we speak to God from the fullness of our heart, and God listens. And this listening and this speaking is what prayer is meant to be….” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

We live in a noisy and busy world where we find it difficult to find time to be alone with God and feel continuously oppressed by the demands of our lives. Somehow, we need to make room for the benefit of both our minds and our souls. “Let us allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by St. Joseph’s silence! We need it greatly, in a world that is often too noisy, that does not favor meditation or listening to the voice of God.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

May we all find at least an hour during our week, especially during Mass, where our souls might have an opportunity to plumb its depths to that stillness, that quiet spot within our souls, where God abides, God speaks and we silently listen.

D. DAVENPORT: 9 July – TLM and Presentation: “Thomas More’s Martyrdom and the Rule of Law”

Fr. Z had a good followup to my post yesterday. St. Thomas More is a great hero for those of us who still believe in the Rule of Law. Perhaps a few prayers to St. Thomas More might be appropriate during these times.

Recently we have seen the Rule Law trampled upon.  It was trampled and then the tramplers tramped back and retrampled it.  That’s the way things are going in these USA now, my friends.

Now, more than ever, do we need to shore up our Catholic identity.  That is going to require revitalization of our sacred liturgical worship, deep knowledge of our Faith, and banding together in strong, intentional groups, however, small.

I received an email from Una Voce of the Quad Cities in Iowa.  They are sponsoring a Traditional Latin Mass – Low, Sung, or Solemn I cannot tell – and a presentation on St. Thomas More.

Votive Mass of St. Thomas More
In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite
Presentation: “Thomas More’s Martyrdom and the Rule of Law”

St. Mary’s Parish, July 9th, 8:30 am
516 Fillmore St, Davenport, IA

The Rule of Law?

Law

What do you call a country that spends its time and their taxpayer’s money legislating laws for everything under the sun and yet selectively refuses to enforce or prosecute anyone that, in their eyes, are above the law or if they find that the mood of the country dictates that the enforcement of the law would not be politically correct . . . mostly for their own reelection? I call it lawlessness, elitist and relativistic lawlessness; relative to who you are, your usefulness to an agenda and an opportunistic way to win votes; insure one’s reelection.

Why would anyone have regard for the law anymore? Today’s laws are as fluid as water and selectively applied as the mood strikes our politicians and bureaucrats. Therefore, law is no longer used as the rule but as a suggestion (for the average men and women of this country)  while the application of Justice, based on these laws, can no longer be characterized as being blind; blind to color, religion, party affiliation, status or wealth and influence. Laws only apply to us if and only if, we are unfortunate enough to not fit into a protected group: latino, poor, black, elitist, sexual lifestyle, uber rich etc. For these are all extenuating circumstances that abrogate the law for many of these protected class of peoples, particularly if it might be expedient for the ruling class to do so.

So what happens to a country that ignores their own rule of law? Don’t they become the judge and jury? Are they not the all powerful elite that can fix or ignore that which is the mandated law for the country, presumably for the good of the nation? Can we all now ignore the law? Should we all be scofflaws such that we can even the playing field? Why, if it is OK for some is it not OK for the rest?

It appears that justice does not apply to Hillary or Bill Clinton, for illegal aliens or for the rioting hordes who are the modern equivalent of a good old fashioned  lynch mob. And this sadly skews the outcome of our political and juridical processes . . . the sad truth being that everything is political, exacted for political gain and one-upmanship. Selective use of the law seems only to be on the books to have something which can be used against those of us who disagree with the powerful elite who sit in office. They become laws to enforce against dissenting citizens; you might classify them as enemies of the state.

As the disgruntled masses lose their belief in the rule of law then we invite anarchy and open the door to tyranny of those who will impose their will on the people. They will give us rules that will be quite simply and openly just the laws applied by our totalitarian elite on those whom they decide to persecute ignored by the supporters of the ruling ideology that comes into power; because they will have a political blind spot that renders these people innocent by an elitist fiat.

Quite frankly, I am beginning to think that we have passed the point of no return. When Hillary can get away without a scratch from flagrantly abusing the law, and when Obama legislates law with his Presidential orders and while bureaucrats and Supreme Court Justices no longer protect the Constitution but instead protect the backside of their political ideology we have, in effect, rendered our Constitution devoid of all meaning; a nice relic to be placed in a museum and of interest only to a few historians; an amusing document that will soon be studied as a failed system of government and of no practical use. Its a sad day in Gotham City.

Trial by Virtue

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I would like to point out a simple truth of the spiritual life, for those who may not already know this little rule of thumb. If you are trying to gain a particular virtue, you will be tried in that virtue. How else will you know if your prayer has been answered and you have gained the virtue in question?

For instance, if we desire faith, we will be tried in our faith with doubts and fears that we have perhaps been wrong. If we desire hope, do not be surprised if you are tried with a bout of hopelessness in your life. Likewise, for the theological virtue of love: you may experience being reviled and ridiculed or left feeling abandoned by those whom you care about most. And so it is for all the other virtues you can name.

These trials or tests occur only when the soul is ready for them but many, who mistakenly take pride in thinking they can easily withstand them, often fail the test. It is a two-fold reveal: first that find that they do not yet have the virtue they thought they had possessed and secondly, they found out that deep in their heart they were harboring elements of spiritual pride. So it becomes a beneficial barometer of our spiritual life. If used properly, we will pick ourselves up off the floor and begin again, a bit more humbly than before.

For the saints, their tests were often the most excruciating, but for the average spiritual soul they will usually be far less severe; though the severity increases with the soul’s increase in obedience to holiness. The closer they get to God, the more painful even the slightest misstep that might cause pain to God. There is an increased sensitivity to their souls.

God will always give sufficient Grace to endure the trials that He sends but we don’t always feel that way. Many succumb on the way to sainthood to their fears and to their doubts. Some become mere pew sitters or side-liners instead of the spiritual warriors they were meant to be. That is why it is important to pay close attention to how we begin our spiritual life. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a saying that he often repeated to his novices: “If thou beginnest, beginnest well.”

So as you move to perfection one must prepare for the journey as much as is possible. Learn Holy Theology if possible or make sure you have access to an advisor who is adept in these studies. Read the mystical saints and the theological examinations of the spiritual life as they will help you identify what to the uninitiated appears to be of no value. The saints get the nectar out of the driest fruits; fruits that most of us could not recognize.

Learn of dark nights, consolations and desolations. Expect them and then welcome them as a means for growing in faith and holiness. Failure is common and there is no shame in being wounded in battle. You heal and you head on back to the front for another engagement. It is the way of the Spiritual Warrior and your Lord, for Whom you fight, will not forget you; not here nor in His Kingdom. A heroes welcome awaits all who fight the battle well.

Saint Padre Pio Gives Us Sound Advice for Spiritual Advancement

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Catholic saints and spiritual writers have always agreed that the quickest and easiest method of advancing in the spiritual life is in the practice of obedience. The simplicity of this method as thus stated belies the difficulty in the actual living out of this dictum. The reasons for this are many: pride, anger, sloth, and just plain old Americanism. For in our country a pioneering spirit of unbridled individualism and self-actualization is an ingrained commandment that cannot be violated without tearing asunder the very fabric of our self-worth and respect. This is associated with our misguided understanding of one of the very foundation stones of our country; namely, freedom.

How can we feel free if we are to cow-tow to another’s whims and directives especially when we are sure that we are smarter or better equipped to make our own decisions? But that is exactly what we are asked to do in order to become saints ourselves. Note the following quote from the newly canonized Saint, Padre Pio: “Obey promptly! Do not consider the age or merit of the person. And in order to succeed, imagine you are obeying the Lord.”  And should you wince at the mistakes that your superiors make and seethe from the unfairness that permeates this world one must also keep in mind another of his councils: “Do not disturb your soul at the sad spectacle of human injustice…. One day you will see the inevitable triumph of Divine justice over it.”

Why is obedience to those in a position of authority a necessity for spiritual progress? Why should we take our direction from those who seem incompetent or those who we know are simply wrong? Saint Pio responds, “Where there is no obedience, there is no virtue; where there is no virtue, there is no good. Where good is wanting, there is no love; where there is no love, God is absent; where God is absent, there is no heaven.” Therefore, obedience is directly connected to our salvation by its relationship to the theological virtue of charity or love. Says our Saint: “Charity is the queen of virtues. As the pearls are held together by the thread, thus the virtues are held together by charity; as the pearls fall when the thread breaks, thus virtues are lost if charity diminishes.” Obedience it seems is the epitome of self-denial: correcting inordinate self-interest and self-love, for the love of God. Christ counseled us on precisely this same point: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” __Luke 9:23

Obedience in little insignificant things is necessary in order that we might become prepared for more important things. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little is unjust also in that which is greater. If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?” __ Luke 16:10,11

So according to Padre Pio we are told the following: “Try always to advance more in charity; enlarge your heart with confidence for the divine gifts which the Holy Spirit is anxious to pour into it.” Because, “To fail in charity is like wounding God in the apple of His eye. What is more delicate than the pupil of the eye? To fail in charity is like failing against nature.” In order to gain this virtue, obedience leading to humility is needed. Our Saint makes this connection when he says: “Humility and charity go hand in hand. The one glorifies, the other sanctifies.” Since, “The pivot of perfection is love; he who lives in love lives in God, because God is love, as the Apostle says.”

If you think that glorifying God by your obedience and humility is foolishness, our Saint reminds us that: “The time spent for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is never spent badly.” For, “God can reject everything in a creature conceived in sin and of which it bears the indelible impression inherited from Adam. But He can absolutely not reject the sincere desire to love Him.” Your desire to love Him is proved by your everyday practice of obedience for love of Him.

Prayer’s Twofold End

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Prayer has a twofold end: worship and petition. The prayer of worship can be divided into three distinct sentiments that are offered to God, adoration, thanksgiving and reparation, while the prayer of petition is principally a request for the effective operation of God’s Grace.  Therefore, even petition is an act of confidence in Him and can be viewed as a form of homage to a loving God Who hears His creatures and pours His Grace upon them.

Prayer further can be distinguished by its form: mental, vocal, private or public. Mental prayer has no outward expression but is a silent conversation of the soul with God. All interior acts that tend to unite us with God can be considered mental prayer. This includes, recollection, consideration, reasoning, self-examination, loving thoughts of God, contemplation or a simple longing of the heart for God. These acts deepen our convictions, exercise our virtue and train us for our heavenly life: the eternal, loving contemplation of God. (See Chapter V, Sect. IV of Tanquerey’s, The Spiritual Life)

Vocal prayer expresses itself in word and in act stimulating devotion by the very sound of the words or the use of pious gestures. Therefore, we are called to be serious, attentive, and pious in the recitation of our prayers and the use of prayerful gestures; genuflection, kneeling, bowing, etc. One must be constantly aware of Who it is that this conversation is between. Further, such attentiveness helps our neighbors, who become more devout when exposed to people who are especially devout in their prayer. Therefore, devout and pious prayer is contagious; an act that reinforces one another’s faith and confidence.

As mentioned earlier, vocal prayer can be either private or public according to whether it is offered by an individual or by a group of individuals. “The prayers of the many cannot go unheeded when they unite in one.” __ St. Thomas’s commentary on Matthew 18:20. It is for this reason that we are urged to join in common prayer frequently and why the Church calls us together for Holy Mass and other religious liturgies every day of the week. The Church has always recommended our participation in Her daily prayer to God for Her people. Even so, a priest is urged to say Holy Mass even though the faithful cannot be present. Even so, this prayer is offered for all the people. Further, priests and religious recite daily the Divine Office, often in private, but always for the entire Church. We too are urged to join this prayer of the Church privately or publicly with a prayer group.

We are prodded to practice all types of prayer on a continuing basis: to offer God our homage and thanks, to make amends for our sins, and to ask for help with our special needs. We are invited to make our prayers mentally throughout our waking day and to join our voices and gestures to public acts of worship whenever possible. The purpose of our prayer life should reflect the reality which St. John the Baptist declared so aptly in John 3:30, “He must increase: but I must decrease.” For prayer is the soul’s preparation on Earth for our life with God in Heaven: a focus necessary to our eventual realization that God is All in all and we are merely unprofitable servants in dire need of His Divine Mercy.