Friday, January 31, 2014

Ven. Arintero on the Stages of Ordinary or Ascetical Prayer

The first stage is that of vocal prayer, in which conversation with God is maintained with the usual signs of articulated language. It can thus be seen that this is always within reach of all, and will be so long as that external language is not replaced by the heart's silent expression or by the completely supernatural language of the Spirit who is all-pervading: "He searches all things, yea the deep things of God" (1 Cor. 2:10). There are many simple persons who, unless they use words, can scarcely manage to express their humble feelings before the Lord, so that, when they close their lips, as St. Teresa noted, it seems to them that they are also closing the eyes of their mind.

But these very persons, as the Saint adds so expressively, although they feel incapable of meditating all their life long, are not thereby excluded from entering in due course into mystical repose, that is, into the royal mansion of contemplation. [1] On the contrary, if they persevere faithfully in this simple manner of prayer of theirs, even though they confine themselves merely to repeating, but with all their heart, the short petitions of the Our Father, in them alone, and especially in the first three, they will find inexhaustible treasures, such that, when they are least thinking of it, they will thereby be raised to the highest degree of contemplation and union. [2]

But the ordinary way, particularly in persons with a certain degree of education, is that they maintain their fervor and recollection better, if they keep their lips closed and pray only in mind and heart (1 Cor. 14:15); God understands their thoughts, desires, and affections very well, without there being any need for them to express them verbally. This interior conversation, or conversation from the heart, which at this stage is generally carried out "in spirit and in truth," is mental prayer, which can take on many different forms, and constitute numerous stages, as will be seen.

To the second stage of prayer belongs what we call meditation, that is, consideration of the mysteries of God, or discursive prayer, to which almost all those who embrace the spiritual life [3] with a certain amount of religious knowledge devote a shorter or longer period, and in which ordinarily, and particularly at the beginning, it behoves us to proceed methodically and step by step, in order to learn to use that precious time well and with profit. Hence almost always one has to begin by the acts of preparation, namely by composition of place, reading, meditation, reflection, etc., which are, so to speak, instructions for learning how to converse with our Lord and his saints, by means of the affections, petition, praise, offering, thanksgiving, practical resolutions, etc., in which the essence of prayer consists and which, therefore, should never be lacking, even if the rest should be lacking. Thus when the soul succeeds in doing this with a certain skill, and ceases to be an apprentice, it ought then to suppress certain of the acts of preparation which now become useless, and confine itself to the principal part of its prayer, that is, the loving conversation and petitions. [4]

However, almost always the movement of the affections must be acquired through considerations which force us to make strong resolutions by which, aided by the lights and helps which we therein beg God to give us, we can day by day correct ourselves of some particular vice or defect and make progress in virtue, in order to serve God with more fidelity and fervor, which is what we go to prayer to learn and accomplish. But the light, fervor, sweetness, and devotion which we thus derive, and the very firmness of our resolutions, although produced in a human way, that is, after the manner of other ordinary resolutions by means of considerable reflection and consideration, with a labor—to use St. Teresa's attractive image (Life, ch. 11-18)—comparable to that of a man drawing a little water out of a well by the strength of his arms—all this, I say, does not depend so much on our own efforts, although they are normally indispensable, as on God who deposited there with the abundance and depth needed, that mysterious spiritual water—the water of the wisdom of salvation—that we seek for our cleansing and refreshment, that it may fortify us and heal us of our soul's diseases. Like every precious gift, these virtues and precious qualities depend exclusively, as does also the very abundance and right proportion of this water of life, on the most high Giver of all good things and Father of lights (Jas. 1:17; cf. Louis of Granada, De la Devoción, ch. 5, no. 17).

Thus it may happen that in spite of all our efforts, at times we may not succeed in drawing even a single drop of that mysterious water, because the Owner of it has willed that that day it should not flow, or has willed to leave the well quite dry; while on the following day, perhaps at the first effort—and even without any effort—he will provide water in abundance. . . .

Thus it is that although we may be able to as a general rule to use this method of discursive prayer, that is, meditation, whenever we will and at the hour we willfor at all hours, with the ordinary grace that is, as it were, to our hand, we can reflect upon the mysteries of our faith and exercise ourselves more or less successfully in the acts and affections of faith, hope, and charity, which will be an excellent mental prayer [5]—yet we cannot have it as we will, but as it is given to us, with the fervor, sweetness, tenderness, and other feelings which the Lord deigns to bestow upon us together with a certain hidden inflowing of his gifts of fear, piety, knowledge, counsel, etc. This inflowing of the gifts already gives this prayer a certain "supernatural" or mystical aspect.

Thus we see that, although meditation (because in it all our faculties concur, working to the fullness of their capacity) is the form of prayer most characteristic of the ascetical life, for it is so even more than vocal prayer itself (which is wont at times to become mystical and wholly in the spirit, without our knowing how); yet with all this there can be noted in it, in the midst of our ordinary activity and all our own initiatives, a certain passive quality, a certain super-human mode, which is proper to the gifts with which the Holy Spirit deigns to intervene to refresh our thirsty souls and give them, even here and now, some rest. [6]

At times he intervenes so quickly and in such a way that we have only to begin to prepare ourselves, or to begin the reading or the consideration, to feel ourselves already filled with an abundance of affections and without the inclination to exercise ourselves in anything else but in following the sweet movements and inspirations with which the divine Comforter then so lovingly forestalls us, so that almost without any labor, we may the sooner succeed in enjoying his sweet fruits. Then, obviously, we ought not to go on painfully seeking what, without labor, we have already found. [7]

If this occurs frequently so that we are seldom able to remain in meditation or even to attend to what we read; or if, forcing ourselves to do so, we become dryer instead of more fervent and end by not understanding what we read or by immediately forgetting it so completely that we cannot think of the point prepared or of anything, nor even reflect—then we ought to content ourselves with offering to God the affections which he himself deigns to put into or suggest to our heart, and keep him company in sweet and loving conversation and petition. [8] This is what constitutes the third stage of prayer, in which something "supernatural" or infused an already begin to be noted.



1. From this will be seen how inaccurate is [Fr. Alphonsus] Rodríguez' statement (Tr. V, ch. 18) that contemplation is "a very special gift from God, which he does not give to all, but to whom he pleases" [....]

"From imperfect vocal prayer," said the Eternal Father to St. Catherine of Siena (Dialogue, ch. 66), "by persevering in the exercise, the soul will come to perfect mental prayer (which is infused contemplation); but it will never be able to reach this point if it merely tries to add to the number of its vocal prayers and deserts mental prayer for them. There are souls so ignorant that when they set themselves to recite a certain number of prayers, although I then visit them in many different ways, they are unwilling to receive my visit lest they interrupt that which they have begun. This (unless such prayers are of obligation) is a manifest error. As soon then as they are aware of my visit, they ought to suspend their devotions. . . . Perfect prayer is not acquired with many words, but with the affection of desire which rises up to me, with self-knowledge, and knowledge of my Goodness, and thus it will be vocal and mental prayer at the same time."

St. Lawrence Justinian (De Perfectionis gradibus, ch. 12) affirms the very great usefulness of vocal prayer as the door or ordinary channel by which we begin to taste the sweetness of contemplation, that is of infused prayer, made entirely in spirit. According to this writer, this already begins in some measure with affective prayer, however much one has to make use in it at times of various devices for remedying dryness and arousing the senses. His words are—"Vocal prayer is very useful, for it is the door and gateway to the experience of mental prayer, the prayer which is wholly in the spirit (John 4). . . .  This clearly is a mode that is wholly spiritual, formed from the heart's affection in the presence of God, not from our own industry, a mode which the Holy Spirit certainly infuses into the mind of him who practices it, as he leads the soul to ask for it. Whatever is asked for in this mode of prayer is easily obtained, for the Holy Spirit co-operates with the heart of the suppliant, teaching him and, beyond all question, moving him to ask—For the rest, when in the meantime (not, however, without the divine disposition) the mind of him who prays is dry and left to its own resources for it has now expended its devotion, he causes it to be lifted up and stirs it to pray to God, not always uniformly but in many different ways, as it feels itself drawn." Thus what is infused becomes blended with what is acquired, the passive with the active.

2. "It is an amazing thing," says St. Teresa (Way of Perfection, ch. 37), "how high in perfection is this prayer of the Gospel; like the Master who teaches it. I was astounded to find here in so few words the whole of contemplation and perfection contained, so that it appears we need no other book, but to study this, for here the Lord has shown us the highest method of contemplation in its entirety, from the beginnings of mental prayer to the most sublime and perfect contemplation." "In this way," she adds further on (ch. 42), "this marvelous prayer contains within itself the whole spiritual path from the beginning until we are wholly absorbed in God and given to drink abundantly from the fountain of living water."

3. "Meditation, particularly on the Passion," says St. Teresa (Life, ch. 13), "is the way of prayer by which all have to begin, proceed and end, and a very excellent and sure way, until the Lord raises them to supernatural things." 

4. "Returning to those who use discursive prayer, I say that they should not let all the time slip away on this, because although it is very meritorious, they do not realize, for it is a prayer in which there is pleasure, that there ought to be . . . a time in which one should refrain from work. Therefore it appears to them that the time is lost, but I consider this loss a gain. As I have said, they should imagine themselves in the presence of Christ, and without weariness of the mind, should be speaking with him and delighting in his presence, without tiring themselves by composing speeches to him, but presenting their necessities. . . . As I spent much time in this stage, I have pity on those who begin with books alone, for it is strange how differently one understands (from books) from what is afterwards learnt by experience" (St. Teresa, Life, ch. 13).

"This loving conversation," remarks St. Louis Bertrand (De la Oración, ch. 8, no. 1), " the saints call the practice of aspiring to divine love. To this end, meditation and prayer and all other good exercises are ordered. Wherefore it is given as a general rule to all those who pray, that they should strive as far as possible to raise the mind to this divine conversation, that is, to speak and converse with God himself, especially in converse of love and exercises of aspiration."

"To pray well," said the Curé d'Ars (Life, by Monnin, vol. 5, ch. 4), "much speaking is unnecessary. Since we know that God is there, in the sacred tabernacle, let us open our hearts to him, let us delight in his holy presence. This is the best prayer."

"On going to prayer," says M. Olier (Catéchisme chrétien, pt. 2, conf. 10), "the only thing the soul has to do is to unite itself with Jesus Christ, who is the prayer and praise of the whole Church; so that if the soul is united to our Lord and gives heartfelt assent to all the praise which he gives his Eternal Father and to all the petitions that he makes, it does not lack profit; on the contrary, it makes much more progress than if it were to pray of its own initiative, wanting to persist in adoring, loving, praising, and praying to God, of itself and by its own acts. Through this union, the soul becomes wider than the sea, for it expands like the soul and the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who prays throughout the whole Church."

5. "Faith believes, hope and charity pray, and by praying, they obtain" (St. Augustine, De orando Deum, Epist. 121, ch. 8).

6. "In the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the human mind does not behave as moving but as moved" (St. Thomas, Summa Th., 2-2æ, q. 52, a. 2, ad 1). In this way meditation itself might be regarded as an initial form of contemplation. "Meditation," says Vallgornera (Théol. myst., q. 2, d. 6, a. 2), "is the first stage of the life of contemplation and ordinarily we cannot rise to contemplation without it."

7. "As the discursive prayer," remarks the Ven. Palafox (Varón de Deseos, pt. 3, Sent. 5), "is practiced to move the will, when the latter is aroused, it would appear to be superfluous, so that in this case it is not necessary to suggest motives for loving what is already loved. But (ordinarily) it is always good to begin one's prayer by setting before oneself motives or holy considerations, so that the soul may not delay to recollect itself and also so that it does not become over-confident. Although the most ordinary way is for God to lead souls to perfection beginning by discursive prayer, 'some, nevertheless,' notes Álvarez de la Paz (De Inquis. pacis, bk. 4, pt. 3, ch. 2), 'he is wont to place in the state of affective prayer right from the beginning of their conversion and without meditation, and to burn away all that is impure and sinful in them with the fire of his love. Then, indeed, meditation is not to be insisted upon, but the soul should move quickly along the path of affective prayer. . . .  We recognize that someone has been called to affective prayer if he is unable to meditate . . .  and, conversely, if he easily rises to affective love, if he finds peace of heart in it, . . . and if he makes progress in every virtue. He to whom this applies is not to be bound to meditation, nor to thinking out points beforehand and preparing discourses, but to be taught gently according to his vocation and method of prayer."

8. [...] "Although all the time of prayer," says P. Massoulié, O.P. (Traité de la véritable oraíson, pt. 3, ch. 3), "be passed in the exercise of a single virtue, for instance of divine love at the sight of a crucifix, it would be very perfect, for the soul would possess what is the end of all prayer, namely, union with God, which is effected by love."


Source: Fr. John G. Arintero, Stages in Prayer, trans. by Kathleen Pond (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1957), 9-15.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ven. John Arintero on Configuration in Christ through Prayer

By baptism, indeed, we are grafted into Christ so as to form with him one single body—his mystical Body. We are given life by his very Spirit. His divine sentiments enter into us in ever-increasing measure, in proportion as we strip ourselves of our own. [...]

All our good consists, then, in cleaving to God until we have become one spirit with him; in being truly docile and teachable towards him, never grieving his loving Spirit, not resisting, much less extinguishing the Spirit, or letting him call to us in vain; striving, on the contrary, to be very attentive to him, interiorly recollected that we may catch every sound of his voice, and desiring faithfully to accomplish that which the Lord our God deigns to speak within us, for he speaks words of peace to his saints and to all those who are converted to the heart (cf. Ps. 84, 9). Then, dwelling in us, as St. John of the Cross says (Living Flame of Love, cant. 4, v. 2), 'with pleasure', he will not tarry in making himself the sweet Master, Director, Consoler and Lord of our souls, moving and governing us in all things as if we were perfect sons of God [....]

To this end all the intimate, loving and familiar intercourse with God by means of prayer and contemplation is ordained, to the copying and imitation as perfectly as possible—allowing the divine Spirit to imprint them in us 'supernaturally'—of the adorable perfections of the Heavenly Father, striving to this purpose to become con-figured to his Only-begotten Son, the splendour [sic] of his glory and our exemplar and model. [1]

In order, then, to understand the stages which this divine life offers and the phenomena which it presents from the time it is received in baptism until it is fully unfolded in Glory, it is essential to keep well before the mind all the mysteries—joyful, sorrowful and glorious—of the life of our Lord. To that end it is good that we should meditate on them deeply at the side of Mary, Mother of divine Grace, in the holy Rosary; for all of them—from the Incarnation itself, by the Holy Spirit, of the Virgin Mary, and from the birth of Christ to his passion, death, resurrection, and the sending of the same divine Spirit, in which sending the marvels of the Christian life are consummated—have to be reproduced, each in its own way, as in so many other Christs, in all perfect Christians. [2] Those in whom they have not been reproduced in any way will always be very imperfect and puny followers of Christ, as St. Bernard warns us (Sermon 44).



1. [...] 'The formal ground by which we know these causes,' says John of St. Thomas (In I-IIæ, q. 70, disp. 18, a. 4, no. 6), is a certain interior experience of God, and of divine things, in the very savouring [sic] of them: either through feeling and delight, or it may be described, where these spiritual things are concerned, as an interior touch of the will. For our of this union the soul becomes as it were connatural with divine things, and through her very savouring of them, distinguishes them from created things and those of sense.

Since, therefore, the gift of wisdom is not just any sort of wisdom but the spirit of wisdom, that is, it is in feeling and spirit, and since it is by the very giving of this gift that we experience in ourselves what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God, judging from divine things themselves, it is necessary that the formal ground by which the gift of wisdom attains the highest, that is, the divine cause, is the very knowledge which it has experimentally of God, in so far as he is united with us, deeply rooted within our hearts, and gives himself to us: this, indeed, is to know according to the spirit and not only by the light of our own minds, or by discursive reason demonstrating the essence of a thing. To know according to the spirit arises from the very experience of union.'

2. 'In Christ all are crucified, all dead, all buried, all indeed are risen again.' St. Leo, Sermon 64, 7.

'Whatever was wrought in the cross of Christ, in his burial, in his resurrection on the third day, in his ascension into heaven, and in his sitting at the right hand of the Father, that was wrought that to these things . . . the Christian life which is here lived might be configured.' St. Augustine: Enchiridion, 14.

'We cannot be pleasing to our heavenly Father,' says Dom Guéranger, 'except in so far as he sees in us Jesus Christ, his Son. This divine Saviour [sic], full of goodness, deigns to come to each one of us; and if we are willing to allow him to work, he will gradually transform us into himself in such a way that we shall no longer live by our own life, but by his. Such is the end of all Christianity: to divinize man by Jesus Christ who thus communicates himself to man. Such is the sublime mission entrusted to the Church who, with St. Paul (Gal. iv, 19) says to the faithful: "My little children, of whom I am in labour [sic] again until Christ be formed in you." '


Source: Source: Fr. John G. Arintero, Stages in Prayer, trans. by Kathleen Pond (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1957), 1-4.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fr. David Greenstock on the Sanctification of the Family

We must never forget that marriage is a sacrament, something holy, and not a mere permission to accept a state less perfect than virginity because one could not quite make the grade. It is every bit as difficult to live a holy married life as it is to live a life of celibacy in the priesthood or the religious state; and it is just as important for the well-being of the Church.

Writing of Christian marriage, Pope Pius XI says that husbands and wives, by means of the sacrament and the charity which informs it, must have 'a persevering endeavour [sic] to bring each other to the state of perfection'. There is a great truth enshrined in those simple words. When two people become 'one flesh' by means of this sacrament they dedicate themselves to a common life together which embraces both the natural and the supernatural order. They are bound, not merely to seek perfection as individuals, but also as a family unit with in the Mystical Body. This applies not only to husband and wife but also to the children. Salvation and perfection are no longer individual goals, so to speak; on the contrary, the spiritual perfection of a husband will depend very much on his efforts to help his wife and children to attain that same end. The same is true of a wife and mother—she must attain her perfection in and through her marriage obligations. [...]

A good Catholic marriage lived in full accordance with the laws of God can have a stunning effect on a world which is lost in a maze of false principles concerning divorce, birth control, and sex. Such a marriage can prove to be the best of all demonstrations that the true sanctity of this human contract is at a much deeper level than mere obedience to a spiritual authority. It is essentially an expression of love—of a love which is no mere sentiment, but a sacramental love which mirrors the love which prompted God to become man and to found a Church, uniting Himself with it.

The apostolate of the Catholic family is simply to be a loving, united whole, working for a full life of the Spirit within and through the obligations of that state. The sacrament must be allowed to permeate and sanctify every element in that union if its full purpose is to be achieved. It must orientate the theological and moral virtues, for example. There will be a special need in marriage for prudence, fortitude, patience, purity, confidence in God, and temperance in all its varied forms. 

The practice of religion must now be an act of virtue in which two people act as one. Family prayers provide an example of this. The family must be at Mass, at confession, and Communion. The virtue of piety now comes into its own in a special way, prompting obedience on the part of the children and loving service on that of the parents. It should never be forgotten in this connection that the foundation of true Christian education is the family. If the family education is missing or is defective, then all other education is liable to fail in its aims and become an elaborate superstructure on a defective foundation.

This has practical applications in every department of life. Parents must not rely entirely on the school to educate their children in religion. Morning and evening prayers must become a family affair, not something merely individual. There must be a family effort to overcome the materialistic attitude of the world around us, a spontaneous family attitude of living faith which is seriously put into practice. There must be authority and obedience in a Catholic family, because love is based on the keeping of the law. This is the very basis of sanctity inside the family unit and should never be forgotten. However, both authority and obedience must be based on love if they are to avoid becoming arbitrary dictatorship and servility.

Prayer is, of course, the foundation of this Catholic family atmosphere. Prayer in common, the Mass, the family Rosary, etc., will do more than the mere formal teaching of religion to bring about an effective family sanctity. The great feasts of the Church, birthdays, anniversaries, and patron-saint days will be important landmarks which will bring the whole family into intimate contact with the world of spiritual realities.

Once this truly religious atmosphere has been attained, it will be a simple matter to include such things as spiritual reading in common, a simple but careful study of the doctrines of the Church and, when the children are still young, instruction in the truths of faith. As they grow older, there will be the need for guidance through conversation and discussion of various topics in order to maintain their Catholic standards of values. The work of both husband and wife must be sanctified, not merely as individual daily tasks, but as a family concern. Here mutual help and understanding play a very great part in the family sanctification.

In such an atmosphere the gulf which sometimes appears between religion and secular life will vanish, because the sense of being given to God as a family unity will sanctify even the most frivolous entertainments as well as the more serious side of life. Family joys and the pleasures of married life together will acquire a new, richer, and deeper meaning for all. Nothing can break the power for good of a Catholic marriage as the central unit both of the Church and of the State, provided it is lived for and in God.

In this way the family becomes first of all a great source of personal and communal sanctity in which the members all work for themselves and for others. It also becomes a power-house of personal example of what the love of God means when translated into effective action. It becomes the breeding ground for solid vocations on which the Church depends to provide priests and religious. Above all, it is the most effective spearhead for our attack on the indifference and malice of a world which has lost the sense of sin and true spiritual peace. In the sanctification of the family unit lies the hope for the sanctification of the world.


Source: Fr. David L. Greenstock, "Christian Perfection and the States of Life," in The Meaning of Christian Perfection (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1956), 145-147.

Distinction: Apostolate Vs. Career

The apostolate is also a social action because it is the activity not of an isolated individual but of a person in a society; for the Christian apostle the authentic society is the Church, the people of God. The apostolate, as a social function, bespeaks a necessary relation to others; the apostle needs others, else he can have no apostolate. Moreover, only those activities which have a social aspect can be classified under the apostolate.

This gives rise to the distinction between the apostolate and a career or profession. The profession may serve others, but as it is a means of livelihood it is self-regarding. The apostle, on the other hand, simply serves others. [1]



1. St. Thomas admits (2a2æ. 181, 2 ad 2) that the exterior acts of virtue do perfect a person engaged in the active life and can readily dispose him for the exercises of the contemplative life (2a2æ. 182, 3; 4 ad 3).


Source: Fr. Jordan Aumann, "Appendix 7: The Apostolate," in Summa Theologiæ: Volume 46: Action and Contemplation, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Cambridge: Blackfriars, 1966), 120.

Fr. Jordan Aumann on Sanctification Through Action

A [...] source of confusion possible is the identification of 'life' with 'action'. The second in ordinary speech almost invariably means transitive action. The first, in turn, suggests vital operations, understood generally as external actions, even if the scholastic definition of life does insist that it is immanent activity. From such usage arise such expressions as 'formation through action' or the 'spirituality of action'. Should 'action' here be understood as exterior activity sufficient to itself as a form of 'life', without an interior source, then we have the 'heresy of action', referred to by Pope Pius XII (Letter to the Superior General of the Jesuits, June 16, 1944; cf. Documentation Catholique XIII, p. 7). Taken in this way, these expressions would even be inaccurate philosophically; external action receives a properly human value from interiority, from the immanent operations of life. On a truly human level the active life can never mean merely the execution of external activity, but necessarily involves the acts of mind and will, immanent activities. [...]

The phrase 'sanctification through action' is apt if certain qualifications are kept in mind. The first, that it be understood in the context of an accurate concept of the virtue of charity. In recent times there has been a tendency to exaggerate the love of neighbour [sic] to the point of an erroneous theology. This is a logical sequel to the identification of life with action, action with transitive action and charity with transitive action. Some have gone so far as to prefer to call charity by the name 'service'. This is to ignore the truth: charity's specifying objective is God himself, it is a theological virtue uniting us to God's lovable goodness in our love of him, self and neighbour.

As a result the 'disinterestedness' of charity is confused. Not all disinterested love of others is charity. Nor is the disinterestedness of charity itself such that it excludes love for God from love of neighbour. The contrary is, of course, true. It is love of God that makes love of neighbour charity at all. Any other concept of love of neighbour would reduce the apostolate to a level of mere philanthropy or social work, and have serious consequences upon the theology of the spiritual life.

The command of charity is that a man must love God with all his heart and soul and strength and his neighbour as himself (Luke 10, 27). Charity's objectives are, then, God, self, neighbour. This is why in repeated papal teaching there has been insistence upon apostolic works being performed with personal sanctification as preparation and source. It is not external activities themselves that sanctify a person, but the intensity of love for God with which they are done. The measure of holiness always remains the intensity of charity. And charity itself is intensified in the sense of being more deeply rooted in the person's will; this comes about through its own immanent activity. An intensification of charity's own immanent activity is not opposed to the work of the active life. Rather it is the indispensable prerequisite. In fact there can only be a true intensification of the love of neighbour, thus of a true apostolate, where there is an intensification of the love of God. The love of God is the motive for the love of neighbour.


Source: Fr. Jordan Aumann, "Appendix 6: Action and the Interior Life," in Summa Theologiæ: Volume 46: Action and Contemplation, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Cambridge: Blackfriars, 1966), 117-119.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on the Spirit of Confidence in Providence

The spirit that should animate our self-abandonment to Providence

Is it a spirit that depreciates our hope of salvation in the plea of advanced perfection, as the Quietists claimed? Quite the contrary: it must be a spirit of deep faith, confidence, and love.

The will of God, as expressed by His commandments, is that we should hope in Him and labor confidently in the work of our salvation in the face of every obstacle. This expressed will of God pertains to the domain of obedience, not of self-abandonment. This latter concerns the will of His good pleasure on which depends our still uncertain future, the daily occurrences in the course of our life, such as health and sickness, success and misfortune.

To sacrifice our salvation, our eternal happiness, on the plea of perfection, would be absolutely contrary to that natural inclination for happiness which, with our nature, we have from God. It would be contrary to Christian hope, not only to that possessed by the common run of the faithful, but also to that of the saints, who in the severest trials have hoped on "against all human hope," to use St. Paul's phrase (Rom. 4:18), even when all seemed lost. Nay, to sacrifice our eternal beatitude in this way would be contrary to charity itself, by which indeed we love God for His own sake and desire to possess Him that we may eternally proclaim His glory. [...]

Far from it: self-abandonment involves the exercise in an eminent degree of the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity, as it were fused into one. [1]

It is nevertheless true to say that God purifies our desire from the self-love with which it may be tinged by leaving us in some uncertainty about it and so inducing us to love Him more exclusively for His own sake.

We should abandon ourselves to God in the spirit of faith, believing with St. Paul (Rom. 8:28) that "all things work together unto good" in the lives of those who love God and persevere in His love. Such an act of faith was that made by holy Job [....]

In the same spirit Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son in obedience to God's command, abandoning himself in the deepest faith to the divine will of good pleasure in all that concerned the future of his race. We are reminded of this by St. Paul when he tells us in the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:17): "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son (to whom it was said: in Isaac shall thy seed be called), accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead." Far less exacting are the trials we have to endure, though on account of our weakness they sometimes seem to weigh heavily upon us.

At any rate, let us believe with the saints that whatever the Lord does He does well, when He sends us humiliations and spiritual dryness as when He heaps honors and consolations upon us. As Father Piny remarks, nowhere is there a deeper or more lively faith than in the conviction that God arranges everything for our welfare, even when He appears to destroy us and overthrow our most cherished plans, when He allows us to be calumniated, to suffer permanent ill-health, and other afflictions still more painful. [2] This is great faith indeed, for it is to believe the apparently incredible: that God will raise us up by casting us down; and it is to believe this in a practical and living way, not merely an abstract and theoretical way. [...] Every one of us must by humility be numbered among [the] little ones, among those that hunger for divine truth which is the true bread of the soul.

While fulfilling our daily duties, then, we must abandon ourselves to almighty God in a spirit of deep faith, which must also be accompanied by an absolutely childlike confidence in His fatherly kindness. Confidence (fiducia or confidentia), says St. Thomas (IIaIIæ, q.129, a.6), is a steadfast or intensified hope arising from a deep faith in the goodness of God, who, according to His promises, is ever at hand to help usDeus auxilians [NB: "helping/healing God"—a reference to the merciful omnipotence of God]. [3]

As the psalms declare: "Blessed are they that trust in the Lord" (2:12); "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved forever that dwelleth in Jerusalem" (124:1); "Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in Thee" (15:1); "In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me not be confounded" (30:1).

St. Paul (Rom. 4:18) reminds us how Abraham, in spite of his advanced years, believed in the divine promise that he would be the father of many nations, and adds: "Against hope, he believed in hope. . . .  In the promise also of God he staggered not by distrust: but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God: most fully knowing that whatsoever He has promised, He is able to perform." [...]

As Father Piny notes, to do one's duty in all earnestness and then to resign oneself with entire confidence into our Lord's hands is the true mark of a member of His flock. What better way can there be of hearkening to the voice of the good Shepherd than by constantly acquiescing in all that He demands of us, lovingly beseeching Him to have pity on us, throwing ourselves confidently into the arms of His mercy with all our failings and regrets? By so doing, we are at the same time placing in His hands all our fears for both the past and the future. This holy self-abandonment is not at all opposed to hope, but is childlike confidence in its holiest form united with a love becoming ever more and more purified.

Love in its purest form, in fact, depends for its support upon the will of God, after the example of our Lord who said: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, that I may perfect His work" (John 4:34); "Because I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 5:30). Thus no more perfect or nobler or purer way of loving God can be found than to make the divine will our own, fulfilling God's will as expressed to us and then abandoning ourselves entirely to His good pleasure. For souls that follow this road, God is everything: eventually, they can say in very truth: "My God and my all." God is their center; they find no peace but in Him, by submitting all their aspirations to His good pleasure and accepting tranquilly all that He does. At times of greatest difficulty St. Catherine of Siena would remember the Master's words to her: "Think of Me and I will think of thee."

Rare indeed are the souls that attain to such perfection as this. And yet it is the goal at which we all must aim. St. Francis de Sales says:
Our Lord loves with a most tender love those who are so happy as to abandon themselves wholly to His fatherly care, letting themselves be governed by His divine Providence, without any idle speculations as to whether the workings of this providence will be useful to them, to their profit, or painful to their loss, and this because they are well assured that nothing can be sent, nothing permitted by this paternal and most loving heart, which will not be a source of good and profit to them. All that is required is that they should place all their confidence in Him. . . . When, in fulfilling our daily duties, we abandon everything, our Lord takes care of everything and orders everything. . . .  The soul has nothing else to do but to rest in the arms of our Lord like a child on its mother's breast. When she puts it down to walk, it walks until she takes it up again, and when she wishes to carry it, she is allowed to do so. It neither knows nor thinks where it is going, but allows itself to be carried or led wherever its mother pleases. So this soul lets itself be carried when it lovingly accepts God's good pleasure in all things that happen, and walks when it carefully effects all that the known (expressed) will of God demands. [4]
Then it can truly say with our Lord: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John 4:34). Therein it finds its peace, which even now is in some sort the beginning of eternal life within us—inchoatio vitæ æternæ.



1. Certain authors have spoken of the virtue of self-abandonment. In reality the act of self-abandonment has its source not in a special virtue, but in the three theological virtues combined with the gift of piety.

2. In the lives of many saints we see how the appalling calumnies they had to endure became, by God's permission, the occasion of a marvelous increase in their love for Him.

3. We are especially reminded of this, the formal motive of hope, in the name of Jesus, which means Savior, and in various titles given to the Blessed Virgin: Help of Christians, Refuge of Sinners, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

4. St. Francis de Sales, Spiritual Conferences, tr. by Mackey, O.S.B., Conference II, p. 25. The interior conviction expressed in this passage, as proceeding from the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, far surpasses any theological speculation.


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Providence, trans. by Dom Bede Rose (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1998), 230-236.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fr. Antonio Royo Marin on Self-Love and Union with God

The soul that aspires to perfect union with God must strive energetically against no other enemies as against its own self-love, which subtly penetrates even holy things. It must examine the true motive for its actions, continually rectify its intentions, and not place as its goal or the goal of all its activities and efforts anything other than the glory of God and the perfect fulfillment of his divine will. It must keep constantly in mind the decisive words of Christ himself, who makes perfect self-abnegation the indispensable condition for following him: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).


Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marin, The Theology of Christian Perfection, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 323.

A Synthesis of St. John of the Cross's Doctrine on Union with God

The reason for the necessity of detachment from creatures for perfect union with God is given in a masterly fashion by St. John of the Cross. The following is a brief synthesis of his thought:

1) God is all, the necessary and absolute being, most pure act without the shadow of potency, who exists of himself and possesses the absolute plenitude of being. Compared with him, creatures are nothing; they are contingent beings which have more of potency than act.

2) Two contraries cannot exist in the same subject because they mutually exclude each other. Therefore, light is incompatible with darkness and the All is incompatible with nothing.

3) If, then, creatures are nothing and darkness, and God is the All and light, it follows that the soul which wishes to be united with God must detach itself from creatures. Without this, union with God is impossible.

4) "And hence it is necessary that the way and ascent to God should consist in the ordinary care of mortifying the appetite; and the soul will more quickly arrive at a goal as it gives itself more energetically to this detachment. But until these appetites cease, the soul will not arrive at perfect union, although it may exercise many virtues, because it still does not perform those virtues with perfection, which consists in having the soul empty and naked and purified of every appetite."

5) For that reason, one must weep at the ignorance of certain souls who burden themselves with extraordinary penances and many other exercises, and think that this or that will suffice for them to arrive at union with divine wisdom; such is not the case if they do not diligently endeavor to negate their appetite. If such persons would exert half the effort in mortifying their appetites, they would advance more in one month through this practice than they would in many years by means of the other exercises. Just as it is necessary that one labor over the earth if it is to bear fruit, and without labor it will bear nothing but weeds, so also mortification of the appetites is necessary if there is to be any fruit or profit in the soul. Without this, St. John dares to say that one will make no more progress than one would who would cast seed on untilled soil. For that reason, the principal concern of spiritual [directors] should be to mortify every appetite in their disciples and to make them remain in emptiness as regards that which they desire. [...]

The system of St. John of the Cross can be reduced to one important statement: God is all. His negations rest on affirmation, because they have as their object to detach the soul from the false appearances of creatures, which are nothing, in order to enable the soul, once purified and ennobled, to lose itself in the profundity of the All. He does not disdain creatures; he wishes only to withdraw the gaze from that which is imperfect and limited and enable the soul to see in creatures the traces and vestiges of the divine being. From the summit of that mountain the saint sings of the beauty of creation with lyrical accents that have never been surpassed by any other poet.

But in order to find them in God again, now purified and ennobled, it is necessary to leave the contemplation of creatures with carnal eyes and to detach oneself energetically from the bonds which hold the soul to the chains of earth. No one can arrive at the All except by the narrow path of the absolute negation of the nothing. [...]

St. John of the Cross does not intend to annihilate the natural tendencies of human nature by removing them from their object and leaving them suspended in nothing, but he wishes to orientate them to God, to make God the sole object of their tendency, thus reducing all of their forces to unity. It is true that this can never be attained perfectly until the soul has been  introduced by God himself into the obscurities of the passive nights, but much can be done by one's own efforts and the help of grace. God does not usually complete the purification of the soul by means of the passive nights until the soul itself has done all that it can by using the ordinary means within its grasp. For that reason St. John of the Cross repeats with insistence that one must mortify the appetites which divide the forces of the soul to such an extent that it is spent entirely on the things of the earth. When the soul shall have attained the emptiness from every creature, it will be filled with God.


Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marin, The Theology of Christian Perfection, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 319-322.

Fr. Antonio Royo Marin on Uprooting Voluntary Imperfections

It is therefore absolutely necessary to wage an unceasing battle against our voluntary imperfections if we wish to arrive at perfect union with God. The soul must use all its efforts and all its energies to make them disappear. It must tend always toward the more perfect and try to do all things with the greatest possible intensity. Naturally, this greater intensity should not be considered as a physical or organic intensity, as if it were necessary to keep one's nervous system in a state of constant tension or to make an act of love of God accompanied by organic or psychic intensity. We are referring here simply to the perfection of one's motives which lead one to act: doing all things with the greatest possible purity of intention, with the greatest possible desire of glorifying God, with the ardent desire that God's action invade or dominate us completely, that the Holy Spirit take complete control of our soul and do with us as he wishes in time and in eternity, without taking any account of our own tastes or desires. It consists simply in an ever more perfect and docile abandonment to the will of God until we are led by him without the least resistance. And this will not occur before the total death of our human egoism and our full transformation in Christ, which will enable us to say with St. Paul: "It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).


Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marin, The Theology of Christian Perfection, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 237.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on the Ways of Abandoning Ourselves to Providence

We have said that it is because of the wisdom and goodness of providence that we should put our trust in it and abandon ourselves completely to it; and further, that, provided we fulfil [sic] our daily duties, this self-surrender should then embrace everything, all that concerns both soul and body, remembering that if we are faithful in small things grace will be given us to be faithful in what is greater.

Now let us see what forms this confidence and self-abandonment must take according to the nature of events as these do or do not depend on the will of man; let us see what spirit should animate it, what virtues should inspire it.

On the various ways of abandoning oneself to providence according to the nature of the event

In order to have a proper understanding of the doctrine of holy indifference, it is well to point out, as spiritual writers frequently do, that our self-abandonment must be in different ways in so far as events independent of the human will call for a type of self-abandonment different from that required by the injustice done to us by men, or our personal sins and their consequences.

Where it concerns events independent of the human will (such as accidents impossible to foresee, incurable diseases), our self-abandonment cannot be too absolute. Resistance here would be useless and would only serve to make us more unhappy; whereas, by accepting them in the spirit of faith, confidence and love, these unavoidable sufferings will become very meritorious. [1] In times of affliction, as often as we say, "Thy will be done," we acquire new merit, and thus what is a real trial becomes a means of great sanctification. Moreover, even in trials that may come upon us, but which perhaps will never materialize, self-abandonment is still of great profit. In preparing to sacrifice his son with perfect self-abandonment, Abraham gained much merit, even though in the event God ceased to demand it of him. By the practice of self-abandonment trials present and to come thus become means of sanctification, the more so as it is inspired by a more intense love for God.

Where it concerns sufferings brought upon us through the injustice of men, their ill will, their unfairness in their dealings with us, their calumnies, what must our attitude be?

St. Thomas (Summa Th., IIaIIæ, q.72, a.3; q.73, a.3 ad 3um), speaking of the injuries and undeserved reproaches, the insults and slanders that affect only our person, declares we must be ready to bear them with patience in compliance with our Lord's words: "If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other" (Mt. 5:39). But, he continues, there are occasions when some answer is called for, either for the good of the person who injures us, to put a stop to his insolence, or to avoid the scandal such slanders and calumnies may cause. If we do feel bound to retaliate and offer some sort of resistance, let us put ourselves unreservedly in God's hands for the success of the steps we take. In other words, we must deplore and reprove these acts of injustice not because they are wounding to our self-love and pride, but because they are an offense against God, endangering the salvation of the guilty parties and of those who may be led astray by them.

So far as we are concerned, we should see in the injustice men do to us the action of divine justice permitting this evil in order to give us an opportunity of expiating other and very real failings, failings with which no one reproaches us. It is well also to see in this sort of trial the action of divine mercy, which would make of it a means to detach us from creatures, to rid us of our inordinate affections, our pride and lukewarmness, and thus oblige us to have immediate recourse to a fervent prayer of supplication. Spiritually these acts of injustice are like the surgeon's knife, very painful at times but a great corrective. The suffering they cause must bring home to us the value of true justice; not only must it lead us to be just in our dealings with our neighbor, but it must give birth in us to the beatitude of those who, as the Gospel says, hunger and thirst after justice and who shall indeed have their fill.

And so, instead of upsetting and embittering us, men's contempt for us may have a very salutary effect, by impressing us with the utter vanity of all human glory and with the sublimity of the glory of God as the saints have understood it. It is the way leading to that true humility which causes us to accept contempt and to love to be treated as objects worthy of contempt.

Lastly, what is to be our attitude regarding all those vexations of every kind that are the result not of injustice of others, but of our own failings, our own indiscretions and weaknesses?

In these failings of ours and their consequences, we must distinguish the element of disorder and guilt from the salutary humiliations resulting from them. Whatever our self-love may have to say, we can never regret too keenly any inordinateness there may have been in our actions, on account of the wrong it has done to God, and the harm it has done to our own soul and, as an almost invariable consequence, to the soul of our neighbor. As for the salutary humiliation resulting from it, we must accept it with complete self-abandonment according to the words of the psalm (118:71-77): "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me: that I may learn Thy justifications. The law of my mouth is good to me, above thousands of gold and silver. . . . I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are equity: and in Thy truth Thou hast humbled me. O let Thy mercy be for my comfort. . . . Let Thy tender mercies come unto me, and I shall live: for Thy law is my meditation."

These humiliations resulting from our personal failings are the true remedy for that exaggerated estimate of ourselves to which we so often cling in spite of the disapproval and contempt others show for us. It even happens that pride hardens us to humiliations from a purely external source, and causes us to offer to ourselves the incense others refuse us. This is one of the most subtle and dangerous forms of self-love and pride, and, to correct it, the divine mercy makes use of those humiliations which are the result of our own failings; in its loving kindness it makes those very failings contribute to our progress. Hence, while laboring to correct ourselves, we should accept these humiliations with perfect self-abandonment. "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, O Lord." It is the way leading to a practical realization of those profound words of the Imitation, so fruitful to one who has really understood them: "Love to be unknown and accounted as nought." By this doctrine we must live according as the occurrences do or do not depend on ourselves.



1.  There are instances where a life has been completely changed by trials, as may be seen from the biography of Abbé Girard, entitled, Vingt-deux ans de martyr. After receiving the diaconate, this saintly priest contracted tuberculosis of the bones and for twenty-two years was confined to his bed in the cruelest suffering, which he offered up each day for the priests of his generation. Here was one who to his great grief was never able to celebrate mass [sic], and yet he was daily united to our Lord's sacrifice perpetuated on the altar. Far from breaking up his vocation, sickness transfigured it.


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Providence, trans. by Dom Bede Rose (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1998), 226-230.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on What We Must Abandon to Providence

In what matters we should abandon ourselves to divine Providence

Once we have complied with the principles just laid down, when we have done all that the law of God and Christian prudence demand, our self-abandonment should then embrace everything. What does this involve? In the first place, our whole future, what our circumstances will be tomorrow, in twenty years and more. We must also abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the present, in the midst of the difficulties we may be experiencing right now; even our past life, our past actions with all their consequences should be abandoned to the divine mercy.

We must likewise abandon ourselves to God in all that affects the body, in health and sickness, as well as in all that affects the soul, whether it be joy or tribulation, of long or brief duration. We must abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the good will or malice of men. Says St. Paul:
If God be for us, who is against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things? . . . Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecutions? Or the sword? . . . I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Could there be a more perfect self-abandonment in the spirit of faith, hope, and love? This is an abandonment embracing all the vicissitudes of this world, all the upheavals that may convulse it, embracing life and death, the hour of death, and the circumstances, peaceful or violent, in which we breathe forth our last sigh.

The same thought has been expressed in the psalms: "Fear the Lord . . . for there is no want to them that fear Him. The rich have wanted, and have suffered hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good" (Ps. 33:10); "O how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden for them that fear Thee! Which Thou hast wrought for them that hope in Thee. . . . Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy face from the disturbance of men. Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues" (Ps. 30:20-21). [...]

What is our practical conclusion to be? It is this, that in doing our utmost to carry out our daily duties we must for the rest abandon ourselves to divine providence, and that with the most childlike confidence. And if we are really striving to be faithful in little things, in the practice of humility, gentleness, and patience, in the daily routine of our lives, God on His part will give us the grace to be faithful in greater and more difficult things, should He perchance ask them of us; then, in those exceptional circumstances, He will give to those that seek Him exceptional graces.

In psalm 54:23 we are told: "Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall not suffer the just to waver forever. . . .  But I will trust Thee, O Lord."

Imbued with these same sentiments, St. Paul writes to the Philippians (4:4): "Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Again, in order to exhort us to have confidence, St. Peter tells us in his First Epistle (5:5):
Be ye humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation: casting all your care upon Him, for He hath care of you. Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will Himself perfect you and confirm you and establish you.
"Blessed are they that trust in Him" (Ps. 2:13). "They that hope in the Lord," says Isaias, "shall renew their strength. . . . They shall walk and not faint" (40:31).

We have a perfect model of this abandonment to divine providence in St. Joseph, in the many difficulties that beset him at the moment of our Lord's birth at Bethlehem, and again when he heard the mournful prophecy of the aged Simeon, and during all the time that elapsed from the flight away from Herod into Egypt until the return to Nazareth.

Following his example, let us live our lives in that same spirit, fulfilling our daily duties, and the grace of God will never be wanting. By His grace we shall be equal to anything He asks of us, no matter how difficult it may sometimes be.


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Providence, trans. Dom Bede Rose (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1998), 221-225.

Dom Vitalis Lehodey on Persecutions from the Good

"To be despised, reprehended, and accused by sinners is a joy to a man of courage," says St. Francis de Sales. "But to be reprehended, accused, and ill-treated by good people, by one's friends and relatives: Ah, this is in truth the test of virtue. As the sting of a honey-bee causes more pain than the bite of a common insect, so the troubles and contradictions we have to endure from well-meaning folk are more bitter than any others" (Introduction to the Devout Life, pt. 3, chap. 3). St. Peter of Alcantara, full of compassion for St. Teresa, assured her that one of the greatest afflictions we can suffer in this place of exile was the trial she had experienced, that is to say, opposition from the good. Is it because we value more highly the esteem and affection of such persons? Is it because this trial is more unexpected? Or is it because, being just, these people act according to their conscience, and believe it is their duty to show no consideration for our feelings? Whatever be the origin and circumstances of these bitter trials, the following reflections will help us to sanctify them.

"All the saints have suffered persecution in this life," says St. Alphonsus. "Think of St. Basil, accused of heresy before Pope St. Damasus; St. Cyril, condemned as a heretic by a council of forty bishops, and then ignominiously deposed; St. Athanasius, pursued with accusations of witchcraft; St. John Chrysostom, charged with immorality. Think of St. Romuald: he was above a hundred years old, yet was accused of a crime so execrable that people wanted to burn him alive. Think of St. Francis de Sales: for three years he was believed to have lived in criminal relations with a worldly person, and waited three years for God to clear his reputation. Think finally of St. Lidwine, into whose chamber a wretched woman one day intruded and vomited against her a thousand reproaches, each more scandalous than the preceding." Everyone knows how [...] St. Benedict narrowly missed being poisoned by his monks [....] St. Francis of Assisi resigned his office of superior because of the opposition he encountered from his disciples: his vicar-general, Brother Elias, had the effrontery [NB: shameless, rude boldness; arrogance] to accuse him before a large number of the religious of ruining their Institute. This same Elias caused St. Anthony of Padua to be cast into prison. St. Ignatius of Loyola suffered the humiliation of being confined in the dungeons of the Holy Office. St. John of the Cross, after reforming Carmel, was locked up in a dark cell by the fathers of his Observance; and there, deprived of the consolation of celebrating Holy Mass, he had to endure for many long months very rigorous abstinence, humiliating disciplines, and the bitterest reproaches. For the same reason, and also because of the extraordinary ways in which God was leading her, St. Teresa the Elder [i.e. of Avila] had to support the heavy trials whereof we catch a glimpse in her autobiography. Her confessor, Balthazar Alvarez, also suffered serious annoyance on account of his supernatural prayer. We could cite numberless other examples. But we shall conclude with St. Alphonsus. During many years he was pitilessly persecuted, as a theologian by the rigorists, as the founder of the Redemptorists by the royalists, and finally by two of his own religious, as we have already stated. Baronius relates how Pope St. Leo IX permitted himself to be prejudiced against St. Peter Damian. "I mention this," adds the illustrious annalist, "to console the victims of venomous tongues, to recommend prudence to those who are over-credulous, and warn them of the danger of lending too easy an ear to calumnies, particularly against persons with a long and honourable [sic] life to their credit" (cited in Fr. Poulain, Graces of Prayer, chap. 24).

Such persecutions are apparently due to the diversity of human minds and characters. [...] Sinners cannot endure the sight of virtue, let it be ever so modest and unobtrusive, because it condemns them, troubles them, demands their conversion. Good people, because they have not as yet sufficiently mastered their passions, which is the case with the majority, allow themselves to be blinded and misled, sooner or later, [against] peace and charity. Thus, Father Francis de Paul, the principal persecutor of St. Alphonsus, was far from being a bad religious. He had, on the contrary, a very edifying past, and would doubtless have been greatly astonished, if it had been foretold to him that he would one day endeavour [sic], with a zeal worthy of a better cause, to ruin his illustrious and saintly founder by insinuating, venomous, and slanderous reports. He actually fell to this depth, nevertheless, because he did not sufficiently combat the passion of ambition. Perhaps until then he had not even suspected its presence in his heart. But the saints themselves, even the very greatest, can be the cause of suffering to each other, whether through misunderstanding, or because of their different conceptions of duty. For men will always differ in their views and dispositions. [...]

Jesus has warned that His coming meant the sword and not peace, and that a man's enemies would be those of his own household. He was persecuted, and called Beelzebub. The disciple is not above his master. [...] The Apostle echoes the words of his Master: "All who would live piously in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). But, concludes the Saviour [sic], "blessed are those that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. When they shall revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil against you untruly, for My sake, be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you" (Mt. 5:10-12). But what is the object Providence pursues by means of such purifying trials? It wills to mark all its works with the Sign of the Cross, to detach us from human esteem and affection, to exercise us in patience, in complete abandonment, in love for God alone, and to perfect the sanctity of Our Lord's most devoted friends. [...]

Providence employs the vicious and the virtuous as its instruments to reproduce in us Jesus outraged, contemned, shamefully ill-treated. But at the same time the Holy Spirit offers us His grace, and works in us, to make us imitate Jesus meek and humble of heart, Jesus full of gentleness and heroic charity. To walk with resolute steps in the footprints of the persecuted Jesus is to enter on the ways of sanctity. To murmur and complain, and to follow Him reluctantly, is to drag oneself painfully along in uneasiness and mediocrity. [...]

Let us, therefore, forget our human adversaries and all the wrongs we may seem to suffer from them. Let us banish from our hearts every feeling of bitterness and spite. With our eyes fixed on the persecuted Son of God, on Jesus our Model and the Well-Beloved of our souls, let us adore like Him all the decrees of His Father Who is our Father also. Let us lovingly embrace both the trials He sends us and their already existent and irreparable effects, endeavouring the while, in order to draw from them the greatest possible advantage, to enter into the dispositions of our sweet Jesus, and to act in every circumstance as He would do in our place. This will not prevent us [...] from doing all in our power to avoid the danger or to deprecate its consequences, if that should be pleasing to God, as often as His glory, the good of souls, or other just causes may seem to require or permit it. [...]

[Blessed Henry Suso] said to him again: "It is God's will that, when you are outraged by words or actions, you should suffer all patiently. He wants you to die completely to yourself, and requires that every day before taking your repast you should approach your adversaries and do your best to appease their anger by the meekness and humility of your language and behaviour [sic].... You must not believe them to be Judases in the true sense of the word, but only God's instruments in trying you for your own benefit."

St. Alphonsus, when condemned by the Pope on unjust accusations, and actually expelled from the Congregation he had founded, permitted himself no complaint, no recrimination. He simply spoke these words of heroic submission: "For the past six months I have been repeating this prayer: Lord, whatsoever Thou willest, that I will also." And, with a heart broken yet fully resigned, he submitted to remain an exile until his death, because such was the will of God. Far from harbouring [sic] ill-feeling against his persecutor, he wrote to him as follows: "I have learned with joy that the Pope showers his favours [sic] upon you. Please let me always know whenever any good fortune befalls you, so that I may return thanks to God for it. I pray Him to increase His holy love in you, to multiply your houses, and to bless both yourself and your missions." In this trial, as in all other difficult circumstances, he began by asking the prayers of his Congregation, and recommending each religious to renew his fervour [sic], so that they might have the protection of God. [...]

At the height of his persecutions, St. John of the Cross welcomed reproaches with joy, because he believed himself deserving of still worse treatment. It seemed to him that he could never suffer injuries enough. He longed for the hour when he was to receive the bloody discipline, impatient to endure the pain and disgrace of it for the love of God. He considered himself so full of defects, guilty of so many sins, that he never dreamed of resenting affronts and outrages, or of regarding them as cruel or unjust. Although his interior pains at this time were still more severe, he found consolation in his intimate communings [sic] with God and in the composition of his admirable canticle, which he explained later on.


Source: Dom Vitalis Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, trans. by Ailbe J. Luddy (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2003), 220-226.

Fr. Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J., on the Degrees of Surrender to Providence

For in this virtue [of patient resignation to God's providence] as well as in others, there are several degrees, which may all be reduced to three; according to the distinction of degrees the saints note in the virtue of patience.

The first degree is, when we are far from desiring or taking a pleasure in misfortunes that befall us, but on the contrary we avoid and shun them, as far as we are able: yet we would rather suffer and undergo them, than incur any sin in avoiding them. And this is the lowest degree, and what precisely is of indispensable obligation. So that supposing we are sensibly touched with any mischances or accidents; that we groan and sigh in our sickness, that we cry out in the violence of our pain; that we mourn and lament at the death of our parents or friends, we may notwithstanding all this have conformity to the divine will. 

The second degree is, when although of ourselves we have no inclinations to desire pains and afflictions, nevertheless when they happen, we receive and bear them most willingly; because we know the will of God is thereby executed. And in what this degree surpasses the former, is, that it makes us in some manner love afflictions for God's sake, and that we are willing to suffer them not only with patience, in as much as we are obliged thereto under sin, but also with a sort of joy, in as much as we are convinced it is a thing very pleasing to God. The first degree makes us suffer things with patience. The second, makes us suffer them with a prompt and cheerful disposition of mind, towards what God ordains. 

But the third, and most perfect degree of all, is, when out of an excess of love towards God, we do not, only suffer and accept willingly all the afflictions and pains he sends; but we even prevent him by our desires, and rejoice; because we know they happen not but by the adorable decree of his holy will. 


Source: Fr. Alphonsus Rodriguez, The Practice of Christian Perfection, tract 8, chap. 12.

Dom Vitalis Lehodey on God's Will of Good-Pleasure

"There is also His will of good-pleasure which we must look for in all events. I mean to say, in everything that befalls us: in sickness, in death, in affliction, in consolation, in adversity and prosperity; briefly, in all unforeseen occurrences" (St. Francis de Sales). [...] It is in tribulations especially we must recognise [sic] the will of God; not that He loves these for their own sake, but He employs them as an effective means of vindicating right order, of remedying our failings, of healing and sanctifying our souls. [...] He wills to draw good out of evil, and, with that object in view, to make our own and our neighbour's [sic] shortcomings serve for the sanctification of souls through the practice of penitence, patience, humility, mutual support and forbearance, etc. He wills also that we should sustain our neighbour [sic] even whilst fulfilling in his regard the duty of fraternal correction, [...] seeing in his necessities and his faults the instruments God makes use of to exercise us in virtue. On this account, St. Francis de Sales does not hesitate to declare that it is chiefly through our neighbour we learn what God demands of us. The signified will of God differs profoundly from His will of good-pleasure in three respects:

Firstly, the signified will is always made known to us in advance, and as a rule very clearly, by the usual expressions of thought, viz., speech and writing. Thus we have the Gospels, the laws of the Church, our holy rule; we can at our convenience read therein the will of God, commit it to memory, and make it the subject of our meditation. [...] On the other hand, we hardly ever know God's will of good-pleasure otherwise than through the sequence of events. The qualified expression--hardly ever--is employed, because to this rule there are real exceptions. Thus we can be certain beforehand as to what God intends to do in the future, if He has been pleased to inform us. One may also acquire this knowledge by presentiment, by conjecture, or surmise, either from the actual trend of affairs, or from wise precautions taken, or from imprudences [sic] committed. But in general the divine good-pleasure is only revealed by the course of events which ordinarily lie beyond our prevision. Even during the actual occurrence of events God's will for us may remain obscure. For instance, He sends us sickness, spiritual aridity, or some other such trial. This, we know, is His present good-pleasure. But for how long? And what is to be the issue? We know not.

Secondly, it is always in our power either by obedience to conform to the signified will or to withdraw ourselves therefrom by disobedience. [...] By His will of good-pleasure, on the contrary, He disposes of us as our Sovereign Master. Without consulting us, often even against our wishes, He puts us in the position He has chosen, and under the obligation of discharging the duties thereof. It remains in our power indeed to satisfy this obligation or not, to conform ourselves to the divine good-pleasure or to revolt against it; but whether we like it or not, we have no choice save to submit to the sequence of events, the course of which can be arrested by no earthly power. Thus, as Supreme Ruler and Judge, God restores order and punishes sin; as Father and Saviour [sic], He reminds us of our dependence, and endeavours [sic] to recall us to the paths of duty as often as we wander out of them and lose our way.

Thirdly, from what has been said it follows that God demands obedience to His signified will as an effect of our own free choice and determination. [...] We require no doubt a secret grace which forestalls and assists us, a grace which we can always obtain by prayer and fidelity. But the will of God being clearly indicated, when the moment for its fulfilment [sic] arrives, we have to act by our own free determination; there is no need to wait for a sensible movement of grace or for a special motion of the Holy Spirit [....] On the other hand, if there is a question of the will of good-pleasure, we must wait until God declares it by the course of events. Before this is done, we cannot tell what He requires of us. But then we understand what that is clearly enough: submission to His good-pleasure in the first place, and next the discharge of the duties appertaining to such or such a position chosen for us by Him.


Source: Dom Vitalis Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, trans. by Ailbe J. Luddy (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2003), 10-13.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on Why Abandon Ourselves to Providence

It behooves us therefore to determine exactly the meaning and import of the true doctrine of self-abandonment to the will of God if we are to be saved from these sophistries, which have no more than a false appearance of Christian perfection.

We shall first see why it is we should practice this self-abandonment to Providence, and then in what matters. After that we shall see what form it should take and what is the attitude of Providence toward those who abandon themselves completely to it. [...]

Why we should abandon ourselves to divine providence

The answer of every Christian will be that the reason lies in the wisdom and goodness of Providence. This is very true; nevertheless, if we are to have a proper understanding of the subject, if we are to avoid the error of the Quietists in renouncing more or less the virtue of hope and the struggle necessary for salvation, if we are to avoid also the other extreme of disquiet, precipitation, and a feverish, fruitless agitation, it is expedient for us to lay down four principles already somewhat accessible to natural reason and clearly set forth in revelation as found in Scripture. These principles underlying the true doctrine of self-abandonment, also bring out the motive inspiring it.

The first of these principles is that everything which comes to pass has been foreseen by God from all eternity, and has been willed or at least permitted by Him.

Nothing comes to pass either in the material or in the spiritual world, but God has foreseen it from all eternity; because with Him there is no passing from ignorance to knowledge as with us, and He has nothing to learn from events as they occur. Not only has God foreseen everything that is happening now or will happen in the future, but whatever reality and goodness there is in these things He has willed; and whatever evil or moral disorder is in them, He has merely permitted. Holy Scripture is explicit on this point, and, as the councils have declared, no room is left for doubt in the matter.

The second principle is that nothing can be willed or permitted by God that does not contribute to the end He purposed in creating, which is the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, and the glory of the God-man Jesus Christ, His only Son. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. 2:23), "All are yours. And you are Christ's. And Christ is God's."

In addition to these two principles, there is a third, which St. Paul states thus (Rom. 8:28): "We know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints" and persevere in His love. God sees to it that everything contributes to their spiritual welfare, not only the grace He bestows on them, not only those natural qualities He endows them with, but sickness too, and contradictions and reverses; as St. Augustine tells us, even their very sins, which God only permits in order to lead them on to a truer humility and thereby to a purer love. It was thus He permitted the threefold denial of St. Peter, to make the great Apostle more humble, more mistrustful of self, and by this very means become stronger and trust more in the divine mercy.

These first three principles may therefore be summed up in this way: Nothing comes to pass but God has foreseen it, willed it or at least permitted it. He wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, for the glory of His Son, and the welfare of those that love Him. In view of these three principles, it is evident that our trust in Providence cannot be too childlike, too steadfast. Indeed, we may go further and say that this trust in Providence should be blind as is our faith, the object of which is those mysteries that are non-evident and unseen (fides est de non visis [NB: "faith is of things unseen"]) for we are certain beforehand that Providence is directing all things infallibly to a good purpose, and we are more convinced of the rectitude of His designs than we are of the best of our own intentions. Therefore, in abandoning ourselves to God, all we have to fear is that our submission will not be wholehearted enough. [1]

In view of Quietism, however, this last sentence obliges us to lay down a fourth principle no less certain than the principles that have preceded. The principle is, that obviously self-abandonment does not dispense us from doing everything in our power to fulfil [sic] God's will as made known in the commandments and counsels, and in the events of life; but so long as we have the sincere desire to carry out His will thus made known from day to day, we can and indeed we must abandon ourselves for the rest to the divine will of good pleasure, no matter how mysterious it may be, and thus avoid a useless disquiet and mere agitation. [2]

This fourth principle is expressed in equivalent terms by the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. 13), when it declares that we must all have firm hope in God's assistance and put our trust in Him, being careful at the same time to keep His commandments. As the well-known proverb has it: "Do what you ought, come what may."

All theologians explain what is meant by the divine will as expressed: expressed, that is, in the commandments, in the spirit underlying the counsels, and in the events of life. [3] They add that, while conforming ourselves to His expressed will, we must abandon ourselves to His divine will of good pleasure, however mysterious it may be, for we are certain beforehand that in its holiness it wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for a good purpose.

We must take special note here of these words in the Gospel of St. Luke (16:10): "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater." If every day we do what we can to be faithful to God in the ordinary routine of life, we may be confident that He will give us grace to remain faithful in whatever extremity we may find ourselves through His permission; and if we are to suffer for Him, He will give us the grace to die a heroic death rather than be ashamed of Him and betray Him.

These are the principles underlying the doctrine of trusting self-abandonment. Accepted as they are all by all theologians, they express what is of Christian faith in this matter. The golden mean is thus above and between the two errors mentioned at the beginning of this section [i.e. Quietism and activism]. By constant fidelity to duty, we avoid the false and idle repose of the Quietist, and on the other hand by a trustful self-abandonment we are saved from a useless disquiet and a fruitless agitation. Self-abandonment would be sloth did it not presuppose this daily fidelity, which indeed is a sort of springboard from which we may safely launch ourselves into the unknown. Daily fidelity to the divine will as expressed gives us a sort of right to abandon ourselves completely to the divine will of good pleasure as yet not made known to us.

A faithful soul will often recall to mind these words of our Lord: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me" (John 4:34). The soul finds its constant nourishment in the divine will as expressed, abandoning itself to the divine will as yet not made known, much as a swimmer supports himself on the passing wave and surrenders himself to the oncoming wave, to that ocean that might engulf him but that actually sustains him. So the soul must strike out toward the open sea, into the infinite ocean of being, says St. John Damascene, borne up by the divine will as made known there and then and abandoning itself to that divine will upon which all successive moments of the future depend. The future is with God, future events are in His hands. If the merchants to whom Joseph was sold by his brethren had passed by one hour sooner, he would not have gone into Egypt, and the whole course of his life would have been changed. Our lives also are dependent on events controlled by God. Daily fidelity and trusting self-abandonment thus give the spiritual life its balance, its stability and harmony. In this way we live our lives in almost continuous recollection, in an ever-increasing self-abnegation, and these are the conditions normally required for contemplation and union with God. This, then, is the reason why our life should be one of self-abandonment to the divine will as yet unknown to us and at the same time supported every moment by that will as already made known to us.

In this union of fidelity and self-abandonment we have some idea of the way in which asceticism, insisting on fidelity or conformity to the divine will, should be united with mysticism, which emphasizes self-abandonment.



1. By the gift of fear, hope is prevented from turning to presumption, as magnanimity is prevented by humility from degenerating into pride. [...] They are complementary virtues which, by their interconnection, balance and strengthen one another, and thus they increase together.

2. [...] Bossuet, Etats d'oraison, Bk. VIII, chap. 9, says: "Christian indifference being out of the question where the expressed will of God is concerned, we must restrict it, as St. Francis de Sales does, to certain events controlled by His will of good pleasure, whose sovereign commands determine the daily occurrences in the course of life."

Dom Vital Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, tr. by Luddy, O. Cist., p. 123, says: "In short, the good pleasure of God is the domain of abandonment, His expressed will, of obedience."

3. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q.19, a.11, 12: "On the will of expression in God." Certain events, such as the death of another, have great significance. As St. Thomas points out (ibid.), sins are permitted by God--personal sins, like the threefold denial in St. Peter's life, which God permitted so as to make him more humble; sins also that others commit against us, acts of injustice which God permits that we may derive spiritual profit from them, as He permitted the persecutions against the Church.


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Providence, trans. by Dom Bede Rose (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1998), 215-221.

Friday, January 17, 2014

St. John of the Cross on Why So Few Attain Perfection

And here it ought to be pointed out why so few reach this high state of perfect union with God. It should be known that the reason is not that God wishes only a few of these spirits to be so elevated; he would rather want all to be perfect, but he finds few vessels that will endure so lofty and sublime a work. Since he tries them in little things and finds them so weak that they immediately flee from work, unwilling to be subject to the least discomfort and mortification, it follows that not finding them strong and faithful in that little [Mt. 25:21, 23], in which he favored them by beginning to hew and polish them, he realizes that they will be much less strong in these greater trials. As a result he proceeds no further in purifying them and raising them from the dust of the earth through the toil of mortification. They are in need of greater constancy and fortitude than they showed.

There are many who desire to advance and persistently beseech God to bring them to this state of perfection. Yet when God wills to conduct them through the initial trials and mortifications, as is necessary, they are unwilling to suffer them and they shun them, flee from the narrow road of life [Mt. 7:14] and seek the broad road of their own consolation, which is that of their own perdition [Mt. 7:13]; thus they do not allow God to begin to grant their petition. They are like useless containers, for although they desire to reach the state of the perfect they do not want to be guided by the path of trials that leads to it. They hardly even begin to walk along this road by submitting to what is least, that is, to ordinary sufferings.

We can answer them with Jeremiah's words: If you have grown weary running with footmen, how will you contend with horses? And if you have had quiet in the land of peace, what will you do in the swelling of the Jordan? [Jer. 12:5]. This is like saying: If by the common trials (on foot) that form part of human life, it seemed to you that you were running because there were so many, and you took such short steps, how will you keep up with the horse's stride, which signifies more than ordinary trials for which human strength and speed is not enough? And if you have not wanted to forego the peace and pleasure of your earth, which is your sensuality, or contradict it in anything or stir up a war, I do not know how you will desire to enter the impetuous waters of spiritual tribulations and trials that are deeper.

O souls who in spiritual matters desire to walk in security and consolation! If you but knew how much it behooves you to suffer in order to reach this security and consolation, and how without suffering you cannot attain to your desire but rather turn back, in no way would you look for comfort either from God or from creatures. You would instead carry the cross and, placed on it, desire to drink the pure gall and vinegar. You would consider it good fortune that, dying to this world and to yourselves, you would live to God in the delights of the spirit, and patiently and faithfully suffering exterior trials, which are small, you would merit that God fix his eyes on you and purge you more profoundly through deeper spiritual trials in order to give you more interior blessings. [...]

For he tries them in this way so as to make them advance in gifts and merits, as he did with holy Tobit to whom St. Raphael said: Since you were acceptable to God, he favored you by sending you temptation that he might try you more in order to exalt you more [Tb. 12:13]. After that temptation, all the rest of his life was in joy, as Sacred Scripture says [Tb. 14:4]. We also see in the life of holy Job that once God accepted his works in the sight of the good and evil spirits, he immediately favored him by sending those great trials so that subsequently he could extol him much more. And this he did, multiplying his goods, both spiritual and temporal [Jb. 1-2; 42:10, 12]. [...]

People, then, should live with great patience and constancy in all the tribulations and trials God places on them, whether they be exterior or interior, spiritual or bodily, great or small, and they should accept them all as from God's hand as a good remedy and not flee from them, for they bring health. [...] People should hold in esteem the interior and exterior trials God sends them, realizing that there are few who merit to be brought to perfection through suffering and to undergo trials for the sake of so high a state.


Source: St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, trans. by K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991), 2.27-30, 667-669.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lionel Bailly on the Maternal Signifier and the Phallus

What is the maternal signifier? The very first concept that the newborn baby forms is that of the mother: she exists as a signified even before the baby is able to articulate anything more complex than a cry. The concept of 'Mother' is the baby's first mental act of symbolisation [sic]; this concept comprises comfort symbolised in the ideation of a person.

But Mother is not always there. Faced with her absence, the baby performs its first act of repression: the maternal signifier is thus the first signifier that is repressed. Upon her return, the signifier is retrieved: and thus is formed the baby's leaky new unconscious. From the one signifier, with which the baby has such a passionate relationship, arise many concepts—comfort, loss, regaining ... and the beginnings of many hypotheses. The first hypothesis ... is that of the permanence of objects: via the mother's disappearances and reappearances, the baby comes to understand that objects persist even when not within its view. But this creates further questions: 'Where is she when she's not with me? Why does she go away?' These questions are there in proto-conceptual form.... The 'obvious' answer arrives in the form of the father....

Father occupies a place in the child's world as the single biggest distraction for Mummy and therefore the single greatest rival to itself.... These are great themes of power for the child and form the basis for the construction of many infant hypotheses....

'Father has something I haven't got.' But equally, sometimes Mother is with the baby, who might then quite naturally think 'Whatever it is, maybe I have it too.' The baby has now hypothesised the existence of 'the thing that satisfies Mother', or in Lacanian terms: the object of the Mother's desire....

The idea (signified) of the object of the mother's desire is an object that can fill 'the lack in the other'. Lacan named that object the Phallus. The word denotes its imaginary quality: a phallus is never a 'penis' but a representation or image of potency.... It is an imagined perfect object....

When the mother explains her absence, she does so by means of a metaphor in which she 'blames' it on her submission to rules (Law) and not as an effect of her desire: all her excuses are metaphors, from the infant's point of view—'It's time to sleep—Mummy and Daddy must have their dinner now ...' or 'I have to go, Mummy must go to work ...' To the child, 'must have their dinner now' or 'work' is an excuse veiling an incontrovertible truth: 'Mummy is seeking some other source of satisfaction than me, i.e. the Phallus.' It must be pointed out that at this stage, the Phallus exists as an idea—a signified—but one to which no definite signifier has been firmly attached.... It is represented enough to be fitted into a signifier chain such as 'She's gone for thingamajig again.'


Source: Lionel Bailly, Lacan (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 74-77.