Wednesday, May 21, 2014

At What Cost?

Perhaps some of us have difficulty in committing to the spiritual life because we have little sense of responsibility. A sense of responsibility follows an awareness of some pressing and important task to be completed, the failure or neglect of which would result in something unfavorable. The greater the task, the greater the potential failure, but also the greater the potential success—and hence, the greater the sense of responsibility. This sense of responsibility, which follows from a true perception not only obligation but its consequences, is different than the resentment of workaholics, who work to hide within the busyness of their work from what they must actually take responsibility for—their brokenness.

It's easy to put off the responsibility of cooperating with God's grace in becoming transformed to our fullest potential in God for His glory and the salvation of souls because we do not see and hence do not believe that there are any serious consequences to neglecting our interior life. Hence what Christ said to the Samaritan woman, He says to us all: "If you but knew the gift of God!" (Jn 4:10). If we knew what was offered to us and Whom was offering it to us, we would have asked Him, and He would have given us living water. But because we do not know, we do not ask. The paradox, of course, is that we must ask to know and know to ask.

Perhaps many of us believe that if we put off praying today or persevering in being more charitable, more self-giving, more noble and generous, everything will be all right since we have tomorrow. There is always time, we think, because our lives are relatively stable and predictable. And in the trap of predictability, we become stagnant, like J. Alfred Prufrock, and perhaps even end up like Richard Cory.

But everything is affected. St. John of the Cross warned us: imperfection leads us imperceptibly but surely to venial sin, which disposes us bit by bit for mortal sin. A trickle adds up over time, the same time that we think we have to change. Not only do we reject God's infinitely wise and noble plan for us, but we spurn those that we could have helped if only we had cooperated with God. How many more souls could we have touched; how many more prayers and sacrifices could we have offered—if only we were generous and realized that the time we have now is the time that affects everything, everywhere. The smallest prayer said now, in good faith, only in heaven shall we see its effects. Dr. Peter Kreeft said that he believes if we saw the effect of one such a small prayer throughout the entire world, we would fall to our knees and never rise for the rest of our lives, deep in intense prayer and rapt admiration for how God uses such seemingly-insignificant means to effect great change in the world.

When we come closer to God through this little sacrifice or that little act of virtue, the angels rejoice, devils fly, and the entire Mystical Body of Christ is strengthened, like medicine being administered through its veins because the mouth opened to receive the pill, the hand accepted the medicine, the throat swallowed, the heart pumped blood, the lungs breathed to aid the heart, etc. Everything works together. And when we become holy, we change the entire fabric of the universe by aiding it in its goal of transformation to become a symphony to God's glory.

For this reason did Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, the renowned spiritual theologian of the early 20th century, recommend that someone beginning to read the works of St. John of the Cross begin with his Spiritual Canticle or the Living Flame of Love because these books show us the glorious end that holiness attains to. With the end in mind, we might persevere because we see how precarious the situation is, how much danger we truly are in, how much progress there is to be made, how close the devils are to us but as well as the angels, how intense the struggle is over each and every soul.

But stuck in the day-to-day monotony and gray of work and technology, it's easy to forget that anything is really happening. It's easy to disbelieve that monotony has been sanctified by Christ's Resurrection. It's easy to forget that gray, like all the other colors, glorifies God. Some of us want yellow and blue and green and red all the time, thinking that these colors matter more somehow. But Christ spent thirty years with the grey—or the brown wood, if you prefer—to show us that each has its proper place—the red for the Passion and the gold and white for the Resurrection.

And so Christ also told us, surely knowing how easily we are prone to forget, since He knew how easily the Israelites forgot the covenant they had with God, "For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?" (Mt 16:26; Mk 8:36; Lk 9:25). Remember: "If thou didst know the gift of God, and who he is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water."

video
"Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?"

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