Archive for January, 2015

Living with our own complexities …

27 January, 2015

Unknown-1Catherine de Hueck Doherty, the founder of Madonna House, once gave a wonderfully insightful interview. A renowned and respected spiritual figure, she acknowledged that her path wasn’t easy. Why? Because, like the rest of us, she was pathologically complex. Being a human being, she suggested, isn’t easy.

Here’s how she described herself. I paraphrase:

“Inside me,” she said, “there are three people. There’s someone I call the ‘Baroness’. The ‘Baroness’ is the one who’s spiritual, efficient, and given over to prayer and asceticism. She’s the religious person inside me. She’s the one who founded a religious community, who writes spiritual books, challenges others, and has dedicated her life to God and the poor. The ‘Baroness’ reads the gospels and is impatient with the things of this world. For her, life here and now must be sacrificed for the next world.

But, inside me too, there’s another person I call ‘Catherine’. ‘Catherine’ is, first of all and always, the woman who likes fine things, luxuries, comfort, pleasure. She enjoys idleness, long baths, fine clothes, putting on make-up, good food, and used to (while married) enjoy a healthy sex life. ‘Catherine’ enjoys this life and doesn’t like self-sacrifice. She’s not particularly religious and generally hates the ‘Baroness’. ‘Catherine’ and the ‘Baroness’ don’t get along.

However, there’s still another person inside of me, who’s neither ‘Catherine’ or the ‘Baroness’. Inside me too there’s a little girl lying on a hillside in Finland, watching the clouds and daydreaming. This little girl doesn’t particularly like either ‘Catherine’ or the ‘Baroness’.

… and, as I get older, I feel more like the ‘Baroness’, long more for ‘Catherine’, but think maybe the real person inside me is the little girl daydreaming on a hillside.”

Had these words been uttered by someone still struggling with basic conversion, they wouldn’t pack much punch. They come however from a spiritual giant, from someone who had long ago mastered essential discipleship and had, long ago too, vowed herself to a radical discipleship of service to God and the poor. If saints struggle in this way, what about the rest of us?

That’s the point. Saints struggle and so does everyone else. It’s not a simple thing to be a human being and it’s even more complex if you’re striving to give yourself over beyond what comes naturally, morally and spiritually.

Like Catherine de Hueck Doherty, all of us have multiple persons inside us. Inside each of us there’s someone who has faith, who wants to live the Beatitudes, and who wants to be attuned to truths and realities of the gospels. Inside each of us, there’s a martyr who wants to die for others, a ‘Mother Teresa’ who wants to radically serve the poor, and a moral artist who wants to carry his or her solitude at a high level. But inside each of us there’s also someone who wants to taste life and all its pleasures here and now. Inside each of us there’s a hedonist, a sensualist, a libertine, a materialist, an agnostic, and an egoist. Beyond that, inside each of us there is also a little girl or little boy, innocent, daydreaming, watching the clouds on some hillside, not particularly enamoured of either the saint and the sinner inside us.

Who’s the real person? They all are. We’re all of these: saint and pleasure-seeker, altruist and egoist, martyr and hedonist, person-of-faith and agnostic, moral-artist and compensating libertine, innocent child and jaded adult, and the task of life is not to crucify one for the other, but to have them make peace with each other.

Peace, as we know, means more than the simple absence of war. It’s a positive quality. What makes for peace? Two things: harmony and completeness.

A musical melody is peaceful when all the different notes are strung together so as to make a harmony, a melody. Part of peace is to not have discord. But there’s another part: To play a melody, you also need a full keyboard. Peace also depends upon having enough keys at your disposal to play all the notes that the musical scores demands. A keyboard with a wide, wide range of possibilities is not a bad thing.

That’s true too of human nature. Our complexity is not our enemy but our friend. All those pathological opposites inside us are precisely what make up our keyboard. It’s precisely because we’re both sinner and saint, hedonist and martyr, adult and child, that we have the enough keys to play the various musical scores that life hands us.

The secret, of course, is harmony, melody. We need to move beyond a random, undisciplined stabbing at the keyboard because that produces discord. We’ve all had enough experience in life to know that. Peace comes when we put all the complex pieces inside of us together in such an order so as to make a beautiful melody.

And, of course, the more varied the notes, the more complex the musical score, the richer the final melody.

[Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI]


Seeing, touching, tasting, hearing and smelling …

21 January, 2015


“Catholicism is a religion of the imagination which speaks to its people through their imagination. In my boyhood it spoke to our senses through incense, candles, rosary beads and medals and oil, the denied taste of Lenten fasting, the lush hymnal and the flowery prayers, the rhetoric of mission sermons and the tinkling of sanctuary bells. Above all, it was visual, statues and pictures, the liturgical colours of the priests vestments, the lamp before the Blessed Sacrament, votive lights and flowers on little altars to the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Virgin in the church and in our homes. Seeing, touching, tasting, hearing, smelling – here was a religion not only for souls but for bodies too. Nowadays when our religion lives more in our heads than in our bodies, we may be in danger of losing something valuable without even noticing what we have lost.”

[Ed Campion, A Place in the City, p. 18.]

Suffering and pain as friends …

21 January, 2015

In our day we need to recapture a sense of mystery. Pascal made the distinction between a mystery and a problem, and it is one that we tend to forget. A problem is an obstacle, a conundrum, something that can in principle be formulated and solved. A mystery is utterly different. It lies beyond us, it is too rich for our understanding. It can be entered into, explored, even inhabited; but it can never be exhausted or fathomed.

Our age dislikes intensely the idea of mystery, because it directly exposes our limitations. The thought that there could be something, or someone, beyond human comprehension or imagining is, of course, exciting, but it is also belittling. It puts us in our place and the place is not at the centre. Science has played an important part here, at once dispelling apparent mystery and solving problems, and continually pushing forward boundaries of human knowledge.

The experience of suffering, and very important, the experience of failure bring us face to face with mystery. They are stern but effective teachers of the ways of God, unless, of course, they lead to bitterness and rancour. They cause us to question our priorities, they bring a new perspective and lead us sometimes from desperation to seek and find a different meaning and purpose in our lives. Coming to us as unwelcome visitors suffering and pain can, if handled well, turn out to be friends.

[Cardinal Basil Hume, OSB: The Mystery of the Cross, p. 3-4)

Alone with God

21 January, 2015

In recent times it has become fashionable in Christian spirituality to put great emphasis on service of our neighbour and to equate that service with prayer. There is much truth in this idea, but it is a half-truth. There can be no substitute in the spiritual life for being alone with God. There must be that part of spirituality which is private and individual – secret between me and my God. It is that daily attempt to become increasingly aware of the presence and action of God in our lives and to know the growing desire within us for some kind of closeness to him … It is not easy for us to find time and place to be alone with God, but the saints have taught us, and experience shows, that we all need to include space in our day and in the mind to allow God to enter into our lives. It is not always easy. We are busy people, we have many responsibilities. Our minds are preoccupied with many things. We have to make an effort to find an opportunity to be alone with God.

[Cardinal Basil Hume, OSB: The Mystery of the Cross, p. 49)

John Henry Cardinal Newman

19 January, 2015

Unknown-1A letter written by Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist, narrating the conversion of John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Conversion of John Henry Newman [pdf]