A holy and blessed Christmas to everyone who reads this blog.
A SOLIS ortus cardine
adusque terrae limitem
Christum canamus Principem,
natum Maria Virgine.
FROM lands that see the sun arise,
to earth’s remotest boundaries,
the Virgin-born today we sing,
the Son of Mary, Christ the King.
The fact that the Lord seems to have established control over most of my actions has served to throw into high relief the lack of my submission to him of my thoughts and words. More and more often I come away from some encounter feeling dissatisfied with what I’ve said. What is the good of all this writing about how I am advancing on the path of sanctity when I find myself criticising my former employers, or boasting, or showing impatience? - I managed all three this morning when I went to Morning Prayer.
Worst of all, yesterday I found myself criticising the recent reception of a prominent British politician into the Church. If God is willing to welcome me into his Church with all my sins, who am I to turn round and criticise someone else’s reception? And who am I to judge someone else’s servant?
I hope and pray that becoming more aware of these things will lead to a true repentance and cleansing. At some stage before my Easter reception I have to confess a lifetime’s sins. What can I say except “And God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”?
Deus, qui nos redemptionis nostrae annua expectatione laetificas:
praesta ut Unigenitum tuum, quem Redemptorem laeti suscipimus,
venientem quoque Judicem securi videamus,
Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium tuum:
Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus,
per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
O God, Who dost gladden us by the yearly expectation of our redemption,
grant that we, who now joyfully receive Thine only begotten Son as our Redeemer,
may also without fear behold Him coming as our Judge,
even the same Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son:
Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God,
world without end. Amen.
So God has at last taken me by the scruff of the neck and made me his. He has answered all my questions about how to do his will. This has been an amazing experience because for the last two days I have lived almost completely in his will, as I continue to do today.
The strange thing is that after all my struggles it turns out to be extremely easy. All I have to do is glance towards the Lord and let my conscience tell me what to do next. It is easy and clear. God rarely fails to give a clear answer and when it is not clear I can just continue unperturbed. So easy. And how quickly it has made all the difference to my life.
Time seems to have changed completely. Before I was rushed and couldn’t even get through a minimal workload. Now all is ease and open country. Is this just one of the “consolations” which God gives to beginners - or is it something permanent? My feeling is that even if it gets more difficult, I do at least know what I should be doing.
A question I want to examine is why the other methods I have tried didn’t work. Now I’ve found a method that does work it should be easier to see why they don’t. So let’s have a look at them:
Method 1. Doing nothing unless I get a definite impulse of the Spirit. I found this incredibly hard. I think it’s because although I listened for guidance, I didn’t ask for guidance. That’s a lesson about prayer. God needs to be asked. Just waiting around doesn’t do the job, pace de Caussade. The right answer is a two-way exchange. I apply to God - he responds.
Method 2. I give all my thoughts, worries, cares, etc, to God and then act in faith without making any decisions. What is the problem here? Again it’s the lack of the two-way exchange. In Method 1 I waited for God without applying to him - in Method 2 I act without applying to him. In both cases, the result is the same. there is no exchange of of love between us.
Method 3. This method seems much more similar to the right answer. But instead of glancing towards God to get his will, the request is verbalised: “What is your will, Lord?” So why does that not work? It’s difficult to see what the difference is. It is two-way, but instead of having the beneficial results of the right answer it ends in frustration like the other two.
I think to see the difference I have to try both now. First the right method: I am writing this journal. I glance internally towards God. It is a look of love and trust. Immediately I feel his approval of my going on writing. It is simple and takes no time. I feel at peace as I write. Grace flows smoothly.
Now let’s try Method 3. I am writing this journal. I ask God: “What is your will, Lord?” “Carry on writing” is the response. But I don’t get the sensation of a loving interchange. Instead of a glance of understanding, I have a formal request and a formal command. The verbalisation makes it a matter of intellectualisation, rather than grace. The answer in both cases is the same, but the spirit of the action is very different.
Next question. Why did it take me so long to work this out? I don’t believe it was because God was hiding himself. I think it must have been because of a lack of true commitment on my part. Let’s see what the common factor is that was missing in those three methods. The one obvious word is Love. They are all mechanical ways of getting God’s will, rather than a true loving surrender to the Father. In other words they were all ways of getting God to make me more efficient or feel better or whatever - in short for him to serve my purposes rather than for me to serve his. I have to some extent over the months of struggle been conscious of this. Of course when one has the true loving interchange with God, he delights in serving my purposes. We delight in serving each other’s purposes.
As to why God couldn’t have revealed all this to me ages ago, I don’t know. Perhaps I was unable to hear the answer. Perhaps I needed to battle through these issues in order to understand them fully. I don’t know. But questions like these are exactly what one surrenders into his hands when one makes the Gift of Oneself.
Exsurge, Christe, adjuva nos
Et libera nos proper nomen tuum
Apologies if the title of this posting implies that you, the reader, don’t know what doing God’s will is like - I know that many readers of this blog are far more advanced in this path than I am. What the posting is about is my own discoveries about what it’s like after two days’ experience - some of these discoveries have been surprising.
So here’s a list in no particular order of my impressions:
- I was astonished at the speed at which God has been bringing order back into my life. My email and paper backlogs have vanished as if by magic. My office is starting to look tidy for the first time for ages. Loose ends have been tidied up and things are no longer left lying around after I’ve used them.
- Time seems to have expanded to a remarkable degree. The day has become leisurely instead of fraught. I have had time to do things I have not been finding time for lately, such as reading. I’ve got going again on a whole heap of books which I’d started but abandoned. And most remarkable of all (for me!), I’ve been going to bed at around 10.30 p.m. instead of well after midnight.
- I’ve found myself turning naturally to God in prayer during the day. Sometimes this has been about an issue in the news or in response to some trigger. One of the local Baptist ministers died yesterday after an operation. He was a fine man, and I made a point of saying the Office of the Dead for him.
- My life seems to have become much simpler. There have been so many unnecessary actions making up my days - they all were abandoned. It wasn’t just actions either: I have been finding my thought processes are much simpler. I don’t get into long involved trains of thought anything like so much - and if I do find my mind wandering I just bring it back to God.
- And no, I didn’t manage perfect peace and tranquillity all the time. Yesterday I exploded when Outlook crashed just as I’d completed a rather complicated email, losing the lot. But after a minute or two’s raging, I remembered that all I had to do was raise my eyes for a moment to the Divine Master. Then I just calmly went back to writing the email again and found myself of a sudden quite unbothered.
- Most of the time though the greatest impression has been one of peace. Doing God’s will and nothing but God’s will involves trusting God absolutely. And who or what else is there that is more to be trusted?
Deo gratias et Maria
Here are a couple of extracts from Fr. Schryvers book, The Gift of Oneself, which I mentioned yesterday.
The first answers the question which has been troubling me for years. “It’s fine to desire to do the will of God moment by moment, but how does one actually know what his will is?”
Poor scrupulous Soul, learn to serve God in peace and tranquility!
The obligation of the present moment ceases to be a duty for thee when thou dost not recognize it. If thy mind does not perceive it, for thee it is no longer the Will of God. It is not necessary to devote long efforts to this examination. A second suffices, time to look toward God. Conscience will give the answer. If it is affirmative, the will accepts it; if the answer is negative, the will gives up the idea; if it is doubtful, the will goes on without being disturbed.
When God wishes to give us a command, He does so clearly. He does not desire us to be troubled; for trouble is a cloud that hides Him from our view.
The second extract applies the principle given in the first to the normal business of living. I have found this to be probably the best bit of advice I have ever had!
Take each action by itself, and perform it as if thou hadst nothing else to do today. Work diligently, without laziness, without slowness; but do not be tormented by the desire of finishing. The first action done, raise thine eyes for a moment to the Divine Master; then begin another duty.
Using the method contained in these two extracts, I have had two full days now living almost entirely in the will of God. I will write more soon on what that actually entails, but suffice it for now to say that already order has been brought into my disordered life to a very considerable extent.
Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading an astonishing book - a book I’d never heard of, written by someone I’d never heard of. It is called The Gift of Oneself by Fr. Joseph Schryvers, C.Ss.R.
No details are given in the book about the author or even when the book was written, but since the book was translated from French in 1934 and the author refers to Elisabeth Leseur it would seem that it was most likely written in the 1920s or early 1930s.
The astonishing thing about this unknown book is that it is without the slightest shadow of doubt the best book on living the Christian life that I have ever read. If you’ve read Caussade, then the message is similar - but unlike in Caussade it is explained clearly, simply and without ambiguity. I have been searching for the answers that this book gives long before I started this blog in March this year. And suddenly I find they are given to me all at once.
As a result of reading this book, yesterday was the first day in my life in which I felt that I had spend the entire day, from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night, doing nothing but God’s will. Today (so far) is the second day. It is a wonderful feeling. Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ!
If you want to read this book, I advise you to buy it quickly - before stocks are exhausted by the huge order I am about to put in so that I can give copies to all my friends and relations.
From today’s reading in Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.
This is the fundamental occupation of a soul who wishes to be a “perfect praise of glory” of the Blessed Trinity: to live interiorly in continual silence, listening and adoring God present within her, and exteriorly, being and doing only what the divine Word indicates from moment to moment.
I suppose before I decided to become a Catholic, I subscribed to the view - common among many Anglicans and Catholics too - that there really isn’t that much difference between the different Christian denominations. I basically viewed Catholicism as Anglicanism with a few bolt-on extras, such as the Pope and Mary.
Although this is a common enough Anglican view, it isn’t the view of the more evangelical Christian denominations. They see clearly the truth about Catholicism - it’s an entirely different religion.
Let examine for instance the difference between the Protestant and Catholic views of Mary the mother of Jesus. For most Protestants Mary is a relatively minor New Testament figure. She only really surfaces in the Protestant consciousness at Christmas and lapses back into obscurity for the rest of the year. She is of little more significance than, say, the figure of Zacchaeus and probably has less sermons preached about her.
When I first came as an Inquirer to the Catholic Church I still had very much the view that Mary was an extra, whom I could take or leave as I pleased. It’s only now, after nearly a year, that I am coming to realise that Mary, far from being an extra, is right at the very centre of Catholicism.
Can you imagine any Protestant or even most people who call themselves Anglo-Catholic writing in these terms about her?
The recourse we have to Mary in prayer follows upon the office she continuously fills by the side of the throne of God as Mediatrix of Divine grace; being by worthiness and by merit most acceptable to Him, and, therefore, surpassing in power all the angels and saints in Heaven…..
Thus is confirmed that law of merciful meditation of which We have spoken, and which St. Bernardine of Siena thus expresses: “Every grace granted to man has three degrees in order; for by God it is communicated to Christ, from Christ it passes to the Virgin, and from the Virgin it descends to us.”
Pope Leo XIII Encyclical Iucunda Semper Expectatione (1894) On the Rosary
I’ll write more in the next few days about what this realisation has actually meant to me.
- Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia caeli
- Porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti,
- Surgere qui curat, populo: tu quae genuisti,
- Natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem
- Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore
- Sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere.
Squarespace have just made some major changes to the way that they count statistics, and as they have recalculated the totals for past months, I have got quite a different picture of the way the readership of this blog has developed. Here are the figures for unique visitors for each month:
December 1,571 (so far)
There are two things that impress me about these figures. The first is that there has been a continual growth, even when I haven’t written anything new for some time. The second is the sheer reach and power of the internet. A church with a congregation of 2,308 people would be considered a very thriving one. Yet a small, insignificant, and often neglected blog like this is touching that number of people in some way in a month. The bigger harder-hitting blogs must be having a huge influence.
Advent Sunday was the day on which I took my leave as a member of the Anglican Church and officially joined the Catholic Church as a Candidate.
Perhaps it was appropriate for the last time that I took communion as an Anglican that I did so in one of the finest Anglican settings. As we were visiting relations in the neighbourhood of Winchester that weekend, we went to Winchester Cathedral for the morning service on Sunday. It was a fine, dignified service of Holy Communion with beautiful singing from the Cathedral choir.
In the evening we were back home and I went to the Evening Mass at my church for the Rite of Welcome for me and one other member of my RCIA group. It was chaotic in the way that all Catholic services seem to be these days, yet it was done. Although the Rite of Welcome is not a sacrament, the fact is that I have felt different ever since. I can’t wait until Easter when I will be able to experience the full grace of the sacraments.
I think I’ve mentioned before that entering on the path of being a Catholic has paradoxically resulted in my appreciating the Church of England more. Nowhere is that more true than in the public worship of the two churches. Every Anglican church seems to have a natural dignity about its worship that quite escapes modern-day Catholicism (at least as I’ve experienced it). Even the smallest Anglican congregation seems to be able to make a good fist at singing the hymns. “Catholics can’t sing” is not a stereotype - it’s true - mind you
they we would be helped if they we had some decent hymns to sing in the first place. To me, moving from an Anglican church into a Catholic church in the same town with approximately the same size of congregation, the Catholic Masses by comparison seem sloppy, badly prepared, poorly presented, with dreadful music, banal liturgy, and poor preaching. It’s not peculiar to this one church - it seems to be the same wherever I go.
Of course the positives outweigh the negatives. But it could so easily be different!
It seems a long time since I last wrote a blog entry on doing God’s will. That hasn’t been because nothing has happened. It’s been more that things keep changing so fast that I don’t have time to crystallise my thoughts in writing before the next change!
However I think things have settled down enough now to say that there have been three major things that have happened. They are:
- I am now officially a Candidate, having been welcomed into our congregation by the Rite of Welcome on Advent Sunday.
- My whole understanding of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the church has undergone a radical change.
- I have at last understood what uniformity with God’s will means.
I intend to write about each of these over the next few days.
Anyone who wishes to understand more about the mind-set of pro-choice advocates at the international level should read Dr. Susan Yoshiwara’s paper SIX PROBLEMS WITH “WOMEN DELIVER”
Workshops teaching techniques for undermining religion, culture and family especially in Catholic Latin America and in pro-family culture in Africa were held. Two NGOs advised conferees about how they used false allegations against pro-life clinics to undermine their credibility during public debates leading up to Mexico City’s decision to legalize abortion. Gill Greer, Director General, International Planned Parenthood (IPPF), told the conference how IPPF funds sex education programs for pre-school children using songs and games in school. A pastor from Argentina, Judith VanOsdol, told the conference she uses Sacred Scripture as erotic literature to get young teens interested in sex, taking them on retreats to the mountains away from their parents. Though all of this, no care was taken discuss the dangers associated with sexual activity among children, nor did the UN official present remind participants of the numerous binding and non-binding UN documents that guarantee the rights of parents in the moral education of their children according to their cultural and religious beliefs.
“… the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house.” St Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus.
Still spot on after 1,600 years!
It’s been twelve days since I wrote on Saturday 13th that I would report back on my experiences “tomorrow”. But not until now have I seemed to reach a point where I could stand back and take a cool look at what has happened.
Not that anything spectacular has happened on the outside. There have been no great developments in my life to be seen. But inside - in the “interior life” - it is as if everything has changed.
I’ve become much more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. And it has become much easier for me to listen to this leading for quite long periods at a time. But the converse has been, that I have become much more aware of the disastrous consequences when I do not listen to the Holy Spirit. It’s almost as if I were making some beautiful artifact and then, just as I was beginning to get somewhere and it was beginning to take shape, I took a hammer and smashed up everything I had made and had to start again.
But apart from this the Lord has taught me a lot about myself. I have been shown how impulsive I am and how I react to the smallest things - how little I have been in control of my actions in fact. Paradoxically the more I allow my perception of God’s will to control my actions, the more I feel that I am now really myself.
I have begun to pray the rosary seriously - not just for itself but as a way to achieve prayer intentions. I am now on the 5th day of the 2nd novena of the “54 days of prayer” and I am praying for the conversion of my wife to the fullnes of the Catholic faith. For those who don’t know the 54 days of prayer it consists of praying five decades of the rosary each day for six novenas. The first three novenas are in petition, and the second three novenas are in thanksgiving (whether or not there has been any outward manifestation of the prayer being granted).
On the fourth day of the first novena, my son called to tell me that he had just got engaged to his girlfriend, whom he has been living with for four years. I know that isn’t exactly what I was praying for, but my experience of prayer is that whenever one prays for one thing properly, other related things come right too along the way.
As a converting Protestant, the whole concept of “rosaries” and “novenas” has been anathema to me in the past. But now I am experiencing the power of praying in these kinds of way. I am realising that the way Catholics approach prayer is different to Protestants. For Protestants prayer is like trying to wheedle something out of a reluctant parent. For Catholics it is more like writing a cheque or sending in an order on the internet. You do something and certain results follow. Not because it’s “magic”, but because that’s the way it’s been set up to work.
I have of course grossly oversimplified here, but I do really think there is a basic difference in attitude.
Anyway, I will keep praying!
A strange thought crossed my mind today:
When I was a teenager back in the early 1960s, the fastest growing religion in England had its services in another language, its members fasted regularly, the women covered their heads, and prayer was enjoined several times a day.
And now in the present day the fastest growing religion in England still has its services in another language, its members fast regularly, the women cover their heads and prayer is enjoined several times a day.
Only it’s a different religion.
Today’s issue of the www dot chiesa newsletter has drawn my attention to the fact that it is one hundred years since the issue of Pope St Pius X’s encyclical against modernism Pascendi Dominici Gregis.
I’m going to devote a bit of time over the next few days to read the encyclical to see how much of it is still applicable today, and also how much was prophetic of what was to come.
One quote at random:
Equal diligence and severity are to be used in examining and selecting candidates for Holy Orders. Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty!
Amen to that!
Yesterday in the late morning, I felt as if God were asking me whether I was prepared to put my life entirely into his hands for the next half of the day, i.e. from 12 noon to 12 midnight. The challenge was to do nothing at all unless I felt that he was telling me to do something.
I accepted the challenge, and as a result had one of the most remarkable twelve hours of my life. What happened was that I spent virtually the entire period in prayer. The only specific actions I took were to eat two meals and wash up afterwards, make endless cups of tea, send one urgent email and read a few short passages out of “Humility of Heart”. That was it.
As far as the prayer was concerned, I said None, Vespers, Compline, Matins and Lauds out of the Divine Office at the appropriate times, but otherwise spent the whole time in an attitude of listening. At one point in the evening I got a bit distracted, but soon pulled myself back to the listening again.
Frankly before I did this, I would have said it was impossible for me to spend the greater part of twelve hours in prayer. But it didn’t seem in the least difficult at the time. In fact the Lord made it clear to me that the purpose of this half-day was to train me in hearing his voice. The essential first step in doing this was to train me in not responding to all my own impulses. I became very aware of how much unnecessary activity I am engaged in every day - how I jump from one thing to another - and also how easy it is to confuse religious activity with the true action that comes from listening to God’s will.
At the end of the day, I felt that God was challenging me to put myself in his hands for the whole of the next day (i.e. today). So far it has been very different. I’ll report on it tomorrow.
I came across an interesting passage in Charles William’s All Hallow’s Eve the other day. One of the characters is thinking about his dead wife and he realises that, although he had been kind to her, she had acted towards him in an entirely different way.
When she had served him - how often!- she had not done it from kindness or unselfishness; it had been because she wished what he wished and was his servant to what he desired. Kindness, patience, forbearance were not enough; he had had them, but she had had love.