Friday, March 16, 2012

A Lenten Warning from the Saints

In Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis De Sales warns of a kind of false religiosity that can convince both others and ourselves that we're right with God, when we're not. Specifically, he warned of our tendency to "colour devotion according to our own likings and disposition":

One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness;--and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbour's blood, through slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbours. This man freely opens his purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings towards those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout."


St. Thomas A Kempis, in Imitation of Christ, warns of a similar false security, that of thinking that knowing the Catholic faith well is the same as living the Catholic life:

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.

For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.

This is the greatest wisdom--to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world.

So as we today mark the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, let us redouble our fasting and abstinence, prayer and almsgiving, and continue to seek a deeper understanding of our faith from Scripture and the testimony of the Church and Her Saints. But let us not mistake any of these things for the purpose of Lent, or become proud of our own efforts. Instead, let these all be tools to aide us in our question for true devotion, "to love God and serve Him alone."

5 comments:

  1. Indeed, how easy it is to think that we're "good enough" and to take pride in penance while forgetting love of God and neighbour. Having read Thomas à Kempis, St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila recently, they all warn against this repeatedly too because it's so easy to do.

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  2. Only halfway?! Sheesh...what I would give for a nice cup of tea...

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  3. Thank you, Jesus, for this Paragraph in this Post : "One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness;--and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbour's blood, through slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbours."

    A Priest House Guest, who sought refuge in my home four months ago when he had grave problems with his Religious Order,made me uneasy from time to time in the way he was relating to my young lady House Maid. I am a 73-year old Cradle Catholic widow. Often, I felt the need to remind the girl that this was an Ordained Priest and she must relate to him with deep respect and reverence. By sheer accident, I discovered they have been sending sms messages through the phone to each other about me and the girl was reporting to him the misgivings I had about his seemingly very close relationships with her and other young lady Parishioners. I was doing this as I felt I was responsible to protect both the Priest and the girl while they were in my Home. I especially felt motherly duty to warn the girl to conduct herself prudently towards this man of God. I never thought she would pass on my discussions with her to him. In one sms the Priest told the girl it was a pity that such a prayerful, seemingly devout Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy was so evil-minded. He was of course,referring to my warning the girl to behave appropriately towards him. I never though those talks were sinful since I held them in confidence with my own employee. When by sheer coincidence, I stumbled on these smses, I was truly hurt and horrified that my employee was relaying everything I told her to my Priest House Guest. When I asked for an answer from him as to why he though me evil, he curtly answered that I was too proud to accept my mistakes or take correction. I was horrified. I responded : vilifying me with my Maid behind my back was definitely not a correction, and my advising my Maid on how to treat him was not Pride. I informed him that his assertion that he did not need my forgiveness because he had done no wrong, was arrant arrogance to me because he had taken advantage of my employee and was even giving her dates outside my home. An unacceptable relationship has been going on between them - in my own home - behind my back. By the time I got these sms messages he had moved out of my house a few days earlier after he knew I had discovered his relationship with this young woman, breaking his Sacerdotal Vow of Celibacy.

    However, the above quotation is advising me to also examine myself critically and honestly and accept my Cardinal Sin of Pride and its Root sins, which I confess often and plead for God's forgiveness. I daily pray that He grants me the Virtue of Humility to conquer my Cardial Sin of Pride, its Root Sins of Selfishness, Self-centredness, jealousy and imputing improper motives on others when I had no tangible evidence that anything untoward was going on.

    So, although my Guest did hurt me, this Post is speaking to me directly to pray earnestly for genuine Conversion during this Lenten Season. Please pray for me all of you on this Website. The shadows on my life's nightfall are gathering on the Western horizon and time is not on my side. God bless you all. I need Conversion before the "Call" from the Creator comes

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  4. What of those of us without feelings? What of those whose only regular recourse is to do as commanded, for love of the Lord? (Love is a willed action, remember.)

    There is a huge blind spot in this blog post. The Christian life isn't about feelings. Feelings are, if ever, a happy side effect.

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  5. In retrospect, this is in more response to St. Francis de Sales than the blog post, though St. Thomas a Kempis writing the importance of "feeling" contrition is very troubling. I do not feel much.

    It has been a singular consolation that Catholicism is not obsessed with the experience of God immediate in our lives, as if he were the high of a lifetime. And yet this does not seem to have been much accommodated for in these excerpts.

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