Category Archives: Spirituality

Perfection Considered As Mystery

Not as mysterious as it may sound

BY Frater Bovious


In the end, Perfection

In the end, Perfection

(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) I need to contextualize this post by first stating that this is not (directly) about God’s perfection, nor is it a talk about perfect bowling games or the like. Rather – the idea is of becoming perfect ourselves, and what that might mean in the real world.

I want to start by developing definitions of these two words, “perfection” and “mystery”. The first word to define is mystery, because it is only considered as mystery that we can rationally apply the concept of perfection to our fallen human reality.

Mystery, especially as applied to things like “mysteries of faith” or “the mystery of the Holy Trinity” does not mean something that is simply beyond our ability to comprehend. It does not mean that we simply/only accept things “on faith”. No, we need to reason, to think about with the desire to know, even  things like The Blessed Trinity, in terms more similar to a mystery to be solved, like a Sherlock Holmes mystery. (Note I said “in terms more similar”. I am not saying the Trinity is a murder mystery.)

Mystery, understood properly, is something so intelligible, so full of meaning, that it cannot be exhausted. You can always learn more, understand more, gain ever greater understanding, and – this is the glorious part – you will never exhaust the treasures to be found in contemplating the Incarnation, Creation, The Mystery of Salvation, yourself as creature in relation to Creator.

Quick aside, can you truly love someone who you don’t know? I would say, along with Augustine, no not really. This means that to love God we have to know Him. This necessarily means that our love is incomplete because our knowledge of God is incomplete. BUT please realize, that God, considered as mystery, implies that there is no theoretical limit to how much we can know God. This means there is no theoretical limit to how much we can love God and even though we are finite beings, this is where we touch the infinite. It bears repeating, there is no limit to our capacity to Love.

What then is Perfection? If a very basic principle of life can be stated as “Good is to be done, and Evil avoided” then one form of perfection would be to always do the Good. Always choosing the good would be to always order our acts and thoughts toward God. Since we are made for God, this then gives us a working definition of Perfection: ordering all our being towards God and away from anything that would distract us from God, who is our natural end.

If Perfection is a Mystery – then we can always work toward better. But, how do we work towards being more perfectly the person who God made us to be?

Since the faculties or powers of reason that most distinguish us from the animals are the powers of mind and will, then perfection of those faculties is what makes us fully human. Aristotle taught that by subjecting our senses and lower tendencies to rational rule and using our intellect in pursuit of truth, we can realize our full nature. Perfection of these powers then is how we perfect ourselves. In other words we must exercise our moral and intellectual powers.

Exercise is a key word here – it suggests that we can, by some regular regimen, improve our moral and intellectual powers, just like we do when practicing a golf swing, going to the gym, or learning to play the piano. So, if we want to perfect ourselves in terms of moral and intellectual powers, what are the things we need to work on?

The answer is to be found in the Cardinal Virtues.

First, note that Aristotle used the term virtue differently than most of us use it today. Today, we commonly think of virtue in terms of “A woman’s virtue” and so virtue has taken on an effeminate flavor. But, the root words for virtue, vir (man or hero) and vis (force, power) mean literally “man” and “strength” or “vitality”. When Aristotle was telling his students to live a virtuous life, he was quite literally, telling them to “Man up.” Please note that by virtue of the fact that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) this also and at the same time means, whether or not he realized the fullness, that Aristotle was also telling women to “Woman up.”

Second, for Aquinas, a virtue is habitus operativus bonus, i.e., an operative habit which is essentially good – by this I don’t mean the somewhat bastardized “essentially”, meaning “almost but not quite.” No, what I mean is essential, without out which, nothing (sine qua non). Also note, the archaic meaning of the word “habit” is clothing. So, a habit would be something that you would put on, and usually associated with some kind of action (a riding habit) or some state of life (a religious habit). I think it important to retain this idea of habit as something that you own. This means that you both own and are defined by a habit. All this to say, a virtue is not simply a “good habit” like brushing your teeth.

Now the word cardinal comes from the word that means “hinge” so the Cardinal Virtues are hinge virtues, or those virtues on which the entrance to humane living turns – to quote Aquinas. These virtues are Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Prudence has to do with right reason. Justice with giving what is due to whom it is due. Fortitude is the strength to do what Prudence and Justice recommend. And Temperance governs our appetites and orders them to the good. Pursuit of these virtues yields perfection in ourselves.

I like Augustine’s definition of the Cardinal Virtues in that it ties into the earlier discussion of knowing and loving God:

temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved;
fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object;
justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly;
prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it.”
(De moribus eccl., Chap. xv)

Aristotle ranked Prudence as the chief of these Cardinal Virtues because it has to do with the exercise of our intellectual powers, those powers which most separate us from the beasts, and are the part of us that make us “in the image of God.”

But in this post I want to talk about the Virtue of Temperance. Aquinas says a lack in Temperance will undermine Prudence. I would say that today our American Consumer culture is at war with Temperance. This fact yields an opportunity: We live in a culture at war with Temperance, and it seems clear to me that our society is lacking in the common exercise of Prudence. It seems to be Cause and Effect.

But, if our culture is in fact at war with Temperance, that simply means that we have ample opportunity to exercise and strengthen this virtue. So, I will close with discussing Temperance.

I said earlier that Temperance is ordering our appetites to the good. We need to understand that by appetite is meant the desire for anything perceived as good. That can be food, sex, sleep, cigars, whiskey, etc. It can mean the desire for recognition, love, honor, etc. It can mean being hungry for human companionship, friendship, brotherhood. A thirst for knowledge. You get the point. But most or all of these can be perverted. A desire for food can be perverted to gluttony. The natural desire for sexual intimacy can turn to lust. The desire for sleep can turn into sloth. The desire for recognition can turn into the sin of pride. Etc.

How do you exercise the virtue of Temperance? One way to exercise is by deliberately choosing something other than what you want. You want a hamburger and onion rings at lunch and you eat a salad. You set your alarm to wake up 30 minutes early and you get up and pray, study, or exercise instead of hitting snooze. You ask yourself, does my desire for this help or hinder my path to heaven or is it neutral? You decide to refrain from eating meat on all Fridays, not just during Lent. You decide to fast one day a week. You decide to say a rosary every day, whether you feel like it or not.

Our culture is at war with this virtue. We are told we can have it all, we deserve it all, we should have it all RIGHT NOW. We are told not to deny ourselves, to be selfish. We are told that no one should be able to tell us what to do. Temperance fades and along with it Prudence as our base appetites simply override our better judgment.

Benjamin Franklin systematically developed the virtues. He made a list and kept track and developed virtue through repetition. I would add to this the sage advice found in a book titled The Spiritual Combat in that “Virtues are to be acquired one at a time and by degrees” (Chapter 34):

“… do not aim at all sorts of virtue-nor even many-simultaneously, but cultivate one firmly, then another, if you wish such habits to take deep root in your soul with greater facility.”

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p>Dom Lorenzo Scupoli goes on to note that the virtues are “like rays of the sun, almost inseparably united,” such that strengthening one cannot but strengthen the others.

So, develop the virtue of Temperance. Deny yourself. Take a cold shower, don’t put that sugar in your coffee, look at the menu, decide what you want, and choose something else. Start small. Be consistent, don’t stop. Perfect yourself. Recognize that this never ends, that perfection is a mystery that you can forever explore. Marvel at this reality.

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Does Prayer Work?

A Proper Disposition

By Frater Bovious


(CARROLLTON – Cradle of Civilization) On my way home from work, listening to the radio, a lady called in with a question about prayer. She had read a book that appears to have made her feel that if she was “praying properly” she would have some tangible evidence that her prayers were heard. Yet, she had been praying fervently and receiving no feedback – and so was left with faith alone that her prayers were heard.

She didn’t say “just faith” but my sense was, while she was willing to just go on faith, she really wanted some kind of verification. This appears to have been triggered by the fact she had several losses in her life, various in-laws and such, and was trying to “cover her kids with prayer”, but nevertheless had some anxiety concerning the safety of her children.

This triggered a line of thought for me – the following is not a response to her and her situation, though it may be related. The line of thought concerns the proper disposition to prayer.

Hand Holding a Rabbit's Foot Key Chain

It’s worth considering for a moment if we have a “lucky rabbit’s foot” approach to prayer.

There is no soft way to put this: There are two basic dispositions to prayer, in my experience:

My Will Be Done

Thy Will Be Done

“If I do this and such, God will grant me my wish.” “God wants me to be with him in heaven.”

Humility is the sine qua non  for answering the call to be holy. Many times it’s not that we aren’t getting an answer to our prayers, it’s that we are not getting the answer that we are listening for. God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot. He is not a talisman. There is no formula, no incantation, that will bend God to our will. But much of our prayer comes with that underlying premise: “I will bend God to my will.”

Even when we ask him to protect our children?

Even when we ask him to protect our children.

Jesus prayed a lot. Here is one:

MT 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

It’s hard to acknowledge that we are not in control, isn’t it.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Renounces Papacy, Journalists Embrace Idiocy

Scandal is as scandal does.

In the end, all one’s time and all one’s strength is spent.

(ROME – Vatican City) Meticulously following Canon 322 §2, the Pope renounced the See of Peter on February 10th, 2013, with the following words (spoken in Latin):

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

The above referenced code says: If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

You will note that his actual statement fully meets the requirements of Can. 332 §2. This is to be expected from someone with a mind like his. And, when I say “this” is to be expected, I mean both the manner of the renunciation and the fact of it.

Anyone that has read any of Cardinal Ratzinger’s or Pope Benedict XVI’s works, is familiar with his lucid prose and depth and breadth of thought. Our Pope is an uncommonly gifted theologian with a professor’s love of study and a pastor’s concern that God be known and understood insofar as man is capable of understanding. Having said this, I noted with interest a comment in his foreword to Jesus of Nazareth:

As I do not know how much more time and strength I am still to be given, I have decided to publish the first ten chapters…

He wrote this in 2006, when he had been Pope for less than two years. Elsewhere he has stated that he can feel his “powers fading”. If we can say that one mark of genius is the ability to see what is there, to penetrate to the core of the issue, and to glean the immutable truth within, then what can we say about someone of such genius with regard to self-knowledge and understanding? I think it fair to suppose that such a mind may be more keenly aware of its own decline than most.

Consider this as well – usually the Church does not know when the See will be vacated. We may have a pretty good idea, but, we certainly in recent history have not known the exact day and hour. Pope Benedict has set up the Church for as smooth a transition of pastoral care as is humanly possible. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit.

Virtually all the sound and fury from the vultures swarming this news story signify nothing. People with agendas, people with no knowledge but with mere opinion, and those who simply live to shock or outrage are saying all manner of silly things. There is a saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In the case of journalists, so-called, all they have is gossip, so everything looks like scandal. There is no scandal here, not in the sense of discredit nor in the sense of leading someone into sin. There is simply a man who believes he can best serve Jesus by devoting what time and strength remains to him to prayer.

You Are What You Eat

Concupiscence, Lent, and Mind Obesity

(CARROLLTON – Cradle of Civilization) “You are what you eat” the saying goes. I have found this to be false since I am not yet a Wheat Thin (my favorite since I was a kid). Of course I’m not an anything thin at this point, and so maybe that’s the point. Obesity, in fact, has become the health issue of our day – and the reason is pretty simple – we eat a lot of crap – stuff that didn’t even exist 100 years ago makes its way into our bodies and presents challenges that our systems don’t really handle well.

We Become What We Consume

We Become What We Consume.
In this case, Cheetos.

But, what about what we feed our minds? If you look around these days, you will generally see two things in people’s hands. Cheetos (or some other form of junk food) and a cell phone. I know I have eaten Cheetos when I am not hungry, and I certainly read articles when I am not really interested. I think we have become addicted to junk information. And, like junk food, our minds don’t handle junk information very well. Tension, anxiety, a general sense of nervousness, inability to concentrate, no patience for deep conversation or thought…

"What am I missing?!"

“What am I missing?!”

Think about the time spent going from Facebook to Gmail to ChooseYourNewsPlatform and back again. Ever done that? Check Facebook 5 minutes after you looked at it to see if there was anything else? Go back to Yahoo news and read the same headlines as 10 minutes ago? It’s like junk food, or soft drinks – notice how soft drinks don’t really satisfy? Ever met anyone that was nearly continuously drinking a Coke? Or a Diet Coke? Or, had that moment when you were trying to talk to someone, and their “smart” phone chimes, and you are forgotten in the immediate urgency of the need to see what happened? And you ask, “What?” and are told “Nothing”? And then your phone chimes?

Junk information is making our minds fat and destroying our potential.

Fat, Dumb and Happy = Contented? Or sub-human?

Contented? Or sub-human?

All these things, junk food and junk information, satisfy something called concupiscence. Big word that simply means, at its core, appetite. We all have appetites – and in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with having an appetite – it keeps us from starving to death. And from remaining ignorant. We also have an appetite for knowledge. But, since The Fall, our appetites are disordered, subject to passions not controlled by our intellect or our will. And, just like the insatiable need for empty calories, we have developed an insatiable need for empty information. Yet, knowledge and information are not synonymous. We pour empty calories into our brains – information that you can’t really use for anything.

And so, we have Lent – an attempt to, among many things, control our desires rather than have our desires control us. An attempt to reconnect with the source of knowledge, and the goal – God.

A worthwhile Lenten observance then is to do what some have done – give up Facebook, or otherwise “unplug”. And what do we get out of this effort? Well, let’s tally:

  1. Time – time to do something else, like pray.
  2. A Stronger Will – concupiscence saps one’s strength – turns us into slugs. Passing up the donut on the way to the gym or passing up some mindless “news” story on the way to the Bible – both have a return on the investment.
  3. True Relaxation – the frenetic pace of information flow is taxing – and void of value. Most of it is useless or even meaningless out of context. Stop watching the news for three days and note your anxiety level. It will drop.
  4. Opportunity to Reconnect – with spouse, family, friends.
  5. Time – time again for God.
If it was good enough for Jesus...

If it was good enough for Jesus…

The Devil is the Great Distractor – I am convinced that his weapons of choice today are Facebook, iPod, and The Bachelor. Mind Cheetos. Take this Lent to stop eating mental junk-food and replace it with food that has fiber, vitamins and essential minerals. Pray daily, even if it is just first thing in the morning, “God, I give this day to you, guide me”, and in the evening, “God, thank you for this day.” Crack open the Bible you have and, beginning with a short supplication to hear God’s word, read, even just a little. For us Catholics, take the time you would be watching some mindless movie on Saturday afternoon, and go to Reconciliation.

Get mentally and spiritually fit this Lent. Deny yourself.

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