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All Saints Day

Nov. 1st, 2007 | 07:10 pm

My day some day, with a bit more effort and grace.

Actually, according to what I read this morning (In Conversation with God), today is a celebration of all saints, including those "striving" for sanctity while still alive.

I'm struggling for sanctity. Is that close enough to striving?

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Small Job

Oct. 30th, 2007 | 06:58 pm

Mother Teresa was called to be a saint to the diseased and downtrodden. Can I at least be saint to my wife and a handful of children?

Of course, I'm called to be a saint to many more people than my immediate charges, but if I can't even pull off saintliness for the first circle, I'm not going to be able to do it for the outer circles.

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The Dominant Defect

Oct. 29th, 2007 | 01:12 am

I've really benefited from Francis Fernandez's In Conversation with God. It has all sorts of spiritual common sense, like this piece of advice from Volume 5, Chapter 23.3:

"According to many authors of spiritual books, progress in our life of piety depends a good deal on our recognition and understanding of our dominant defect. This is the defect that has the biggest influence on our behavior and thinking. It typically becomes evident in what we do, what we want, what we think: it can be vanity, laziness, impatience, pessimism, a critical spirit. . . Each person has his or her own path to holiness. Some people require more fortitude. Other need more hope or joy. . . We ought to ask ourselves: What worries us most? What leads us to suffer or lose our peace or fall into sadness? Most of the temptations we experience will be related in some way to this dominant defect. . . Progress in the interior life requires knowledge of this defect."


I've been trying to figure out my dominant defect. Right now, I have three candidates: greed, pride, and fear.

I obsess about money a lot, but I don't think it's because I'm greedy, in the sense that I crave the material things that come with money or even the status or sense of accomplishment from having a lot of money. Instead, I seek the security that comes from having a paid mortgage. I want money to provide things for my children. Although such desires can be sinful, I'm not sure they're properly classified as "greed."

Pride seems too broad.  All sin comes from self-centeredness. Then again, Garrigou Lagrange appears to say pride can be the dominant defect. If this is the case, pride is my dominant defect. Excessive self-regard triggers all my sins, from getting mad at small (often improperly perceived) insults to drinking too much to obsessing about my salary.

Still, I think fear is my dominant defect. I'm not even sure it's a sin (though its opposite, courage, is a cardinal virtue), but JPII frequently urged everyone not to be afraid. I think he saw fear as one of the dominant defects of the modern world, and I'm a child of the modern world. It wouldn't be surprising if fear is my big defect.

I fear all sorts of big things: poverty, hell, death, losing my children or wife. I fear petty things all day: a lack of sleep, getting hungry, gaining weight, potential diseases that don't even run in my family, getting a bad reputation, poor billable hours, getting in trouble with my licensing board. Fear seems to pervade every minute of the day, and the vast bulk of my fears have no reasonable chance of occurring. I'm also a splendid worrier, and I assume worry is the spouse of fear.

I've started praying every day, "Lord, take away my fear and give me peace." It's my own little prayer, and it seems to help a lot.

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Saint or PYT?

Oct. 24th, 2007 | 12:56 pm

The mid-life crisis. Some men look for a young hottie, some become fitness nuts, some buy a Corvette, some leave for Tahiti (or threaten to . . . Howard Cunningham). Maybe this saint thing is my midlife crisis. It seems the crisis normally hits guys around age 50, and I'm only in my very early forties, but it makes me wonder about this new goal of mine. Oh well, I'm sure my wife is happier that I'm pursuing my crisis this way instead of through the arms of a PYT.

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Maturity

Oct. 23rd, 2007 | 01:46 pm

One major block on the road to virtue: The feeling that every advance in virtue would've come about naturally as a result of age. My temper mellows, but lots of people tell me their's did too, with age. I don't get real drunk, but lots of people tell me they don't drink nearly as much as they did as twenty somethings. I don't worry and get agitated as easily, but my financial situation is more secure so things don't get to me as readily.

Thing is, I also know that I've back peddled in virtue, sometimes very quickly. I also know plenty of people who haven't advanced much in virtue with their advance in years.

I suspect the pursuit of virtue is supernatural and natural, part aging and part grace, part easy and part effort. The important thing is, I shouldn't downplay noticeable advances in virtue. I shouldn't decline to give thanks or even to congratulate my frail self a little bit. Whatever the advance in virtue is, it's not automatic.

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Time to Despair II

Oct. 22nd, 2007 | 01:46 am

I've been thinking more about my previous post (immediately below).

"To be able to discover the actual will of the Lord." That's what JPII wrote. He didn't say, "To become a saint."

Discovering the Lord's will and becoming a saint are no doubt closely tied, but I don't think they're the same thing. Is it not possible that very simple saints (say, Joseph Labre) didn't know what God wanted, but simply lived, stupidly yet contentedly (we should all live so stupidly)?

If I have no spiritual director, maybe it means I need to be extremely modest in my worldly aspirations. Maybe a spiritual director would tell me, "It's okay to run for this office," or "It's okay to strive for this level of income, you have enough detachment, but just remember to . . . .". I don't have anyone to help discern such things, so maybe I just need to be very small, Lisieux-like, modest in goals, skeptical in my abilities to see anything clearly, and therefore needing to keep my eyes on the close and obvious.

I wouldn't be the first. I've long been interested in the ancient Greek character Pyrrho. Here are some things I wrote awhile back about the man who brought the philosophic world the idea of ataraxy:

"He is a younger contemporary of Aristotle. Often considered a skeptic, he wasn’t. He stood between the dogmatic philosophers and the skeptical ones. Like the agnostic who stands between dogmatic believers and atheists, refuting neither but agreeing with neither, Pyrrho didn’t assert that truth is knowable (like the dogmatic philosophers) or unknowable (like the skeptics). He opted instead for existential suspense of judgment and a subsequent “resting of the mind.” A calmness born of sandstorm-like confusion, but contentedness.

"Pyrrho, though, may have at heart been a mystic. After the sandstorm settled down and the mental landscape settled, he responds to his follower Timon’s question: 'Why is it that you alone among men stand forth in the manner of a God?' Said Pyrrho, 'For the right rule of truth do I have in this saying: That the nature of God as of Good exists in eternity, and from there proceeds for man the most just and equitable.'

"God, not all the statistics and assertions and opinions and dogmas that swirl around society, around worldly living. But God. That, one historian noted, was the 'enigmatic force that let Pyrrho appear as a saintly, semidivine figure to this contemporaries.' Pyrrho’s was the silence of the mystic."

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Despair Time?

Oct. 19th, 2007 | 08:20 am

JPII: "To be able to discover the actual will of the Lord in our lives always involves the following: a receptive listening to the Word of God and the Church, fervent and constant prayer, recourse to a wise and loving spiritual guide, and a faithful discernment of the gifts and talents given by God . . .". Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles laici, 30 December 1988, 58.

Emphasis mine.

Always requires a spiritual guide? I assume JPII is referring to another person, not a good book.

In my rural area, I have a hard time finding a priest to hear confession, much less to be a spiritual guide. Anyone have any suggestions of what a guy in my position is to do? (I don't really expect an answer, since this blog is only a week old and is lucky to be receiving any visitors at all, but if you're out there . . .).

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Scripture

Oct. 18th, 2007 | 11:10 am

I grew up in the sola scriptura tradition (forgive the oxymoron). At church and Sunday School and catechism classes, we read scripture and read scripture and read scripture. By the time I converted to Catholicism in my mid-twenties, I was tired of scripture (horrible thing to say, perhaps, but true). I wanted to read post-Biblical Catholics: The Shepherd, Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, Chesterton. Fifteen years later, I'm trying to get back into scripture, and it's hard. I thought I knew scripture very well, but I don't. I may have simply forgotten a lot, but the thing is, whole Gospel passages don't even sound familiar to me. If I knew them at one point, but now they don't even sound familiar, I'm not sure what to think. Faulty memory? Different translations? A different set of mental furniture in my head makes them sound completely different? Beats me.

And even when certain vaguer passages sound familiar, they hit me like a lead weight: heavy and layers of meaning that I can't even begin to get my head around.

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. Augustine, I think. Maybe Jerome. Either way, it makes me uncomfortable.

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Four Dead Sins?

Oct. 17th, 2007 | 08:33 am

When I converted to Catholicism, I suffered from four sins that can be, and normally are, grave matter. Three of them were almost daily occurrences. All four are now dead or severely crippled. I hated them (well, I hated three of them; one of them--intense drunkenness, to the point of losing reason--I kinda miss because I miss the camaraderie that normally came with it). Sin results in existential nervousness, which spills out of the soul and into the conscious, making him noticeably nervous, fearful, agitated. So I'm glad those serious sins are dead or crippled, or appear to be dead or cripple. I've read enough to realize they can come back again so I'm not getting cocky. I give thanks for my victory and move on to lesser sins, realizing the (possibly temporary) conquest of those four sins is merely a first and fundamental step.

Re: The possible temporary victory over those four sins.
It reminds me of the story of a desert father, a man renowned for his holiness. As he was lying on his death bed, the devil appeared in his window and said, "You have defeated me." The holy man replied, "We still don't know yet."

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The Samaritans

Oct. 16th, 2007 | 03:22 pm

The good Samaritan. The Samaritan leper that turned back to thank Jesus (Luke 17). The Samaritans were leftovers from the Assyrian destruction of 721 (I think I have the date right). They were the watered-down Semites. How much grace lingered in their blood for 700-plus years, until Jesus' time? Is there such a thing as residual grace? If so, do those Catholics who fall away still have a whiff of it, hence their often-tortured existence? Does my soul lack for it since I didn't convert until my mid-twenties?

Grace is a tricky thing. It's difficult to contemplate and scary to write about. I always feel like I'm treading into heresy-infected waters.

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