Thursday, January 30, 2014

Baptismal character is a spiritual power

In article 2 of question 63 (part 3 of the Summa), Thomas investigates what the baptismal character actually is. He relates it to our ability to participate in divine worship. "Divine worship consists either in receiving some divine things or in handing them on to others. And a certain power is needed for both of these activities...this is why character connotes a certain spiritual power ordered to those things which pertain to divine worship."

He goes on to specify that the power is a certain type of instrumental power. By that he is referring to the idea of instrumental causality. For example, if I write with a pen, the pen is the instrument I use, so it is an instrumental cause of my writing. This principle of instrumental causality is an important one in Thomas' theology of the sacraments. He sees the divinity of Christ working through the humanity of Christ as the cause of the power of the sacraments. The sacraments themselves are an instrumental cause, but one that is separate, not conjoined, to Christ.

So the character is a kind of spiritual power. Baptism is the doorway to the other sacraments because it enables us to receive them, through the baptismal character.

We could also note that the character in itself, like any power, can be used well or badly. It is used well by those of the baptized who take seriously their Christian commitment. It is used badly by those who, instead, lead a sinful life, a life apart from God. But once we have the baptismal character, we can never lose it, not even by the gravest sin, not even by renouncing faith.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sacramental character: St Thomas' view

I'd like to explore more what St Thomas means by character in reference to the sacraments. This is from part III of the Summa, q. 63, a. 1.

First he says that the sacraments have two purposes:
1. They are a remedy for sin
2. They "bring the soul to its fullness in things pertaining to the worship of God in terms of the Christian life as a ritual expression of this."

He uses a comparison, saying that soldiers are marked off by some physical sign  when they are deputed for a certain function. Similarly, "Since by the sacraments men are deputed to a spiritual service pertaining to the worship of God, it follows that by their means the faithful receive a certain spiritual character."

"God imprints his own character on us" through the sacraments, through this spiritual sign.

In this first article Thomas is simply saying that some sacraments imprint a character. He cites St. Paul: "He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Cor 1:22). 

Here I would just like to note the interesting reference to the second purpose of the sacraments. It has to do with offering worship of God. It seems that Thomas is thinking primarily of worship in the sense of liturgy. It might be possible, though, to extend that meaning a little in terms of how the baptized live their lives in the world.  

"You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet 2:5). These spiritual sacrifices can be anything in our life, all that we do and suffer for God. The traditional prayer of the morning offering expresses that reality. Our whole lives, offered to God in all their details, form a sort of liturgy of life. In that sense, life becomes liturgy, and I think it can be said that the character of baptism is very much involved with this.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Religious consecration and baptism

In thinking about some questions related to the nature of religious life, I started to ask myself how religious consecration is specifically related to the character of baptism.

A couple preliminary points:

1. Religious consecration is a deepening of one's baptismal consecration. It is not a new sacrament but is a flowering of baptismal grace.

2. What is the character imprinted by baptism?  St Thomas explains that this character is a certain configuration to Christ the High Priest, which enables us to take part in Christian worship. Further, this character is indelible; nothing can ever take it away.

3. St. Thomas also says that the religious life itself is ordered to a deeper, fuller worship of God, so much so that one's whole life becomes an act of worship:
"Religion is a virtue whereby a man offers something to the service and worship of God. Therefore, those are called religious by antonomasia, who consecrate themselves totally to the divine service, as offering a holocaust to God" (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 186, a. 1).

      Baptism imprints a character,
      The character is ordered to Christian worship,
      Religious consecration is a deepening of baptism,
      And it makes one's whole life an act of worship.

This may be speculation on my part, but it looks like it would be a pretty solid conclusion to say that in some way, religious profession has to be involved specifically with the baptismal character.  Does it intensify the character in some way?

Most of us probably don't think a lot about the baptismal character, but it's important. Thomas says:

Each of the faithful is deputed to receive, or to bestow on others, things pertaining to the worship of God. And this, properly speaking, is the purpose of the sacramental character. Now the whole rite of the Christian religion is derived from Christ's priesthood. Consequently, it is clear that the sacramental character is specially the character of Christ, to Whose character the faithful are likened by reason of the sacramental characters, which are nothing else than certain participations of Christ's Priesthood, flowing from Christ Himself

 This character is where the priesthood of the laity flows from (which differs not only in degree but in essence from the priesthood conferred by Orders). 

So: to bestow on others things pertaining to the worship of God.
In some way, religious act like a leaven in the world, taking the things of the world that they deal in, day in and day out, and making an offering of them to God. This is something to explore a bit more. 

What prompted this is John Paul's statement that continence "for the sake of the kingdom" imprints a certain likeness to Christ. In what way exactly?

Happy feast of Saint Thomas!

Happy feast of Saint Thomas! A thought for the day, on kindness:

"Kindness is the fruit of love.... since the love of charity reaches out to embrace everybody, kindness, too, must go out to everybody, given, of course, the right place and the right time, for acts of the virtues must all be subject to the limits set by due circumstances." (Summa, II-II, q. 31, a. 2)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

St. Edith Stein on her vocation

Edith Stein was a Jewish convert to Catholicism. Raised in a devout Jewish home, she became an atheist for quite a few years. In her quest for faith, a decisive moment came when she stayed with friends and found the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila in their library. She stayed up that night to read it, and when she finished, she said, "This is truth!" She became a Catholic not long after that.

In an essay "How I Came to the Cologne Carmel"* she describes the events leading up to her actual entrance into Carmel. However she doesn't say a lot about her interior experience. I don't know if there are other places in her writings where she goes into it more. But this is what she says:
"For almost 12 years, Carmel had been my goal; since summer 1921, when the Life  of our Holy Mother Teresa had happened to fall into my hands and had put an end to my long search for the true Faith."

Then she narrates the external difficulties that prevented her from entering earlier.  A lot of it had to do with not wanting to make things too painful for her ailing and elderly mother. It was hard enough for Frau Stein to accept that her daughter became a Catholic. For her, to see Edith enter Carmel was a great suffering.
Finally Edith felt God moving her to take the step. She narrates the painful talk with her mother. Edith reflected on the tearful scene as she rode on the train: "I could not feel any wild joy. The scene I had just left behind was too terrible for that. But I felt a deep peace, in the harbor of the divine will." Finally she arrived at the door of Carmel. "At last it opened, and in deep peace I crossed the threshold into the House of the Lord."

Her vocation to the religious life seems to have been born at the same time as her conversion to the Catholic faith. She simply states it had been her goal. Yet she also makes clear that she believed this was God's will for her.

It doesn't seem that she had any thought of entering the religious life simply because it was difficult, or because she thought it was a higher calling. She entered out of love for God, a search for the truth, and the desire to be deeply united to God by doing his will.

In his homily for her canonization, Pope John Paul said:
Aware of what her Jewish origins implied, Edith Stein spoke eloquently about them: “Beneath the Cross I understood the destiny of God’s People.... Indeed, today I know far better what it means to be the Lord’s bride under the sign of the Cross. But since it is a mystery, it can never be understood by reason alone.”

So it seems that Saint Edith Stein can especially shed light on the religious life insofar as it means being the bride of Christ standing at the foot of the Cross. This certainly has a Marian connection, for Mary actually stood there and saw Jesus die.
Mary, our Mother, Teacher, and Queen, obtain for us the grace to understand and better live the vocation God has called us to, just as you lived yours.

* In Edith Stein: Selected Writings, Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1990.

Friday, January 24, 2014

St Catherine of Bologna

Pope Benedict gave a catechesis on this saint; she wasn't familiar to me. She lived in the 1400's and was a Poor Clare. Catherine wrote a treatise called The Seven Spiritual Weapons. It was something she had written to help in the formation of the novices of her community. So far I haven't found information about her own experience of being drawn to religious life, but the work starts out like this:
In the name of the eternal Father and of his only begotten Son Christ Jesus,
of the splendor of the Father’s glory, for love of whom,
with jubilation of heart, I cry, saying to his most refined servants and spouses:
    Let every lover who loves the Lord 
    Come to the dance singing of love, 
    Let her come dancing all afire 
    Desiring only him who created her 
    And separated her from the dangerous worldly state. 
This is intriguing; I must admit that when I come across hymns about dancing, etc.,
I usually roll my eyes and sigh. They remind me of those occasions I had to endure
being at some conference or meeting that had plenty of bad liturgical music. 
I  can't imagine St. Thomas writing hymns about dancing.
His Eucharistic hymns are more my style. 
But this poetic beginning of St. Catherine's work is so evocative and beautiful--dancing all afire. 
This Catherine is another saint worth getting to know.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Saints on the religious life: Louise de Marillac

St Louise de Marillac (1591-1660) is an interesting case. She had family troubles (born out of wedlock, she never knew her mother. Her father acknowledged her but not as his legal heir, and she suffered from rejection by her father's second wife.)
When she was young she applied to the Capuchin nuns but was not accepted. This disturbed her greatly but she accepted it and went on to get married. Still, her heart always had a desire for the religious life. When she was 32 she wrote:

On the feast of Pentecost during Holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was completely freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same. . . . I felt that it was God who was teaching me these things and that, believing there is a God; I should not doubt the rest.

She had guidance because up to about that time she had St Francis de Sales as her spiritual director. She made a vow that she would not remarry if her husband died before her. Three years later, he did die. They loved each other and Louise grieved his loss. Meanwhile Louise had met St Vincent de Paul and began to assist with some of his charitable works. In 1630 as she was thinking about what to do with her life, she records this incident:

I left on St Agatha's day, the 5th of February, to go to Saint-Cloud. At Holy Communion it seemed to me that Our Lord gave me the thought to receive him as the Spouse of my soul, and more, that this would be for me a form of espousal; and I felt myself most strongly united to God in this consideration which struck me as extraordinary, and I had the thought to leave everything to follow my Spouse, henceforth to consisder him such, and to support the difficulties I would encounter as receiving them out of the community of his goods.*

This is quite interesting because of several points.
1. She specifically says that the thought of espousal came from Jesus himself.
2. It was connected with her receiving Holy Communion.
3. She felt very strongly united to God.
4. It struck her as something extraordinary.
5. She knew that difficulties would come, but she looked on them almost as if they were gifts.

Louise continued to collaborate with St Vincent and together they founded the Sisters of Charity.

My point in looking at the spiritual experiences of these saints as they were drawn to religious life, is to examine what it meant to them. The idea of espousal is very clear here with Louise de Marillac. She was drawn to Jesus as her Spouse, and according to her testimony here, it came to her most clearly in a prayer experience at Mass and Communion. This is how the Holy Spirit has worked in the lives of the saints. Any theoretical treatment of religious life needs to take this data into account.

*p. 55, Louise de Marillac, by Joseph I. Dirvin, C.M., New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How the saints saw religious life: Madeleine Sophie Barat

Today it occurred to me that in discussing if the religious life is repulsive or not (see previous post), we have actual models of how the saints have seen it. So I went to our community library and at random picked out a volume on a saint, to see if I could find anything in this regard. The book was on St Madeleine Sophie Barat, the foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. She lived in France from 1779 to 1865. I found this in the first chapter, in her own words:

There was never a time when I did not want to belong to God... I was from four to six years old when a priest came to call on my mother. He said: "I have just come from a convent where I witnessed a real scene between two religious...." I was playing in a corner of the room and seemed not to hear the conversation, but I lost none of it. It became fixed in my memory, and as I already had a religious vocation I said to myself that I would never enter that convent.*

That's grace. She always knew she was going to be a nun, and she evidently wasn't thinking of it as "the hardest, most fearsome way to live" as Br. Justin said in his article. She even knew which convents to steer clear of! For her, it meant that she would always "belong to God."

God works differently with each person, and not everyone called to religious life has such a clear intuition at such a young age. But it is possible, and my point here is that she was drawn to religious life by seeing it as a positive good, as a belonging to God. That's quite far from being repulsive! It's truly amazing how the Holy Spirit works. Madeleine Sophie never heard of TOB, but she lived it, and was one of a long line of holy people whom John Paul refers to here:

"In this call to continence 'for the kingdom of heaven,' first the disciples and then the whole living tradition of the Church quickly discovered the love for Christ himself as the Bridegroom of the Church, Bridegroom of souls, to whom he has given himself to the end... "[TOB 80:1]

* p. 15, in St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, by Margaret Williams, RCSJ, New York: Herder and Herder, 1965.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

TOB rescues religious life from being repulsive!

Sr Theresa Noble, our novice, posted a thought-provoking article Is Religious Life Repulsive? It was prompted by an article by a Br. Justin, SacrificingReligious Life on the Altar of Egalitarianism. I discussed this briefly with Theresa last night before the novices went off on the March for Life. It’s an intriguing topic.
Here is my own response to Br Justin’s article. While he makes some valid points, I think he basically misses the boat. He’s looking at religious life from a very reductionistic point of view, as if the vows are wholly a matter of renunciation. He says:

All forms of religious life have this repulsive effect.  All forms of religious life, at their very core, consist of three vows—poverty, chastity, and obedience—and each of these vows is repulsive.  The vow of poverty means giving up money and property; the vow of chastity means giving up a spouse and children; and the vow of obedience means giving up one’s own will.  No one has an innate desire to sever himself from property, family, and his own will.  No one has an innate desire to uproot three of life’s greatest goods.  Such a desire would be mere perversion. Everyone, however, has an innate desire to get married.  Religious life is a renunciation, but marriage is a positive good. 

That last line is very telling and shows that his basic outlook on religious life is essentially negative. He tries to rescue it by then proposing that because it is so, well, repulsive, the only way to save it is by proposing it as a higher calling and a surer road to holiness than, say, marriage.  That’s a big topic and raises a number of theological problems. It also sets up a basic opposition between consecrated life and marriage. In reality, both vocations are like two sides of the same coin. I’m going to sidestep that whole issue, though, and look at it from a completely different angle. (Also, just to note, marriage has its own set of sacrifices and renunciations.)

TOB – A New Angle on Religious Life

The theology of the body is like a refreshing breeze that can put this whole discussion on another level. In his TOB talks, John Paul focuses primarily on the sacrament of marriage. But he has a short, dense, and intriguing section on continence “for the sake of the kingdom.” It’s not an easy read. But I think it holds the key.

JP suggests that both marriage and religious life are rooted in the fundamental human vocation to love. For example, the call to continence “for the sake of the kingdom” is a call to an exclusive self-gift to God. The three elements are important: 1) exclusive 2) self-gift 3) to God. Married people also make an exclusive self-gift, but they make it to their spouse. God is involved in the sacrament of marriage, of course, but in a different way.

In the TOB talks, JP keeps speaking about the value contained in a life given over to God in continence “for the kingdom.” Ultimately it has to do with the fact that it puts the person in a unique, special relationship with Jesus Christ through the vow of chastity. What I’m trying to understand better myself is exactly what that relationship is and how to articulate it in such a way as to do it justice, without suggesting that people who haven’t made that vow are somehow in an inferior relationship to Jesus. That’s certainly not the case.  I’m now reading over those talks and pondering this. JP is very clear that consecrated chastity has a very special and important value, one essential to the life of the Church.

John Paul proposes that the spousal meaning of the body is at the basis of every person’s vocation. He says that each person has to live the spousal meaning of the body, and that the spousal meaning is at the basis of both vocations, marriage and consecrated life. Ultimately the spousal meaning of the body is not so much about sex as it is about love and self-gift. And in each vocation, the person is called to make that self-gift. Spouses make that self-gift to each other, and religious make it to God, and Jesus in particular. (Of course, that love spills over to others in mission. But right now I'm not focusing on that aspect.) And that self-gift to Jesus sets up a very particular relationship, one that is different from a person who does not make that exclusive self-gift to Jesus in that way. This is not to imply that a person who hasn’t made such a vow is less holy; not at all. It’s more like they’re taking two different paths to the same goal—holiness—and each path is unique and involves God’s call. Love and self-gift are the fundamentals in both vocations.
What bothers me about Br Justin’s article is that he seems to think that the essence of religious life is renunciation. But that is so wrong. It does indeed involve some renunciation, but the essence is love. The greatest virtue is love, not fortitude.

St. Thomas, in explaining why fortitude is not the greatest of the virtues, says, “Virtue essentially regards the good rather than the difficult. Hence the greatness of a virtue is measured according to its goodness rather than its difficulty.” (II-II, q. 123, a. 12, ad 2)

To see religious life and the vows solely in terms of renunciation misses that important truth. It would put fortitude over love. Br. Justin tries to overcome the negativity of seeing religious life wholly in terms of renunciation by proposing that if it’s presented as a higher state, people will put up with the renunciation because they’re getting something better. But notice—the emphasis is then on getting, not on giving, as in love, self-gift. That’s the TOB emphasis. And that’s why TOB is so important for the Church.