The “Eyes” of the Guide
Yesterday I was in a hospital, following the medical condition of a friend. His doctor couldn’t understand why he had a fever that was fluctuating. After a ten-day course of antibiotics, since the fever had not abated, the doctor deduced my friend had an infection of some sort. He then had a guess, and ordered a scan, which revealed a stone between the kidney and the bladder. The stone measured exactly 5.5 mm, and knowing its exact position the effects of this were evident. It had now become a matter of having emergency surgery to extract the stone in order to avoid possible complications,
As an aside it is worth mentioning that the development of Neuroscience (and many other sciences) has boomed these last twenty years owing to the development of new generations of scanning machines (the MRI). A few years ago, without these machines, we would have been unable to diagnose – at least so rapidly – many diseases.
What is a scanning machine, then? It is a machine, that allows us to delve into the human body, and see, with greater detail and precision, what cannot be seen by the naked eye.
This fact led me to consider similarities between this science and Spiritual Theology: everything that the latter addresses, is directly non-visible: the soul (mind and will, memory, imagination, inner senses) and the spirit (the upper part of the soul). A further similarity I thought was to be found in the person of the “Master in Spiritual Life”, who is like a Doctor: he needs to diagnose the state of the person he sees. And in order to diagnose, he needs to see inside that person.
However, only a few saints had this special gift of seeing into the heart. Would this then mean that only very few people could offer Spiritual Direction? That only a few people could teach Spiritual Theology? The words of Jesus after all state the obvious that, “a blind man cannot guide another blind one, they will both fall” (Luke 6:39).
Without these “scanning machines” and the “powerful means of analysis” of today available to Doctors, the latter are in a sense, “blind”. Formerly they would have had to use other means in order to “see,” or, in fact, to guess or “deduce” from more “visible symptoms” and “gather knowledge” from the greatest number of “cases” available to them.
By comparison, then, how does a human being access his own soul and the soul of others? The same is true for the spirit– this highest part of the soul that enters into the direct contact with God, and is, by definition, super-conscious – how can we access it?
Admittedly one cannot dismiss the help of the Holy Spirit in order to help the Spiritual Master, to remind him, to open his eyes, in order to “see” what is happening. But the Holy Spirit does not work in a miraculous magical way. He presupposes that we ourselves will make our own effort, that is, that we will correspond to the Grace of our spiritual state at that moment and our call: to our study, our experience and our discernment received through spiritual direction.
Do you see what I mean? In order to build, in the “Spiritual Master”, those eyes that will help him/her to see what is happening in this mysterious, mystical, world of “spiritual life”, the Holy Spirit is asking three things of the spiritual director, that he grow in the practice of them, and excel in them:
1- experience: delving into the experience of God, and not just reading or studying about God. And then growing in the experience of God.
2- science: learning about the experience of God by reading, studying, and receiving the grace of understanding what he/she reads and the grace of recognising (connecting what he reads/knows with what he experiences). And added to all this, studying and doing research in that area.
3- discernment: becoming, first a disciple seeking “spiritual direction”; receiving the needed discernment. Humility is necessary, and listening to God who speaks, teaches, and corrects through the spiritual director.
As we see, this is a combined effort – not just a Grace given from Above. This combined effort between the Holy Spirit and the person called to that service, over the years, will culminate in the building of “new eyes” that will help him recognise, see, analyse, and measure what is happening in the soul of his brothers and sisters.
To sum up briefly, then, the call to follow in the steps of the “spiritual masters” is received, followed by the descent into humility, with growth in experience, science, recognition, discernment, increasing over the years. This will generate “new eyes”. The eyes of the Guide.
The sole proviso is that all this requires effort. Studying requires an effort. Holiness requires an effort. This is how the “salt” remains “salty” (see Mt. 5:13).
Defining Spiritual Theology
It is true that ‘Spiritual Theology’ is a science. For many it is a branch of Theology, like Neurology or Cardiology is a branch of Medicine. For others it can be named ‘Mysticism’ and can be categorised as another Faculty, just as the Faculty of Psychology is different from the Faculty of Medicine.
The definition of a Science is derived from at least three criteria:
1- The Light under which an object is seen, considered, studied
2- The Angle under which the object is seen (see: Jacques Maritain, ‘Degrees of Knowledge’)
3- The Object observed. We study the stages of the work of the Holy Spirit in the depths of the human being.
This is why some consider ‘Spiritual Theology’ as a different science from Theology because both the Angle, the Lightand the Object are different.
Since this science has not been developed enough in the Church, it is still considered, conservatively speaking, as a branch of Theology. Sadly, and strangely enough, it is not one of the main branches of Theology such as: Bible, Dogma, Sacraments, Moral Theology. Many, once they learn Spiritual Theology in depth, find it to be the most important topic in our faith. What an odd fate for such a great Lady!
A ‘Great Lady’
As we have previously explained in other articles, ‘Spiritual Theology’ is the science of the ‘Master of Spiritual Life’ and requires from him/her to develop two more capabilities: the Experience of God and Discernment.
In addition, Formation in Spiritual Life is much more than being catechised. It embodies a deeper phase in our spiritual life – a ‘phase two’ if you will. This phase starts when we decide as adults, to reply to Jesus’ Call, to put our hands into His Hands, and to follow Him toward holiness, toward Union with Him.
‘Spiritual Theology’ is the science that guides our formation in Spiritual Life. I would like to compare it to a Lady, a Lady who is in charge of our formation, who will show us the Way (Jesus) and show us how to know Him, how to Love him, and let Him grow in us.
I have no hesitation in unifying the two figures: ‘Mary’ and ‘Spiritual Theology’. ‘Spiritual Theology’ is the science, par excellence, that leads us to the goal of Christian life: holiness. No other science or branch of Theology can do so. We forget that very often, and therefore, strangely, we neglect this science.
Like a real mother, ‘Spiritual Theology’ accommodates itself to us and gets close to us, gives us first the milk, and then a stronger food. She takes care of us and provides all that is needed to reach the goal. She is much more than Mary’s first daughter. She is the ‘garments’ that Mary wears to serve us as our real Mother, given to us from Jesus (see John 19:27). Mary takes care of ‘Spiritual Theology’ and is in charge of ‘her’. This is why I prefer to consider them as the same person.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus speaks this way about the ‘science of Love’:
“Sometimes a word comes to console me, such as this one which I received at the end of prayer (after having remained in silence and aridity): “Here is the teacher whom I am giving you; he will teach you everything that you must do. I want to make you read in the book of life, wherein is contained the science of LOVE. The science of Love, ah, yes, this word resounds sweetly in the ear of my soul, and I desire only this science. Having given all my riches for it, I esteem as having given nothing [Cant. 8:7]… as did the bride in the sacred Canticles. I understand so well that it is only love that makes us acceptable to God that this love is the only good I ambition. Jesus deigned to show me the road that leads to this Divine Furnace[…].” (Manuscript B,1)
The ‘Science of Love’
This is another name for ‘Spiritual Theology’. To love God is to act according to the desire of God. To do what is needed in order to achieve God’s plan for us. (see Pope John Paul II letter for St. Therese Doctorate: The Science of Divine Love). We can, then, define the role of Spiritual Theology in our lives as follows:
1- Spiritual Theology takes care of our Spiritual Life
The object of Spiritual Theology: our Spiritual Life. It is meant to take care of our spiritual life, its growth, its healthy and steady state.
2- Spiritual Theology manages a relationship between Christ and each one of us
Our Spiritual Life is the life of God in us, Jesus’ life in us. This life is generated by the combined action of two persons: Jesus and each one of us.
This is why it is important to know what Jesus wants to achieve, how He works, what He wants. And it is as important to know ‘how a human being can answer to His Call’, reply to Him, act, react, in a synergetic, harmonious, way.
3- Spiritual Theology’s goal is to make our Spiritual Life grow
Spiritual Theology has various goals. Final, remote goals, and daily goals. It is only by achieving the daily goals that we can reach the final ones.
3.1 Final Goals: 1- Union with Jesus, 2- Fulness of Love
Spiritual Life has two main goals:
1- Reaching first the top of the “Mountain” of Union with Jesus Christ, God.
2- Reaching, with Jesus, and in Jesus, the bottom of the “Mountain”, serving our brothers and sisters and reaching the fullness of love.
3.2 Intermediate Goal: each day, achieving ‘the daily measure’
The intermediate goal is each step we make, in order to reach the final goal. We have two measures in spiritual life: the act and the day (you may add ‘the week’).
– The act, any act, we make during the day should be synergetic. It should be done from Jesus, with Jesus, achieving Jesus.
– The real measure though is the day. “Today’s effort is enough for today” (Mt. 6:34). I chose to translate here “effort” for “trouble” or other words. Showing that there is a measure of correspondence to the Holy Spirit we are called to achieve every day.
No doubt Lectio Divina, and Lectio Divina done well, helps us achieve this goal of adding to every day one more synergetic act. Jesus himself states this: “you cannot do anything without me” (Jn. 15). He invites us to imitate Him by contemplating the will of God and then by his Grace putting it into practice. Lectio divina is completed by the Prayer of the Heart. Just as sun and water nourish the tree, Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart, respectively, nourish us.
It is by accomplishing the “intermediate goal”, the measure of the effort of each day, that our Spiritual Life grows in us and that we can reach the final goals, otherwise, we fail to grow properly.
4- Recognising the Stages of Spiritual Life
When a mother has a baby, she starts to go, on a regular basis, to a paediatrician, because she needs to know if her baby is healthy, doing well, growing … She does not always have all the sufficient knowledge needed in order to take care of her baby.
In the meantime, the Paediatrician has enough knowledge and experience in order to be able to check up on the baby. He/she measures and weighs the baby and performs all sorts of check-ups in order to be sure that the baby is growing. The Spiritual Master does almost exactly the same work. The faithful go to him, in order to show his/her inner life and practices, just as the mother goes to the paediatrician with her baby.
4.1 Knowing the Stages
As the Doctor knows the ‘normal’ stages of growth of the baby, the ‘Spiritual Master’ knows them as well. Without knowing the stages and what characterises them, the Doctor cannot ensure a proper check-up, cannot ensure that the baby is healthy and that all is fine. It is the same for the ‘Spiritual Master’: it is part of his/her training to know the stages of spiritual life. This comes with study and learning.
4.2 Recognising the Stages
One thing is knowing the stages, learning them (scientifically, theoretically), and the other is being able to re-cognise them. This comes with a great deal of experience and discernment. The future Master has first to become a Disciple, for various years, in order to receive the grace of discernment. If not a hellish and confused state will ensue. This is a very delicate art, and mistakes can be made very easily.
The “eyes” of the future Master, ‘the capacity to see’, and then ‘the capacity to discern’ have to grow. This can only happen under a period of training with another Master. This is no mere process of analysis, it is the transmission of the living Tradition of Spiritual Masters.
I think that these simple thoughts will help define the framework of Spiritual Life and Spiritual Theology. Straying too far from that framework can create confusion and loss of time and energy.
After reading these few lines, it can easily be concluded that this “science” (Spiritual Theology) is the queen of all sciences, or better said: if you still consider ‘Spiritual Theology’ as a branch of Theology – and it is your right to do so – wouldn’t you consider that this Branch (Spiritual Theology) to be not only a fundamental branch, but the Queen of all Branches of Theology? At least it is the most useful one, the one that most of the faithful can make a claim to, wait for, and yet hardly receive in their lifetime – simply look around you for the evidence.
Wouldn’t you then wonder: How did this Queen get lost in the big forest of Theology? Why is Theology divorced from Spiritual Theology? (I thought in the Catholic Church we didn’t have divorce !!!!!) Pope Benedict XVI laments this divorce and is trying his best to mend it! Why does Spiritual Theology today resemble a ‘half-dead’ body lying on the road? (see the Parable of the Good Samaritan Lk. 10:30)
“ Successful Spiritual Theology “
What is a “successful Spiritual Theology”? “To be successful” is something essential, it means to reach fruition, or, put more simply: to achieve the goal you set out for.
Jesus himself points relentlessly to the necessity of “bearing fruits”. Just check “fruits” in the Gospel of St. John, or just read again the Parable of the Sower (Mt. 13 and parallels), and you will see that the only soil that bears fruits is the fourth one, the “Good soil”. This is the peak of the Parable: “bearing fruits” is the goal. And “with abundance” please!!
The human being is like a tree (see the majority of the parables, also look at the mysterious healing Jesus performs on a blind man, done in two steps (Mk. 8:24)): he is supposed to bear fruits.
The fruit of life is holiness. Holiness is to reach the fulness, the completion of our own spiritual development. However, to do so we face two great obstacles:
1- to date, we can barely define holiness. We stay fixed on general concepts, and if we dig a little bit, we cannot really get a grasp of it. We often remain with general indications: – just do this and you’ll be fine…. But if asked to precisely define what holiness is, an experienced eye will rapidly see the flaws in the answer. Everybody agrees that “the goal of our life” is “to reach holiness”, but it often ends there. Be on guard here – this is seriously risky not being able to define “holiness”.
(Second Vatican Council, after having stated that the Church is holy because her Groom, Jesus, is holy, deduced then that all baptised are called to holiness. It wasn’t because of a spiritual life or spiritual theology concern that we reached this declaration that all faithful are called to holiness (see the text here) it was an ecclesiological deduction.)
2- Admitting that we reach that first goal: “defining holiness” – which would be really amazing because it would make us more credible – we would, however, be totally helpless in showing “the way to reach it” – “the steps”, “the stages”, “the secure means” to holiness. Do you see? Immediately if you start addressing these issues, there will be “resistance”, from the “we can’t do that”, to “it is not the same for everybody”, to “we can’t know if we are there”, to “we can’t monitor the growth”, followed by “there are no defined steps for a journey”, or you might end up with the contradictory statement to the first obstacle outlined above, namely, “holiness is not for everybody”.
What remains in your hands? Simply expressed: almost nothing. This is what Jesus would call: an unsuccessful life. There are “no fruits” in this life, as needed according to the Gospel. We are trees that never reach their completion: the fulness of their height (or if we do so, we are seen as “big mountains”, a “Hercules”, an “Incredible Hulk” … you name it … exceptions.). We speak too much and do nothing when we get to serious matters. We are trees that don’t know how to reach full growth, that is, completion in the spiritual life.
A successful Christianity, a successful “Spiritual Theology” – both strictly the same thing – occurs when you have in front of you and very well defined:
– a clearly defined goal,
– clear steps to accompany it
– accessible practical means to reach it.
Otherwise, you might just as well call being Christian “foolishness”. Sadly, we do leave holiness to randomised attempts, made by some “foolish” ones who decide to go on the journey.
A successful pedagogue (teacher), however, is the one that takes you from A to Z, through b, c, d, and so on. If your pedagogue had not himself gone through the b, c, d stages he/she could not really help you for very long. It is simple! Wake up! “Successful” is to be able to lead you, to show you the way, until you reach completion.
The real teacher embodies a “secure teaching” that leads to the Goal. He offers a secure complete journey.
A “Spiritual Theology” that doesn’t meet these requirements is nothing more than chatter. It’s a sheer waste of time and is to be avoided. A brief example could be considered when you start reading John of the Cross: from page one, he sets the goal, and causes you to embark on a journey that leads you to achieve the summit, to the top of the Mountain. He has the audacity to do so. He is a Spiritual Master. Now we need spiritual Masters who are not only books we read, but human beings present on earth with us. We don’t need people who start the journey with you, with great audacity, but don’t know how to lead you when you face certain advanced steps and are certainly incapable of leading you to the goal!
Do you see what I mean by “Successful Spiritual Theology”?
Unsuccessful Spiritual Theology is simply ridiculous:
“Suppose one of you wants to build a Tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” (Lk. 14:28-30). On examination of this quotation we find the following:
– That “tower” is “holiness”. It is very high, as high as God himself is high, because He is the Holy One.
– “enough money to complete it”: your first “money” here is the direct Call from Jesus. The second “money” here is “knowledge” of the Goal and of the journey and the means (Spiritual Theology). The third “money” here is: your determination, your entrepreneurial spirit, your adventurous spirit.
– “sit down, and estimate” sir… sit down… if you have the first and the third, do you have the second money? If you don’t know, if you don’t have the knowledge, the secure knowledge, that of the “successful Spiritual Theology”, then, how would you do it? You would make a start, as many start, but you would not be able to finish it…. what a ridiculous thing to see: an unfinished building !!!
Please do join those who understand what “Successful Spiritual Theology” is. This is a serious matter; not to be taken lightly. Random or general indications are not enough. The journey is serious, and serious secure knowledge is needed. Otherwise, everyone who stops and surveys your unfinished “work” will “ridicule you”, as is seen in the above extract: “everyone who sees it will ridicule you”.
When life starts, and you stop it, what is it termed? Abortion.
When spiritual life starts in you (that is Jesus in you) and you stop it (through “unsuccessful spiritual theology”) how would it be termed? I would use the same word.
Is the Life of Jesus in you, and its completion less important?
Understanding “Spiritual Theology”
The School’s Line of Thought
One of the main tasks of the School of Mary is to remain faithful to one simple line of thought: presenting and explaining “Spiritual Theology”.
“Spiritual Theology” is a fundamental tool at the service of our “spiritual life”, a fundamental place in the Church for a deeper understanding of the Gospel. I would not stray out of that “frame” or out of that “line “of thought, and, this is the undeniable truth, if I were to write, daily, for three years, it still would not be enough: there is an infinity of things to consider. Practical topics are vast in number.
Another point to consider is that I wouldn’t really like to remain alone. So, please, do come and join in with your ideas, and mainly with your “spiritual study”. Even if knowledge doesn’t make us saints (that would be the wrong “gnosticism”), study, done under the Light and Love of God, can be a source of many graces, especially if we do care to put it into practice. You won’t find me talking badly about science, or rather never about “Spiritual Theology”. Also you won’t find me forgetting the practical side of almost everything we find in “Spiritual Theology”.
Despite many good and positive things on the earthly side of the Catholic Church, there is an ongoing deep crisis resulting from many factors. One main positive one, rarely mentioned, is that the “modern” (I should say: “post-modern”, or “sand age time”) man (and women, don’t worry) is really very demanding, much more than his ancestors. His container is bigger. Bigger than his grandfather’s… or his great grandfather’s. He needs more, requires more from God, from Jesus, from the Church, from the Priest, from the Monk, and mainly from the “Spiritual Master”. He wants proofs, he wants experience, he cannot be deceived by two or three good words, cannot be side-tracked by reference to a “moral law”, or to “good will”. This is why bombarding him (and her) with words that start with: “you have to believe”, “you have to attend this service”, “you have to act this way”, “you have to go and do this” don’t really work today. They did work in a more traditionally Christian world. It is not the case today. The individual needs to experience it. He wants to try out God. There is a deep thirst for experience. On top of that, the market is very challenging: not only are we not the centre of the “civilised world”, but we are also simply a minority. Plus, how many meditation classes or gurus are around today? They got the point, we (catholics) haven’t really yet understood it. In a way it is a bit late. But not to worry, the work remains, in front of us – only now it has hugely accumulated. Piles and piles and piles. Let us simply get to work.
I love the challenge that “sandman” offers to Jesus’ Message. I feel that much more can develop and be slightly different. The “capacity”, the “container,” is just bigger. Mind you, I am not “praising” Mr. “sand-age man”. I am just mentioning what I find very positive in him/her.
The Starting Point
Remember: my starting point is simple, but huge: there are tons and tons and tons of Graces that Jesus wants to pour into us.
This is not “a philosophy”, or “an abstract concept”, or “a fashion”. It is a reality. Jesus wants to give Himself to us. But there is an element of indecision here in that,
1- we have not fully understood the truth of this fact,
2- and, mostly, we are quite lost when it comes to practicality: how can we receive that amount of Love and Grace? What are we supposed to do in order to receive it?
So, this is my starting point, and this is my “philosophy”. By the grace of God, I will not deviate from that line of thought.
Remember the grace that St.Thérèse received on the 9th of June 1895: God made her discover how much He wants to love her, how much He still wants to give her. “This year, the 9th of June, feast of the Holy Trinity, I received the grace of understanding more than ever how much Jesus desires to be loved.” (“Cette année le 9 Juin fête de la Sainte Trinité, j’ai reçu la grâce de comprendre plus que jamais combien Jésus désire être aimé.”) (St. Thérèse, Autobiography, Manuscript A, end)
Or, if you prefer, imagine I am standing beside the Apostles (hiding behind the curtains) during the moment they are gathered in the Upper Room with Mary, and they receive the Holy Spirit. I am watching the effects of the Action of the Holy Spirit and trying to follow the trail of the Holy Spirit over the last twenty centuries. The Torrents of Love, that God wants to give us, and how we have received them in the past, and what we have learned – an accumulation of huge experience, knowledge, and wisdom.
Change of Scenery
Today, if a catholic monk, having lived hidden for thirty years, comes out of his monastery, and starts to wander in the world and starts to condemn his fellow Catholics, saying that they will go to Hell, I am sure you might find that a bit “too much”, a bit “politically incorrect”. Wouldn’t you? After all, how can he send the Church of Christ to Hell?
Of course, many of the sins of today’s Christians would send them to hell, but I am sure that you would find that the monk’s “politically incorrect” behaviour was a bit too much and that he should tone down his voice and manner, in order to remember love, mercy, and acceptance….
Even if you yourself had many grievances against many members of the Church, I am sure you could imagine that the collegiality of the Bishops would not let this monk roam “free”, in the outside world, for very long. They would return him to his monastery, in short order, under obedience, or because of some strategic “threat”.
Would we try to understand why he was speaking so intensely, and condemning his fellow brothers? Couldn’t he just speak about the Love of God and His Mercy, and stop condemning people? Wasn’t he being a bit rough on them? But monks can sometimes be rough. Especially if they are the type of “spiritual” ones.
Couldn’t this preaching be proceeding from love? Well, you would say: “well rightly so, but he should speak more about the Love of God”. Well, he can be just as rightly saying that people are not making any effort to receive that Love.
To cut to the chase, then, I will relieve you of your misery because you must be wondering what I am getting at. Well, frankly I find today’s Gospel (Mt. 8:5-17) very “politically incorrect” or, if you prefer, I find that the world we live in is simply dying out of “political correctness”.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, has just finished his great Sermon on the Mount, and has just healed a man of his leprosy and now is healing a non-Jewish person. Put into today’s terms if you so wish – He was healing a Hindu, or a Muslim or an Atheist, when He finds that this “Atheist” (a Roman soldier of some sort) has more faith than the Catholics (just to put it into perspective). So, with no warning at all, Jesus starts to send all the Catholics to Hell. You rightly wonder: why? What has happened? No warning was given?
This is far too extreme! Please don’t try to turn a blind eye to it. It is too obvious, and please simply face it. Jesus is extremely insistent with Catholics. Just imagine Him saying the same today: “Amen, I say to you, in no one in the Catholic Church have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom (the Catholics) will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” (see Mt 8:5-17)
Put this way: it sounds a bit too much, doesn’t it?
We calmly assure ourselves that “all is fine” and, suddenly, a huge final storm comes and sends us to Hell – the “outer darkness”. You cannot dilute this violent statement, and its violent contents. Please don’t try to find excuses. The matter is serious. Jesus’ contemporary Jews were what we are today – people who received everything: all the Promises, all the Prophets, all the Graces in order to receive their Messiah. Well, we are worse: we have Him amongst us. Therefore, condemnation of us should be immensely greater.
Are Jesus’ contemporary Jews worse than us? I am not sure about that. Why would God treat some people worse than others? Is He unjust?
But the unalterable fact remains that you will read today’s Gospel, and feel fine, untouched by it, feel that you are of the “caste of the untouchables”, and you will sleep well. Amazing, isn’t it? You will continue to go to Sunday Mass, and feel fine….
Now, how does this relate to “Spiritual Theology”?
“Spiritual Theology” tells us about the infinity of graces Jesus wants to pour on us. It shows us what to do in order to receive them. It explains to us what will happen, the transformation that will occur in us. Isn’t this marvellous?
However, in today’s Gospel Jesus is commenting on the quality and characteristics of the faith of a non-Jewish Roman soldier.
“When he entered Capernaum, a Centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour (his) servant was healed.” (Mt. 8:5-17)
The soldier is actually a Centurion, he has subalterns under his orders. He explains to Jesus how he understands order and execution. And in God, “order” and “execution” are immediate. There is no distance in God between “saying something” and “having the capacity to realise it”. When God says something, He can do it, immediately. The soldier said to Jesus that he believes that it works like that for Jesus. The soldier is totally open to the fact that Jesus is capable of “saying/wanting something” and “putting it into practice” immediately.
The act of faith is not about just a mere general concept of the existence of God as in: “I believe in God”. The act of faith here is about the fact that Jesus is capable of doing what He wants; that if He wants it now, He can do it. He has the capacity to do it.
The Centurion is open to the Power that is enclosed within Jesus. He is open to the Action of this Power.
One must add, also, that it is a Power of Healing, a power orientated toward Salvation, toward changing the human being body, soul and spirit. Or if you prefer: spirit, soul, and body.
I like Pope John Paul II’s definition of faith: “faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift: to God’s self-communication in the Holy Spirit.” (“Dominum et vivificantem”, 51). If you wonder what is “Dominum et vivificantem”, well it is Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter on the Holy Spirit. (You can find it here)
“the openness of the human heart to the […] Holy Spirit”.
Jesus praises the quality of the faith of that Centurion. The quality. The openness of that man to the Action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. He is called, “Messiah,” because He is full of the Holy Spirit, and He is the Giver of the Holy Spirit (“He breathed on them” (Jn. 20:22)). When you see a picture like the following one, please do think that these Rays that come out of Jesus’ Heart are nothing less than the Holy Spirit Himself. Always remember to ask for the Holy Spirit.
The mission of “Spiritual Theology” is to understand the transformative Action of the Holy Spirit in us.
So, when you say: “I do believe in such and such”, or, “I don’t believe in such and such”, just remember that believing means: to open my heart, to open myself (and ask for it) to the Action of the Holy Spirit. Our main study should be, therefore: understanding, according to the Mystics, what He wants to realise in us. Step by step.
Back to Square One
Now, back to that “violence”. Why would one have to be violent when he preaches the Kingdom of God?
You can have all the interpretations you want, the nice soft ones, and the rough and tough ones. At the end of the day, when you visit your dear friend for his/her birthday, and offer your gift that you have carefully prepared for weeks and he or she rejects your gift, and loves his other friends’ ones, what would you do?? I leave you free to express your feelings at that very moment, to understand your feelings. But remember that was true in the case of Jesus… He prepared His Gift; He came to give it to you… and you went after other peoples’ gifts.
Today, His violence wouldn’t work in our “correct world”. Would that change anything about our final destination – the “outer darkness”? The person who doesn’t receive the Gift of God, as the mystics describe it, aren’t they politically, correctly, in the “outer”, correct, political, “darkness”? Hell….
Let us be fair, He tries all the tools in the box and people still reject Him. He didn’t put them in Hell… By not receiving His Gift, they place themselves out of the reach of His Action. They don’t want to receive his Gift, so, as a consequence: they don’t know what His Gift really is… they have no experience of it. Heaven or Hell are not God’s arbitrary last-minute decision: they are simply ours, made during our lifetime on earth. You don’t want His Gift? He won’t force you to have it – as dramatic as it sounds. As a consequence: you don’t have it. He won’t impose it on you at the last minute. It can’t even be imposed, it requires your will, your desire in order to activate it.
Simple physics! “Simple…!”
In parenthesis, so to speak, let us ask the question: “How many Christians today are clueless as to what the Holy Spirit is?”, “what His Action in us is”, “what the graces are that St. Theresa of Avila describes”, for instance… they just put their conscience into sleep mode, thinking that “Sunday Mass is enough”. Hell is the last thing that ever enters their minds. Add to this the fact that many pastors lead them as well to this conclusion – well sprinkled with a bit of a moral theology or lubricated by some biblical allusions.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus used the word “hell” …. He called it: the “outer darkness”…
Let us leave the “outer darkness” and learn about His Gift and what we are supposed to do in order to receive it. “Spiritual Theology”…. yes please…
Understanding the Spiritual Crisis in the Church
Today hardly anybody will speak about a “spiritual crisis” in the Church – while in fact there is one. Why? Because many new movements have blossomed in the Church and Pope Benedict has spoken copiously about spiritual life and Lectio Divina.
To put it plainly one needs to understand that in order to have a flourishing spiritual life in the church, one has first to have two things at least:
1- Spiritual Formation and
2- Intellectual Formation (Philosophical, Theological and Mystical (Spiritual Theology)). Spiritual formation is based on the intellectual formation. So if the latter is not done properly, the first will not be done properly either and will not bear the expected fruits.
In sum: lack of Intellectual Formation leads to –> a lack of Spiritual Formation, leads to –> a weak, random, amateurish, DIY Spiritual Life.
Today, we live in an amazing state in the Church. On one hand, we have people who are fervent, who are willing to do much, people who are already trying many different things, but on the other hand we still do not have proper Spiritual Formation. Thus, people and pastors (Priests and Leaders) are left alone, having to improvise – in a DIY way – some “spiritual teaching”. “DIY” is amateurish of course, and spiritual life is such a serious vital, eternal matter that cannot be left to random or material preparation – it is supposed to lead us to holiness, to God himself, to the Union with Him, and this, emphatically, is not a superficial issue. But it is not their fault: there is no solid teaching in “Spiritual Theology” in the Catholic Universities today. So, to sum it up, there is a huge gap between the thirst/effort amongst God’s People and the poor formation offered.
To repeat, spiritual life cannot be dealt with in an amateurish way. It is the most important part of Theology, it is the Queen topic in Theology, and has a huge responsibility in the Church. But for years, it has been a very neglected side and considered a weak topic. Spiritual Theology is still very much in its deep Crisis, and this has been so since the end of the 1940s.
The crisis originated in the existing distance between the “logical language” of studies (majorly at that time Thomistic), and the “bio-logic reality” of the human being – who is implementing the teaching. The church had an amazing renewal in Thomistic Studies (reviving the study of St. Thomas Aquinas in Philosophy and Theology) and in Spiritual Theology in the 1920s onwards. The Thomistic way is perfect for great sharp minds, in order to analyse, categorise and understand. In my humble opinion, the core elements (philosophical and theological) of Thomas Aquinas should be the background of any professor in Spiritual Theology, although I know many won’t agree. If not, then there will be a failure to one understand the Master of all Mystics: St. John of the Cross. Today many try to understand St. John of the Cros, without the Thomistic background! This still surprises me greatly, because it is like wanting to see a cell without a microscope.
|St. Teresa of Avila, the most “bio-logical” mind|
Having said this, normal humans would not benefit (i.e. understand, grasp) from this language and mental structure. It has sadly proved unproductive, even counterproductive, from the 1920s through to the end of the 1940s: Spiritual Theology problems remained very theoretical with hardly any contact or implication with the real human being. This is the reason why since the 1950s we do not have anything new, i.e. a complete synthesis/presentation/manual of Spiritual Theology, in that field in the Church to help people grow spiritually. Since, then there have been efforts, of course, but they always lack something. One must not forget the intellectual abyss the Church went through at the end of the 1960s and the 1970s. We have not emerged from it yet…
To explain the intellectual theological and philosophical crisis in the Church one can say: The difficulty is that we have to go to Thomas Aquinas (at least in the core elements), otherwise we might be speaking simply nonsense. Many alleged “theologians” have abandoned St. Thomas and would laugh at you if you say so. St. Thomas is for powerful sharp metaphysical minds, and not just any person can afford to understand him. As a result, we dove crazily into the abyss (mid 1960s), by abandoning him. The rare ones today who are still loyal to him (or go back to him), are not necessarily grasping the problem (and the practical unproductiveness of his language if it is not translated into plain English). Plus, they might slowly be isolating themselves from the rest of us human beings. Why? Because it is as if you have learned Latin, and nobody around you speaks it. So, you meet with a few who have studied it and that’s it! This is not “working for the salvation of people” but working to acclaim the past and not being able to translate it into the present, as the Holy Spirit, through Vatican II, asked us to do.
What should be done is that, after having digested St. Thomas and St. John of the Cross, we need to keep them at the back of our minds, and try (in our language and content) to find simplicity, a simplicity that does not water down the substance, but conveys it.
This is one of the most difficult challenges that a human mind can face: study St. Thomas Aquinas’ Philosophy, and Theology, the Fathers of the Church, and the Spiritual Masters, the Mystics, and integrate them, digest them, having them come alive in you (with discernment and led by real spiritual masters), and then, having the charity to form concepts, words, examples, symbols and drawings that are in “plain English”. Jesus spoke “plain English”… not intellectual Rabbinic Hebrew; He was able to do so, but He declined to do so. He is the Saviour, not a Dominican Brain.
People are still tempted today to go back to the Thomistic structure (which is “logical”, not “bio-logical”). Who wouldn’t! It is the most solid and sound thing we have. But in the end, you should nourish people with something transmitted in “plain English”. The core question is: Is “Spiritual Life” (Spiritual Theology) translatable into plain English, yes or no? Jesus’ answer is a very powerful “YES”. This is the challenge we have been facing for years. It is very easy for a professor today to use mysterious and non-understandable words/expressions. But is this helping people? This is having a poor mind, incapable of making yourself understood.
Can’t we find words that are more accessible and be at the level of people and stop insulting them? It is indeed insulting them. Jesus never insulted us, and He is our role model. He used very simple and easy symbols and examples, but still, He is the most profound teacher in Spiritual Life. We should impose on ourselves that discipline of respecting people, i.e. learning the most difficult concepts of philosophy, theology, and mysticism, but in the end, we need to spend the same amount of time finding the correct “plain English” words and examples, in order to talk to our brothers, fellow human beings… not to an intellectual rare elite that can understand Thomas Aquinas.
This is why I felt impelled to “build” an entire formation, devoted to “Plain English”: the School of Mary.