Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Abstemious Living 2: Traddy Tuesday Edition

This morning I got up at 6 AM, for I knew B.A. would be trying to get up at 6:30 AM, and I wanted to shower first. Then I got dressed, had breakfast and drank a lovely cup of coffee while B.A. rushed around as if he really were going to catch the 7:13 train.  We took the next train together, and then he went to judge a student contest and I walked up Arthur's Seat. 

It was very windy and, despite the optimistic weather forecast, very cloudy and therefore a bit cold. Happily I once again took the advice in Survival and wore a cotton T-shirt under my long-sleeved shirt and fleece jacket. I didn't take any of the rough and fancy routes around the Salisbury Craigs that B.A. likes. Instead I just took the most obvious path ad followed it to Arthur's Seat and climbed on up. Since the hymns of the Chartres Pilgrimage started working in my head, I said the rosary on the way up. I popped in at the ruin of St. Anthony's chapel and sang the Regina Caeli. 

Amid all the preparations for the Chartres Pilgrimage, I read about the life of Saint Catherine of Siena and the first part of her Dialogues because I promised my Chapter Leader that I would give a meditation. I made a lot of notes on her life, but I didn't read from Dialogues until I was on the actual plane to Paris. And that's when I realized it would be better just to let Saint Catherine speak for herself.

The part of Dialogues that I read to the Scottish Chapter--rather breathlessly and with great screeches from the megaphone, alas--was about knowledge of self, love for God and sorrow for sin. I was impressed that she began with knowledge of self, as it reminded me very much of the philosophy and theology of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, who was very interested in how we come to know things, particularly our own thought processes. Also, as long as I have been blogging, I have been interested in the concept of being rooted in reality instead of in wishful thinking, where I spent too much of my youth. 

Saint Catherine examined herself and realized that she was a sinner, which disturbed her very much, for she believed her sins were an offense against God. Indeed, her sins seemed so dark to her, that she felt that she was somehow personally to blame for all the evil in the world, and she prayed that God would punish her for her sins. In her subsequent vision, God told her that there would be no point to this, for not finite punishment could make up for offending against the Infinite. However, what did please Him was Catherine's infinite love for Him and Catherine's infinite sorrow for her sins. 

Later in the Dialogues, Catherine reflects that sins against God were sins against neighbour, either as sins of commission (e.g. stealing from the poor) or sins of omission (e.g. allowing the poor to go hungry), and I reflected this morning that this is what Christianity is about, really:

1. Love for God.
2. Sorrow for One's Sins.
3. Care for One's Neighbour.

You don't have all three, you don't have Christianity. 

Love for God is easier when you reflect on all the good things and people you have in your life a lot more than you reflect on what and who you don't have. As a married woman, I have a lot more to be grateful for than I did when I was Single, but on the other hand, it was when I was Single that I learned to be truly grateful for my friends and family and to try to accept them as gifts enough. Of course, I have been very blessed and therefore am a spiritual wimp next to Job, who loved God even when he had nothing but boils and a nagging wife. 

Love for God is also easier when you are in the countryside or wilderness away from urban distractions and dangers. I wonder if the rise of atheism isn't directly tied to the rise of the cities. Is there something spiritually wrong with being more than a stone's throw from a field or a shore? At one of the worst times in my life, I went down to the shore of Lake Ontario, and asked Lake Ontario, as a fellow creature, to help me out. Hey, if the priest can talk to a bowl of water during Easter Vigil, I  can certainly talk to Lake Ontario. (It has not occurred to me to talk to the Firth of Forth, but then I'm from Toronto.)

Love for God is probably tied in some way to love for God's creation, so when you are in a landscape shaped by God, not by man, then perhaps it reflects Him more directly.

Sorrow for One's Sins hurts a lot and is that part of Christianity that everyone seems to want to skip nowadays. I took some ex-Catholic boyfriend or other to Mass once, and he complained that there was too much about sin. I was confused, for other than the "I Confess..." there hadn't been much about sin. One might conclude  that ANY reference to sin was too much for him. He told me later than he didn't believe in sin, which was quite a remark from someone whose grandfather was shot by an occupying army. 

Love for God naturally leads to Sorrow for One's Sins in the same way that love for your parents leads to grief for whatever heartaches you put your parents through. The better your parents, the worse it is that you were rotten to them or simply thoughtless, and God is infinitely better than even the best parents, oh--and as the Son also died for you on the Cross. Can you imagine your own dear dad giving himself up to be crucified to save you, even though you did that terrible thing that gave him grey hairs? Horrors. (This may actually be a lived reality for someone in Syria or Iraq.)  

When in the grip of Sorrow for One's Sins, penance may come as a relief. The above-mentioned ex-Catholic ex-boyfriend once confessed a mortal sin, and the priest gave him only three Hail Marys. The lightness of the penance so shocked the young man, it was a watershed moment in the loss of his Catholic faith. No, I 'm not blaming the priest for that; I wasn't there, and I don't know if he tried to move his penitent to real contrition. But I am thinking about the fact that the Chartres Pilgrimage was a penitential pilgrimage, which meant that it was supposed to hurt. I' m also reminded of how in The Mission, Rodrigo Mendoza (played by Robert de Niro) undergoes a frightfully heavy penance, and he hangs on to it until the survivors of some whom he has harmed free him from it. 

When thinking about Sorrow for One's Sins, too much luxury feels like nausea. Too Much. Too much food, too much drink, too much sleep, too much fun, too much leisure. And this brings us to the final consideration, which is Care for One's Neighbour.

Care for One's Neighbour can be really difficult and frightening because there are just so many neighbours nowadays. It's not like we live in a small village with a countable number of very poor who need help in being fed, housed, educated and moved to contrition for their error and sin. There isn't just one village atheist to be enlightened. Yesterday I couldn't decide whether it was a failure of charity to abstain from telling an Anglican woman who left a patronizing comment at the Catholic Herald that she is neither a deacon nor a priest (as she claims, not only because she is a woman, but because she is an Anglican and Anglican orders are  absolutely null and  utterly void. (I'm still worried about it.; what if no-one ever tells her?) 

Care for One's Neighbour is also difficult because whereas everyone agrees (in principal) that this includes giving food, drink, clothing and--perhaps--some form of social interaction (e.g. visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned)--to others, the spiritual works of mercy are left by the wayside.  The only Roman Catholic I know personally who regularly warns strangers that they are  in danger of hell--because she really cares, because she really does love her neighbour that much--is Ann Barnhardt, who has been condemned by the SPLC as a professional hater.  (No, I will not link to those so-and-sos. If Ann--one of the most generous people I've ever met--is ever killed, her blood will be on their heads.)

Advice on this tricky issue is best found from the saints, not from me. However, I am inclined to think that what is needed is attention to the people with whom one personally comes into contact as well as to some faraway, over-there group of people. Personally, I have always preferred  chaste (or trying to be chaste) Singles who read the internet as my "faraway, over-there" group, although I think any western Christian would have to have a heart of stone not to answer the cry of Middle Eastern Christians somehow.  

That reminds me: if you are feeling particularly enriched by my writings lately, would you hit the button in the margin and give a shekel or two to our brothers and sisters from Iraq? And would you pray for the conversion of  the world to Christ? Thanks very much. One of the Chartres Pilgrimage  meditations seemed to ask us to consider what we are doing right now for Christendom, and it seems to me that what I mostly do is blog. 


  1. You blog, so you do more than I do, and what’s more you do it publicly. Although it is to be hoped that praying has the best effect, and everyone (including me) can pray.

    Concerning the spiritual works of mercy: I am not sure whether it really helps to tell people they are wrong. If someone says such things to me, this annoys me, and I tend to think, “Hey, I’m a grown-up, I can educate myself, I don’t need you for that”, especially when that someone has a worldview completely contrary to my own. But I agree that saying nothing does not help either… There has to be a way to communicate with people that makes them really think instead of annoying them.

    Cities and sin: I don’t know if it is the nearness of fields or shores that prevents sin (although what you say about landscapes shaped by God makes sense). A city means a huge accumulation of people, and that automatically results in a) fields and shores being further away, and b) in people who want to sell us something (from clothes in huge stores to pr*stit*tion) following us there, so that we are more easily tempted to sin. Apart from that, at least in my region of the world, the cities are the place where all movements of renewing the faith take place (more people making it easier to form a group of likeminded people). In all the rural parishes that I know, faith is almost dead. So: cities contain more sin, but also more faith at the same time…? I am a scientist, so finding correlations between the rise of atheism and the rise of the cities sounds like an interesting topic for me!

    Anyway, I really feel particularly enriched by what you wrote today. (And I just donated something for Syrian Christians) :D

    1. Thank you for your donation to the Syrian Christians! :-D That makes me feel really happy and less helpless about their troubles.

      That is very interesting about the rural parishes. I wonder where this is true and not true. I think the Faith is stronger among francophone Quebecers in the countryside than in the cities; at least, this is my brother's experience. He and his family are the only country folk I know!

    2. This makes me want to move to Quebec! I grew up in the country in Germany, and I am very much a country person, so would enjoy living somewhere rural with people sharing my Faith. In rural Germany, each village has its own ancient church in the middle, and people have gone to church every Sunday for centuries, only to abandon it readily after the 1960s, or to start implementing all their ideas of what a church service should look like after Vatican II. This also happens in cities, but there one has a choice of many parishes, and there is always one that does things more or less right.

      I blame it on non-existant faith formation. Especially in the country, people don’t seem to know anything about what the Church actually teaches and why (not even the priests). Nowadays, you have to be really convinced and know a lot of facts about your faith, otherwise you will lose it. My grandparents (God rest their souls!) were Catholics and went to their village church faithfully every Sunday. But apparently they didn’t teach their children anything about the faith besides “if you lead the rosary at church, keep your voice as monotonous as possible” or “even if you feel sick you can’t sit down during Mass when everyone else is standing up”. My parents, not surprisingly, rebelled against that and readily embraced all the new things that came up after Vatican II. I grew up going to Church and all that, but only when I lived in the city, at 25, did I learn that Catholics should believe in the Real Presence, and what that was. And when I told my parents later that we really should believe this, they were quite astonished (here we are back at the topic of telling people the truth as a work of mercy! :D).

      In the cities, there are always some people somewhere who have more knowledge about the faith and are convinced believers. Once they reach a critical number of, say, more than 10 likeminded people, they can start a group that will attract other people and can start changing things.

      Sorry for my ramblings, you see this is a topic you shouldn’t get me started on… :D

    3. Well, I don't want to be romantic about Quebec. Although the people in the countryside are more likely to go to Mass, you should see what they do to it. I have been SOOOOO scandalized, the only place within an hour's drive of my brother's house I will go to for Mass is a monastery. The monks have the N.O. and they use a lot of the vernacular (i.e. French), but they don't twist themselves into pretzels to give opportunities to aging laypeople and young wannabe rock stars to mess with holy liturgy.

    4. Rural life in the US is pretty faithless, too, in large part because for generations the culture (TV, schools, etc) have been telling kids to be successful they need to leave and go to a city. This means all the ones who are able to have left, leaving the least talented there. A good portion are addicted to meth. It's very sad.

  2. Re. the idea that one can never be sorry enough for one's sins, how would this relate to people who struggle with scruples or an unmerited sense of shame? (E.g., often women who discern out or are asked to leave convents struggle with a sense of crippling spiritual failure). I'm just curious to hear your thoughts on the pastoral nuances of this.

    Magdalena: Sometimes, there are poorly-catechized Catholics who honestly aren't familiar with the Church's moral teachings, or don't realize that the Church actually takes such teachings seriously. So at times, I think a quick, disinterested comment CAN be a real work of mercy. It's not up to us to convert anyone (that's the Holy Spirit's job), but we can at least make the truth available to people who might not have really heard it before.

  3. My feeling is that St. Catherine thought love for and delight in God balanced out sorrow for one's sins. (And she did think you could be sorry enough--she thought that was being sorry your whole life long, which presumably you can be without rolling around in agony about the stupid, mean stuff you did twenty years back, etc.) To use the human analogy, whereas you feel rotten for having caused your dear old dad great pain in your rebellious teenage years (when you think of it), you still take delight in being with the old man and joking around with him.

    Really, I think it's all about balance: sorrow for sin, reconciliation in confession, joy in God's mercy and goodness.

    Dear me, how terrible for the women who discern out of convents or are asked to leave. I know a novice who ran off with a male novice without a qualm, is happily married with a gazillion children. (Really, not a FABULOUS idea to train up novice monks and novice nuns together, unnamed order, unnamed diocese.) I don't think I know that many over-scrupulous people in ordinary, day-to-day life.

    Still, how would I know? I suppose anyone who wants to go to confession more than once a week might have a problem---and I suspect teenage girls might be at risk, as when things go wrong or are confusing, girls tend to blame and hate themselves. TERRIBLE. Who'd want to be a teenager again? Not me! I had a dream I was just finishing high school, but fortunately I still had my 40-something brain, and I was all "I'm going to major in Slavic Languages and Business!" At first I thought Polish, but then I considered my advance knowledge of the early 21st century economy and thought I'd better take Russian, too.

    1. I know two very devout people who suffer from anxiety, and it manifests itself as scrupulousness in the realm of religion. One, for example, only prays a decade of the Rosary each day because it would take her hours to say a full rosary -- she keeps thinking that she wasn't focused enough when saying the Hail Mary and starting over. Another, as a child, would ask her mother every night about a laundry list of potential sins (watching a secular TV show, having a crush on a boy) to figure out if she should go to confession.

    2. Hmm. The one who keeps having to start over her Hail Marys sounds like she has OCD. The second one sounds like St. Catherine would highly approve, actually. So would St. Ignatius. In the Ignatian Examination of Conscience, you go over your whole day in your mind, noting what went well, but also noting especially where you erred. It makes sense that a child would go to her mother with her laundry list of sins, so as to get a trusted adult judgement. Watching a secular TV show and having a crush on a boy could potentially be sins, if only very venial. Watching a secular TV show when expressly forbidden to do so by one's parents is certainly a sin, although I would say that being asked to watch it by a friend and her family when over at their house is a mitigating factor.

      I used to worry a lot about whether I should watch TV at friends' houses and even school, as my mother really didn't want me watching TV in the daytime. Really, I should have sat down and talked to her about it, but we didn't have a sitting-down-and-talking relationship. The only place I ever watched "Batman" was at Rosie's house, and what mingled feelings I had about it. Sigh, sigh.

      My childhood prayerbook would have thought watching "Sex & the City" a pretty big sin.I didn't used to think it was--if you were over 21 and sure your behaviour wouldn't be influenced by it--but I was so shocked when the editor of "America" magazine wrote about how much he liked it--and so embarrassed when I watched it with a teenage uni student some years ago--that I have been having another think.