CHRISTIAN SELF-DENIAL II
by Fr. Gabriel Barry, OCD
I would like to approach the subject of Christian Self Denial from an angle suggested in a passage from one of Saint Teresa's letters. "The only purpose in practicing mortifications is that we should improve by using them."(1) With that in mind, let us review some more recent writings, as well as taking a fresh look at Holy Scripture.
II. SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS
Christian self-denial is based on truths both rational and revealed. This means, that even if we did not have the gospels to guide us, we should still be able to justify some measure of self-denial from reason alone. In point of fact, many of the best minds, both ancient and modern, have realized that if man is to get the best out of himself or even survive, he must be ready to forego many things he would like to enjoy, because more important things claim his attention. In matters where enjoyment is inseparable from some natural activity such as eating, recreation and so on, a proper measure of self-control has to be observed. The Stoics of antiquity had many a good insight into this, though they erred in regarding the human passions as evil in themselves. Also, since they were unacquainted with Christian revelation, they claimed all the credit for their own advancement in virtue. The result was a strong tendency to pride and self-sufficiency. It has been well said of one of the most celebrated among them, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, that he was a great and virtuous man, and that he himself knew this well! Thinking of prideful natural goodness is quite alien to the teaching of the gospels, and is often bitterly opposed to it, as our Lord implies in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.(2) Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the Stoics did have many workable ideas, as can be seen reflected in the writings of Seneca. He was a Roman philosopher, a contemporary of Saint Paul, and in fact his brother Gallio actually met Paul and acquitted him, in one crowded hour at Corinth, in an incident recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.(3) In his letters and treatises, Seneca encourages voluntary asceticism as a preparation for future trials and as a means of self-training.(4) Incidentally, it will be remembered that Saint Teresa sometimes referred to Saint John of the Cross as "little Seneca", in deference to his learning, which she considered the equal of the old Roman sage who was himself Spanish born. A study of Stoic philosophy is worthwhile. Apart from Christianity and Judaism, it offered about the only acceptable system of moral living in the first century of our era. And it is an interesting example of the merits and limitations of an attempt to formulate an upright manner of life without reference to revealed teaching. Not a few of the Stoic principles were later accepted by early Christian writers and "baptized" into Christianity.
Coming down nearer to our own times, we find much interesting material in the writings of William James. Although he rejected all forms of traditional religion and limited his notion of God to some kind of "spirit of the universe," his contribution to the psychology of religion is outstanding and recognized by all scholars. In reference to self-denial, he makes the following observations. "Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic and heroic in little unnecessary things. Every day or two, do something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need comes, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this kind is like the insurance a man pays on his house and goods."(5) These are the words of a great man who was concerned mainly with worldly success and psychological well-being. His principles are often sound, but rather bleak. Not many would be stirred to enthusiasm for going against themselves simply because "they would rather not do so." He does not provide much motivation, but his point of view is clear enough. If we want to be strong enough to say "no" in a difficult situation, then we must first practice in little things. The smaller kinds of enjoyment must be often given up, if we want to enjoy the greater ones.
It is not too easy for the natural ascetic to give convincing reasons for acting that way. Asceticism that is divorced from religion does not make too much sense. Nonetheless it can be justified, at least theoretically, and most psychological theorists advocate it, though usually under another name. When human beings abandon self-control and indulge their physiological appetites and artificial needs, they tend to degenerate. This is obvious in the case of alcoholics, drug-takers and sex addicts. In these extreme cases, the only successful way to restore equilibrium seems to be total abstinence. But the demand on human nature is often so heavy that few can face it without help from some higher power. However, the fact is that sacrifice in one shape or another, seems to be a condition of progress, and without it, the best human values like friendship, love, aesthetic beauty, become ugly and soured. The best human achievement seems to require it. This has been obvious to the wiser ones of our race, and Shakespeare could say, "Sweet are the uses of adversity." When properly utilized, it promotes not only physical well-being, but also the higher values of the mind. "It finds tongues in trees, books in the running brook, sermons in the stones and good in everything."(6) Even extreme and brutal adversities like the concentration camps of World War II have not been without their redeeming feature. They have molded saints and noble minded men and women like Edith Stein, Viktor Frankl (author of Man's Search for Meaning), and many others.
III. THE NEW TESTAMENT
It must be obvious, I think, that whereas reason and common sense can provide some justification for giving self-denial a place in our daily lives, they do not supply the ultimate reason. Natural well-being is a commendable goal, but it is still inferior to the advancement of the spirit. Christian self-denial can be understood only in the light of revelation. In the first of this pair of conferences, I pointed out an important Pauline passage which may well be called the charter of Christian self-denial.(7) Here now is another, also from the letter to the Romans. "Think of God's mercy, and worship Him, I beg you in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, and what it is that God wants; what is the perfect thing to do."(8)
This well-known passage echoes many of our Lord's own statements. It brings out the dual status of the Christian; a citizen of this world, and yet more truly a citizen of a higher world. The Church herself as well as the individual Christian experiences this tension. It is of her essence that she is both human and divine; visible, yet invisibly endowed; eager to act, yet devoted to contemplation; present in this world, and yet not at home in it.(9) Furthermore, while the Christian remains in this world, he is subject to pressures and solicitations to draw him away from the path that leads to God. For when the order of values is inverted and bad is mixed with good, self-interest enters in. A monumental struggle between good and evil pervades human history. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world, and will continue right to the end. This is the main theme of the Book of Revelation where the struggle is described by means of elaborate symbols. The same battle goes on in the depth of man's soul. He has to go against himself all the time, if he wants to cling to God. That is why he cannot arrive at his own full maturity without the help of God's grace. Because his human actions are animated only too often by pride, self-sufficiency and self-love, they need to be purified and perfected by the power of Christ's death and resurrection. That is how man becomes a "new creature".(10)
The tensions described in the Bible and in the records of man's history are not without their purpose. "Even sin has its uses." It has long been known that God brings good out of evil. This indeed is one of the many partial answers that the Bible gives concerning the problem of evil; God turns it to advantage.(11) The tensions between nature and grace, time and eternity, the law and the spirit all fit into a pattern of which we can see only a small part. But when we accept this plan in a spirit of faith and humility, it begins to mold us, to heal the inner conflicts and to advance God's plan of salvation. It is into this scheme of things that we insert Christian self-denial. As Saint Teresa says, it's purpose is to make us good, that is, to foster our union with Christ.
IV. THE GOOD CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD
The authentic Christian cannot be indifferent to temporal values, that is, to the beauty, truth and worth of creation. The Lord himself loved the beauty of the flowers and the birds of the air. They were made by Him for the joy and service of man. They provide an ever fresh stimulant to this inquiring mind. They solicit his affections, and when he perceives that they pass away, he is sad at heart. But the inner eye of faith comes to his aid and tells him that they have a higher purpose than just ministering to passing needs. Man himself is a pilgrim and a wayfarer on earth. He has no abiding dwelling-place here below. He is like a traveler who spends a night in an inn. In the morning he rises and goes on his way. So too, the authentic Christian must learn the art of living from day to day, a citizen of this world, but with his ideals and goals centered in another land. He learns from this the restraint, the chivalry, the nobility of outlook which should characterize the true follower of Christ, loving creation and mankind very much, but loving God more than all. "When I shall be dead," writes Bernanos, "tell the kingdom of earth, that I have loved it much more than I ever dared to say." The reason was that he feared lest he should allow his love for the kingdom of earth to outstrip the nobler love for the kingdom of God. In this life, man's dual status sometimes confronts him with poignant choices, for Christ or against Him. The martyrs are those who have borne the supreme witness in favor of Christ, by renouncing life itself. And many another has renounced things as dear as life, for the sake of the Kingdom.(12) This spirit is vividly illustrated in Alice Meynell's powerful sonnet, "Renouncement":
"I must not think of thee; and tired yet strong I shun the love that lurks in all delight -- The love of thee--and in blue heaven's height, And in the dearest passage of a song. Oh, just beyond the sweetest thoughts that throng This breast, the thought of thee lies hidden yet bright. But it must never, never come in sight; I must stop short of thee, the whole day long."
Certainly the following of Christ can be accomplished only in the Spirit of God, who gives the strength and determination. It calls for a ready will to give up whatever is near and dear, if perchance it is proving to be an obstacle to growth in love. Those cases do not occur often, perhaps, but lesser sacrifices are needed almost every day. Even Saint Paul, great apostle of freedom though he was, had no misgivings about asking his converts to be strict with themselves, when there was danger that freedom would be converted into license. And he cites his own example. "I am my body's sternest master, for fear that when I have announced the good news to others, I should myself be disqualified."(13)
In the third book of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, Saint John of the Cross devotes several penetrating chapters to the vital question of rejoicing only in what is for the honor and glory of God. And the great honor we can give Him is to serve Him according to evangelical perfection. Anything not included n such service is without value to man.(14) He goes on to show how in fact everything created was destined for God's glory and man's service, and authentic self-denial consists in re-discovering this. Furthermore, the benefits that come from it are beyond description; tranquillity, peace, freedom of spirit and the ability to rejoice in the true goodness of everything that God has made.(15) It is a foretaste of eternal life.(16)
V. APOSTOLIC MORTIFICATION
Another important motive in Christian self-denial is reparation and apostolic effectiveness. This means that the authentic Christian deliberately tries to have some share in the redemptive sufferings of Christ. Saint Paul, speaking of the hardships of his own imprisonment says, "I am glad of it, because it gives me a chance to complete, in my own sufferings something of the untold pains which Christ suffers on behalf of his body, the Church."(17) This kind of self-denial, which is probably the noblest of all, has figured largely in the lives of God's best servants. It marks a very high appreciation of the Christian vocation, and in fact should be undertaken only with circumspection and careful direction. It means participating in the atonement of Christ; accepting for this motive some form of suffering or inconvenience, either deliberately imposed or willingly accepted. The degree of love that inspires this is of course, the important element; of itself, suffering is not a good thing. But suffering can stimulate love and bring about a deeper purification.. That is why it has always been cherished by God's friends.(18) This kind of vicarious suffering has also a sound basis in psychology. When a great wrong has been done, big-hearted people instinctively feel a need to make up for it. Or when somebody that one loves is in grave danger, one feels an urge to share in that danger. During World War II Simone Weil deliberately lived on the most meager rations so as to assert her solidarity with her Jewish compatriots, who were being mercilessly persecuted and starved. All generous people are of that kind. They don't want to be better treated than their equals. But not everyone can rise to this kind of self-sacrifice. At any time, it calls for a considerable measure of spiritual and psychological strength and wise direction. However everyone can try to observe the Golden Rule which our Lord himself has expressly endorsed.(19) "Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them." There is always room for improvement here. We can strive to think more kindly of others and act generously toward them. When everyone is solicitous for the rights of others and not unduly preoccupied in safeguarding his own petty securities, then there is true peace.
VI. OBJECTIONS FROM HOLY SCRIPTURE
Some may have the uneasy feeling that there is a lack of balance in all this; that it may be one-sided and even pessimistic. Are there not many texts in the New Testament which point in the opposite direction? One can rightly cite passages which express our Lord's love, not only for human beings -- this stands out in every line of the Gospel -- but also for irrational creation.
"Look how the wild flowers grow. They neither work nor weave, but I tell you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these..... Look at the birds of the sky. They neither sow nor reap nor stow away in barns, and yet, your heavenly Father feeds them."(20) Yes! God feeds the ravens and providentially caters for the sparrows, so that not a single one of them falls to the ground without His knowledge.(21) The hen and her brood provide a delightful illustration of God's tender care for all His children, even the wayward ones.(22)
It may seem, too, that a strong case can be built up around the charge which the Pharisees leveled at Jesus, namely that He did not fast nor encourage His disciples to fast. In their eyes, He was a "glutton and a wine-drinker" who departed from the prophetic tradition.(23) At the very least, may we not glean from this that our Lord did not practice much asceticism? And does not Saint Paul write: "Don't let anyone worry you by criticizing what you eat and drink?"(24)
The answer is twofold. First, the correct lesson to be learnt is that both Jesus and Saint Paul did not lead fanatically ascetic lives, and did not wish their followers to be singular in any way, except in love for their neighbor. Moreover, just at that time, the kingdom of God was breaking into the world. It was a time of joy, like a wedding feast, and fasting was out of place.(25) But when the Bridegroom had left, the guests would fast to show their grief.
Secondly, Christian self-denial does not mean rejecting God's creation; only we must learn to understand and use it properly. Every normal human being responds to the beauty and mystery of the universe with a mixture of admiration, reverence and interest. How much more may we not expect to find a similar response in One whose sensibilities were perfectly attuned and whose beauty is only dimly reflected in the great wonders of creation? Those who are striving to follow Christ will naturally radiate something of that spiritual love in their own lives.
But alas! The tendency in man's heart is to turn joy into possessiveness, and wonderment into adoration. "From the beginning of the world, the invisible attributes of God, such as His eternal power and divinity, have been plainly discernible through things which He has made. Behind the appearance of wisdom, they become just fools who would exchange the glory of the immortal God for an imitation image of a mortal man or of creatures that run or fly or crawl."(26) This was because man followed the depraved inclination of his heart. Christian self-denial means going in the opposite direction. Its purpose is not to make life miserable, but to restore the proper balance, to curb unruly tendencies, to make man noble and free. It is a discipline to keep the body in subjection, to make the soul the master of its own house.
VII. LETTER TO DIOGNETUS
So much for Biblical self-denial. The discussion could be prolonged indefinitely, but enough has been said to show that in the eyes of the Church, self-denial means essentially the adopting of new inner attitudes, modeled on those of Jesus Christ. It is truly a metanoia, a renewal, an opening out to the healing power of Jesus. True, it involves pain and discomfort, but these arise from the spiritual sickness that has invaded human nature. Like all healing processes, metanoia brings its own measure of suffering. But it is a wholesome suffering, not a negation of the lawful claims of the body. It kills off only what is harmful to the human person, but of itself, it is an emancipation, a conferring of strength. The Catholic doctrine of self-denial is neither a pessimistic cult of pain nor a puritanical reaction against the contemporary craze for comfort and libertinism. Its roots are firmly set in the teaching of our Lord. It states the self-evident fact that in its present condition, human nature needs to be uplifted, turned back to God. And in this work of regeneration, to deliberately go against our own self-will and our tendency to self indulgence can be a valuable instrument of purification. But the insistence on the moral act of the will and the continual reference to God keeps Christian mortification sane and moderate, notwithstanding certain aberrations on the part of individuals and even of whole groups. We must never forget that Christian asceticism aims at making people good. For that reason it can never become morbid, or degenerate into hard indifference, as did stoic self-denial. It aims at the love of God, and whatever external practices may be undertaken, they must always be a practical proof that we mean what we say, when we affirm that we prefer God's good pleasure to our own willfulness.
Before going on to conclude on a practical note, I want to mention briefly an interesting document that has survived from the 2nd century A.D. It gives a clear insight into the attitudes of Christians at that early period. No one knows who wrote this letter, and nothing is known of Diognetus to whom it is addressed. It is a beautiful and balanced defense of Christianity. The section that we are concerned with points out the role of Christians in society. "They cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country, language or customs; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives, they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are poor, and yet make many rich. What the soul is to the body, the Christians are in the world."(27) The picture may be idealized, but there have always been enough Christians loyal to their commitments to show that the ideal is not impossible. And the power of Christ has always been present in the Church to evoke this ideal and to sustain it. The whole letter presents an exquisite picture of the Christian way of life, "penniless, and yet in reality having everything worth having;(28) having wives, yet living as though they had none; enjoying life, yet living as though there were nothing to laugh about; buying things, yet acting as though they had nothing of their own; dealing with the world, yet not becoming engrossed in it."(29) The simple beauty in this manner of living is an obvious product of authentic detachment and it refutes the accusation, ever ancient, ever new, that Christianity takes the joy out of life. What it does is to work towards taking evil out of life, and to improve human nature, in every way.
VIII. PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS
Anyone who wishes to study more deeply the biblical and theological meaning of penitence and detachment should refer to Pope Paul's apostolic constitution.(30) It gives a splendid outline of the meaning of self-denial, based on man's recognition of the holiness of God and the malice of sin. It defines metanoia as the interior change of the entire man, by which one begins to adjust one's thoughts, judgment and life, urged on by that sanctity and love of God which were supremely manifested in the Son and were abundantly bestowed on us.(31) And it goes on to point out that though interior penitence is of its nature superior, "it does not in any way diminish or weaken the exterior exercise of this virtue, but rather asserts its necessity in the human society of our times."(32) The duty of self-abnegation is incumbent on all "who strive after an evangelical manner of life in order to follow more closely the kenosis (emptying or humiliation) of the Lord."(33)
The Church recognizes that there are three traditional modes of penance, handed down from apostolic times, namely prayer, works of charity, and abstinence from food. We can rightly add on a fourth, namely manual labor, of which both our Lord Himself and Saint Paul gave an excellent example. Some of these practices have a deeper value than just of self-denial. Prayer for instance is more properly an exercise of faith. But in our present human condition, it is not naturally congenial, and fidelity to it requires that we really go against ourselves. This is very obvious, too, in the case of manual work which in the beginning was intended to be a source of joy,(34) but through man's sin became a punishment and tribulation. Nonetheless, by willingly engaging in it, we can atone for sin and advance our reconciliation with God. As Saint Teresa points out, it is an excellent discipline and a wholesome penance.(35)
It will be useful, I think, to make a few simple distinctions among created goods in the light of Christian denouncement. There is no class of material possessions which takes precedence over the Kingdom of God, and we must be ready to relinquish any of them to be a disciple of Christ.(36) We ought not be surprised at this. Even civil governments have asked for similar sacrifices for the sake of lesser goals. And what Christ asks as the price of discipleship is rather inner detachment.
Enjoyments have a place in every normal life. Unfortunately not everybody knows where to draw the line, with the result that the quest for enjoyment often overshadows things that are far more important. Think of all the preoccupation, time and money that are poured into games, parties, amusements and so on. These things are not wrong in themselves; our Lord went to parties. But when they become an over-ruling attachment and when one is unwilling to do without them even though more essential interests suffer, then real harm begins. Saint John of the Cross has a lot to say about attachment to petty things, which is unworthy of a rational being, and which, like a thread tied to a bird, prevents man from soaring to God.(37) No one is entirely free from this kind of imbalance. The pity is that it is justified as being "harmless and human." It is the task of self-denial to teach us the right measure.
With regard to the great secular values, the principles are the same, but the case is different. They too are subordinate to the supernatural order, and in some cases they may well have to be sacrificed for the sake of "the one thing necessary". But this does not normally occur, and since they have a very special role in developing the human personality, it is to be presumed that they form a part of one's way of life. Whatever contributes to making a complete human being also contributes to making a complete Christian. A Christian is all the better for being culture, and taking an active interest in the progress of knowledge as well as human welfare. The present age especially needs men and women who are able to combine holiness with a wide range of human interests. We need to recover what is good in the secular; to re-assert the full development of the genuinely human as a Christian ideal as well as a Greek one. Admittedly, it is a very big challenge, but then so is everything in Christianity.
External practices have no spiritual value independently of the act of the will which refers them to God. They may even be positively harmful, especially if they proceed from inverted or sadistic kind of self-love. Even the holiest things can become possessions when loved for their own sake. There are some who prefer the pleasure they derive from a little practice of devotion to the good of the brethren. They may even exercise their own sweet will in doing the penances of their choice. Saint John of the Cross, no small authority on such matters, deplores the ignorance of those who practice great austerities and other voluntary penances and think that these will bring them to perfection. They are sadly mistaken, he says. The only thing that leads to God is the curbing of evil tendencies and self-will, and the substitution of a higher and more comprehensive love.(38)
If we want to know where to begin, it is a good principle to refer back to Saint Teresa's words quoted at the beginning of this conference: "Self-denial should improve us." And then we can well ask, "What is there in my conduct or outlook which can be made better?" As always, the best way to test the authenticity of prayer or self-denial is, does it show itself in my daily life? Does it make me more dedicated to my duties, more sensitive to human relations, more alert to the beauty and wonder of creation, more ready to contribute my share toward the building of a better world for mankind? Above all, it should lead to a deeper sense of God's presence in the world, and a spirit of lowliness in estimating myself. Any kind of self-denial that makes one singular or eccentric is suspect. Father Van Kaam makes the excellent point that detachment and discipline should be far more a "giving" than a "giving up".(39) A type of self-denial which tends only to accentuate oddities should be regarded with suspicion. Likewise, it should not make one less capable of discharging daily duties. There should always be a definite logic in things that we do, and self-denial should aim at improving in us our Christian manner of living.
Two points still remain. One concerns the proneness of human nature to look for sensible consolations from God, and to regard these as the proof of the quality of our prayer. This can be a serious mistake. Certainly we must be grateful for whatever gifts come from the Father of Lights, and appreciate them correctly. But it would be quite wrong to substitute these consolations for the One who bestows them. This is an error to which human nature is ever prone, and to the mind of Saint John of the Cross, one of the most serious obstacles to growth in faith. When we come to speak of Mansion IV, we will enlarge on this topic, which is certainly of no mean importance. It seems to me that certain aspects of present-day Pentecostalism and other prayer movements fall into the category of exaggerated sense-devotion. No doubt, we live in an age when visual aids, sound, color, movement and other media can, and should, be made use of, to help our appreciation of the Christian mystery. But when these are so exploited as to overwhelm or induce a kind of natural transport, we are running into a form of mass-intoxication. This can be deceptively like an "experience of God." But in fact, it is nothing more than a heightened form of natural emotion, often little more than an illusion. Here is an area where self-restraint has an important role to play, and the old Greek motto, "Nothing too much", can well be applied. At the back of some of these current movements there is sometimes a subtle but serious error. It is hardly ever expressed in categorical terms; but it insinuates itself into the ideas which are voiced in Pentecostal circles and by devotees of Teilhard de Chardin. It is a pre-supposition that man is already fully redeemed; that the universe has been purged of all evil, that we can by-pass the suffering Christ, to concentrate on His resurrection and glorification. It also assumes that the Holy Spirit is willing to speak to us as He did to the early Christians, and that the utterances of neo-enthusiasts are as much His work as the directives given by the Pope. It would be impossible, I believe, to discover any one place where all this is written down. It is more an unspoken frame of mind which can be detected vaguely here and there, a kind of spirit rather than a dogma. If I am correct in this judgment, we are up against a recurrence of the old errors of illuminism and their pelagian overtones. But man can never redeem himself by his own efforts or his own goodness alone. This is a truth which man has never easily accepted. One of the basic forms of self-denial is to realize that it is true; that "I must decrease and He must increase" in every level of our daily lives.
The second point has to do with accepting the Church whole-heartedly. This too is sometimes difficult, for she has a human face and one that is not always attractive. Those whose faith is solid have no difficulty in penetrating beneath the externals of human frailty to discover the Mother's heart underneath. Christ instituted the Church to be our guide and support in the course of our earthly pilgrimage, and to lift us up when we fall. She is truly a Mother, but like all mothers, she is sometimes constrained to take a firm stand. At other times, she asks her children to do hard things, just as our Lord did. But if she requires sacrifices, it is not for the sake of imposing burdens, but "for the Kingdom." This can be a real test of her children's loyalty and love, especially if their knowledge of the Kingdom is vague. But they will also know that if they are to grow up into Christ, they will obey her, cost what it may. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe."(40) This is the spirit of every sincere Catholic, and even when it involves the sacrifice of something very dear, he makes is willingly. This was how Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross acted in their day, at a time when externally, the Church was far from glorious. Their contemporary, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, drew up a set of guide-lines for "thinking with the Church". In our times much of this is deemed outmoded. It runs counter to man's alleged self-sufficiency; people are said to be able to think for themselves. It is the story of Eve and the serpent all over again: "On the day you eat the fruit of the tree that gives knowledge of good and evil, you will be like gods."(41) This is man's unwarranted claim to be free to decide for himself what is good and what is evil. It is a rebellion against the order set up by God and an implicit assertion of complete moral independence. Deference to the spiritual guidance of the Church has no place in an outlook such as that. We all remember the reaction of many self-styled Catholics to the encyclical Humanae Vitae, in 1968, under the guise of superior enlightenment. Every now and again, we hear provocative statements from Hans Kung, who calls himself a Catholic theologian, but who is no more representative of Catholic thought than his patron, Martin Luther. As our Lord said, "Scandals and obstacles are sure to come, but it is too bad for the one who provides them."(42) Once more, genuine Christian self-denial supplies the answer: "I prefer God's will and the wishes of my Mother the Church, to my own ideas." Obedience to the Church is a noble act of self-denial and one of the most fundamental. In reality, it is only plain common sense, for she has the words of eternal wisdom. She sets before us life or death. She asks us to choose life, so that we may live forever in the love of God, obeying His voice and clinging to Him. In this, our life truly consists.(43)
1. Please refer to the OCDS Rule of
Life, Article 6.
2. The Holy Bible.
3. Way of Perfection. (Included in the Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volumes I, II and III, ICS Publications)
1. Letter 131, p. 340; Peers edition.
2. Luke 18:14.
4. See e.g. Letters 18:15
5. Principles of Psychology IV, p. 83; ed. Great Books #53. See also Carrel: Man the Unknown, pp. 267, 280-281
6. As You Like It II i, v. 11-17; ib. iii 48-52.
7. Romans 13:11-14
8. Romans 12: 1-2
9. Const. on the Liturgy #2
10. cf. Doc. of Vat II, pp. 235, 211, 215 and 497
11. cf. Rom. 8:28
12. cf. Matt. 5:30
13. I Cor. 9: 25-27
14. III Ascent 17:2
15. cf III Ascent 19-35
16. cf John 3:16
17. Col. 1:24
18. Summa Theol. suppl. ques. 15 arts. 1 ad 2: I-III ques. 27 arts. 8 ad 3
19. Matt. 7:12
20. Matt. 6:26-29
21. Matt. 10:29
22. Matt. 23:38
23. cf. Matt. 11:18; Luke 7:33
24. Col. 2:16
25. Mark 2:19-20
26, Romans 1:18-23
27. Library of Christian Classics I, p. 216
28. II Cor. 6:10
29. I Cor. 7:29-31
30. Poenitemini (1966).
33. #180, 182
34. Gen. 2:5-15
35. Letters III, 8:148,8
36. Luke 14:33
37. I Ascent 11,4
38. cf. I Dark Night: 6:2
39. On Being Involved, p. 39
40. John 6:68
41. Gen. 2:6
42. Luke 17:2
43. cf. Deut. 30:19
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