What to develop in character
The Lord advised all who wish to begin the possibly long and arduous
journey, one of rock-clambering and many snags, or what St. Paul calls a
marathon, by assessing the demand or cost, and undertaking to acquire
the resources. He is not saying that anyone should muster in himself all
that we think is required to “win Heaven”, because Heaven can’t be won by
any human effort. What God counsels is, to learn from Him, the teacher,
and from the examples of so many disciples he has gathered to himself.
In a worldly venture it is common to induct recruits by participation in a
scrum, trying to assess what they think are needed requirements in their
skill-set, abilities and character. This may be a start, because it exposes
gaps. But directions and plans don’t come from what postulators already
think of themselves. Were that the case in the spiritual life, Jesus would
have departed when Peter said “Lord, go away from me, I am a sinner”.
The truth is, although the spirit is willing the flesh is weak. So, a seeker
who will “come and see” as Jesus put it, must be open to learning what is
needed, and not just that, but receiving in Jesus’ presence the very
character that is required. First of the characteristics is a true openness to
grace, demonstrated by openness to the disciplines that the Lord will exert.
There is a scriptural metaphor to describe the rather egoistic or
petulant soul: an untamed horse that its lord seeks to harness, head-
tossing and hoof-pounding its non-submission. This exists in everyone to a
great - even an extreme - extent, and a would-be disciple must desire to
have docility to begin to overcome it. If docility is shunned, the mind needs
to plead with sincerity, as St. Augustine did in regard to purity, “Lord, I know
it is right to desire this and yet I do not; therefore You infuse in me a true
desire for it”. When the prayer is sincere, the prancing mare or stallion will
begin to resist its impulses for freedom and suppress its own adrenaline
rushes, letting the trainer just a little closer … until it may be bridled.
Disciple and discipline go so ‘hand in glove’ that to buck discipline is to
get nowhere. As the saying goes for the feral horse, it would run off in all
directions. Discipline is especially difficult for persons because, unlike the
horse who sees no other equine in the corral, we are often to submit in the
Lord to human mentors who (perfectly or imperfectly) stand in His stead.
Our disdain for unequal relationship, with obeisance to an equal, is a
basic human fault of disrupted brotherhood. So when we do embrace the
grace of spiritual brotherhood, we can we begin to submit to the Lord in a
way that is pleasant and fruitful. He directed mentors to “see to it that you
do not lord it over one another” for, especially in service to the soul, we are
all his agents. After a hard day in the corral, a horseman will inspect his
charger’s hoof or hock and shod the one or bandage the other. This is what
washing disciple’s feet really represents: a personal service to the good of
the other, who otherwise chaffs at what seems (or may be) cavalier.
Docility of course is only the beginning or gateway to discipline: it
bears real fruit when a disciple is as much given to self-discipline as to
assigned exercises. Exercises and newly formed good habits are things
that take genuine root in character only when a subject makes them his or
her own; and that is indeed all that the mentor is encouraging one to do.
The master, when he is somewhat ready, sends him off like the seventy in
pairs. We note here how discipline continues in the company of another:
agreement in diversity among disciples is an essential reflection of the
communitarian nature of God and of the Church.
Acting in concert
The essential practice of concord is assisting together in the sacred
liturgy, and in all forms of prayer including the personally mandated quiet
prayer of interior life. This fervent communal worship is no contradiction of
its founding on the embers kindled in private prayer. Private prayer for
instance brings to mind things that direly need praying-for, which then
receive their full flood of appeal through brothers in prayer. In all our needs
we are not alone.
When disappearing from the sight of the two at Emmaus Jesus was
not downgrading His promise of Presence, for “I am closer than hands or
feet”; but He makes marvellous use of fraternal affection and concern to
both underline His own Presence and to make it more real to others, who
are psychological relational beings not created in vacuum, but in a family.
I am created in the nook of the mind of God, in the midst of a race, in
the centre of a tribe or nation, and in the womb of a mother in the heart of a
family .. however disrupted that family might be to all external measures.
Many are the scars and emotional wounds of not knowing or being well
loved by a mother, family, tribe or nation; but the abiding truth is that you
are always loved by the God who made all these in the same way He made
you. In other words, if there is fault in any community, its healing can begin
with me, so far as I am a conscious disciple of Christ and therefore a
brother to all. Therefore a key essential to the disciple is a love of souls.
Disagreements must always surface, even among long-standing
friends in Christ. This is because no-one can pretend to know His mind
more intimately than another. Who knows what lights and what reasons
God has for infusing them in my mind or yours? We may guess that they
are for mutual edification, but often enough the edifying thing will be the
humble act of deferring to another or at least allowing disagreement not to
disturb their peace or mine. It takes work to say “I fail to see it as you do,
probably because I am not in your head or walk in your shoes; and I must
give you the benefit of the doubt”. When pairs and fours of people do that,
the remarkable thing is that God brings out of the event a condign concord
that works in the end to agreement or to a concert not heard in the part.
That, for instance, is why there remains hope (against hope) in the
Church today for eventual recovered unity of worship and essential belief
among now divergent Christians and indeed our Jewish forebears.
Evidently, as Spock would say, the view in the mind of Christ, is that where
there remains good will among any who disagree on practices, disciplines,
and even some essentials of faith, their will to exchange benefit of doubt
will be fruitful. It must be; as the greatest scandal within Judeo-Christian
roots of western civilization is division among believers in the true God.
Nothing forms us in prayer like the Mass. Probably the most poignant
prayer that Jesus offered - recorded by John - was on the night of the
Pesach meal he shared with the twelve; for in this supper which instituted
the sacrament of unity in His body and blood, Jesus expressed his deepest
desire for the unity of the apostles and all disciples then and now.
We begin most effectively the work of unity by assisting as often as
possible in the sacred liturgy of Mass, which re-presents that very supper
and the salvific events falling in succession over the next two nights and
mornings, which permanently change everything. The Life of peace is
found effected by the sacrament of unity, and this divine liturgy united to
that eternally celebrated in Heaven is the Church’s deepest and most
embedded, characterizing prayer. One may be ‘prayerful’, but no other
discipline of prayer equals or even approaches the sacrifice of our Lord.
The disciple knows that ‘sacrifice’ means ‘that which deeply sanctifies’
.. and it sanctifies all who participate. We don’t merely attend Mass; we - if
conscious - assist. Our worship “in sincerity and truth” as Jesus said to the
woman at the well, is the greatest opportunity in this life to present
ourselves to the mercy of God most fully and with the very realest
presence. All other ‘presences’ that we offer with our minds and words,
whether alone or in community, are less fully real than our assistance at
holy Mass, because this alone brings us to the threshold of our own
resurrection with Him. That is why we can say “through Him, with Him and
in Him” when we give glory to God in liturgy.
Now, if communion in Mass is the staple of our spiritual lives .. as
Jesus said “every word that comes from the mouth of God” feeds us
entirely in His word made flesh .. then we will go on acting in, with and
through Him. That of course includes many other times when we will pray
as He did, both alone and in the hearing of others for mutual benefit. It
should become ever more clear to the hearers of a disciple that he or she is
always in communion with God.
On hearing misuse of the name signifying “the salvation of God”, he’ll
say “blessed be His holy name”, and not soto voce. She’ll be seen to bless
herself and take a moment in prayer, perhaps with others at table, before
picking up the fork. When replying to an eager gesture of ‘thank God !’ from
someone escaping a misfortune, we’ll say “thanks be to God”, or “Our help
is in the name of the Lord .. [and another disciple may reply] Who made
heaven and earth.” Prayerfulness will be the mark of everything a disciple
does, even before hitting ‘send’ on that crafted email; or perhaps typing “in
the Lord, forgive my omission” should something have been neglected.
Hearing someone say “O my God” invites the reply “yes, He is your God”.
For prayer is also a most centering reminder of Who is lord.
Harking back to the Mass, source and summit of all prayer, this
essential of ‘remembering’ is highlighted by Jesus: “do this in memory of
me” .. which may also be understood “do this in my memory”. The latter
form plays on the notion of Whose everlasting memory it is. Jesus, the
eternal Word, is Lord of time and space (and all else). When He says ‘in my
memory” he means forever. United in the mind of Christ (St. Paul
constantly puts it thus) we will always, from age to age, be present at Mass
to the one only sacrifice our Lord made from Thursday evening to Saturday
morning: all present. As it were, He brings us to that one place, that time,
when our redemption was paid.
Now, we can savour and ponder the fullness of this experience day to
day, when meditating on the ‘mysteries’ or history-changing events in
Jesus’ life, as they are enumerated in the holy rosary we sew together with
Mary our mother. The rosary is ‘repetitive prayer’ to be sure, but not in the
mindless sense Jesus castigated. Among the greatest afflictions of the
fallen world is the reign of ‘entropy’ or disorder, which affects literally
everything physical and mental too. Perhaps before the fall life was able to
withstand the onslaught of entropy, which in itself is not evil but a constant
cause for work - such as ever tending creation. But it is certain that since
the fall, life is not able ultimately to prevail against entropy; we are mortal.
Well, if entropy is a sign of disorder in creation, which “groans for the
revelation of the sons of God”, disorder itself extends to the spirit, the
weakness of faculties including conscience and discernment, apprehension
of the quiet voice of God, and many other crucial aspects in the life of the
soul. What a discipline like the rosary does, is it breathes ‘order’ into the
cacophony of confusion always there to snag the soul. Order is the fist rule
There are alternative formats that can attract our minds to the order of
meditation on Jesus’ life or on God’s other actions through salvation history,
indeed from the creation of the world. One is the highly efficacious Divine
Mercy chaplet structured much like the rosary (although one could also use
seven groups of seven, as chaplets were traditionally said). Still another is
considered closer in spiritual proximity to the Mass than either rosary,
chaplet, or litany (a recitation of praises either directly of God or indirectly of
God in his saints). This is the ‘divine office’, the liturgy of the hours, or what
protestants approximate as the ‘book of common prayer'.
It is a settled collection of psalms set apart for each day (and even
parts of the day) sung in choir - often in the monastic setting - as well as
select readings from fathers of the Church (such as Ambrose or
Augustine), concluding daily with the sung canticle of Zacharias - father of
Jesus’ herald. One finds it very apt to conclude thus, for it puts one in mind
of the ‘advent’ of our God, a perfect meditation on which to approach sleep
and, possibly for the ailing - if not for anyone, their last sleep. It is common
to maintain that mood of resting in the Lord with a final hymn to Mary, such
as Salve Regina (Hail holy Queen), or Ave Maris Stella (Star of the Sea).
The latter is especially fitting in confused or troubled times.
On one striking occasion, when broadcasting cameras caught a view
of pope saint John Paul presiding at a huge outdoor Mass. As he sat in the
presider’s chair, through a smile his lips were moving - moving constantly.
This was no speech or teaching moment, yet there he was, completely at
home in his element, reciting prayers. That was one of the most eloquent
moments of testimony to the life of a disciple. Under his watchful and
vigilant eye, all the needs of the masses were passing through his lips, in
the attentive ears of Jesus and nothing secret from Mary. Mary was saying
to Karol “do whatever He tells you”, and Jesus was telling him to keep
praying. Jesus says “men ought always to pray” to each and every one of
us, to emulate someone like John Paul.
“Lord, place a watch on my lips” goes the inspired psalm. There are
innumerable other places in scripture, culminating in the counsels of Jesus,
to be “watchful and ready”. The Lord himself made a vigilant habit of seeing
the teaching opportunity for more souls present than had posed a question:
the question - such as the plea of a sister to have her brother’s hoarded
inheritance divided between them - he turned into an object lesson for
either the apostles alone or for onlookers too. In this instance, he diverted
attention from the wrangling between two siblings to the grave importance
of eschewing avarice “of every kind”. Anyone pondering those words could
see how far they extend: just as far as Jesus’ allowance for only those
without sin to cast a stone at the adulteress.
Some wonder why Jesus didn’t return to the particular and award a
settlement; but clearly his watch is again vigilant. Had he agreed to be
contracted as a jurist, it would not only demean his true identity and great
mission, but embroil him in a limitless flood of petty litigations. If it took
seventy elders to adjudicate differences and settlements among the
kinsfolk of Moses, how many more must it take to ease the wheels of
innumerably more children of Abraham ! Yet Jesus’ answer, like his counsel
on the mount to work for no more than just wages, goes to the heart of
litigious motives, educing the best settlements from good will. To situations
where there’s overpowering bad will, He said “let the dead bury the dead”.
The other face of this razor edge of keen vigilance on motives is to
keep a watch on our own, heeding the importance of hidden motives, or
one’s lack of knowledge of them, in ‘judging’ others. We started by
speaking of a ‘watch on my lips’, and moved to motives, because Jesus
noted how all that comes out starts in the recesses of our heart.
The vigilant “perfection of motives” is one of the essential gaits (or
rather, revisited steps as in a dance) in the disciple’s way to perfection.
When Jesus said “be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” we
may attend to two semiotic senses. God is ‘perfect’ in and of Himself:
indeed the origin, source and exemplary quintessence of any perfection:
beauty, truth, goodness, mercy, love, glory, and so the litany may go on.
Jesus of course is not suggesting we can have or be those quintessences.
The other sense of ‘perfection’ is the verbial form, if we may coin a
grammatical expression akin to the ‘adverbial’: the reflexive act of being
made perfect (taking account of per [by another] and fectere [to fashion]).
Jesus is saying “let yourselves be made perfect [insofar as the person
is meant to be, qua human] by the all-perfect Father”. If by grace - that
share in divine life of the Trinity of which we marvellously partake through
the sacraments - we vigilantly cooperate, we will let ourselves be so
fashioned. If by examen of conscience we would monitor progress
(something we avoid to excess, as it may beget pride or stalling), we will
find that ‘steps to perfection’ include the humbling correction of our motives.
Please See Part II: http://jceworld.blogspot.ca/2018/01/get-on-road-to-discipleship-guide-by-dr.html