This blog has been going for five years now. Hopefully in that time I’ve learned how to write better. (Some of the first posts are dreadful in terms of style.) In that time, I’ve met many people thanks to this blog, and I’m very glad for that. It is important to “go to heaven together with others,” as we learn from the documentation for the canonization of Saint John of the Cross, and the internet is no exception to this rule.
In the past five years, I’ve also expanded my horizons considerably and learned from a lot more saints, blesseds, and men and women of God. For this present, medium-length post, I want to go back to where I began for a moment and meditate on that. There are two quotes with which I started off this blog, and I think they are still highly relevant. They inspire and set a very robust framework.
is frequently the treasure of persons hidden in the world… souls who live by it in all simplicity, without visions, without miracles, but with such a flame of love for God and neighbour that good happens all around them without noise and without agitation.
And Father Lallemant says this:
Without contemplation we will never advance far toward virtue… we will never break free of our weaknesses and our imperfections. We will always be attached to the earth, and will never raise ourselves much above the sentiments of nature. We will never be able to offer a perfect service to God. But with contemplation we will do more in a month, for ourselves and for others, than we would have been able to do without it in ten years. It produces… acts of sublime love for God such as one can hardly ever accomplish without this gift… and finally, it perfects faith and all the virtues.
Contemplation on the muddy roads of this world is something that we need, but it is also something that the world needs in order to better realize both its own internal, historical ends and its supernatural, surpahistorical ends. Without contemplation, we just grind along. Things do not roll as they should. Hearts are rent. Vocies are cracked. The caverns into which God wishes to enter do not open up. But with contemplation – I mean the contemplation that we have on the road and not only the contemplation that is had in the cloister – God’s plans are efficacious, and the world opens up, in ways that may be visible but which also may pass unnoticed except for briefs glimpses, to the evangelical light that is trying to shine into every crevice of this twisted, but detailed, world.
I felt the truth of Saint Augustine’s words when he says, “Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you”; in fact, foolish is he who pursues the joys of the world, because these are always fleeting and cause pain, wheeas the one true joy is that which faith gives us, and our beloved companions particularly by the bond always stay united [to us and each another] even if life’s contingencies hurl us very far from each other.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901–1925)
I seem to like to reflect often on Saint Stephen‘s martyrdom. So again we’re at that point. Yesterday we celebrated Life itself born on earth, and today we have the entry into the life of Heaven by the first martyr.
Stephen loved his neighbours, indeed his persecutors, to death. There is a beautiful phrase of Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, which struck me long before I was Catholic:
Stephen went before, wounded by the stones that Paul [Saul] threw; Paul followed after, aided by Stephen’s prayers… Hold on to love, then, brothers and sisters; show it to one another; advance and ascend to heaven by it.
That is the divine power of failure in the world, total failure without a shred of success by the world’s standards, if it can be founded in love, prayer, mercy, and faith. That’s an important lesson for contemplatives thrown into the world.
All the consolations which God ever gave should be gladly given up [if it comes to it], if it be to His glory. This is the harvest of the corn… on which we shall live eternally, and which make us rich in God. Thus the virtues are made perfect, and sorrow is turned to eternal wine. By such men, and by their lives and their patience, all those who know them and all their neighbours are taught and changed for the better. And so the corn of their virtues is sown and multiplied for the benefit of all good men.
Blessed Jan van Ruusbroec (1293–1381)
On 1 December 1916, Blessed Charles de Foucauld was shot dead at his small fort in the Sahara. Was he a martyr? If so, it was of charity, not directly for the faith, for though he was shot because of his presence to others (however difficultly entwined that was with his own country’s policies and the details of a world war), it was not because of any article of the faith, nor because of any direct animosity towards a group of human beings as such.
But what he was, was a model for the kind of life this blog promotes. Of course, he was human, with weaknesses, limitations, feelings, and even faults. But he was a model. He loved the Eucharist. He loved his neighbours. He had no formal apostolate, except perhaps one of translation, scholarly work, and “presence” to others (if these things can count as activities of a formal apostolate).
To a degree, his model of spirituality was in the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross – even before they were declared Doctors of the Universal Church. Over and over he read them. He knew with them that it is when we are most annihilated that we pray best and that it is love which makes prayer best.
His spirituality is known for its Trinitarian emphasis: on Jesus in others and in the pages of the Gospel, on the Father to whom his most famous prayer is addressed, on the Spirit known in the Veni Creator.
He believed in the value of silence and thought that earth was preparation for heaven, not only by what we do but by the time we spend, seemingly uselessly, with God. After all, the spirit was not made for noise but for taking things in; and if we want to give God to others, we must live in him ourselves; a spring can only give what it already has. He described the purification brought about by silence as a “desert” experience.
Above all, this man went on a journey of discovering what it means to see Jesus in others and to live a life of “Nazareth,” a quiet life that passes under the radar with and among people who may never have even heard the Gospel in its entirety (like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Nazareth). This involved standing up to injustices and taking clear positions on social justice. But it also involved a mere “being with” and a “togetherness,” a legitimate love and appreciation of the other. It was a spirituality of presence, even when the effects of presence seem fleeting. Such a “Nazareth” spirituality is accompanied by a respect, a great respect and preference, for the poor and abandoned. It involves poverty and humility of means; for Jesus did not use much or write large when he evangelized by his presence in Nazareth. It involves a recognition that the majority of people live their lives in Nazareth, not in the greatest acts of apostolate or at the highest heights of the world.
There is a general theme of how one can be a contemplative in the midst of action, though not hanging all one’s contemplation on the accomplishment of activity. It is a strange message to modern ears, but it is much needed. And it is one that, though he was himself a priest, Charles felt was relevant to laypeople.
Counting today (23 November) and 1 December itself, there are nine days left in the centennial year of the blessed’s death. For my part, I think this is a great time to get to know, and to love, Brother Charles better. At the very least and even if we do not focus our attention and thoughts on Charles, we could spend our time as he recommends:
To pray means to think lovingly about Jesus. Prayer is the soul’s attention that is concentrated on Jesus. The more you love Jesus, the better you pray.