by Pauly Fongemie
3. HOW DO I KEEP THE FAITH
SAVE MY SOUL?
Please help me. I'm 33 years old and have been a devoted Catholic since I was 17. I've defended the faith and the magisterium all this time. Lately it seems all hell is breaking loose around me and I'm clinging to Jesus Christ and His holy Mother because I don't know what else to believe . . .
My beloved sister in Christ, before you go any further on this page, I want you to stop and read:
Living the Faith in Exile, by Edwin Faust
This is very important for it presents the proper perspective for the situation you find yourself, that we loyal Catholics find ourselves in, that is, living not only in an alien culture, but a domestic Church that is alien also. This may sound bleak but Mr. Faust ends with a note of hope. There is a link at the bottom of that page that brings you back to this very spot.
Before we look at the devotions and other spiritual means that help us attain Heaven, let us define three concepts that are often misunderstood:
Christian Hope v. Optimism
The Danger of Human Respect
Human respect is one of the deterrents to the devout life as a militantly Traditional Catholic. What do I mean? This attribute of human communal life is the expectations we have of other people's expectations, do we live up to them, what is my status as a result of my success or failure, how far can I rock the boat or non conform to the prevailing social mores, am I considered a good person and a good citizen?
Now, some of this is fine and perfectly normal as we are meant to live our lives among others, to contribute to family and social life and to accomplish this we must have some idea of how to get along in life, to conduct ourselves in moderation, with temperance, forbearance, self-control and basic consideration for others. But this is not where the danger lies. When Scripture warns us about the peril of human respect, Christ is telling us that when we care too much about others' opinions of us we tend to place a premium on our status, that is, that we seek to be admired and liked, to the detriment of loving God with our whole heart and above all things, for His sake, first and foremost and to love our neighbor for the sake of God second.
Oftentimes we are so afraid of being rejected or ridiculed or otherwise considered less than an ideal person that even when we know better, we can find ourselves being silent while evil is promoted or lauded, while His Holy Name is blasphemed or slandered, His will denigrated, while others call good evil and evil good, and we are the only one who is there to speak up. Or we slack off a bit in our duty to our children because we are afraid to "lose their love", our duty to our country because we do not want to be perceived as not being "politically correct". And so forth. This kind of desire for human respect is really born out of pride. It is an irony, that the more we pride ourselves in ourselves, depending on how others measure us, that we become afraid to "stand alone", be the odd-man out so to speak. If we were really deserving of such consideration, we would be able to stand alone. To counteract this pride, we must acquire the virtue of humility, which is the foundation for all the other virtues, and without which all our efforts will come to naught and be the source of vices such as envy and detraction, and finally despair: this last condition, because humility and Christian hope are closely connected, which we will speak of in a little while.
The author of such Catholic classics
IN HOLINESS and ALL FOR JESUS,
Fr. Frederick Faber, instructs on the evil of human respect:
To give ourselves up to the spiritual life is to put ourselves out of harmony with the world around us. We make a discord even with much that is amiable and affectionate, and with which, as natural virtue, we cannot be altogether without sympathy. We live in a different world, have different interests and speak a different language, and the two worlds will not mingle. Grace holds us in one world, nature draws us down again into the other.
It destroys all liberty, and becomes the positive tyrant of a man's life. Yet if we look well into it, nothing can be more stupid than our submission to it . . . Look at the person who is completely under its domination . . . It is as if the omnipresence of God was sponged out all around him, and that some other powerful eye was fixed upon him, ruling him with a power like that of the solar light, and causing in him at all times an almost preternatural uneasiness.
It is as miserable as it is evil . . . No slavery is more degraded and unhappy. What a misery to be ashamed of our duties and principles! . . . Religion which ought to be our peace, becomes our torment . . . A general wish to please, a laying ourselves out in particular subject matters in order to please, building castles in the air and imagining heroic acts, reflecting on the praise bestowed upon us, and giving way to low spirits when dispraised,-----these are all manifestations of this horrible human respect.
It is the death of all religion. The especial task of Christians is the realization of the invisible world. They have different standards of right and wrong from the votaries of earth. They live inextricably mixed up with the children of the world, as men using the same language with different meanings, and the confusion and apparent deceit grow worse every day.
Few are aware until they honestly turn to God, how completely they are the slaves of this vice. . . . There is not a class of society which it has not mastered, no corner of private life that it has not invaded . . . It rivals, what theologians call the pluri-presence of Satan . . . In modern society men systematize it, acknowledge it as a power, uphold its claims, and punish those who refuse submission. God is an ex-king amongst us; legitimate perhaps but deposed.
Look into your own soul, and see how far this power has brought you into subjection. Is there a nook in your whole being, wherein you can sit down unmolested and breathe fresh air? . . . When you thought it conquered, how often has it risen up again, as if defeat refreshed it like sleep? Does it not follow you as your shadow?
The Church provides remedies for us in two ways, in her general system, and in her dealing with individual souls. She begins by boldly pronouncing a sentence of excommunication against the world, ignores its judgments in her own subject matter of religion, and proclaims its friendship nothing less than a declaration of war against God. She gives her children different standards of right and wrong from the world, and an opposite rule of conduct. All her positive precepts and her obligations of outward profession of faith are so many protests against human respect, and she canonizes just those men who have been heroes in their contempt for it. The world feels and understands the significance of these things, and shows it by anger.
When we give ourselves up to God, we deliberately commit ourselves to live a supernatural life . . . It means giving up this life altogether, as seeing we cannot have both worlds. Altogether! I hear you say, Yes! Altogether . . . This life must go, and altogether. There is no smoothing the word down . . . It means mortification . . . We put other interests, other loves, other enjoyments, in the place of those of the world . . . We lean our whole weight on supernatural aids and sacramental assistances, as depending solely upon them. To a certain extent we even become unsocial by silence, or solitude, or penance, or seeming eccentricity, or vocation. In a word, we deliberately become members of a minority, knowing we shall suffer for it.
---------GROWTH IN HOLINESS, TAN Books, pp. 105-112.
It is a common mistake for people to pride themselves on their humility, an impossibility by definition, and then to exhibit a false modesty in certain social situations so as to not display our pride in our supposed humility. In fact, life is filled with this anomaly because of Original Sin and because Americans are not often raised with this virtue properly. What is humility as the Saints have always practiced and which virtue propelled them to the heights of sanctity?
Humility is the supernatural virtue which, through the self-revelation it imparts, inclines us to know our true worth and to seek self-effacement. Self-effacement is not a false modesty, but a real understanding of how truly lowly we are, not the mere pretense of shrugging off praise we secretly think we merited, for the sake of appearances.
This knowledge of self is the realization of our relationship to God. Its basis, therefore, is in truth and justice. Truth makes us realize that what is good in us comes from God and what is evil comes from self. Justice compels us to render to God alone all honor and all glory.
There are degrees of humility as set down by St. Benedict. Among them are: fear of God; preference for the will of God to one's own; obedience; embracing patiently hard and contrary things; believing oneself lower than our companions; observing silence; restraint in laughter; and speaking gently, gravely and sparingly.
The requirement to believe oneself lower than our companions is misunderstood, thinking that we practice this when we disclaim praise. It is so much more, so very much more. We must come to believe in our heart of hearts that we are truly low. St. Paul speaks of this. All of the Saints believed that they were, so utterly, that if someone would suggest otherwise, they would have been almost scandalized, certainly disbelieving. If we truly know the baseness of sin and the perfection of God, knowing our own faults and sins and not those of another, at least subjectively, it is only just and reasonable that we see ourselves as low, as sinners and that we ask God to increase in us this knowledge of our lowliness, to ask for it in every prayer, even if we will never know if we are acquiring this most beautiful virtue.
Humility is that virtue, that the more we sincerely acquire it, the less we know it, an apparent contradiction or irony. A local parishioner went to the pastor seeking to reform a wastrel youth filled with parties and other licit but less than self-denying amusements, asking him to "direct me toward someone in the parish who is most humble, so I may attempt to imitate him."
He replied and these are his exact words: "Well . . . well . . . well, how about me?" Now, as immature and unschooled in the devout life as that parishioner was, it was certain that the priest was anything but humble. A humble person cannot know and will not know that he is humble. That priest seemed sincere, but he had the wrong idea, probably from a deficient seminary formation.
As frustrating as it may seem on the surface, humility can be acquired, it must be acquired, but we will not be able to measure our progress and maintain humility. Humans do not like these sort of contradictions, they are just too inconvenient. But this is the way of God and of a life spent using the graces God permits us. He always gives enough grace for every single person to attain salvation, but he does not give everyone equal graces. This is a hard saying for Americans [and the French] with all our embrace of "equality" and democracy. Humility is not the American way: pride in progress, worldly success, self-reliance, and eternal optimism consist of Americanism.
Well, if I must be humble but will not be able to measure my attainment of this virtue as I can with the other virtues, how do I go about acquiring it? By practicing the degrees in of themselves, one at a time, depending on the duties of our state of life, with intense spiritual combat, leaving the rest to God's Providence, to rely on His will, to embrace His will with every human disappointment, and not count the cost to our ego. For instance, let us take silence: to cite again Fr. Faber:
"To a certain extent we even become unsocial by silence, or solitude, or penance, or seeming eccentricity, or vocation. In a word, we deliberately become members of a minority, knowing we shall suffer for it."
As St. Benedict teaches, by restraint in laughter, and speaking gently, gravely and sparingly. This removes us as the center of attention, but more importantly, it removes distractions so that even while we may necessarily be engaged in conversation, we are still interiorly recollected, so that the Holy Spirit may inspire us. Restraint in laughter is the same as temperance in food. Laughter is partly physical, partly emotion, and even though we do so by instinct, it involves some effort of our resources. Practicing temperance in this way redirects our focus away from ourselves towards the things of Heaven, so that whatever conversation we may be engaged with, all conversation is really conversing with God. And if we realize, truly realize that God is in that room with us, how would we speak then?
To speak gravely and sparingly simply means to speak of those matters that do not detract from modesty, that is, our talk should not be idle, neither in gossip, nor in levity for the sake of appearing smart or witty, and not for the sake of being charming and or one of the crowd. And always the attention must be away from ourselves unless absolutely necessary, such as when needing medical aid or other assistance, or when someone has a right to ask of us something and we ought to respond, and to practice charity, to instruct others and practice the works of mercy. We should answer as briefly as we can so as to remove the focus from us. Some people are more reticent by temperament than others, and everyone's personality is unique, thus we ought to ask God for the grace to discern here so as to not be guilty of scrupulosity: humility can require us to speak more than we may prefer, as a type of mortification actually, especially if we are reluctant to host a conference, give a speech at a pro-life rally, thinking that we are calling undue attention to oneself, when in fact we are working for Christ. Since one's subject is on the task at hand, we are not the object.
Besides speaking sparingly, we practice silence when we remove noise as much as possible: do reparational driving, forsaking music and talk radio, if we have a television, keeping it turned off much of the time, and so forth. We thus wait upon the Lord, content that each moment wherein we are as nothing as we can be for our state in life and temperament, and that this is His precise will.
The fear of God is that part of humility consisting of reverential fear or the agitation of mind that results from the dread of losing or offending God because of sin; while Scripture teaches us that this kind of fear is the beginning of wisdom, it should not be our motive in serving God: we ought to be motivated by love. Preference for the will of God to one's own is just as it says. I recommend that you study two classic works:
Uniformity with God's
Both are available from TAN Books.
Obedience and embracing patiently hard and contrary things come through uniformity with the will of God which in turn spring from humility of heart and are meritorious for an increase in humility, so intertwined, that where one begins and the other ends is hidden, a salutary thing, for it helps us to be unmindful of any humility we may acquire. I recommend:
Humility of Heart
The Sinner's Guide
The Spiritual Combat
All are available from TAN Books.
A parting thought about humility: Sometimes we are tempted to beat ourselves into the ground with remorse when we have a failure or experience a discouragement. It is one thing to realize that we need to restart, having true contrition, but it is quite another to permit this to become a form of pride: by this I mean that we were all too certain of success in the devout life, striving for too much too soon, and having our hopes dashed, we wallow in misery: too much self-love, unable to face failure. Saint Anthony of Padua said that sanctity consists of starts and restarts. If we have truly begun to be self-effacing, the failures-----that result from momentary weakness or the renewed vigor of Satan who is frightened by the progress he sees, but we do not, and so makes his home in our wounded pride-----will not be so intense and so frequent. We must never let discouragement, the devil's dirty little secret, overpower us, and rob us of the inner joy that is the fruit of complete trust in Our Savior. And this brings us to the virtue of hope.
Christian Hope v. Optimism
Hope is one of the three theological virtues infused into the soul at Baptism which makes us desire the possession of God and which gives the confidence that we will receive the necessary grace to accomplish this end. Hope is necessary for salvation. The sins against hope are presumption and despair. Humility and Christian hope are closely connected, because despair is the end of pride; the remedy for pride is humility and the end of humility is hope perfected because of supernatural charity. The other two theological virtues are faith and charity; these three are of a higher rank than the moral virtues. The greatest of the theological virtues is charity or love, which perfects the other two. The Saints in Heaven possess charity to the degree that they merited while on earth. There is no need for hope in Heaven because the Beatific Vision is already possessed and no need for faith for one beholds God, Who is Perfect Love. There is for all eternity but the greatest virtue, supernatural love or charity.
Without humility here on earth, there is little love of God, which is the highest charity, but much self-love. The more we are humble we love God, preferring Him to ourselves. And the more we love Him, the more we want to be humble. The more humble we become the more we want to trust in God and His Divine Providence and the more we trust Him, the more He loves us and gives His grace, and we in turn love Him more and more. We have the certainty that-----as long as we do not sin with presumption, saying to ourselves, O, but He will forgive me-----He will not turn away and that although we undergo every possible misery, deprivation and pain, that He will always provide for us so as to endure unto salvation.
Optimism is not a virtue but a purely natural attitude of a prevailing wishful thinking. It is a civic "virtue": we are expected to be optimistic, that is, if we think positively, everything will be okay in our little part of the world. In fact, part of the definition for optimism in The American Heritage Dictionary is that "this world is the best of all possible worlds". There are accolades abounding for people who are known for their unbridled optimism and little else. It is not that there are times when we ought not to be optimistic, provided it is based on reason, that is rooted in something accessible and longer lasting than mere whim, provided we know that is is a mere human way of looking at a possible, realistic outcome. But we ought not to consider this a virtue or take any credit for or pride in it.
Another way of looking at optimism is to consider the "glass is half empty or half full" cliché we all know about. Whenever someone posits this supposed truism to us, we know by social expectation that we had better say "half full" or else be considered a curmudgeon of sorts. But is this really true? Let's look now at a glass that holds exactly half its full volume of 8 ounces with water, a necessity for the preservation of life. Of what difference can it possibly make if we think it is half full or half empty? We have 4 ounces of precious water, either way, and ought to be grateful to God that He has provided it. Four ounces=four ounces; it is the water itself that is the cause for our rejoicing at the moment of thirst. If we would have preferred 8 ounces, they will not appear magically because we say "half full" on cue as good Americans. In fact, the more natural human attitude is, provided one is parched, upon seeing the glass of 4 ounces: it's better than nothing, but boy, I could use another 4 ounces; in other words, half empty, if you will. But if you have just had a good long drink and come into the room where the glass with 4 ounces of water awaits, you actually won't care one way or the other, now, will you? Yet we Americans find ourselves enslaved to this type of mentality and then transfer it to how we view the better things, that is spiritual goods. This compounds any tendency to be lukewarm that we may be acquiring a habit for. We become content with 4 ounces of grace or a very few moments of prayer, because we put the best light on our parsimony. Of course we do not do this with forethought or deliberately, we fall into it partly because of our training for optimism, rather than Christian hope. The civic "virtue" of optimism is part and parcel of the great error of our day, universal salvation: Americans have become to believe that all religions are equal, that they enjoy the same rights, and that almost everyone is saved thereby. We want this to be true, we wish it to be true, as this takes the discomfort of having to seriously evangelize away, and if we think it is true hard and long enough, like good little optimists, well, then it must be true!
Christian soldiers who wage spiritual combat in earnest are not optimists by training, but realists, who ask from God an increase in hope, so as to conquer their vices and acquire more virtue, for His glory, not their own. Optimism is of no particular value and is seldom if ever a factor in their daily lives, lived in hope, filled with faith, motivated by love. They know that this world is anything but the "best of all worlds", that it is a vale of tears and of short duration, and filled with snares. The spirit of optimism withers away over time, can neither take root nor make a home in the heart of the militant Catholic. That heart is for God alone, his Catholic soul animated by hope . . .
. . . and thus, the faithful Catholic soldier will not be tempted by scandal to apostatize in despair or fall into the error of Sedevacantism or go into Schism. And neither will he permit human respect to imbue him with ennui, so as to lay down his "sword." The proper response of the militant Catholic when confronted with confusion, apathy, rancor, conflict, petty envy, mean-spiritedness, hardness of heart, ridicule, bad examples of every kind, scandals, is to remain within the fort, not betray it, or flee like a craven. The fort, that is, the Barque of Peter, is firmly within the hands of Christ, though the storms rage and the winds whip up the waves high enough that they seem to be able to overturn Her. When the Apostles were in the boat with Jesus, He was asleep when the storm hit. They were deathly afraid and Jesus told them they should have had more faith. Fear is a natural emotion, so we, who have less than perfect faith, will experience it, too, just as the Saint-Apostles did. They had Christ right within their very midst, in human form, in His Body and yet they knew fear. We have Christ within our midst, in His Mystical Body and in His Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament, and He waits for us to go to Him, that He might come to us, to feed us. In human terms we may experience fear, but ought not to fear the fear.
Christ is also the Good Shepherd Who knows His flock and His flock know Him. It is His express will that His shepherds, our prelates, both the good and the not so good, even the bad, have charge of His flock. The Good Shepherd's staff is Tradition, the key to the Keys of the Kingdom. When Our Lord was in the Garden of Gethsemane with the Apostles, they fell asleep and failed to keep watch with Him. He prayed alone. The servant is not greater than the Master. We may have to keep watch alone, sometimes feeling betrayed. It is His will that we undergo this . . . and we can as long as that we turn to Tradition, whether the shepherd sounds a certain horn or not . . .
. . . with Saint Paul, we "run the coarse", we "keep the faith", teaching the "truth in season and out of season", and unlike Lot's wife, who turned back to look at the destruction of Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt, we do not look back, do not look back and flail around because of our mistakes, sins long ago confessed and forgiven, our failures. We acknowledge them, but we do not let that dominate so as to discourage us or deter us from the prize ahead. Nor do we permit temptations, which are really the raw material for the crown of glory to come, to be a stumbling block. He will provide sufficient grace. We must be humble enough to be unafraid though fighting fear, to depend completely on Jesus Christ, and to let Him love us by placing all our trust and confidence in Him, and by extension, His Mother and our Mother, Mary, and thereby come to love Him and Her more and more. This is the essence of Catholic courage.
". . . and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the Sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church."
Forward for Section 3b
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