Friday, February 27, 2015

Some Quotations on Liberalism's Power

Liberalism, it seems to me, has defeated all of its rivals with relative ease. Christianity was barely a speed bump and was defeated and humiliated so thoroughly that all Western Christian leaders, including the "conservative" ones, now agree that liberalism is the true inner core of the Gospel and that Christianity ought to be defended on the basis that it supposedly gave us modern liberalism and egalitarianism and without it we would fall back into the illiberal nightmare that was pre-modern Europe. Liberalism also defeated fascism and socialism without much difficulty, so I think liberalism has certainly shown that it can defeat faiths or ideologies that are more straightforwardly "positive." I see no reason to think that this will not be the case with Islam as well.

For the most part, liberals are not going after Muslims in Western countries too directly, as the concept of "Islamophobia" is still a useful cudgel with which to beat the few remaining pockets of partial resistance, but I don't think it's obvious that they will fare any better when the time comes. Many Muslims in European countries already listen to rap music and show other signs of becoming a part of the underclass, and in this role I think they will remain subservient to the white liberals who give them handouts for some time to come.

Source: Crusading Philologist, November 26, 2014 (7:45 p.m.), comment on ThomasTheDoubter, "
United Religions Back in the Spotlight," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, November 25, 2014,


I think this is an important sentence to consider: "America has also put the view in which man is considered in terms of quality and personality within an organic system in opposition with that view in which man becomes a mere instrument of production and material productivity within a conformist social conglomerate." Individualism and collectivism are two sides of the same coin. Once people are separated from organic communities and institutions, they are at the mercy of the market, in which they are nothing more than, in Evola's words, "instruments of production" and, now especially, consumers. Authenticity and individuality become simple marketing gimmicks. This is very apparent in America, which supposedly prizes independent thought, the questioning of convention, creativity, and so on, but is in fact one of the most remarkably and thoroughly conformist societies in history. I think Martin Heidegger gives voice to a similar view of America in the famous passage from his Introduction to Metaphysics in which he asserts, "Russia and America, seen metaphysically, are both the same: the same hopeless frenzy of unchained technology and of the rootless organization of the average man." The belief that capitalism and communism represent opposite ends of the spectrum is false and needs to be overcome in order to properly understand the true state of affairs in the modern world.

At any rate, I believe that, for Evola, the alternative is an organic and hierarchical society in which the excellences, talents, and creativity of the person can be genuinely cultivated and appreciated in a way impossible in a mass society such as the United States. Also, I would consider that much of the Catholic Church has for quite some time been little more than yet another vehicle for the promotion of humanitarian moralism, and so it is understandable that non-Catholics [with anti-modernist views] who are otherwise correct on many points might see her as a hostile entity.

Source: Crusading Philologist, July 29, 2014 (7:53 p.m.), comment on Dirigible, "Regarding America," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, July 20, 2014,


I've always found the way in which Western liberals talk about "true Islam" or a "proper reading" of the Koran to be somewhat condescending. Imagine a Jewish person letting us all know that he thinks that Presbyterianism is "true Christianity" and everything else is false. Who really cares what he thinks in the first place?

Source: Crusading Philologist, December 09, 2013 (5:49 p.m.) comment on Cambrensis, "Pope Francis on Islam," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, December 9, 2013,


[L]iberal humanism is incredibly good at making converts. Yes, religious traditionalists might have a lot of kids, but you have to remember that most of those kids will grow up to be secular liberals who despise religion and want nothing to do with its medieval, homophobic nonsense. In truth, any sort of traditional Christianity is probably doomed in the West. I mean, even the Pope is going around telling us that he is in no position to judge anyone and that all that matters is that we each pursue our own unique vision of the good, and when even the head of the Catholic Church has been reduced to saying things that one might hear on Oprah, I don't know why we should think that anyone else will fare any better.

Source: Crusading Philologist, October 2, 2013 (2:19 p.m.), comment on Sigfrid, "The Pope's Interview in La Repubblica," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, October 1, 2013,

Repost: "Liam Neeson Jimmy Fallon Catholic"

It's interesting to see the two very popular figures speak so openly about their Catholic upbringings. Maybe it's just me, but there's an almost awkward silence from the audience during this time except whenever the occasional joke is cracked, which seems like a relief. It's too bad to see that they've moved away from the Faith (and in Neeson's case, too bad that he wasn't even properly catechized about the Eucharist), but for me this is a good reminder to pray for the conversion of all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Repost: Steve Caruso - "Abba" Doesn't Mean "Daddy"

אבא “abba” was a term that meant “father.” When used in direct address it did mean “my father.” However, this word was used by children and adults in both formal and informal contexts. You have full grown men referring to their fathers as “abba” and some Rabbis even referring to honored elder members of their schools as “abba” (it’s were we get the word “Abbot” in Christian tradition, even).

However, what makes this very confusing, especially in modern times, is that “abba” was adopted into Modern Hebrew as… you guessed it… “daddy.” This was simply not the case in Jesus’ day. It’s a modern development.


Source: Steve Caruso, "Mean 'Daddy'," The Aramaic New Testament (blog), June 14, 2014, accessed February 24, 2015,


So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular meme, it is common to find around the Internet and in sermons throughout the world that where Jesus is recorded in the New Testament to use the Aramaic word “abba” that the term was an informal word, the likes a child would refer to their pop (i.e. “dad” or “daddy”).

This stemmed from an idea that was originally proposed by a scholar named Joachim Jeremias (b1900-d1979); mainly, that the form “abba” originated from “child-babble.” The connection between “abba” and “daddy” was then popularized by his following.

However, this idea was immediately challenged by a number of other scholars, such as James Barr who published an article entitled “Abba Isn’t ‘Daddy'” (in the Journal of Theological Studies) which outlined the numerous problems with such an assertion and addressed them in detail.

Overall, I believe that Mary Rose D’Angelo summed up what happened next nicely:
Jeremias began almost at once to retreat from the claim that “abba” had the same connotations as “daddy.” In a sense, Barr’s title (but only his title) misrepresents Jeremias. Even as Jeremias acknowledged that the word was in common use by adults and was used as a mark of repect for old men and for teachers, he continued to stress the origins in babytalk and the consequent intimacy as a special component of Jesus’ use of the word. This meaning seems to have been the basis on which he regarded Jesus’ use as absolutely distinct from the Judaism of his time. 
The NT itself gives quite a different reading of αββα. Each of the three occurrences of αββα in the NT is followed by the Greek translation ο πατερ, “the father.” This translation makes clear its meaning to the writers; the form is a literal translation — “father” plus a definite article — and like abba can also be a vocative. But it is not a diminutive of “babytalk” form. There are Greek diminutives of father (e.g., παππας [pappas]), and the community chose not to use them. (Mary Rose D’Angelo. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 111, No. 4 (Winter, 1992), pp. 615-616)
And beyond this, many years after Jeremias’ death, modern linguistic study of how children pick up speech has completely discounted his conclusions of abba as “babytalk.”


There is still a point of confusion: In Modern [emph. original] Hebrew, “abba” has become commonly used as… You guessed it: “Daddy.” So, when a Hebrew speaker happens upon this anecdote, to them it makes “perfect sense.” 


Source: Steve Caruso, "Abba Isn't Daddy – The Traditional Aramaic Father's Day Discussion," The Aramaic New Testament (blog), June 21, 2009, accessed February 24, 2015,

Repost: "Judge Not"

A good, short article on the misrepresentation of Christ's admonition to "judge not."


I envision a lost man standing before Jesus Christ at the final judgment, having a strong sense of the fate that awaits. He cries out, ‘Judge not Jesus! You said it yourself! I read it in red!’

I then imagine that Jesus goes on to explain to the man that he has misinterpreted Jesus’ words: ‘Did you not also read that you are to remove the log from your own eye so that you can see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s? I have no log in my eye. My eye is clear, and I see you as you are. I judge accordingly, and my judgment is true and right.’

In my imagination, Jesus continues, ‘Did you not read that I told my disciples not to cast pearls before the swine? Did I not mean that they had to be able to judge a swine when they saw one? Clearly you do not understand my words.’

To which the man replies: ‘Judge not Jesus! You said it yourself! I read it in red, you hypocrite!’

And he goes to hell, continuing to justify himself for eternity, still thinking that Jesus is the judgmental one.


Source: Heath, "Judge Not," Tides and Turning (blog), June 21, 2013, accessed February 24, 2015,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Some Tactics for Chastity

1. Custody of the Eyes (and Imagination and Memory). This method is not simply about chastity but about self-control. The eyes may wander not only out of lustful intentions but harmful curiosity. Custody of the eyes is an exercise, small but continuous and sometimes arduous, in self-control.

We know from neuroscience now that pornography deteriorates the mind in a way similar to cocaine. Custody of the eyes takes on a real importance because the object of delight remains out of sight and helps provide opportunities for the brain to work in different ways.

Two particular helps for maintaining custody of the eyes: 1) prayer, focusing our attention and awareness on God; and 2) awareness of intention and attention, in which we maintain a recollected state of self-awareness of what we are doing and why. In any situation we enter, we enter with this recollection and mindfulness.


2. "As If" Technique. Visualize and live "as if" you have already achieved the goal. See all the concrete differences such living would require and simply go about as if these were well established facets of your daily living. This was the recommendation of Aristotle for building all virtue. It is a self-reinforcing process.

We can also apply this visualization to when we're tempted back into old patterns of behavior. For some behaviors, it may be good to imagine, "If I did such and such, here's what I would experience. Would it therefore be worth it?" This practice might be difficult for those suffering from addictive behavior.


3. Recollected Mindfulness. Maintaining self-awareness is important to avoid impulsive behavior and being swept away by stimuli. Recollection on God helps maintain this calm. When we have failed, simply turn back to God in contrition. This watchfulness also pays attention to the signs and beginnings of what tends to lead towards certain behaviors; this watchfulness will depend on remembering past experience and making records of how patterns begin and progress for us and in what circumstances. These should be all listed and learned for each person.

Mindfulness itself is developed first in little behaviors, such as in breathing, dressing, morning routines, walking, sitting, noticing ambient noises, etc.. Regular prayers before, during, and after activities that tend to distract us should be introduced.


4. Honestly Naming the Thought or Sin. Speaking aloud to another or to God an evil thought or sin that we are tempted to helps to neutralize its power. Herein lies some of the power of regular examination and confession. When we face the possibility and reality of admitting shameful behaviors to a person we respect, such as a priest, or a person we wouldn't want to see us in a bad light, such as a coworker or mentor, then we are much less likely to act out on a temptation. Where our fear of God is lacking, our fear of others may supply. This practice also keeps us humble and honest with ourselves and others: "This is who I am. I admit it. I'm working on it, but this is what I've done, thought, what I struggle with, etc."


5. Emotional Self-Understanding. Every temptation is preceded by emotional triggers that are deeply rooted in ourselves. We can come to recognize these feelings, their triggers, to see how they have been "solved" up until now by certain sinful behaviors. We can then admit these emotions honestly and openly. We can feel sorrow for the ways in which we have hurt ourselves and been fooled by the lies of the world around us into accepting harmful, self-destructive behaviors to run from our emotions and pain. We can connect our pain to past experiences and then see how they draw great power from childhood experiences or unresolved conflicts in ourselves or with others. Then we can bring all this to prayer, speaking our pain to God, asking Him to heal us, to help us, to comfort us.




6. Practice Satiety Prevention. Seek to reduce the immediate gratification of desire—in eating, listening to music/radio, watching TV/movies, reading, texting, chatting, playing games, etc. Exercise self-control, fast, and learn to find comfort and fulfillment in God through prayer.


7. Develop a Sense of Gratitude. A mystical sense of gratitude by which we recognize everything around us is a gift from God helps foster a certain detachment by preventing us from becoming inordinately fixated on the objects of our awareness. Through gratitude, we recognize each thing reflects in some way God's beauty. Such gratitude helps foster recollection and mindfulness.


Fr. Cooper on Discernment and Discouragement

"All conditional propositions that disturb your soul come from the devil" (4m26s).

Modest Dress and "Evil" Beauty

Some liberally minded people object to modest dress because they say modest dress enforces a notion that women's bodies are evil, that the beauty of a woman cannot be anything but temptation, and therefore modesty is degrading to the dignity of women.

And it may be admitted that modest dress may enforce such a notion among some people. But is this possibility a sufficient reason to reject modest dress? No, because the connection is not a necessary one. There is no logical connection between modest dress and the idea that women's bodies are evil. In fact, quite the contrary.

As semiotic beings, we organize and interpret sensation into coherent experience through signs and sign processes proper to our biology. Due to this primacy of sign usage, every subjectivity with which we come into contact is experienced as an object. An object is already an interpretation of a subject. As semiotic beings, we may then differentiate the objective and subjective dimensions of any being presented in experience, understanding that what I experience has its own subjective constitution. In this case, a woman with her dignity.

But a man, as with any animal, experiences the woman firstly as an object to be sorted into three possible categories of fundamental interpretation: 1) an object to be desired; 2) to be avoided; or 3) ignored. Such a categorization isn't evil; this is fundamental to animal experience. To reduce the totality of a woman's subjectivity to my preliminary, animal objectification of her would be evil, but the act by which we categorize any object of experience into 1, 2, or 3 is natural and necessary.

Men who struggle with lust obviously categorize women into the first: an object to be desired. Why? They interpret this object of their experience as possessing desirable features and characteristics, and the object then presents itself with future possibilities of fulfillment in multiple ways: animal, physical, emotional, familial, spiritual, etc. But desirable objects must possess positive goods that are recognized as such in order to be categorized as desirable. Hence, a man who struggles with lust is precisely someone who is stuck on one feature of a woman's positive goodness in relation to himself, namely, his own pleasure-seeking. As we noted above, the reduction of a woman's subjectivity to this simple objectification is precisely the objection to modest dress, but notice that our analysis up until now has had nothing to do with modest dress. The objectification occurs all within a man's psyche.

Where does modest dress enter in? It enters precisely in two ways: 1) women seek to help men overcome this objectification; 2) men seek to admit their weakness.

1) modest dress ought to be a means by which a woman says, "I recognize that you have trouble controlling your desires, that you struggle with objectification. I want to help in the way that I can." We are not responsible for each other's actions; hence a woman cannot be required to help a man work through his own psychological mechanisms. But she can help remotely by not encouraging the man's habits by presenting herself in an overtly sexual manner. In so doing, modest dress represents that a woman recognizes the power of her physical beauty to attract the gaze and attention of another, and, wishing to help the other remain both attracted but not enslaved to solely that dimension of her subjectivity, she wears modest dress as a reminder that she is more than her physical beauty. Her mystique is more than the physical although the physical is certainly part of it.

2) men must be willing to admit their weakness. There is a trend in our culture to object to modest dress on the basis that men should be able to control themselves, and having women wear modest dress implies that men can't control themselves. And yes, that is precisely the problem. Women are not responsible for men's lack of self-control; that is not what is claimed by proposing modest dress as a help. We must stop fooling ourselves into believing that we have self-control; look around and be honest. Most do not exercise self-control. This is a problem, and it leads to problems. But modest dress may help take first steps by not encouraging the man to be stuck at the physical level from the very first moment. If a man doesn't notice and become fixated on the physical beauty of a woman from the first instant, an environment is encouraged in which the man may expand his conception of women beyond the pleasure he derives from physicality.

Modest dress ultimately is objected to because it hampers pure individuality, which is the core of the indifference we exhibit towards each other in the spheres of our lives. Because of this indifference, cooperation is characterized cynically as mutually accepted manipulation. Real cooperation, however, means that we cannot exist as self-sufficient beings, but we must exist always in relation to each other, helping and complementing each other, seeking support from each other. We can do this without having to be responsible for the personal choices we each make as individuals; on the other hand, we don't have to go to the other extreme and leave each other alone in our struggles to achieve moral freedom.

Spiritual Progress Requires Desire and Strategy

I wish I had learned earlier on the importance of two notions in all human achievement and especially in the spiritual life: 1) desire, and 2) strategy.

Desire is not simply vague wishfulness. It is tied to strategy. I desire some end. Now, I must take on the means to reach that end. This is strategy.

Strategy is a plan, concrete, experimental, testable. I propose tests to conduct, make records, adjust where needed, and continue. This is a heuristic process, self-correcting, like science. It is precisely what St. Ignatius of Loyola proposes in his Spiritual Exercises with the emphases on discernment and self-examination. Mental prayer is effective, says St. Alphonsus and St. Francis de Sales, to the degree that we make a concrete resolution, foreseeing possible difficulties and solutions.

Hence, I should always have a big picture strategy and smaller tactics to execute and organize that strategy on the concrete level from day to day. At different points, especially by the end of the day, I must go over the plan and the day, how it was executed, make records, note failures and successes, adjust where needed, and plan ahead.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on True Worship and Human Life

True worship is the living human being, who has become a total answer to God, shaped by God's healing and transforming word. And true priesthood is therefore the ministry of word and sacrament that transforms people into an offering to God and makes the cosmos into praise and thanksgiving to the Creator and Redeemer. Therefore Christ, who makes an offering of himself on the Cross, is the true high priest [....]


Source: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, trans. by Philip J. Whitmore (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2011), 238.

St. John of the Cross on Perfect Transformation in God

Since every living being lives by its operations, as the philosophers say, and the soul's operations are in God though its union with him, it lives the life of God. Thus it changed its death to life, its animal life to spiritual life.

The intellect, which before this union understood naturally by the vigor of its natural light by means of the natural senses, is now moved and informed by another higher principle of supernatural divine light, and the senses are bypassed. Accordingly, the intellect becomes divine, because through its union with God's intellect both become one.

And the will, which previously loved in a base and deadly way with only its natural affection, is now changed into the life of divine love, for it loves in a lofty way with divine affection, moved by the strength of the Holy Spirit in which it now lives the life of love. By means of this union God's will and the soul's will are now one. 

And the memory, which by itself perceived only the figures and phantasms of creatures, is changed through this union so as to have in its mind the eternal years mentioned by David [Ps. 77:5].

And the natural appetite that only had the ability and strength to relish creatures (which causes death), is changed now so that its taste and savor are divine, and it is moved and satisfied by another principle: the delight of God, in which it is more alive. And because it is united with him, it is no longer anything else than the appetite of God.

Finally all the movements, operations, and inclinations the soul had previously from the principle and strength of its natural life are now in this union dead to what they formerly were, changed into divine movements, and alive to God. For the soul, like a true daughter of God, is moved in all by the Spirit of God, as St. Paul teaches in saying that those who are moved by the Spirit of God are children of God himself [Rom. 8:14].

Accordingly, the intellect of this soul is God's intellect; its will is God's will; its memory is the memory of God; and its delight is God's delight; and although the substance of this soul is not the substance of God, since it cannot undergo a substantial conversion into him, it has become God through participation in God, being united to and absorbed in him, as it is in this state. Such a union is wrought in this perfect state of the spiritual life, yet not as perfectly as in the next life. Consequently the soul is dead to all it was in itself, which was death to it, and alive to what God is in himself. Speaking of itself, the soul declares in this verse: "In killing you changed death to life." 

The soul can well repeat the words of St. Paul: I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me [Gal. 2:20]. The death of this soul is changed to the life of God. 


Source: St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. by K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991), 2.34.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Memorized Formulas vs. Lived Truth

Blessed are those simple souls, for whom this fundamental truth [of Faith] is not merely a formula committed to memory but a truth of life. Blessed are those who experience true sorrow for their sins.


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Love of God and the Cross of Jesus, vol. 2, trans. by Jeanne Marie (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1951), 354.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Self-Identified Cafeteria Catholic

There are certain phrases used among Catholics that are very subtly equivocal. Let me identify two for example.

Some Catholics reject the use of Latin because it is a "dead language." Calling a language dead, strictly speaking, refers to the fact that a language is no longer natively learned. Is there anything in such a description that leads to the conclusion that Latin should not be used anywhere, least of all in liturgy? Of course not. But when people call Latin a dead language, they do so not to point out that no one natively learns Latin but that Latin is a useless language, a backward language, an outdated language, and even a harmful language. They rely on the connotations of dead language and assert these connotations as denotation; hence the calling of Latin as a dead language is an ideological move per se. But liturgy should not be determined or changed by ideology but only by consideration of what is truly beneficial to the Church and in light of the Church's living tradition. Therefore, an ideological proposition has no place in rejecting the use of Latin (or even the vernacular), and thus Latin cannot be rejected solely because it is a "dead language."

A second example. Lukewarm Catholics, modern Catholics use the phrase "practicing Catholic," but this phrase is problematic precisely because it is descriptive in an equivocal way. It describes the alleged fact that a certain Catholic does certain practices, and the performance of these practices form a sufficient condition for the identity of "practicing Catholic," the implication being that the individual is an active Catholic and not a lapsed Catholic. But there is a significant problem: being Catholic means more than doing certain practices. Catholic is an identity that one cannot simply give to oneself as one sees fit, but it is an identity conferred by the Church. In other words, Catholic is a juridical identity firstly, an identity that of course presupposes ontological and behavioral bases but nevertheless is juridical. This point could be drawn out by the distinction that some in a state of grace are not Catholic, and not all Catholics are in a state of grace; in other words, to be Catholic requires more than being a child of God renewed by valid Baptism. To be Catholic is not even determined by whether one is confirmed in the Catholic Church or not. The Code of Canon Law shows what is required to be a Catholic:
Those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance. (Canon 205)
The three conditions are: the profession of the same faith as the Catholic Church; the participation in the Church's sacraments; submission to her governance. Notice that "practice" falls only under the second condition. Going to Church on Sundays is necessary but not sufficient.

If a Catholic self identifies as a so-called "cafeteria Catholic," then that Catholic is not a Catholic according to the Church's standards for two reasons: 1) the acceptance of Church doctrine, practice, and submission to governance is to be wholly accepted by the will, not vitiated by distinct choices of this or that practice or doctrine; 2) there are only two possible variants on the Catholic identity: those in full communion and those not in full communion

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What to Expect from Lukewarm Clergy

“Many [...] Catholics think they know what to expect from clergy — a now-familiar mix of soft social criticism and gentle moral encouragement,” says Robert Kennedy, chair of the Department of Catholic Studies at St. Thomas. “But many of the younger clergy take a very different approach. Their voices will not be soothing and predictable, but challenging and supported by personal witness. They are out for souls, not social change.”


Source: Katherine Kersten, "A Youth Movement in the Priesthood," StarTribune, February 6, 2015, accessed February 8, 2015,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

All of History

All of history is being and relation and the multifaceted ways in which the two dimensions of reality work together.

The history of errors consists in neglecting relations. The history of discovery consists in establishing them.

Politics and religion consist in right relations. Virtue is established by its relation to the rule of right reason. Right reason is relational thinking about two extremes.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Internal Semiosis, Resonance, and the Interior Life

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange compared the interior life to the internal conversation that occurs in a man. If this interior life is natural, the conversation occurs simply with oneself, making oneself the ultimate referent of all experience: "As soon as a man ceases to be outwardly occupied, to talk with his fellow men, as soon as he is alone, even in the noisy streets of a great city, he begins to carry on a conversation with himself [....] If a man is fundamentally egotistical, his intimate conversation with himself is inspired by sensuality or pride." (Three Ages of the Interior Life, trans. M. Timothea Doyle, ch. 2,

At the moment that a man seeks the good in honesty, the nature of this conversation changes: "He converses with himself, for example, about what is necessary to live becomingly and to support his family. This at times preoccupies him greatly; he feels his weakness and the need of placing his confidence no longer in himself alone, but in God" (ibid.). Even in the state of grace, egoism confuses and mangles this interior conversation, pushing God out as much as possible despite the soul's clearer vision of its inadequacy and dependence on God. In fact, Garrigou-Lagrange suggests that this interior conversation cannot end and implicitly points to man's need for God as well as man's final fulfillment in God, who alone can finally satisfy this interior dialogue: "The soul must converse with someone other than itself. Why? Because it is not its own last end; because its end is the living God, and it cannot rest entirely except in Him" (ibid.).

Modern psychology at its best provides scientific precision to analytical explanations of the interior, psychological processes of the intellect and soul. Often, however, where psychology gets something correct, we find such points already explicated in the writings and experiences of the Saints, at least in nascent or unscientific form. St. Paul famously experienced the interior struggle between what he saw was good and what he hated as evil:
For that which I work, I understand not. For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do. If then I do that which I will not, I consent to the law, that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good. For to will, is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 
I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man: But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin. (Romans 7:15–25; DR trans.)
And Psalm 19 says, "Who can understand sins? from my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord" (v. 12). These verses posit that there exists a dimension of the broken personality, caught up in sin, in conflict with the conscious striving towards virtue. There is a contrast in Paul between flesh and mind yet almost as if the flesh had a mind and will of its own. Modern psychology would distinguish these dimensions as the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious. The exact nature of these different aspects can lead to serious error in a philosophy of human nature, and it's clear that much of modern psychology has tended towards a mechanistic reductionism of the human psyche, where the unconscious takes on some kind of overwhelming force. Without going to these extremes, it seems reasonable that we often act out of a plurality of motives, some of which we do not discern until we reflect later on our actions with deeper insight. The increase of self-knowledge is not merely quantitative—I know more and more truths about my personality—but also qualitative—I know my personality more deeply than before, its patterns, tendencies, weaknesses, and also very importantly, its strengths, some of which due to my God-given temperament.

Perhaps a semiotic analysis of human psychology would provide some helpful insights for spiritual growth. We know from experience that when a man works on growing in self-knowledge and discernment, the unconscious aspects of his moral actions eventually come to light. We also know from the experience of the Saints that where sinful tendencies reside in these unconscious dimensions, grace and asceticism eventually purify and heal the psyche of these tendencies. Here is a simple refutation of the omnipotence of the unconscious. Transformation in Christ is where the Saint may say truly, "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20).

This internal dialogue, often the source of many self-destructive tendencies, especially to despair in various forms, is nothing other than a process of "private semiosis," the internal activity of signs in the human mind as it processes its environment and itself in some unified way. Conversation is speech, and speech consists of signs; human language is nothing other than that form of sign use unique to humans: anthroposemiosis. This semiosis is private insofar as it occurs immanently in the mind, seen in its immediate, raw form only by the individual and God although it may be expressed in a mediated way to others—mediated because only we can experience the fullness of what we experience.

But sign activity, or semiosis, for humans occurs in multiple dimensions since the human alone of all animals can distinguish between signs as such and all other forms of reality, between subject and object, between actual and ideal. Much of the activity that informs our conscious semiosis is subconscious. For example, when we read a novel, we subconsciously take on the role of a reader who understands that we are entering into a fictional world. Did we make the conscious, private semiosic choice to take on this interpretive stance? No (although we could if we so chose). We switch between interpretive modes for all genres of text, and we do something similar when we enter different social settings and engage with different people. Even where there is the conscious awareness of making certain switches, for example, "I must not use vulgarity when I'm around grandma," we might tell ourselves privately, there are other aspects of this switch that we often are not aware of; for example, what is the prior condition that prompts us to tell ourselves that we ought not to use vulgarity around our elders? This prompting is a semiosic process that we might become aware of, just like we might become aware of our breathing at any moment if we so chose to pay attention and knew what to look for, but just like our breathing, these processes often remain on the subconscious level.

Perhaps we can see the distinction between conscious and subconscious precisely in terms of relation, a relation to intentional awareness or the lack thereof. Following a Lacanian line of thinking regarding the unconscious, the unconscious is precisely everything other than the conscious remaining in human experience, encompassing the aspects of the Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic; this residue or overflow occurs because conscious processing of our experience always leaves something to be desired, something missing; language is often insufficient—we find ourselves at a loss for words as the saying goes. Hence analogously, just as God is precisely everything other than created, finite beings (and by extension, the concept of God is precisely a concept consisting of an amalgamation of relations by which we conceive that God is not this, nor that, nor that), so too our unconscious is everything other than consciously filtered experience through our private semiosis.

Hence the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious all converge simultaneously to create the presently processed experience of our environments. Deepening our self-knowledge allows us to identify these different strands and how they are functioning at any given moment. Perhaps this lack of self-knowledge or despair of possibly attaining to it in atheistic psychologies has led to the idea that the unconscious inescapably dominates all our behavior. There is truth to the experience that often we seem to lose control of ourselves, that our emotions seem to be out of our control, our thoughts run on endlessly, often laboriously (even St. Teresa of Avila complained about this on multiple occasions). Much of this lack of control for the average person certainly stems from a lack of self-knowledge and the tools to deal with and integrate the different dimensions of our experience. (We might also postulate that this lack of control may be the result of a sensitive temperament that is more attuned to the multiple effects of one's surrounding and/or the result of a sensitivity that comes from ascetic and mystical purification by which one is keenly aware of the different spirits affecting our behaviors, thoughts, etc.; maybe some combination of the above was the case with St. Teresa, whose almost constant contemplation bombarded her soul with new infusions of grace, overwhelming her and overflowing into the bodily dimension of her being, sometimes painfully.) With self-knowledge and discipline, these different dimension can be identified, organized, and trained even on the natural plane.

But first, we need to understand why the process of the constant bombardment of shifting emotions and internal dialogue occurs. To begin metaphysically, all being contains positive and negative dimensions, positive perfections and negative lacks due to its finite structure and the circumstances that may have vitiated its due development towards its final end. Being is simultaneously communicative and receptive, sharing its proper perfections around it and receiving the perfections of other beings, hopefully in ways complementary to its own teleological needs—e.g. rain is necessary for plant growth, but too much rain may drown the plant. Hence we may say there is complementary communication and non-complementary communication (where complementary is understood in relation to aiding a being's fulfillment of its final end).

Our relation to reality encompasses these perfections in an intentional form, and our semiosis communicates these intentional realities and perfections, which in turn constantly are those elements that bombard us. So much of this communication is occurring all the time that it seems impossible for any individual to process all of it, and we know from neuroscience just how much processing our brain does behind the scenes in order to maintain our practical functionality at any given moment. Within this bombardment is the opportunity for help or hurt. It is a common experience that we find ourselves in pain or ambient anxiety, and it seemingly arises from nowhere. Demonic influence and psychological disorder momentarily set aside for theoretical reasons in this analysis, it may very well be that a steady bombardment of non-complementary being has slowly accumulated within our souls, leading to affective experiences of pain, anxiety, etc. It may also be that this accumulation resonates in a certain way with already present stores of past accumulations of pain, going back even into early childhood or gestation. Psychology has been able to show just how influential these formative years are and how devastating they may be if a child is not given a properly nurturing upbringing.

The old children's rhyme about sticks, stones, and words never hurting us is simply a child's denial of a very painful reality, its attempt to gain control over what feels beyond its control, the overwhelming overflow of communicated being (or perhaps non-being in the sense of moral evil) leading to pain. The rhyme then seeks to contain the pain through the use of words, but this misses the point because the child clearly does not have the experience or psychological maturity or discernment in order to properly face such pain.

As different webs and spirals of semiosis accumulate in the soul by forming qualities in the manner of habits—and here I am being more speculative than before—perhaps it is precisely in this way that the soul informs the body in a secondary manner—the primary manner being that the soul provides the basic constitutive framework of this kind of living animal—, in the manner of how quality is respect to form as quantity is respect to matter. Habits, while being qualities in the soul, clearly have physical effects in the body; neural networks are formed in habits, for example. As the soul is informed by semiosic processes, so too the body responds accordingly. And perhaps the movement is reciprocal: as the body is affected by external forces beyond the soul's control, the soul is affected, or at least its full and proper expression through the body. Hence, physical and mental disabilities that impede the proper development and expression of normative human intellectual activity.

Regardless of how the above process works, the accumulations of semiotic webs within the soul, both conscious and unconscious, then lead to qualities that affect bodily development and render certain patterns of behavior easier, swifter, and accompanied by a certain spiritual and bodily delight. The quality of a soul informed by a habit and its subsequent informing of the body renders a person apt for the actualization of these habits, creating what we might call a "resonance."

Just as in acoustics, room resonance depends on the wall matter, sound, and location all interacting simultaneously to create a booming effect, or just as pitch resonances may create sympathetic vibrations when certain conditions are met, when certain semiosic processes converge in a human informed with this habitual quality, a resonance may occur, rendering the actualization of the habit immediate, facile, and delightful, perhaps even overwhelming in a certain sense.

Thus the pain of a person trapped in vice—the convergence of these semiosic processes is nothing other than what is called a temptation. At the moment of this convergence, the communication of intentional non-complementary being creates a certain resonance, striving to activate the soul, whose vicious quality renders it apt for reacting in this vicious way. Thus the psychological experience of the temptation may feel overwhelming.

Similarly, for a person formed in a virtuous habit, when the proper semiosic conditions converge, the virtue is activated, the morally good action executed with delight, sometimes with a deep relish at having accomplished the good, even simple goods.

And just as conditions may create resonance based on the qualitative predisposition of a soul formed in this habit, so too opposite conditions may resonate very poorly if at all in people with the opposite qualities respectively. Hence what used to be a temptation to a soul now is hardly a blip in its habitual, qualitative orientation towards the good; likewise, a stimulus to good may be experienced for a soul trapped in sin as painful, dissonant, and hardly moving. The semiosic communication is jarring with the quality of the soul; the being that is being communicated is not converging properly with the soul informed or disformed by these qualities. We see analogous clashes in the realm of physical organisms all the time, where external conditions and the subjective constitution of an organism or seed do not converge to lead to the flourishing of the organism.

But lest this process seem to be another form of omnipotence, shifting from the unconscious to these semiosic processes, it must be remembered that conscious semiosis in the human is the discursive reason, guiding and directing the will, creating the conditions for freedom. Clearly the freedom of a soul trapped in sin is encumbered but can never be totally destroyed without destroying discursive reason itself. Hence these semiosic processes are both the condition for freedom as well as the possibility for either its hindrance or development, just as water is a necessary condition for the growth of plant life, but too little, too much, or contaminated water will kill the plant. The will must still choose, and the will can direct the intentionality of these semiosic processes, guiding them in certain limited ways, depending on the various conditions, both external and internal. Qualities are supposed to aid the soul in the proper guidance of these processes, in the proper flourishing of the rational aspect of human nature.

Grace enters. We say that grace perfects nature. Grace is a communication in the divine life, a participation, or in other words, a relation. This is precisely semiosis on the divine level, entering through an analogous, accidental, created, physical mode into the soul. Without grace, the private semiosis of an individual would begin at conception and crash into oblivion at death. Grace thus creates a relation between the soul and God and creates an elevation of those dimensions that exist in the soul, giving them an orientation to the divine or at least the conditions that make possible the development of this orientation. Hence the accumulated semioses remain, but grace now offers and provides a "defrag" program for the soul. There is certainly an extent to which the soul may do this itself—the active purifications and ascetical stages of the spiritual life constitute this extent. But the end for which God has made man goes beyond man's natural, immanent capacities, and besides which, the wounds of sin that remain render the accumulation of harmful semioses sometimes overwhelming, something experienced sometimes as loss of total control, addiction.

The conversation, the private semiosis, may now turn to God. God's semiosis enters into the soul; the Trinity makes its dwelling in the heart. The Logos communicates the fullness of the divinity. The Holy Ghost consumes and transforms. The Father guides the soul lovingly, teaching, listening, aiding, assuring.

We also believe there is a Communion of Saints. Communion involves communication, reception, relation, a sharing, a participation. The semiosis of grace extends not only to the Deity but to those who are linked by grace to God.

These are the helps that the soul needs. Nevertheless, those resonances remain, the resonances of already formed habits. The struggle is arduous, but the soul is assured of divine assistance, a true omnipotence, the omnipotence of God and the shared, participated omnipotence of the Blessed Mother, who obtains for us all that we need. The theological virtues create wellsprings, new qualities in the soul, by which the old resonances may be combatted not only on the natural plane but also the supernatural.

Here it must be remarked one particular difficulty people have in allowing grace to establish a new, supernatural quality. Faith is the virtue by which we attain to God as revealed and revealing Truth. St. John of the Cross interestingly argues that living faith alone is the proximate and proportionate means of union with God. What does this mean semiotically? Simply that the semiosis of faith is experienced psychologically as pure emptiness, darkness, nothing except the will's constant clinging to God despite all other competing strands of semiosis in the psyche.

Here we can see why so many people get lost in secondary matters of faith and, although they intellectually adhere or profess to the matters of faith and their extensions to different aspects of the Church and Christian life, this faith doesn't seem to transform them as it ought. For example, focusing on issues, such as the pro-life movement, personal devotions, political topics, like women priests, sexual morality, marriage, or issues of liturgy, tradition, and doctrine—these are all secondary to faith. Faith primarily attains to God and secondarily applies to all else insofar as it stands in relation to God revealing. Hence faith is meant to unite us perfectly to God and not to these secondary matters. St. John of the Cross insists that a person who places importance on these secondary issues is, despite these issues being related to faith, hindering their union with God through faith. The following quotation focuses only on devotions and the Mass, for example:
These people attribute so much efficacy to methods of carrying out their devotions and prayers [....] They put more trust in these methods than they do in the living prayer [....] For example, they demand that the Mass be said with a certain number of candles, no more nor less; or that it be celebrated at a particular hour, no sooner nor later; or that it be said after a certain day, not before; [...] And regarding other ceremonies in vocal prayers and other devotions, one should not become attached to any ceremonies or modes of prayer other than those Christ taught us." (Ascent of Mount Carmel, 3.43.2, 44.4)
St. John of the Cross says the way to the top of the mountain is: nada, the emptiness of pure faith, a total clinging to God in absolute darkness of intellectual and finite semioses. The divine semiosis of faith stands in absolute difference (but not indifference) to all human semioses, and to inject human semiosis into the divine semiosis of faith is to kill faith. Meditation, as St. John of the Cross teaches, is a heuristic process, temporary, by which the soul is actively weaning itself of previous vicious habits and working towards developing virtuous qualities. Think of St. Teresa of Avila's comparison of meditation to drawing water out of a well with a bucket. Meditation simply frees up the soul to a sufficient degree so that its accumulated semioses may not get in the way of the divine semiosis of faith because it often is the case that our accumulations stifle and mute faith without our even intending it to. Perhaps more precisely we should say our accumulations stifle and mute the expression and development of faith but not faith itself; otherwise, it would be impossible to remain in a state of grace unless we were already perfect! No, God, seeing our weakness, accepts the conscious intention of our will to adhere to the faith, and this is sufficient for faith to remain in the soul. Nevertheless, this state is only the beginning, and it's easy for the individual, so accustomed to created, finite semiosic processes, to confuse the divine semiosis of faith with these other finite processes, which extend to our conceptions of the Mass, of the Pope, of what the Church really should look like, and even what our spiritual life should look like. As long as we cling to human semiosis, we hinder faith.

To repeat: meditation is not a clinging to human semiosis, but an efficient tool to redirect human semiosis to free the soul of its accumulated vicious qualities so that these accumulations don't completely stifle and freeze the flowering of faith in the soul. Meditation should be leading us to become more and more humble and detached from our private conceptions and semiosis and becoming more and more attached to God, conversing with Him, remaining recollected in Him, not ourselves, going out of ourselves as St. John of the Cross would say, forgetting ourselves.

Someday, by God's grace, we shall attain to that state where our private semiosis is directed by the Holy Ghost perfectly, so that although we experience reality with our accumulated past and individuality, it is filtered and subsumed harmoniously and without resistance by the divine semiosis of Christ: "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20).

Prayer as Breathing

Prayer has often been compared to breathing. We must pray as often as we breath if not more often if possible. If we cease praying, we die spiritually. Prayer is not merely an optional addition to our daily living, perhaps like exercising or dieting; it is absolutely vital at every moment of our existence.

T.S. Eliot on Technological Provincialism

In our age, when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which served their turn and have been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares. The menace of this kind of provincialism is, that we can all, all the people on the globe, be provincials together; and those who are not content to be provincials, can only become hermits. If this kind of provincialism led to greater tolerance, in the sense of forbearance, there might be more to be said for it; but it seems more likely to lead to our becoming indifferent, in matters where we ought to maintain a distinctive dogma or standard, and to our becoming intolerant, in matters which might be left to local or personal preference.


Source: T.S. Eliot, "What Is a Classic?," in Selected of T.S. Eliot, ed. by Frank Kermode (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975).