No Greater Mystery

“For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44)

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

But what exactly is it that makes a person, or a place, or a thing, sacred? What is holiness? The idea of the holy has been with us since time immemorial, but how do we understand holiness in our day, in this time of economic domination and technological triumph, a time in which – in western culture at any rate – so very little is held to be sacred? How do we know when holiness is present – if, in fact, it is present? How do we experience holiness, if in reality we do experience it?

Such questions Rudolf Otto, eminent German Lutheran theologian and scholar of comparative religion, who died tragically on this day in 1937, attempted to answer in his book The Idea of the Holy (Oxford University Press, 1972), first published in Germany in 1917, first published in English in 1923. “Let us consider,” he writes in the Chapter 4 of that book, “the deepest and most fundamental element in all strong and sincerely felt religious emotion”:

Faith unto salvation, trust, love—all these are there. But over and above these is an element which may also on occasion, quite apart from them, profoundly affect us and occupy the mind with a well-nigh bewildering strength. Let us follow it up with every effort of sympathy and imaginative intuition wherever it is to be found, in the lives of those around us, in sudden, strong ebullitions of personal piety and the frames of mind such ebullitions evince, in the fixed and ordered solemnities of rites and liturgies, and again in the atmosphere that clings to old religious monuments and buildings, to temples and to churches. If we do so we shall find we are dealing with something for which there is only one appropriate expression, ‘mysterium tremendum’. The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its ‘profane’, non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of — whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.

 . . . Conceptually mysterium denotes merely that which is hidden and esoteric, that which is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar. The term does not define the object more positively in its qualitative character. But though what is enunciated in the word is negative, what is meant is something absolutely and intensely positive. This pure positive we can experience in feelings, feelings which our discussion can help to make clear to us, in so far as it arouses them actually in our hearts.

For this experience Otto borrows a Latin noun from Roman mythology, numen (the holy thing, force or deity) and coins an adjective, numinous. A numinous experience, he says, has the following elements: “awe-fullness”, “overpowering-ness” (or “majesty”) and “energy” (or “urgency”). These elements combined bring to the subject an experience of the “Wholly Other” (Chapter 5), which in turn involves yet another element which he describes in Chapter 6:

The qualitative content of the numinous experience, to which “the mysterious” stands as form, is in one of its aspects the element of daunting “awe-fullness” and “majesty” . . . but it is clear that it has at the same time another aspect, in which it shows itself as something uniquely attractive and fascinating.

These two qualities, the daunting and the fascinating, now combine  in a strange harmony of contrasts, and the resultant dual character of the numinous consciousness, to which the entire religious development bears witness, at any rate from the level of the “daemonic-dread” onwards, is at once the strangest and most noteworthy phenomenon in the whole history of religion. The daemonic-divine object may appear to the mind an object of horror and dread, but at the same time it is no less something that allures with a potent charm, and the creature, who trembles before it, utterly cowed and cast down, has always at the same time the impulse to turn to it, nay to make it somehow his own. The “mystery” is for him not merely something to be wondered at but something that entrances him with as strange ravishment, rising often enough to the pitch of dizzy intoxication; it is the Dionysiac-element in the numen.

Following the above characterization of a numenous experience, we could take as a fair example of this a passage found on page 38 of Trevor Ravenscroft’s book The Spear of Destiny (Weiser, 1982)

The air became stifling so that I could barely breathe. The noisy scene of the Treasure House seemed to melt away before my eyes. I stood alone and trembling before a hovering form of the Superman–a Spirit sublime and fearful, a countenance intrepid and cruel. In holy awe, I offered my soul as a vessel of his Will.

These words were purportedly said by Adolf Hitler after he had just such an experience as described above by Rudolf Otto, the noumen being in this case the Übermensch. “Faith unto salvation, trust, love . . . ,” writes Otto, “But over and above these is an element which may also on occasion, quite apart from them, profoundly affect us and occupy the mind with a well-nigh bewildering strength.” Ay, there’s the rub, as Hamlet might say. An element? Some thing? Some thing over and above, something beyond, love?

And what might that be, that something, that element, that “daemonic-divine object” waiting for us beyond love? Waiting for us beyond death’s door? Ay, there’s the rub —

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Whether Hitler actually spoke those words we have quoted or not, clearly – reading that passage from Ravencroft’s book – we meet with a serious difficultly in Otto’s idea of the holy. For him, holiness belongs to some unknown element beyond love and beyond all personhood, human or divine, in which love would be found, since there can be no love apart from a person that loves. For him, beyond love and beyond any person that loves there must be adaemonic-divine object” – something “Wholly Other”, something that may appear to the mind an object of horror and dread”.  And if we tremble before it, “utterly cowed and cast down”, having “at the same time the impulse to turn to it”, wanting “to make it somehow our own”, why then, according to this point of view, “in speechless humility of the creature in the presence of – whom or what? – in the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures” (and beyond all personhood whatsoever) we are experiencing the deepest religious experience available to any human being.

Rudolf Otto’s idea of the numinous as a mystery (mysterium), a mystery that is both terrifying (tremendum) and fascinating (fascinans) at the same time, has influenced many thinkers, among them Paul Tillich, Mircea Eliade, C.S. Lewis, Max Scheler, Joseph Needham, and Martin Heidigger.

Yet we have the apostle John in a letter (1 John 4:7-19) saying this:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

   God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

Taken to heart, these words assure us that there is nothing over and above love – and nothing beyond the Person who loves – to cow us and to cast us down, unless of course it is Love itself that we do not know nor wish to know. Such a condition is powerfully presented in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The mere presence of Christ with his right hand raised sends some souls fleeing in terror. Unlove fears love, and genius reveals this spiritual fact unforgettably. In which case, mysterium tremendum let it be, whether in an encounter with the “Superman” or with some other element “beyond” love and “beyond” any person who loves.

There is a serious question as to the manner of Rudolf Otto’s death, for he died of pneumonia after he suffered serious injuries falling some twenty meters from a tower. Persistent but unconfirmed rumors have identified this fall as a suicide attempt. Suicide or not, his is a tragic story if only for the one, for the deepest mystery he seemed to have no inkling of, nor the greater part of humanity seems to have an inkling of, which is the Mystery of the Sacred Heart. This is a mystery that the Reformation and its subsequent Protestant development over nearly five centuries has sidestepped. This is truly tragic. It is tragic for all humanity, for Protestant and for Catholic alike,  and for everyone else too, since we are all  given a strong impression that there can be a Christianity without a Sacred Heart. In its heights and depths this mystery excels all mysteries, because this mystery reveals to us that God has a human heart. John knew this. John, listening to the beat of that Heart at the Last Supper, knew this beyond all else. He knew this beyond all else in the same way that he knew that Love is a Person, that Love is the Alpha and Omega of all that exists, just as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin knew in the twentieth century that Love is the Alpha and Omega of evolution.

“I believe that the universe is in evolution,” said Teilhard de Chardin. “I believe that the universe proceeds toward the spirit. I believe that in man the spirit is fully realized in persons. I believe that the supremely personal is the universal Christ.”

There is no greater mystery in the universe than the person and the life and death of the personality by which it loves – which is the same as to say there is by far no greater mystery in the universe than the human heart. “The heart is a small vessel,” writes Dimitri of Rostov, in The Inner Closet of the Heart, “but all things are contained in it; God is there, the angels are there, and there also is life and the Kingdom, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace.”

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

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Sin and Holy Fools

Sin.  

Now there is a word for you, and it is not just any word either. Can there be a more loaded word in the whole of the English language than this little three-letter word? Even though we don’t hear much about sin these days (Whatever Became of Sin? asks Karl Menninger, American psychiatrist, in his book of the same title, published in 1975), that sin actually exists is a plain perception of everyday reality that can be denied by none but the blind-as-a-bat few. It will of course depend on exactly what we understand by sin, no? After all, we must each have our point of view on one and the same truth, whoever we are, whatever that truth happens to be.

“The only sin is ugliness,” writes Herbert Read, “and if we believed this with all our being, all other activities of the human spirit could be left to take care of themselves.”

“The only sin,” avers Martha Graham, “is mediocrity.”

“There is no sin,” claims Oscar Wilde, “except stupidity.”

“The theologian considers sin mainly as an offence against God,” Thomas Aquinas tells us, “the moral philosopher as contrary to reasonableness.”

“For sin is just this,” states Martin Buber, “what man cannot by its very nature do with his whole being; it is possible to silence the conflict in the soul, but it is not possible to uproot it.”

“Original sin is that thing about man,” declares Reinhold Niebuhr, “which makes him capable of conceiving of his own perfection and incapable of achieving it.”

Apart from the exclusionary notions of the above first three, I would say we can accept without contradiction the truth of all of these statements. Even with these first three it should be possible to understand sin as at bottom ugliness or mediocrity (i.e., lack of creativity) or stupidity with all the subsequent particulars arising from the morass of any of these. I would wish only to add the following as one more important perspective:

“Sin is whatever I may do that hinders spiritual progress, either in myself or in others, which either way in the end must come down to a refusal of the love of others.”

So what might be the result – in awareness of sin – to abandon sin? For Saint Paul, writing to the Christian community of Corinth (I Cor. 4:9b-13) who, in their lack of consciousness of sin, were claiming through the sins of complacency and pride an exalted spiritual status, apostles are exhibited by God

. . . as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.

Not exactly a goal to aim for by the ambitious of this world, to be sure, yet there has been a whole category of saint whose ambition it is to become precisely just such a fool for Christ as the Apostle Paul so graphically describes. “Here comes the time,” proclaimed Anthony the Great (c. 251–356), “when people will behave like madmen, and if they see anybody who does not behave like that, they will rebel against him and say: ‘You are mad’, — because he is not like them.”

Not like them as in the words of Paul: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)  This singular ambition can be traced all the way back to the desert fathers and mothers, Isidora Barankis of Egypt (died c. 365), nun and saint, being among the first of a long line of holy fools appearing thenceforward through the many centuries. Living in an Egyptian convent, she veiled her head with an old dishrag, bringing contempt upon her from the other nuns. It was when the hermit Saint Pitirim visited the convent after the vision of an angel, who had told him to “find an elect vessel full of the grace of God . . . by the crown that shines above her head”, that this crown was all at once seen shimmering above Saint Isidora. In repentance falling to the feet of Pitirim, all in the monastery confessed and renounced their sinful attitude toward Isidora, who had pretended to be mad, having suffered countless insults and even beatings humbly. Isidora, unable to bear such honors and apologies, secretly left the convent after a few days to spend the rest of her life as a recluse in the desert.

She who renounced sin, becoming by this a fool for Christ, brought to manifestation the hidden sin of the others. “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause of stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” (1 John 2:9-11)

In the Russian Orthodox Church, a holy fool (yurodivy), of which there are thirty-six officially recognized on the liturgical calendar, is one who acts intentionally foolish in the eyes of others. Often going around half-naked and homeless, such a one speaks in riddles, is believed to be clairvoyant and a prophet, is possibly disruptive at times, is sometimes so challenging as to seem downright immoral, there always being however a point to be made by such behavior. Either real or simulated, the madness of holy fools has been traditionally held to be divinely inspired, enabling these saints to voice truths the conventionally sane are unable to voice, usually in the guise of parables or indirect allusions: thus the status these saints traditionally have had in regard to the rich and powerful, their wisdom not being subject to worldly control.

Today in the Russian Orthodox Church the Blessed Nicholas of Pskov, Fool for Christ, is commemorated. It is said that in 1570 when, suspecting the inhabitants of treason, the Tsar Ivan the Terrible moved against the city of Pskov, he came, according to the chronicler, “with great fierceness, like a roaring lion, to tear apart innocent people and to shed much blood.” We have the following account of what followed from the Orthodox Church in America website:

On the first Saturday of Great Lent, the whole city prayed to be delivered from the Tsar’s wrath. Hearing the peal of the bell for Matins in Pskov, the Tsar’s heart was softened when he read the inscription on the fifteenth century wonderworking Liubyatov Tenderness Icon of the Mother of God (March 19) in the Monastery of St Nicholas (the Tsar’s army was at Lubyatov). “Be tender of heart,” he said to his soldiers. “Blunt your swords upon the stones, and let there be an end to killing.”

All the inhabitants of Pskov came out upon the streets, and each family knelt at the gate of their house, bearing bread and salt to the meet the Tsar. On one of the streets Blessed Nicholas ran toward the Tsar astride a stick as though riding a horse, and cried out: “Ivanushko, Ivanushko, eat our bread and salt, and not Christian blood.” The Tsar gave orders to capture the holy fool, but he disappeared.

Though he had forbidden his men to kill, Ivan still intended to sack the city. The Tsar attended a Molieben at the Trinity cathedral, and he venerated the relics of holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel (February 11), and expressed his wish to receive the blessing of the holy fool Nicholas. The saint instructed the Tsar “by many terrible sayings,” to stop the killing and not to plunder the holy churches of God. But Ivan did not heed him and gave orders to remove the bell from the Trinity cathedral. Then, as the saint prophesied, the Tsar’s finest horse fell dead.

The blessed one invited the Tsar to visit his cell under the bell tower. When the Tsar arrived at the cell of the saint, he said, “Hush, come in and have a drink of water from us, there is no reason you should shun it.” Then the holy fool offered the Tsar a piece of raw meat. “I am a Christian and do not eat meat during Lent”, said Ivan to him. “But you drink human blood,” the saint replied. Frightened by the fulfillment of the saint’s prophecy and denounced for his wicked deeds, Ivan the Terrible ordered a stop to the looting and fled from the city.

The Oprichniki, witnessing this, wrote: “The mighty tyrant … departed beaten and shamed, driven off as though by an enemy. Thus did a worthless beggar terrify and drive off the Tsar with his multitude of a thousand soldiers.”

Blessed Nicholas died on February 28, 1576 and was buried in the Trinity Cathedral of the city he had saved. Such honors were granted only to the Pskov princes, and later on, to bishops.

Practically everyone who takes the trouble to read up on Ivan the Terrible would agree, I am sure, that this despot qualifies as one of the world’s great and mighty sinners. Yet there he is fleeing the city at the words of that “worthless beggar”, Nicholas of Pskov, Fool for Christ. This however is to the Tsar Ivan’s credit, I think, just as the softening of his heart is to his credit in his encounter with the wonderworking Liubyatov Tenderness Icon of the Mother of God.  Who can imagine Joseph Stalin in similar circumstances, either fleeing or softening? However rudimentary, however riddled with superstition his sense of sin, Ivan the Terrible seems to have retained that sense still, whereas Stalin, it appears, did not. Would anyone who says, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs” and “Death solves all problems – no man, no problem” and means what he says, as he most certainly did – would any murderer, that is, of 30 to 50 million human beings – have any feeling of sin left in him? Not too bloody likely, and any holy fool getting close enough to say similar words to Papa Stalin would – who can doubt it – suffer a swift martyrdom, make no mistake.

Even if the word sin has virtually disappeared from our vocabulary, we should by now see that a sense of sin remains nevertheless a prerequisite for spiritual progress. “Sin is a ‘weary word’, writes Bernard Murchland in his introduction to a book of essays entitled Sin (Macmillan, 1962) “but the reality it signifies is energetic and destructive. . . . Our age is as haunted by the presence of sin as any other—perhaps more so. . . . The problem of sin is the axial problem of human thought and no effort of man’s mind has any lasting importance that is not concerned with that problem.”

In other words, paradoxically, no effort of any man’s mind has any lasting importance unless it becomes first and above all an effort to make that very same mind, in its resolve to renounce sin, a fool for Christ. Yes, a fool for Christ to be sure — we are talking about the mind after all — but there is more than one way of accomplishing that sea-change. We can look to George Herbert (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633) as an example of another way, who as a saint on the Anglican liturgical calendar was commemorated yesterday.

Born into an artistic and wealthy family, receiving a good education which led to his holding prominent positions at Cambridge University and Parliament, he excelled in languages and music. Although he went to college with the intention of becoming a priest, his scholarship attracted the attention of King James I, with the end result of his serving in parliament for two years. But, at the urging of a friend, Herbert’s interest in being ordained was renewed. It was in 1630, in his mid-thirties, that he gave up all secular aims and took holy orders in the Church of England, spending the rest of his life as a rector of the little parish of Fugglestone St. Peter with Bemerton St. Andrew, near Salisbury. With his own money he had the churches repaired. Noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, he brought the sacraments to them when they were ill, provided food and clothing for them when in need, dying of tuberculosis before he reached forty. Thus he who looked to have a brilliant career laid out before him, turned off that road, only to go live in complete obscurity in a country village a whole world away from university, from court and parliament, from all that would serve normal human ambition.

But, as it happened, in addition to being a priest, he was also a poet, and a poet quite remarkable besides. On his deathbed he handed over all his poems to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to make them available to any poor soul who might stand in need of them. Otherwise, if that were not to be, his friend was to burn them. Henry Vaughn, another intimate friend, remarked of Herbert that he was “a most glorious saint and seer”, aware that the humble priest had written poetry nearly all his life.

In accordance with our contemplation upon the matter of sin, the following poem “Love” by George Herbert, widely anthologized in our day, well addresses what I think is an inevitable question concerning its dark reality in every human soul: the question being, if it is sin that separates us from God, and if sin is integral to our human nature, what honestly is anyone’s chance of ever having an authentic encounter with God?

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
   Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
   From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
   If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
   Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
   I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
   ‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
   Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
   ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
   So I did sit and eat.

If, because of sin, fools we must be, then for Christ’s sake let us resolve to be holy fools, whether of one kind or of the another. This proposition is ridiculously simple, for as Herbert affirms, “There is an hour wherein a man might be happy all his life, could he find it.” And we have found that hour, dear Reader, truly we have found it.  If you doubt it, just ask that holy fool Saint Paul the Apostle.

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

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The Deepest that Flowers Mean

                                                              

As always, the poets are right.

“Deep in their roots,” says Theodore Roethke, “all flowers keep the light.” Come spring in the radiance of that blossoming, even if only for a brief moment in the morning sun, we know that nature is not indifferent to us. See infinitude of galaxies distilled in one dewdrop on a pink petal, taste and see how God is good, how Nature nurtures, how credo becomes scio, how the beginning of the world is in that morning, how Wisdom is there, “moving more easily than motion itself, . . . a radiance that streams from everlasting light, the flawless mirror of the active power of God, and the image of His goodness”: yes, all in a dewdrop, and no brief history of time is she.  Stephen Hawking take note!  From big bang to black holes, flowers are the hieroglyphics of nature with which, so Goethe reminds us, Nature tells us how much she loves us.

She loves us, of course Natura loves us, and of all her flowers without doubt it is the rose that has come to mean for us the deepest that flowers can mean – even if Earth laughs in flowers, as Emerson claims she does, even if there are always flowers for those who want to see them, as Matisse claims there are. And so what is the meaning?  So much romance there is in the rose, that if it is romance we’re after, it must be romance of the mystical kind, since we can go no deeper than God – as for instance in the Rose Cross Meditation as described by Rudolf Steiner. We have this from his Outline of Occult Science (Book V: Cognition of the Higher Worlds – Initiation; Chapter V: Part 1):

     We visualize a plant as it roots in the earth, as leaf by leaf sprouts forth, as its blossom unfolds, and now we think of a human being beside this plant. We make the thought alive in the soul of how he has characteristics and faculties which, when compared with those of the plant, may be considered more perfect than the latter. We contemplate how, according to his feelings and his will, he is able to move about hither and thither, while the plant is chained to the earth. Furthermore we say that the human being is indeed more perfect than the plant, but he also shows peculiarities that are not to be found in the plant. Just because of their nonexistence in the plant the latter may appear to me in a certain sense more perfect than the human being who is filled with desire and passion and follows them in his conduct. I may speak of his being led astray by his desires and passions. I see that the plant follows the pure laws of growth from leaf to leaf, that it opens its blossom passionlessly to the chaste rays of the sun. Furthermore, I may say to myself that the human being has a greater perfection than the plant, but he has purchased this perfection at the price of permitting instincts, desires, and passions to enter into his nature besides the forces of the plant, which appear pure to us. I now visualize how the green sap flows through the plant and that it is an expression of the pure, passionless laws of growth. I then visualize how the red blood flows through the human veins and how it is the expression of the instincts, desires, and passions. 
All this I permit to arise in my soul as vivid thought. Then I visualize further how the human being is capable of evolution; how he may purify and cleanse his instincts and passions through his higher soul powers. I visualize how, as a result of this, something base in these instincts and desires is destroyed and how the latter are reborn upon a higher plane. Then the blood may be conceived of as the expression of the purified and cleansed instincts and passions. In my thoughts I look now, for example, upon the rose and say, In the red rose petal I see the color of the green plant sap transformed into red, and the red rose, like the green leaf, follows the pure, passionless laws of growth. The red of the rose may now become the symbol of a blood that is the expression of purified instincts and passions that have stripped off all that is base, and in their purity resemble the forces active in the red rose. I now seek not merely to imbue my intellect with such thoughts but to bring them to life in my feelings. I may have a feeling of bliss when I think of the purity and passionlessness of the growing plant; I can produce within myself the feeling of how certain higher perfections must be purchased through the acquirement of instincts and desires. This can then transform the feeling of bliss, which I have felt previously, into a grave feeling; and then a feeling of liberating joy may stir in me when I surrender myself to the thought of the red blood which, like the red sap of the rose, may become the bearer of inwardly pure experiences. It is of importance that we do not without feeling confront the thoughts that serve to construct such a symbolic visualization. 
    We visualize a black cross. Let this be the symbol of the destroyed base elements of instincts and passions, and at the center, where the arms of the cross intersect, let us visualize seven red, radiant roses arranged in a circle. Let these roses be the symbol of a blood that is the expression of purified, cleansed passions and instincts. Such a symbolic visualization should be called forth in the soul in the way illustrated above through a visualized memory image. Such a visualization has a soul-awakening power if we surrender ourselves to it in inward meditation. We must seek to exclude all other thoughts during meditation. Only the characterized symbol is to hover in spirit before the soul as intensely as possible.
    It is not without significance that this symbol is not simply given here as an awakening visualized picture, but that it has first been constructed by means of certain thoughts about plant and man. For the effect of such a symbol depends upon the fact of its having been constructed in the way described before it is employed in inner meditation. If we visualize the symbol without first having fashioned it in our own souls, it remains cold and much less effective than when it has received, through preparation, its soul-illuminating power. During meditation, however, we should not call forth in the soul all the preparatory thoughts, but merely let the visualized picture hover vividly before our inner eye, at the same time letting the feeling hold sway that has appeared as a result of the preparatory thoughts. Thus the symbol becomes a token alongside the feeling-experience, and its effectiveness lies in the dwelling of the soul in this inner experience.   
    The longer we are able to dwell in it without the intervention of other, disturbing, thoughts, the more effective is the entire process. It is well, nevertheless, for us, outside the period dedicated to the actual meditation itself, to repeat the construction of the symbol by means of thoughts and feelings of the above described kind, so that the experience may not fade away. The more patience we exercise in this renewal, the more significant is the symbol for the soul.  

This meditation bespeaks passion transformed and is actually a story of sorts, a story with “soul-awakening power”, a story however that can only have true meaning for the meditant, not the reader merely. Now who did Steiner have in mind for this meditation? Anyone and everyone who happens to get this far in the book?  Far from it. Here is what he says in the lecture cycle At the Gates of Spiritual Science (Lecture 13) regarding what he calls the Rosicrucian path:

Among the Initiates it was foreseen that a time would come when because of the gradual increase of knowledge many would be confused in matters of religious faith. Therefore a form of instruction had to be created for those who felt within themselves the discord between faith and knowledge. In the Middle Ages the most learned were also those of the greatest faith and piety; and for a long time afterwards those who had made headway in scientific knowledge could not conceive of any contradictions between knowledge and faith. We are usually told that faith was shaken by the ideas of Copernicus, but that is quite wrong: after all, Copernicus dedicated his book to the Pope! It is only in quite recent times that this conflict has gradually developed. The Masters of Wisdom saw that this was bound to happen and that a new path would have to be found for those whose faith had been destroyed. For persons much occupied with science, the necessary path towards Initiation is the Rosicrucian, for the Rosicrucian method shows that the highest knowledge of mundane things is thoroughly compatible with the highest knowledge of spiritual truths. It is precisely through the Rosicrucian path that those who have been led away from Christian belief by what they take to be science can learn to understand Christianity truly for the first time. By this method anyone can come to a deeper grasp of the truth of Christianity. Truth is one, but it can be reached along different paths, just as at the foot of a mountain there are various paths, but they all meet at the summit.

And one of those other paths at the foot of the mountain, the path notably travelled by countless saints and mystics is, of course, the Way of the Cross, described by Steiner as the Seven Stages of Christian Initiation, this being also a story, the story of the Passion of Christ, of human passion transformed in the weeping women who accompany him through the streets of Jerusalem, the via dolorosa, a story “of soul-awakening power” for those who believe and who live the story. And neither is it meant for anyone and everyone, but rather is it meant only for those whose faith has not been destroyed by being “much occupied with science”, but has remained strong and vital through being much occupied instead with prayer and the holy gospel and the pictures of the passion living therein, whether science happens to be of weighty concern or not, i.e., for those who feel no discord between faith and knowledge. As John Henry Newman said, “To holy people the very name of Jesus is a name to feed upon, a name to transport. His name can raise the dead and transfigure and beautify the living.”

It is clearly a path for just such a one, for instance, as Sophie Magdalena Scholl (9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943) who was executed on this date in 1944, having been convicted of high treason in Hitler’s Third Reich. As a student, Scholl was active within the White Rose, a non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany. It was after having been found distributing anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich with her brother Hans that she, along with her brother and others of the White Rose, was convicted of high treason.

Members of White Rose came from various spiritual backgrounds.  Some were devout Roman Catholics. Others were just as devoutly Lutheran. One was a student of anthroposophy, while another considered himself Buddhist. One, having earlier followed his father’s atheistic beliefs, was baptized a Catholic shortly before execution.

From the letters between her and her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, we know that she had given two volumes of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s sermons to Hartnagel when he was at battle on the eastern front in May 1942. Though she was Lutheran, Scholl and others founded the White Rose after she and the others read a strongly anti-Nazi sermon by Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen (the “Lion of Münster”), the Roman Catholic Bishop of Münster. Hartnagel’s reports of the behavior of the Germans on the Eastern Front had horrified her and the others. Hartnagel had witnessed Soviet soldiers shot in a pit and had learned of mass killings of Jews. Her correspondence with Hartnagel discussed at great length the “theology of conscience” developed in Newman’s writings. (“It is often said that second thoughts are best,” wrote Newman. “So they are in matters of judgment but not in matters of conscience.”) The transcribed interrogations leading to her “trial” and execution reveal this central concern quite clearly. It constituted her primary defense in that trial.

In the People’s Court before Judge Roland Freisler on February 21, 1943, Scholl was recorded as saying “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did.”

The next day on February 22, 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and their friend Christoph Probst (the one newly baptized) were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. Only a few hours later, at 5 PM in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison, they were beheaded. Describing the scene later, prison officials emphasized the courage with which she walked to her execution. They reported that her last words were “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

God, you are my refuge into eternity were the very last words of Sophie Scholl according to some, just before the blade of the guillotine came down. Whether these words were really said or not, there can be little doubt that she had taken deeply to heart the words of Newman “Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning.”

Red rose or white rose, it does not matter, it is the rose, as we have said, that has come to mean for us the deepest that flowers can mean. “Let them receive white wreaths for their good works,” writes Saint Cyprian the Church father, “or red for their suffering. In heaven’s army both peace and war have their own flowers.” And what has the White Rose actually come to mean for us now if not the Holy Grail of the purified soul uniting the rose with the Cross in the sign of the Cross? And that in loving deeds of sacrifice?

“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose,” said Henri Matisse, “because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.”

Especially, we would dare to say, when it comes to painting Sophie Magdalena Scholl.

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

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The Time of Battle

To live without conflict, to have no conflict of any sort in one’s life inner or outer, who would not want that? Isn’t that the main reason one slips away to sandy beaches or to the lake? The main reason, come to think of it, one meditates?  Would it not in fact be desirable, should it not in fact be possible, to undertake a spiritual development that would lead to a life entirely free of conflict? A life so entirely quiet and peaceful, so fully independent of the noise and busyness impinging on it, that the whole of one’s existence would be gathered up into a complete concord of mind and world, a concord that would totally understand itself as the true self that transcends all struggle, all contradiction, and therefore all conflict? Which would be to say, the true self that endures? 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, who at ninety died on this date of February 17 in 1986, thought so, for as he said in one of his public talks:

I think it is important … that we should understand ourselves totally and completely, because … we are the world, and the world is us. … I condemn, judge, evaluate, and say, ‘this is right, wrong, this is good, this is bad’ according to the culture, the tradition, the knowledge, the experience which the observer has gathered. Therefore it prevents the observation of the living thing, which is the ‘me’. … When the Muslim says he is a Muslim, he is the past, conditioned by the culture in which he has been brought up. Or the Catholic, Communist. You follow? … So when we talk about living we are talking about living in the past. And therefore there is conflict between the past and the present, because I am conditioned as a Muslim, or god knows what, and I cannot meet the living present, which demands that I break down my conditioning. … And in the past there is security. Right? My house, my wife, my belief, my status, my position, my fame, my blasted little self – in that there is great safety, security. And I am asking, can the mind observe without any of that? … Therefore the mind is totally free. And you say, what is the point of that being free? The point is: such a mind has no conflict. And such a mind is completely quiet and peaceful, not violent. And such a mind can create a new culture – a new culture, not a counter-culture of the old, but a totally different thing altogether, where we shall have no conflict at all. (Saanen 22nd July 1971 ‘Can We Understand Ourselves?’).

No conflict at all, says Krishnamurti, because when the mind is free of all cultural conditioning and all the experience which the mind has gathered, it can then observe the living thing, the thing that does not live in the past, the pure “me”.

No doubt. Yet we have these words from Saint Paul:

. . . Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against principalities, against powers, against the cosmic rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:10-17)

What Saint Paul enjoins us to do is traditionally referred to as spiritual warfare, which assumes a central place for example in the spirituality of Saint Anthony the Great , where descriptions of encounters with demons are common. In his life of Anthony Athanasius notes: “There is need of much prayer and self-discipline to gain through the Holy Spirit the gift of discerning of spirits, to detect their nature, namely which of them are the less abandoned, which the more, what is the aim of each, what each affects, and how each is overthrown and ejected.”

Here spiritual life – spiritual life, that is, as life of prayer – is seen as a life of struggle and conflict, a life in which evil forces are to be encountered and defeated. “We have for enemies,” Saint Anthony warned, “the terrible, unscrupulous and wicked demons; against them is our warfare.” According to Abba Serapion (died 362), the whole of monastic life is essentially a war-campaign for Christ “to witness the defeat of demons”. For victory, spiritual discernment is crucial.  Saint Benedict uses instead the word discretion, which means far more than the tactfulness and avoidance of excess we would normally intend in using this word. Discretion as it is used in the Benedictine Rule means spiritual discernment, a quality of soul whose ultimate end is purity of heart and the vision of God. This vision can be obscured or totally eclipsed by the false spirits who invade consciousness. Thus the Book of Privy Counselling (chapter seven) warns:

Do not be overcome with anxious dread if the evil one comes (as he will) with sudden fierceness, knocking and hammering on the walls of your house; or if he should stir some of his mighty agents to rise suddenly and attack you without warning. Let us be clear about this: the fiend must be taken into account. Anyone beginning this work (I do not care who he is) is liable to feel, smell, taste or hear some surprising effects concocted by the enemy in one or other of his senses. So do not be astonished if it happens. There is nothing he will not try to drag you down from the heights of such valuable work.

We have the testimony of Anthony the Great, also the testimony of Teresa of Avila, the Curé d’Ars, and Padre Pio (to mention only a few well-known saints) that indeed such encounters do occur, with at times even the aftermath of physical bruises (!) to prove it. There is of course the whole matter of temptation, temptation in reality having within it multitudinous levels. Naturally, as the soul progresses, the quality of temptation becomes subtler, the stakes higher. In any case, “No one,’ remarks Anthony in Apophthegmata, “if he is not tempted, will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. For, take away the temptations and no one is saved.”

Yes, there are Angels to help, above all our guardian Angel, but there is also the matter of “liberation  of Angels” to consider, concerning which, as quoted in Letter XV (“The Devil”) of Meditations on the Tarot, Origen has the following to say:

But we must not always rely on the Angels to fight for us; they help us only at the beginning, when we ourselves our commencing. With the progress of time, we should arm ourselves for combat. Before we learn to do battle, so that we will consider giving ourselves up to the battles of the Lord, we are succored by the “princes”, by Angels. Initially, we receive the provision of celestial bread . . . as long as we are children, we are nourished by milk; when we begin to hold to the word of Christ, we live as children under the authority of tutors and procurators. But when we have tasted the sacraments of celestial militia, when we have nourished ourselves on the bread of life, listen how the apostolic trumpet invites us to combat! It is with a loud voice that Paul cried to us, saying: “Take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand the wiles of the devil.” He no longer permits us to hide ourselves under the wings of our nurse; he invites us to the fields of battle. “Gird yourself,” he says, “with the breastplate of righteousness, and the helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit, and above all the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

According to Saint Theophan the Recluse (1815–1894) in his foreword to Unseen Warfare (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1987), “The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner humanity. The time of battle is our whole life.”

War should be waged ceaselessly and courageously, we are told in chapter fifteen (pp. 110 ff.) of that spiritual classic:  

    If you want to gain a speedy and easy victory over your enemies, brother, you must wage ceaseless and courageous war against all passions, especially and pre-eminently against self-love, or a foolish attachment to yourself, manifested in self-indulgence and self-pity. For it is the basis and source of all passions and cannot be tamed except by constant voluntary self-inflicted sufferings and by welcoming afflictions, privations, calumnies, persecutions by the world and by the men of the world. Failure to see the need of the pitiless attitude to yourself has always been, is and will be the cause of our failure to achieve spiritual victories, and of their difficulty, rarity, imperfection and security.
    So this spiritual warfare of ours must be constant and never ceasing, and should be conducted with alertness and courage in the soul; they can easily be attained, if you seek these gifts from God. So advance into battle without hesitation. Should you be visited by the troubling thought of the hatred  and undying malice, which the enemies harbor against you, and of the innumerable hosts of demons, think on the other hand of the infinitely greater power of God and of His love for you, as well as of the incomparably greater hosts of heavenly angels and prayers of saints. They all fight secretly for us and with us against our enemies. . . .
    If the Lord delays granting you full victory over your enemies and puts it off to the last day of your life, you must know that He does this for your own good; so long as you do not retreat or cease to struggle wholeheartedly. Even if you are wounded in battle, do not lay down your arms and turn to flight. Keep only one thing in your mind and intention – to fight with all courage and ardor, since it is unavoidable. No one can escape this warfare, either in life or in death. And the one who does not fight to overcome his passions and his enemies will inevitably be taken prisoner, either here or yonder, and delivered to death.

To be sure, this unseen warfare, as for instance in the case of outright persecution, can manifest quite visibly. Consider these words from Tortured for Christ (Living Sacrifice Book Co., 1967, 1998) by evangelist pastor Richard Wurmbrand, fourteen years a prisoner in Communist Romania, who at ninety-two died on this day exactly ten years ago:

    The tortures and brutality continued without interruption. When I lost consciousness or be­came too dazed to give the torturers any further hopes of confession, I would be returned to my cell. There I would lie, untended and half dead, to regain a little strength so they could work on me again. Many died at this stage, but somehow my strength always managed to return. In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut eighteen holes in my body. When my family and I were ransomed out of Romania and brought to Norway, doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! Accord­ing to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself that it is a miracle. God is a God of miracles. I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church in persecuted countries. He allowed one to come out alive and cry aloud the message of your suffering, faithful brethren.  
    . . . I am very sorry if a crocodile eats a man, but I can’t re­proach the crocodile. He is not a moral being. So no reproaches can be made to the Communists. Communism has destroyed any moral sense in them. They boasted that they had no pity in their hearts. I learned from them. As they allowed no place for Jesus in their hearts, I decided I would leave not the smallest place for Satan in mine. 
    . . . A flower, if you bruise it under your feet, rewards you by giving you its perfume. Likewise Christians, tortured by the Com­mu­nists, rewarded their torturers by love. We brought many of our jailors to Christ. And we are dominated by one desire: to give Communists who have made us suffer the best we have, the salvation that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dominated by one desire, to give to those who have made us suffer the best we have, the salvation that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . whether to torturers, whether to demons, whether to demons working through torturers or through any other persecutors, to show each and everyone the divine love and mercy that we ourselves continually receive from above in our ceaseless war against the passions.

It is John Climacus, that ancient veteran of spiritual warfare, writing in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, who observes, “Those brought down by wine often wash with water, but those brought down by passion wash with their tears.”

And that’s really okay.  Because, as Elie Wiesel reminds us, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

 

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If There Is Magic

“If there is magic on the planet,” writes Loren Eisley in The Immense Journey (1957), “it is contained in the water.  Its least stir even, as now in a rain pond on a flat roof opposite my office, is enough to bring me searching to the window. A wind ripple may be translating itself into life…”

From this vantage point, almost as if anticipating Eisley’s panegyric on water and raising it to another level years ahead of time, we have Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939) writing: “Water has no taste, no color, no odor; it cannot be defined, is relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, it fills us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses.”

Although we recognize the truth of these words, the two passages nonetheless represent two exceptional states of awareness, it seems to me, in two exceptionally insightful minds. For most of us, pretty nearly all the time, it is really as Thomas Fuller declares it is in his Gnomologia: “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”  To confirm inwardly the truth of this, we need only to call to mind that unforgettable experience of awakening Helen Keller describes in the fourth chapter of her book The Story of My Life:

    We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that   “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
    I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me.

We need only, as I have suggested, to bring to our attention this experience of the blind and deaf, not quite seven year-old Helen Keller in order really to feel the full weight of Fuller’s words. Were we wanting in our spiritual thirst to throw a bucket down our inner well, wanting to hear the splash, wanting to hear the echo, wanting to wind up the bucket and see it dripping and spilling over the brim, what then? What if the well is dry?

“That living word awakened my soul,” says Keller, because now . . . “everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought.”

 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’ (John 5:7-15)

Give us this water, this living water as of something forgotten, a living word to wake up the soul and give it light, a word that is truly the water of life: water of life because this water has memory; water of life because this water is memory.

Near the village of Lourdes on Thursday February 11, 1858 – exactly 153 years ago today – the fourteen year-old Bernadette Soubirous, daughter of an erstwhile miller and now casual laborer, went with a sister and a friend to collect some firewood and bones in order to be able to buy some bread. Taking off her shoes and stockings to wade through the water near the Grotto of Massabielle, she “heard a noise, as if there was a rush of wind”, but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. Very soon she heard the same noise again. Here follows her own account, as given in the biography Bernadette by André Ravier (Collins, 1979, pp. 13-19):

    I raised my head and looked towards the grotto. I saw a Lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary: the beads of her rosary were white.
The Lady signed to me to approach; but I was frightened; I dared not move; I thought I had made some mistake; I rubbed my eyes, but it was no use. I looked again and I still saw the same Lady.
   Then I put my hand in my pocket and took out my rosary.
   I wanted to make the sign of the cross, but I couldn’t; I couldn’t lift my hand to my forehead, it fell back again. Then I became more frightened then ever and yet couldn’t move.
    The Lady took the rosary which she held in her hands and made a sign of the cross. My hand was trembling. Then I started not being frightened; I took my rosary again; I tried to make the sign of the cross too and this time I could; and as soon as I had made it, I was calm, the great fear which I had felt left me. I knelt down and said my rosary, always having this beautiful Lady before my eyes. The vision ran the beads of hers between her fingers but she did not move her lips.
     When I had finished my rosary, the Lady beckoned me to approach her, but I didn’t dare; I stayed exactly where I was.
    Then the vision suddenly disappeared.

 There was a second appearance on Sunday, February 14, after High Mass:

                                                     The second time was the following Sunday. I went back there because I felt urged to in my inmost self. My mother had forbidden me to go there. After High Mass, the two other girls and myself asked my mother again. Again she said no.
    She told me she was afraid I would fall into the water; she was afraid I wouldn’t be back for vespers. I promised her that I would be. So she allowed me to go.
    I went into church to get a small bottle of holy water so as to throw it at the vision when I reached the grotto, if I saw it.
    When we arrived there, each of us took out our rosary, and we knelt down to say it. Hardly had I said the first decade than I saw the same Lady. So then I started throwing the holy water at her, and telling her, if she came from God, to stay, and, if not, to go. Then she smiled and bowed her head, and the more I saw her making signs. Then suddenly I was very frightened and quickly threw all the water at her until my bottle was finished. Then I went on saying my rosary.
    She disappeared, and we went away to go to vespers.

On Thursday, February 18, there was a third appearance – and an invitation to a meeting:

    The third time was the following Thursday. The Lady did not speak to me until the third time. I went to the grotto with some grownups who advised me to take paper and ink and to ask her, if she had anything to say to me, to be so good as to write it down.
    When we arrived at the grotto, I started as usual to say my rosary; hardly had I said a few Hail Maries than I had the same vision. I said to the Lady the words [I had been told to say]. She smiled and said that what she had to tell me need not to be written down, but she asked me if I would be gracious enough to go there every day for a fortnight.
    I answered that I would.

 From February 19 to March 4 there followed then the fortnight of appearances:

    I went back to the grotto every day for a fortnight. The vision appeared every day, with the exception of one Monday and one Friday.
    She told me several times that I should tell the priests that a chapel should be built there and that I should pray for the conversion of sinners. In the space of this fortnight she gave me three secrets which she forbade me to tell anyone. I have been faithful so far.

The “discovery” of the famous spring is hard to date. Although all historians agree that it happened between February 22 and 27, they continue to differ as to the exact day.

    The Lady told me that I must go and drink at the spring and wash myself there. As I didn’t see any spring, I went to drink in the Gave. The Lady told me that it wasn’t there; she signed to me with her finger to look beneath the rock. I went and there I found a trickle of water resembling mud, but there was so little of it that I could hardly collect any in the hollow of my hand. I obeyed, however, and started scratching; after that, I was able to collect some. I threw it away three times because it was so dirty; at the fourth time I was able to drink it.
    She also told me to eat a plant which grew in the same place as where I drank; just once, I don’t know why. [When someone said to her later that this was a very foolish thing to do, she replied: “But we eat salad.”]
    Then the vision disappeared and I departed.

Here André Ravier comments (ibid. p.19):

There is one thing that surprises everyone familiar with the manuscript accounts of the appearances. Nowhere does Bernadette write the word “penance”. On the contrary, it is always a matter of “praying for sinners”. Would not Aquero [“Dear One”, Bernadette’s name for the Lady] have uttered the word “penance”? Yes, Bernadette’s oral accounts and stories of witnesses are categorical. In any case the actions that Aquero indicated several times to Bernadette, such as washing at the spring, advancing along the ground on her knees, kissing the ground, had a significance which did not escape her. To anyone who asked her why the Lady had told her to eat some leaves from that plant growing along the damp fringe of the spring, she answered simply: “For sinners.” Prayer and penance went side by side in her eyes when it was a matter of converting sinners.

Prayer and penance: prayer and penance and compassion for sinners, for we are far from what we could and should be, and all what we call nature waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons and daughters of light.  “Great minds have always seen it,” writes Loren Eisley in Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X (Dutton, 1979, pp. 233-4):

That is why man has survived his journey this long. When we fail to wish any longer to be otherwise than what we are, we will have ceased to evolve. Evolution has to be lived forward. I say this as one who has stood above the bones of much that has vanished, and at midnight has examined his own face.

If there is magic on this planet, give us this water, this living water as of something forgotten, a living word to wake up the soul and give it light, a word that is truly the water of life: for if we fail to remember, if we fail to resurrect again reverence for all that is holy, if we fail to enter again into holy awe of the Eternal One who blesses in the sanctuary, all will be for us as it already has become for so many creatures in the Gulf of Mexico, as now it already is in the spectral depths of hearts on Wall Street, whose daily bread has become the dollar sign of grain futures, bringing hunger and starvation to hundreds of millions.

“Man is not as other creatures,” writes Eisley in The Star Thrower, “and . . . without the sense of the holy, without compassion, his brain can become a gray stalking horror – the deviser of Belsen.”

Saint Isaac the Syrian (died c. 700), bishop of Nineveh, was once asked, What is the compassionate heart? He answered:

The heart that is inflamed in this way embraces the entire creation – man, birds, animals and even demons. At the recollection of them, and at the sight of them, such a man’s eyes fill with tears that arise from the great compassion which presses on his heart. The heart grows tender and cannot endure to hear of or look upon any injury or even the smallest suffering inflicted upon anything in creation. For this reason such a man prays increasingly with tears even for irrational animals and for the enemies of truth and for all who harm it, that they may be guarded and be forgiven. The compassion which pours out from his heart without measure, like God’s, extends even to reptiles.

May Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast it is today, she who said, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” pray for us. May she pray that the water of life be ours to drink, so that even the vulgarity of the corrupt commercial quarter of Lourdes — so that even the vulgarity of the corrupt commercial quarter of any place else in the world — will no longer matter.

So that what will matter will be the water of life: water of life because this water has memory, because this water is memory, memory for all that is, and memory for all that ever shall be, holy.

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

 

 

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The Passion of Marthe Robin

“Suffering is the ancient law of love,” writes Heinrich Suso, fourteenth century lyric poet, troubadour of divine wisdom, student of Meister Eckhart. “There is not quest without pain; there is no lover who is not also a martyr.”

Saint Paul knew this well. “It is now my joy to suffer for you; for the sake of Christ’s body, the church, I am completing what still remains for Christ to suffer in my own person” (Col. 1:24). As a minister of Christ, Paul reminds the people of Corinth, he has ministered “with far greater labors,” endured “far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death”:  

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a day and a night I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11: 23b-28)

In the known history of humanity what lover has been more dedicated to the beloved? And what was Paul’s quest if not that of achieving Christlikeness for himself as well as for every other believer, which as he says is that of Christ’s body, i.e., the Church: “. . . we all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [being] transformed into the same likeness from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord”. (1 Cor. 3:18)

Indeed no quest without pain when we consider how life, in lack of any quest, would be otherwise. Only think what life-and-death questions would be worth without that willing acceptance of suffering that makes such questions cries of blood, prayers of the marrow ascending through the heavenly hierarchies in smoke of living sacrifice, Gethsemane-prayers to be heard at the throne of grace itself. Only try to avoid suffering in life and see how the Demon of Insignificant Things sets out to torture us through that fear of pain. Better would be to do what Suso recommends any aspiring soul to do: “Abandon yourself utterly for the love of God, and in this way you will become truly happy.”

Truly happy, how can we doubt it. But suffering “as an ancient law of love” has its definite limits, no? And to seek out suffering in any case could not stand as the goal of any healthy spiritual quest surely.

Yet consider the mattter of Marthe Louise Robin. A woman of great courage and strength, with a deep love of Christ and the Church, she was born on March 13, 1902 at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, near Lyons in south-eastern France. When she died there in 1981, aged 78, she had been bedridden and almost totally paralyzed for more than half a century. In continuous and increasing pain during all those years, she had nothing to eat except the host of the Blessed Sacrament given to her daily, and nothing ever to drink. Not once, it seems, in those more than fifty years, was she ever observed actually to sleep.

Marthe Robin was a stigmatic, a willing victim of love who had imprinted upon her own body the sacred wounds of the Crucified One. In October of 1925 Marthe had made a decision that would direct the course of her life as a victim soul: she voluntarily offered up her sufferings in union with Mary for the sake of helping Christ to save souls who had sinned and needed atonement for their transgressions. It was at the end of September 1930 that Jesus Christ appeared to Marthe and asked her: “Do you wish to become like Me?” Readily consenting, Marthe prepared herself for the union with the Cross. When Christ appeared again on October 4, a flame leapt from His side, from His hands and feet, piercing Marthe in the same places. Later Christ would also bestow upon her His wounds from the crown of thorns. Every Friday from that day forward she relived the passion of Christ, her wounds bleeding copiously. In later years on Thursdays she would also relive the agony of Gethsemane, her eyes weeping blood.

The well-known French philosopher Jean Guitton (1901-1999), prisoner of the Nazis, author of some one hundred books, recalling his meeting with the visionary, writes: “I found myself in that dark room of hers, confronted by the best-known contemporary critics of the Church: Novelist Anatole France (a critic whose books were condemned by the Vatican) and Dr. Paul-Louis Couchoud, a disciple of Alfred Loisy (an excommunicated priest whose books were condemned by the Vatican) and author of a number of books denying the historical reality of Jesus. From our first meeting, I understood that Marthe Robin would have been a ‘sister of charity’ always, as she was for thousands of visitors.”

We have this account of another encounter from the book Marthe Robin: The Cross and the Joy by Raymond Peyret (Alba House, 1983, p. 105:

A former pastor of SaintMartin-d’Août (a community quite near Châteauneuf-de-Galaure), Fr. Joseph Petit, told during his lifetime of how he had one day been accompanied to the home of Marthe Robin by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. This Dominican, a professor at the Angelicum in Rome, and Thomist of international reputation, was somewhat skeptical about the stigmatist. But returning from the visit, this savant was like a man in a daze. During the trip he kept talking to himself: “If only you could speak as well as that about the Blessed Virgin!” Much later, shortly before his death, he was heard to say, “Who am I compared to that humble girl?”

During her life, Marthe met tens of thousands of visitors in the small room at her home to which she had been confined for most of her life. Spending around ten minutes with each visitor, she shared with each an open and free conversation that often shed light on the person’s problem or concern. She always ended with a simple prayer. In addition to those men and women she met at her bedside, she dealt with an unending flow of letters, despite losing her sight when she was only 38. “I have no other dream than to conform myself at every moment with the suffering and Eucharistic life of our Divine Saviour,” said Marthe, “to unite my host with His Host, so that my heart may be consecrated with His Heart to the Glory of the Father for the salvation of the world. For the more my life is submitted to God and in conformity with the Redeemer, the more I shall participate in the achievement of His Work.”

Marthe Robin’s principal message was simply this: that we must follow Jesus Christ with the help and power of Mary. “All of life is a Calvary,” said Marthe Robin,” and every soul is a Gethsemane where all drink in silence the chalice of their own lives.” Father Finet, Marthe’s parish priest for many years, speaks of his first meeting with Marthe on February 10, 1936, a visit that lasted three hours:

During the first hour Marthe spoke to me only of the Blessed Virgin. I who conducted Marian retreats was dazzled by her manner of talking about the Blessed Virgin. She called the Virgin her ‘dear mama’. I had the impression these two were well acquainted.

During the second hour she told me about the great events that were going to take place, some of which would be very bad, others very good. In particular, during this second hour, she said that there would be a New Pentecost of Love, that the Church would be renewed by an apostolate of the laity. She spoke a great deal about that, even saying that the laity were going to play a very important role in the Church; many would be called to be Apostles. Years later, I was quite struck when I heard Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI speak about a springtime in the Church, or a ‘New Pentecost of Love’. Well, Marthe had announced this to me in 1936. And she said that the Church was going to be totally rejuvenated. It was the Second Vatican Council that she was predicting. She had added that there would be many methods for formation of the laity, but outstanding among these would be ‘Foyers’ [‘Houses’] of Light, Charity, and of Love. I did not understand too well what she was trying to convey.

“At this point I said to her: ‘This will be something totally new in the Church; it has never been done before. It will consist of consecrated laity, not a religious order. They will be directed by a priest, and they will be comprised of dedicated lay people.’ And she replied, ‘These Foyers de Charité” will have world-wide influence! They will be the expression of the Heart of Jesus to the nations after the defeat of materialism and satanic errors.’ She told me that among the errors that would pervade the world were communism, laicism, and Freemasonry. She mentioned these three in particular. She told me all this in 1936. But she said the Blessed Virgin would intervene. (Ibid. 75-6)

Thus through Marthe Robin came the call of God: a call for the renewal of the Church, renewal through an apostolate of consecrated lay men and women living together in communities of prayer and work, communities that were centers or homes of light, of charity and of love. (Marthe explained that the word “charity” refers to the relations among the men and women of the Foyer, while the word “love” refers to their relationship with God.) Through the priest assigned to direct it, each Foyer is firmly rooted in both the larger mission and the hierarchical structure of the Church. The Foyers often include schools for young people and/or special facilities for those with disabilities, but their chief apostolic work is to form and educate lay people through five-day retreats. To date there are some seventy of these communities on five continents.

This then is the meaning of the passion of Marthe, to identify herself with the Divine Saviour Jesus Christ, Him whom she loved, in a mission of redemption. As Adam was “broken small” at the fall, writes Saint Augustine in his commentary on Psalm 95 (96), so Adam has been gathered together again:

“For with righteousness shall he judge the world”, not a part of it only,  for it was not merely a part that he redeemed; the whole of the world is his to judge, since for the whole did he pay the price. You have heard what the Gospel has to say, that when he comes “He shall gather together the elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:27). He gathers all the elect from the four winds, that is to say, from the whole world. Now Adam’s name, as I have said more than once, means in Greek, the whole world. For there are four letters, A, D, A, and M, and with the Greeks the four quarters of the world have these initial letters. They call the East, “Anatole”; the West, “Dusis”; the North, “Arctus”; and the South, “Mesmebria”, and these letters spell Adam. Adam is thus scattered thoughout the globe. Set in one place, he fell and, as it were, broken small, he has filled the whole world. But the Divine Mercy gathered up the fragments from every side, forged them in the fire of love and welded into one what had been broken. That was work which this Artist knew how to do; let no one therefore give way to despair. An immense task it was indeed; but think who the Artist was. He who remade was himself the Maker; he who refashioned was himself the Fashioner. “He shall judge the world in righteousness and nations in his truth.”

Accomplished through the Passion of Christ , this gathering up of the fragments of Adam upon the Cross, “forged through the fire of love”, continues to be accomplished by Christ through those who take up their cross and follow Him. As Origen says in explaining Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 37:1-14): as at Yahweh’s command, when he breathed upon them, the bones strewn about on the plain came together and were covered with flesh, and life entered them, and the House of Israel, “an exceeding army”, was thus re-made, so will it be at the last day when death shall be overcome: “When shall come the resurrection of the real, whole body of Christ, then the members of Christ will be knitted together, joint to joint, each one in his place, and the multitude of members will form at last, completely and in full reality, one single Body.”

Through one single Body, through one single Passion, through one single Cross, the fragments of Adam are being gathered together. Rudolf Steiner expresses this powerfully in the meditation below:

So long as thou dost feel the pain
Which I am spared,
The Christ unrecognized
Is working in the World.
For weak is still the Spirit
While each is only capable of suffering
Through his own body.

 “God forbid,” writes Paul in Galatians 6:14 and 17, “that I should boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I to the world!   . . . In future let no one make trouble for me, for I bear the marks of Jesus branded on my body.”

Marthe Robin died exactly thirty years ago today on February 6, 1981. The cause for her beatification commenced in 1991.

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

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If Anyone Is in Christ

Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed. A sense of inferiority and inadequacy interferes with the attainment of your hopes, but self-confidence leads to self-realization and successful achievement. Because of the importance of this mental attitude, this book will help you believe in yourself and release you inner powers.

These are the words of Norman Vincent Peale, and the book of course is The Power of Positive Thinking (Ballantine Books, 1982, 10th ed., p. 13). Selling many millions in many languages since its publication in 1952, its impact (and the impact of many books much like it) directly or indirectly on countless minds throughout the world within the fold of Protestant Christianity would be hard to overestimate. What we can characterize as the gospel of success through positive thinking still to this day forms the content of much televangelism for example. Peale of course did not invent positive thinking either as philosophy, as theology, or as method. Having had Dr. Ernest Holmes, disciple of New Thought and founder of Religious Science, as mentor, he took up the basic teaching of Holmes – change your thinking and change your life – and, suffusing it with an aura of biblical authority, popularized it though the writing of many books. Faith power works wonders is one of the mantra for success that he suggests. “Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” he offers as an exercise. “Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture… Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.” Christianity for Peale is largely a practical matter of method. Tirelessly in his books he preaches the practice of a “simple faith . . . to open the sources of power according to the techniques [my emphasis] of Christianity.”   

Positivity of course is a very desirable trait in a person, and a version of it in Rudolf Steiner’s An Outline of Occult Science constitutes one of the basic exercises in moral development presented there. Considered in the larger context of six exercises altogether, namely control of the direction of thought; control of the impulses of will; calmness in joy and sorrow; positiveness in judging the world, impartiality in our attitude toward life, and the practicing of these five exercise simultaneously and harmoniously as the sixth exercise, he gives the following description of the fourth exercise:

For the control of thought and feeling there is a further means of education in the acquirement of the faculty that we may call positiveness. There is a beautiful legend that tells of how the Christ Jesus, accompanied by some other persons, passed by a dead dog lying on the roadside. While the others turned aside from the hideous spectacle, the Christ Jesus spoke admiringly of the animal’s beautiful teeth. One can school oneself in order to attain the attitude of soul toward the world shown by this legend. The erroneous, the bad, the ugly should not prevent the soul from finding the true, the good, and the beautiful wherever it is present. This positiveness should not be confused with non-criticism, with the arbitrary closing of the eyes to the bad, the false, and the inferior. If you admire the “beautiful teeth” of a dead animal, you also see the decaying corpse. But this corpse does not prevent your seeing the beautiful teeth. One cannot consider the bad good and the false true, but it is possible to attain the ability not to be deterred by evil from seeing good, and by error from seeing truth

Steiner’s “positiveness” as presented in his book is obviously different from the “positivity” promoted by Norman Vincent Peale in The Power of Positive Thinking. In Steiner’s description of the basic exercise, we notice immediately the focus on someone or something else, rather than on oneself, as is rather the case with Peale’s exercise. We notice too that the “positiveness” of Steiner has much to do with Christ’s injunction that we ought not to judge by appearances, but ought to be “just in our judgment” (cf. John 7:24), which would mean seeing the good in a person or thing also, even primarily, along with whatever else we see beside (or think we see) that is negative. Peale’s exercise would clearly seem, on the other hand, to be directed toward worldly success, and it might very well remind us of what Saint Paul has to say on that subject, as we find for instance in 1 Timothy 6: 6-10:

There is a great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich shall fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.

But maybe this is being unfair. Maybe what Peale has in mind is not primarily material wealth or any other kind of worldly success. Maybe whatever worldly success his teaching might bring to its practitioner would be only a kind of possible side benefit to the primary success of achieving Christian happiness. Now what would Christian happiness be, after all, if not actual sainthood? As Charles Peguy has it, “Life holds only one tragedy, ultimately: not to have been a saint.” From this point of view, biblically-based as it purports to be, Peale’s gospel of success can only make sense if sainthood, achieved through the power of positive thinking, is the actual success that is in view, since any other kind of goal must necessarily fall tragically short, by this standard, of real happiness, i.e., of Christian happiness, of the kind of profound happiness that comes with living and dying in the sainthood we are called to achieve:

Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14: 25-27)

As prime examples of Christian happiness, the saints have had much to say on how to achieve this success.  We could fairly state that they too proclaim, just as Norman Vincent Peale proclaims, a gospel of success. Might it not be an enlightening procedure to compare “the gospel of success according to Norman Vincent Peale” with its power of positive thinking on the one hand, and “the gospel of success according to the Saints of God” on the other? Would we find that these gospels agree with each other? Would we find that they compliment each other? Would we find that they shed light on each other? Or would we instead find that they contradict each other or that they simply disagree with each other? Let’s do some comparisons and see what we come to.

Here we have the “gospel of success according to Peale”:

Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed.

Now, according to the gospel of success of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, as striving Christians we should

. . .  not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness.  While we desire to be in their company, we must earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

Peale does not spell out for us exactly what it is that we – or rather I — as a professing Christian should want to succeed at, whereas Saint Bernard spells it out exactly. I do however receive from Peale what would seem to be some useful inspiration on following the Way of the Cross (if I temper, that is, the obvious Pelagianism of his exordium with a call upon heaven for help) – assuming of course that the success I am looking for has indeed to do with taking up the Cross, and not with selling real estate or with becoming the CEO of Engulf and Devour Inc. or even with becoming, let us say, a best-selling author.

Let us look at another passage of the “gospel of success according to Norman Vincent Peale”:

Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture. . . . Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.

According to the gospel of success of Padre Pio:

It is difficult to become a saint. Difficult, but not impossible. The road to perfection is long, as long as one’s lifetime. Along the way, consolation becomes rest; but as soon as your strength is restored, you must diligently get up and resume the journey.

Once again, assuming that it is the Cross I love, and that it is Calvary I want to get to, I receive what appears to be some very fine guidance from Peale. Following this advice I may even remember at the outset the words of Matthew 11: 28-30: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Let us look at another passage from “the gospel of success according to Peale”:

If you paint in your mind a picture of bright and happy expectations, you put yourself into a condition conducive to your goal.

Yet, according to the gospel of success of Saint Faustina Kowalska:

Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like a Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.

Not to belabor the point, but assuming that the words quoted from Matthew actually mean something to me, and assuming it is Christianity above all that I want to be successful at, would not Peale’s directive of painting in my mind a picture of bright and happy expectations have everything to do with taking up the Cross and following the Master, so that my soul can “become like a Saviour”?

Here yet again is another passage from the gospel of success according to Peale:

Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have.

Whereas in the gospel of success according to Saint Theophan the Recluse, we have these words:

Every struggle in the soul’s training, whether physical or mental, that is not accompanied by suffering, that does not require the utmost effort, will bear no fruit.

Once again, if it is success in Christianity above all that my heart is set upon, Peale’s advice would seem to offer definite encouragement in light of what both Theophan, the great Russian saint of the nineteenth century, and what Faustina, the first saint of the new millennium, have to say in regard to the role of suffering in the soul’s faithful following of the straight and narrow way of the Cross. Besides, who says joy is incompatible with suffering? Without suffering how would we ever know what joy is?

For the fifth and last time let us look at a passage from the gospel of success according to Norman Vincent Peale:

Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.

We compare the above with these words found in the gospel of success according to Saint Hildegard of Bingen:

We were meant to consider all our deeds within our heart before carrying them out. . . . A good work of the soul is like an exceedingly beautiful bulwark in the sight of God and the angels, while a bad action resembles a house made of dung and full of filth.

Assuming that Peale would agree with Saint Hildegard, that taking counsel within our heart before action is a good idea, indeed of utmost importance, how can I disagree with Peale’s observation? Ora et labora as the Benedictines say: Pray and work, these indeed are the two pillars of all true spiritual life.

So it would seem that Peale’s gospel of success through the power of positive thinking, whatever his followers may have made of his teaching through the decades, whatever Peale himself may have made of his own teaching, can be made quite compatible with the gospel of success according to the saints. All we need do is set our sights high enough and all is reconciled, all is made one in Christ, for as that great positive thinker Saint Paul said: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5: 17-8).

Today is the Feast of Saint John Bosco (1815 – 1888), who so successfully taught young Italian boys both religion and learning that his inspiration led to the foundation of the famous Society of St. Francis de Sales – a world-wide organization dedicated to his own educational ideals. A pioneer of modern education methods (also the first saint in history to give a press interview), he devoted himself to pastoral care among those seeking work in the newly industrialized city of Turin. “Don”, as he became known, gathered six abandoned boys into what he called an Oratory, where they attended chapel and classes. As the number gradually grew to over 800, he opened workshops for a range of trades, as well as a printing works and iron foundry. Girls were helped in a similar way when he established the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians. 

St John Bosco is recognised as one of world’s great social saints. Inspired by educational methods based on total love and dedication, he divided human needs into four fundamental spheres; home, school, Church and society. The experience of belonging and meaning within all these four he held as necessary if people are to be happy and fulfilled. The saint acquired his reputation for working miracles during the Turin cholera epidemic of 1854. He formed his boys into teams to carry the sick to hospital and the dead to the mortuary, with the loss of not one life – an excellent example of the power of positive thinking. When asked about the secret of his immense success with the young, he simply replied: “Love.”

Saint John Bosco remains to this day unexcelled as a great example of the power of positive thinking, as any perusal of his biography will reveal. It is he who said: “The Lord turns everything to the advantage of those that love Him.”

Today also happens to be the Feast of Saint Marcella (d. 410), whose mentor, Saint Jerome, said of her that she “clung to Christ, believed in Him crucified, and rejoiced in Him as King.” One of the sayings of Saint Marcella comes from the period in her life when Goths had overrun Rome and Rome was in the throes of a famine, and when Marcella herself was languishing after having been turned out of her own home. Eighty-five at the time, she said: “By heaven’s grace, captivity has found me a poor woman, not made me one. Now, I shall go in want of daily bread, but I shall not feel hunger since I am full of Christ” –  thus effectively demonstrating the power of positive thinking some 1540 years before the publication of Norman Vincent Peale’s book of the same title.

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

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