The Ultimate Consolation

Edith SteinThe ultimate consolation [is this]: the way of suffering is the surest road to union with the Lord. The saving power of joyfully borne suffering is particularly necessary in our time.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross


As Often and as Long as Possible

At the chapel of the Redemptoristine community in Bangkok, ThailandThe Lord is present in the tabernacle in his divinity and in his humanity. He is not present for his own sake but for ours: it is his delight to be with the “children of men” [Prov 8:31]. He knows, too, that, being what we are, we need his personal nearness. In consequence, every thoughtful and sensitive person will feel attracted and will be there as often and as long as possible.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Mencius (Mengzi) and the Dark Night

mengzi-edithLet it never be said that Christianity has nothing in common with the good of other religions and philosophies. Whatever is good and true in other religions and philosophies, Christians are free to take and, recognizing their value, thank God for the crumbs scattered over the globe. It may not seem enough to live off, but it is still food.

One of my favourite philosophers is Mencius (perhaps more properly called Mengzi). After Confucius (Kongzi) he is probably the most important ancient Chinese philosopher. He is not, of course, a philosopher in the theoretical tradition of the Greeks, but he is a kind of practitioner of life, as philosophers aimed to be in ancient China.

What strikes me especially about Mencius is how otherworldly his perspective is. I don’t mean he doesn’t care for this world. No, I don’t mean that at all. What I mean is that, for Mencius, this world is cared for only and best by those who let themselves be formed by the other world. And Mencius is very direct. It will hurt. When “Heaven” molds us to complete some good in this world, we will first feel as if we can do no good at all. We will feel withered. We we languish. We will suffer in mind and body, until the whole of our nature is brought into conformity with its purpose:

When Heaven is about to bestow a great responsibility on a particular person, it will always first subject one’s heart and resolution to bitterness, belabour one’s muscles and bones, starve one’s body and flesh, deprive one’s person, and thwart and bring chaos to what one does. By means of these things it perturbs one’s heart, toughens one’s nature, and provides those things of which one is incapable. (Mengzi 6B15)

It strikes me that this is remarkably like a description of the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul. Everything one does must fail. We must be brought to nothing, humiliated; we must be (subjectively) annihilated under the hand of God (Heaven) in order to be objectively conformed to a great mission, calling, and usefulness for others. Indeed, this very same Heaven tests and proves us if we are to be of use to it for what else could be the meaning of the interior growth which is obtained through the tears of this world?

This is a fascinating description of life from a pre-Christian thinker. It takes a very high view of the landscape of life. It is intent on the activity of “Heaven” and our place in usefulness for the world.

There is a lot of similarity with Mencius’ exposition of the lot of the person who intends to be useful for this world, under the hand of a much more powerful Heaven, and the description which Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) gives of the dark night of the soul:

Each individual familiar with the interior life knows that it is precisely those called by God to achieve the extraordinary who must also pass through extraordinary tests. These are not only worldly difficulties and needs but rather spiritual suffering and temptations even harder to endure – that which mystical theology terms ‘the dark night of the soul.’

These sufferings exist to toughen us, to loosen our hold on our own judgment and ideas, and to throw us into relying on God and his providence.

Contemplation, beginning as it does with the onset of the dark night, thus makes us useful for others. It is in becoming more of our God-given self and less reliant on our own judgment and ideas of our self, that we become more useful for others. That is the seeming paradox of contemplation. Contemplation vivifies action. In fact, the more of the darkness of contemplation through which we pass, the more we will be able to do for this world and the place of ourselves and others in the next.

Cosmic Christ, Cosmic Humanity

EdithA humanity united in Christ and through Christ is the temple in which the Triune God has his abode… And as the head of humankind, which combines in itself the higher [spiritual] and the lower [corporeal] reaches of being, Christ is the head of creation in its totality.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Scripture and Eucharist

Edith SteinWhen we see that Saviour before our eyes of faith as the Scriptures portray him, then our desire to receive him in the bread of life increases. The eucharistic bread, on the other hand, awakens our desire to get to know the Lord in the written word more and more deeply and strengthens our spirit to get a better understanding.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Prayer of the Church

Edith SteinAll authentic prayer is prayer of the Church. Through every sincere prayer something happens in the Church, and it is the Church itself that is praying therein, for it is the Holy Spirit living in the Church who intercedes for every individual soul “with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26)… What could the prayer of the Church be, if not great lovers giving themselves to God who is love!
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross