St. Ignatius of Loyola and Transformation

 St. Ignatius of Loyola learned from the lives of the saints, and the concrete witness of their lives transformed him. He saw that Christ was the center of their particular lives, and he started to see the narrative of his own life in such a way. In The Grammar of Assent, Bl. John Henry Newman distinguishes between notional assent and real assent. In a nutshell, notional assent is the acknowledgement we give to the truth of abstract propositions. It is not an assent grounded in concrete experiences, and it often makes little difference in the way we live. One can see this in arguments for the existence of God. Often times, the argument from contingency doesn’t transform us. However, as Newman points out, the argument from conscience does have this effect. Many have the real experience of the pangs of conscience, and the intuition of a supreme moral authority. We sense this to be the voice of God. Newman says that religion must have both. However, if you want to transform men real assent is necessary. Newman says, “Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion…No one, I say, will die for his calculations: he dies for realities.” Real assent is grounded in real objects that have a force on a person unlike notional assent. It is grounded in experience. As a Brit, Newman resisted the abstractions of continental philosophy. However, he didn’t lead us down the equally abstract empiricism of Hume but to the true experience we all have, i.e. the intuition of the real world and the sense of God that is written on our hearts. Ignatius is an example of the transformation real assent can influence not only one life but the whole world.

St. Ignatius was a warrior. His life centered around glory on the battlefield. However, after his injury he came to see the folly of such ways. His desire was misdirected. He read the lives of the saints and was transformed into a disciple of Christ. The lives of the saints were a concrete witness to him of the glory of martyrdom (witness). This conversion probably wouldn’t occur if he happened to pick up Aquinas’ De Potentia. We need to keep this in mind when we want to evangelize the youth, encouraging them to consider a religious vocation. This will not happen by abstraction, but by the heroism of the saints. In an age of the crisis of reason, abstract arguments will not hold. We need to relearn the art of inspiring real assent, and a good way of doing this is by telling the lives of the saints. On this Feast of St. Ignatius, let us recall the heroism of Ignatius and the early Jesuit saints, calling on them for a renewal in religious life around the world. May people find their vocation by hearing the stories of how the saints found theirs.

Krakow: A City of Saints

While in Krakow I read George Weigel’s book on the city entitled City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow.  I cannot think of a more fitting title about a city that has the ethos of sanctity emanating from its streets. Like a fountain, waters of sanctity and history flow from Wawel Hill meandering into the Main Square, thereby soaking into the lives of its people. I hope I do not sound like Krakow is the New Jerusalem; it is a city of sinners and saints. However, from what I witnessed it seems to me that a city can do an awful lot in shaping a man in either direction. Krakow concretely orders man to his destiny of communion with God in Christ. That is partially why no atheistic regime that denied such a destiny could triumph there. Sanctity haunts Krakow.

Many saints lived and died in Krakow. Their monuments are all over the city. Little shrines surprisingly pop up everywhere, even next to a McDonalds by the city’s main gate. A huge crucifixion scene dominates a street that is also littered with clubs and bistros. Nowhere else besides Rome have I seen so many religious. Christ shines everywhere.

Instead of secular skyscrapers, Churches dominate the city’s skyline. Streets from the main square, with names of saints, apostles and evangelists, lead to the façade of Churches and other institutions of importance. An enormous shopping mall fittingly sits on the outskirts of the city, allowing the city’s hierarchy of importance, derived from a Christian vision of things, to be unambiguously expressed. This was revelatory to me. I grew up in a centerless suburb, dominated by a lifeless shopping mall, an inversion of the order expressed in Krakow.

My wife and I met a close friend of John Paul II, the poet/philosopher Stanislaw Grygiel, in the Main Square. Commenting on the different ethos we noticed between Warsaw and Krakow, Grygiel said, “People in Warsaw talk politics. The people of Krakow talk about the Bishop’s homily.” The city had a long history of being Poland’s political center, but it no longer has that role; perhaps, for the better. Yet even when it did have that role, a different vision shaped politics than the one we have today. For the past century, politics has been dominated by a liberal secularism, anything outside its framework seen as an obstruction of justice. Krakow was the center when a noble culture was present that could state in the Preamble to the Act of Horodlo (1413): ‘Whoever is unsupported by the mystery of Love…shall not achieve the Grace of salvation…For by Love, laws are made, kingdoms governed, cities ordered, and the state of the commonweal is brought to its proper goal. Whoever shall cast Love aside, shall lose everything.’ You can see this ordering principle governing the streets of Krakow and the lives of its inhabitants. I only notionally understood ta city was so essential to the shaping its citizens, but now, after walking the streets of Krakow and meeting many Krakowians, I really understand why a city is a major factor in sanctity. Weigel remarks that you cannot fully understand John Paul II without Krakow. He is right. The love that orders the streets of Krakow is the same love that ordered the life of St. John Paul II. We all have much to learn from cities like Krakow, and I do not think it is nostalgic to think that such an order can reestablish cities and the lives of people longing to live the holiness of God. Perhaps, urban planners, politicians, and religious should get together to lay the foundation for cities open to God. This may be one of the reasons why Krakow historically was the home of many vocations.

For more on the urban planning of Krakow, watch Dr. Denis McNamara’s video on the city.

 

Parents of Vocations Forum

The Kissel family with Sr. M. Gemma, FSGM

One of the little talked about issues surrounding religious vocations is the impact it can have on the parents of a young man or women entering religious life. The process of discernment can be challenging enough but  it is often complicated by the reaction of the parents.

Even in the most supportive of families, the thought of your child entering religious life can bring heartache, questions, sorrow, puzzlement and even anger—the whole gauntlet of emotions. Since religious communities are quite invisible in our culture, parents today typically do not have an aunt or uncle who is in religious life and thus a level of comfort and familiarity with the vocation. They have many questions, and understandably, want the best for their children.

The Blessed Mother & St Joseph present Mary to the Temple

That is why Tom Kissel developed this new website—to have a forum where parents can ask questions, share experiences and network. Tom’s only daughter is in an active Franciscan community (The Sisters of St Francis of the Martyr St. George) so he is familiar first-hand with the path that parents walk along with their son or daughter and the stages of grief and joy.

The website has just been launched but do not hesitate to jump on and participate in this much-needed initiative in the Church.

Please visit parentsofvocations.com to join the conversation!

 

5 Common Fears As You Discern Your Vocation

This post, helpful for everyone in the process of discernment, comes from Conception Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery  in Conception, MO . For the complete blog post, visit:  https://www.conceptionabbey.org/discernment-fears/

5 Common Fears with Discerning your Vocation

Many men and women who are discerning a religious vocation hesitate in taking the next step because they are restrained by any number of fears. Listed below are five fears common to men and women discerning religious life and some helpful advice to banish the fear and draw near to the Risen Christ who offers you peace.

  1. What if I am making the wrong (or a bad) decision?

If you are praying daily, striving to live a virtuous life, and remaining close to the Sacraments, you will know if you are making the wrong decision. Religious formation is a process where you continue to discover and realize God’s call in your life. When you enter a religious community, there is a period of one to two years (or longer) that you experience before you profess vows or make any further commitment. Additionally, religious communities are wise in the discernment process and only want candidates who have an authentic call to commit themselves to the way of life, and this call is most fully realized when it is tested over a period of time.

  1. The fear of what others will think, especially parents or friends

Sometimes friends and family members may not understand or completely accept your decision to enter religious life. It is important for friends or family to visit the religious community to meet and interact with its members. If you decide to enter a community and find peace and fulfillment, it often alleviates the pressure that comes from friends or family members, because their opposition diminishes when they see your joy.

  1. Focusing too much on the sacrifices

Jesus assured St. Peter, “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:29). Do not be afraid to live no longer for yourselves, but for Christ. There are many joys and blessings in following Christ in religious life, and many times you find yourself surprised by how good and generous God truly is!

  1. I’m afraid that I’m following my own voice and not Jesus’ voice

If you truly desire to hear God, the call will not remain hidden, nor will it be presented as a puzzle that you have to ‘figure out.’ Gather all the information necessary to make a well-informed and prudent decision, pray as if it all depends on God, but when it is time to act, place your trust entirely in God. If your decision was made peacefully and with a desire to please God, then you can move forward with confidence. Since it is a real challenge not to be guided by self-will, it is most important to find a priest or spiritual director to listen and guide you throughout the process.

  1. I’m not worthy or holy enough

Religious life is not for the perfect, but for those who desire holiness and strive to call themselves to conversion each and every day. Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners“ (Mark 2:17). Most religious men and women seek community life because they are aware of and readily admit their need for the support and encouragement of others to persevere on the path that leads to God. The call to holiness requires that you embrace your humanity, with both your strengths and weaknesses, to become the man or the woman that God desires you to be.

I encourage you to visit the Conception Abbey website/blog posts for more information on discernment.

Getting Started With Discernment

 

 

St. Benedict and the WOW Factor

Contemplation of the vastness and purity of the innate beauty of nature is medicine for the soul that draws us out of ourselves and closer to our loving God. Through this, we can experience what Br. Daniel Sokol, OSB, call, the “WOW Factor”:

We magnify this “WOW Factor” within by prayerfully appreciating passages of sacred scripture or the writings of the saints….When we deliberately engage the “WOW Factor” we build up our appreciation of God, and come to a more abundant sharing of His beneficent and healing graces.  …We keep in mind that heaven will be filled with grateful people.

Here are some examples from the Rule of St. Benedict of how we can recognize and appreciate the multiform “WOW Factors” and holy powers contained therein.  Each word or phrase has a powerful capacity to help us become more aware of, and engaged in the healing graces that God always offers to us, His beloved children.

Some of the “WOW” Factors found in the Rule of St. Benedict are:

  • God’s Presence: When (a man) is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.  This is done in the presence of God and his saints to impress on the novice that if he ever acts otherwise, he will surely be condemned by the one he mocks (RB 58:17-18).
  • The Lord’s Power: These people fear the Lord, and do not become elated over their good deeds; they judge it is the Lord’s power, not their own, that brings about the good in them.  They praise (Ps 14[15]: 4) the Lord working in them, and say with the Prophet: Not to us, Lord, not to us give the glory, but to your name alone (Ps 113[115: 1]: 9) (Prol 30).
  • Delightful Lord: What, dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?   See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life  (RB Prol 19-20)?
  • Thankfulness: Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against the devil (RB 1:4).
  • Forgiveness: Reciting the entire Lord’s Prayer at the end [of Lauds and Vespers] for all to hear, because thorns of contention are likely to spring up.  Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the very words of this prayer: Forgive us as we forgive (Matt 6:12), they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice (RB 13:12-13).
  • God’s Grace: What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace (RB Prologue  41).
  • Reason and Humility: If any brother happens to make an unreasonable demand of him, he should not reject him with disdain and cause him distress, but reasonably and humbly deny the improper request (RB 31:7).
  • Glory to God: They praise (Ps 14[15]: 4) the Lord working in them, and say with the Prophet: Not to us, Lord, not to us give the glory, but to your name alone (Ps 113[115: 1]: 9) (RB Prol 30).
  • Good Works and Humility:   Only in this are we distinguished in his sight: if we are found better than others in good works and in humility (RB 2:21).
  • Sufficiency: Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed,  but whoever needs more should feel humble because of his weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown him  (RB 34:3-4).
  • Delight in Virtue: Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue  (RB 7:68-69).
  • Zeal for God’s Honor: They may be sure that they will receive a generous reward for this, if they do it with pure motives and zeal for God’s honor (RB 72:3-6).
  • Restraint of Speech: I said, I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue.  I have put a guard on my mouth.  I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good words (Ps 38[39]:23)  (RB 6:1).
  • Genuine Peace: Never give a hollow greeting of peace  or turn away when someone needs your love (RB 4:25-26).
  • Sense of the Sacred:   He will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar  (RB 31:10).
  • Everlasting Life:  Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire (RB 4:46).
  • Heartfelt Devotion: Pray, not in a loud voice, but with tears and heartfelt devotion (RB 52:4).
  • Blessings for Hardships: In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling the Lord’s command: When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two (Matt 5:3941).  With the Apostle Paul, they bear with false brothers, endure persecution, and bless those who curse them (2 Cor. 11:26; 1 Cor 4:12) (RB 7:42-43).

From Br. Daniel Sokol, OSB, Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, CA (danielsokolosb@gmail.com )

Christ Hath Made Us Free: Freedom and the Religious Life

Independence Day celebrates the Declaration of Independence when the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were separating from the British Empire to found a new nation. Within the great texts of the American founding is an ambiguous understanding of liberty, or freedom. For Catholics, the interpretation of liberty espoused in the American Founding is very controversial. Some believe that Founding Fathers held a “liberal” interpretation of liberty, whereas many conservatives, especially the neo-cons, think otherwise. Clearly, a liberal interpretation has been very dominant in the Courts, maybe since the early 20th century (known as liberal revisionism), going to the extreme in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) in saying “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This is what I take a radical liberal understanding of freedom to be. It is directly opposed to the Christian creaturely and trinitarian understanding of freedom. Accordingly, freedom is not rooted in self-possession but is anteriorly found in self-gift. This is summed up in Gaudium et Spes par. 24.: “…man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Accordingly, I think the best way of seeing true freedom is in what most people see as its opposite: i.e. the vowed form of life. Hence, the religious life is our model for freedom since it is a radical gift of self to God with the even greater reception of the self perfected.

But many are concerned American culture excludes such a view, thereby not supporting the religious life. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII wrote a letter to Cardinal Gibbons entitled Testem Benevolentiae. In the letter, the pope praises the many virtues of America. However, he states his concern over a controversial figure, i.e. Fr. Isaac Thomas Hecker. Fr. Hecker was the founder of the Paulists, a religious order that does not make their members make vows but make a commitment to living out the evangelical counsels. Leo XIII saw this as  a threat to the religious life, a tendency he found within the culture of modernity. Here is a section from the letter:

“They [those who disregard the evangelical virtues] say vows are alien to the spirit of our times, in that they limit the bounds of human liberty; that they are more suitable to weak than to strong minds; that so far from making for human perfection and the good of human organization, they are hurtful to both; but that this is as false as possible from the practice and the doctrine of the Church is clear, since she has always given the very highest approval to the religious method of life; nor without good cause, for those who under the divine call have freely embraced that state of life did not content themselves with the observance of precepts, but, going forward to the evangelical counsels, showed themselves ready and valiant soldiers of Christ. Shall we judge this to be a characteristic of weak minds, or shall we say that it is useless or hurtful to a more perfect state of life?

Those who so bind themselves by the vows of religion, far from having suffered a loss of liberty, enjoy that fuller and freer kind, that liberty, namely, by which Christ hath made us free. And this further view of theirs, namely, that the religious life is either entirely useless or of little service to the Church, besides being injurious to the religious orders cannot be the opinion of anyone who has read the annals of the Church.”

This Independence Day thank a religious for modeling the perfection of freedom!