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Katie van Schaijik

Our decisions belong to us; we are responsible for them

Feb. 12 at 12:26pm

During my undergrad years at Franciscan University in the 80's, the problem of "overspiritualization"—the tendency of hyper-pious young people to live in an unnaturally religious way—was a theme.  At times it seemed that every conversation had to refer to God.  Every decision had to be prayed about. 

It's a mostly harmless tendency, as tendencies go.  But still.  It's a case of immaturity at best.  If we don't grow out of it, it can become a serious psychological and moral disorder.

The most characteristic feature of adulthood in comparison with childhood is personal responsibility.  Adults are in charge of themselves—responsible for themselves, answerable for their judgments, acts and decisions.

The most striking feature of entrenched "overspiritualization" is a habitual failure to take responsibilities for our judgments, acts and decisions.  It leads to passivity and paralysis in the moral realm.  But the problem is disguised (usually even from ourselves) as piety.  We imagine we are doing what the saints do: seeking God's will.  We only want to do God's will, we say to ourselves and others.  But what we are really doing is evading the responsibility of maturity.  We want God to "just tell us what to do."  We want to throw off what C.S. called "the weight of glory"—the demands of our dignity as free persons. We are like the timid servant who buried his talent instead of investing it, because he was afraid he might lose it. 

I have known people in whom this tendency has become seriously disordered.  I've heard adult Catholics say things like this in answer to questions about some decision they made, "Don't blame me, blame God.  I don't know why He wants me to do this."  I know people who resent God because He won't tell them what He wants them to do.  It's almost as if they are refusing to be selves.  This is not piety.  It's pathology.  We are made to be selves, and to exercise our selfhood.  We glorify God by exercising our selfhood.

A mature and genuinely pious person makes his decisions in his own name, freely and responsibly, and "in front of God," knowing that he will one day have to give an answer for himself. 

So clear and important is this basic truth to me, that I was taken aback a little by a generally very good article about the Pope's resignation, by Fr. Roger Landry, in which he wrote.

There are a few things about his decision to resign that are particularly striking to me.

The first is that it seems that it was not his decision, but the Lord’s.

This seems to me exactly wrong.  It was not the Lord's decision, but the Pope's.  We feel it to be a stunning and fearful decision, precisely because of our awareness that a mere human being is responsible for it.  Had the Pope died in office, it would have been different, since we know it is God who chooses the hour of our passing.  In this case, though, it was not God, but a mere man, who made so momentous a decision for the Church and the world.  

Fr. Landry goes on to elaborate. 

He began his shocking statement to the Cardinals by declaring, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Pope Benedict has long called conscience an “organ of sensitivity” to the voice of God indicating to us what to do or avoid. While the judgments of conscience can always be erroneous, Pope Benedict has been tuning his “organ” for so long and fighting against false ideas of conscience that it is highly unlikely that he would be hearing the Lord say “go” when the Lord was in fact stressing “continue on.” So his decision to resign does not seem to be the “no” of someone who wants to quit the burdens of the papacy, but one more “yes” in a lifetime of faithful fiats to what the Lord has asked of him.

Here Fr. Landry seems to me to collapse two critically different kinds of conscientious acting into one: acting under obedience and acting out of our freedom.  To get what I mean, consider the difference between the way a foot soldier approaches a battle and the way a general approaches a battle.  The foot soldier's responsibility is straight-forward (which is not to say it's easy), namely, to do as he's commanded.  The general's is much greater and more complex.  It's not a case of "yes or no", but rather of "which, where, when, and why" with innumberable variables at play and no guarantees.  His moral acting isn't a matter of obedience, but prudence.

The difference is recognizeable, too, in every individual's moral experience.  Some of our decisions are simple cases of yes or no to God.  Will we lie or not?  Will we go to mass on Sunday, or skip it?  Will we be chaste or will we give into temptation?  But others of our decisions (most of our moral decisions) are very different in kind.  They are not "yes or no; right or wrong", but "this or that; good or better; wise or less wise; daring or timid; cautious or rash..."

Such decisions involve our personal subjectivity in a much fuller way.  "Will I study music or physics?" "Or should I take a year off and work first?" "Shall I be Franciscan friar or a diocescan priest?"  "Should we practice NFP or open ourselves to another baby?" "Should I tell this person what I think, or keep silent?"  "Should I get up early to pray, or sleep in, to recover some strength?" 

Such prudential judgments and decisions can, of course, be made more or less conscientiously.  A conscientious person discerns carefully.  He checks his motives.  He considers his strengths and weaknesses.  He prays for wisdom and light.  He may seek the advice and perspective of others. He trusts in God's grace to lead him.  But, if he is mature, he understands that the decision is his.  He even understands that God wants it to be his.  

He made us to "stand on our two legs" as persons.  This is our dignity, our high calling, and our solemn responsibility

There are exceptions, of course.  God sometimes gives a person clear and concrete practical instructions, such as when He warned the Magi in a dream not to go back to Herod.  Or when He told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt.  Ordinary people, too, sometimes sense God telling them something very definite: "Get up and leave the room!"  or "Go to the seminary" or "tell that stranger over there that he should call his mother."  It happens, just like apparitions and miracles happen.  But they are not in the ordinary course of the moral life, even in high office—maybe especially in high office.  In any case, I think we have no warrant for assuming that this decision of the Pope's was such a case.  

Look again at how he himself speaks of his decision. He doesn't say, "This is God's will for the Church."  He only assures us that this decision, which is within the competence of his office, was made conscientiously, after prayer and deliberation.  He is a man of such deep prayer and great virtue and serious-mindedness that we can have confidence that it's a good decision, even that it's a manifestation of God's mysterious Providence for the Church.  But, at least to my way of thinking, that's a very different thing from calling it the Lord's decision.

I mentioned to Jules that I was writing this post.  He pointed me to two passages from von Hildebrand's spiritual classic, Transformation in Christ.

Those men err who believe it to be our supreme goal that we become pure instruments of God. 

And this one, on true humility.

For humility demands that we not only take account of the personality of God but at the same time remain fully conscious of our own.  Our awareness of "being naught" must not by any means entail on our part a tendency to depersonalization...

I've mentioned many times before how those whom Karol Wojtyla pastored closely as a priest say that he helped them primarily by listening sympathetically to their dilemmas and then reminding them, "You must decide."  He understood that being responsible for our own decisions is at the heart of our vocation as persons.

Nor are our decisions reducible to obedience to God's will.  The moral life is not passive, but personal and creative.


 

Christa Klein

And difficult.  Thanks, Katie, for these two recent blogs.  I've realized that castigating my repeated, patterned efforts to avoid decisions--often about such actions as reading demanding material, or writing for analysis, summary, or argumentation--takes forms worth examining for what they tell me about personality. Avoidance exposes my personal loves, such as pleasing my eye by adjusting arrangements of household Penates, even for the church year, or contacting loved ones, or taking stock of food in the frig, or ...  Fear and guilt not the best motivators for handling freedom. 

#1 - Feb. 12 at 12:54pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

One of the things that really stood out to me when I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's books about her experience of being raised Muslim was how the moral life, in her upbringing, was completely driven by fear and guilt.  Everything was God's will or forbidden.  There seemed no room for personality, for creative individuality.  Christianity is completely different.  "I no longer call you slaves, but friends."

#2 - Feb. 12 at 1:05pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

I think Fr. Landry was sloppy in the terms he chose. (Also taking into acount the timeliness of the event, this was quick, and he may have sent in an article with less careful consideration and rewriting than perhaps he normally would?) Certainly, on the face of it, it is problemmatic. And I would think Pope Benedict himself would not choose similar terms to explain himself. It seems to me that taken literally, Landry's phrase, "it was not his decision, but the Lord’s," actually somewhat contradicts what he says about conscience.

There is an understanding in at least some veins of Catholic theology (is this the norm? don't know) that God acts through our real human desires. His "voice" is present in the personal conscience (if that conscience is well-formed) of a person who is close to God, and attentive to Him. We can understand God as being able to gently, quietly insinuate Himself into our desire but in such a way that we remain free--there is no coercion. Perhaps this is what Fr. Landry is really trying to express is taking place (but with a poorly chosen phrase)?

#3 - Feb. 12 at 2:28pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Not excusing Fr. Landry here for his choice of words. But, just suggesting that he personally may not hold to such an external, impersonal idea of how freedom works as you suggest.


Also, I would like to comment that any well-formed person who is a consecrated religious, would certainly object to the idea that obedience to another person according to state in life (reference your soldier analogy) is contrary to a full and proper expression of personal freedom. It is quite possible (as in religious life) to have one's will limited in some ways by an obligation of obedience to another, yet, to be able to do so (as part of a personal vocation) in such way that one's personal freedom not only is unharmed, but can blossom and flourish.

#4 - Feb. 12 at 2:34pm | quote

 

Marie Meaney

I've been thinking of the Pope's decision in terms of a personal calling - not quite like to the priesthood, but something along those lines. You can't look at a person and say "you've got the vocation to the priesthood". You can see some obstacles which might make it unwise to choose that path (and seminaries are supposed to give that kind of guidance), but you can't discern for the other his calling. Such a calling is an interaction of God's plan for me and my freedom in discerning it and then deciding upon it (and certitude is normally not part of it). Looking at the Pope's decision, there are prudential reasons for saying that this was the right decision (and one could also mention some good reasons to argue it was the wrong decision), but at the heart of it lies a discernment process of what God is calling him in this situation. I don't think this undermines his freedom; he is still fully responsible for his choice - and he has to live with the fact that he might have made the wrong one (which I don't believe, by the way). 

#5 - Feb. 12 at 2:42pm | quote

 

Marie Meaney

Anyway, none of this undermines your point, Katie, which are excellent. Father Landry's expression certainly lends itself to misunderstanding and the distinction you made may well be one he is unclear about. Or perhaps he was trying to express something else alltogether. But I think overspiritualization is a problem and can lead to the shirking of one's responsibilities

#6 - Feb. 12 at 2:44pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Those men err who believe it to be our supreme goal that we become pure instruments of God.

To me, the consonance of this idea with Catholic doctrine depends especially what DVH means with the modifier, "pure," and what he is attributing thereby to the intentions of others. The true meaning of this statement can be quite different depending on what he meant by, "pure instruments." I mention this because he could be (erroneously) implying something here of the minds of others that is a serious misreading of the meaning of others when they use (rather traditional) pious language about being an "instrument" in God's hands.

Mother Teresa often spoke of being a pencil in the hand of God. On a surface-reading, this might seem inappropriately depersonalizing. But was it? One looking at her life can hardly conclude that she was not highly individual and free in her decisions (her "call within a call" to start a new community was both an expression of obedience and also a very deep personal desire). I'm sure she would have (and probably did) called herself an instrument. Was she thereby in error? I rather doubt it (though even Saints are not beyond criticism!)

#7 - Feb. 12 at 2:46pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Scott Johnston, Feb. 12 at 3:34pm

Not excusing Fr. Landry here for his choice of words. But, just suggesting that he personally may not hold to such an external, impersonal idea of how freedom works as you suggest.

I suggest nothing about what Fr. Landry personally holds.  I critique what he wrote.

Also, I would like to comment that any well-formed person who is a consecrated religious, would certainly object to the idea that obedience to another person according to state in life (reference your soldier analogy) is contrary to a full and proper expression of personal freedom. 

I would object to that too.  I don't at all deny that acts of obedience are true moral acts.  I only object to the reduction of moral acting to acts of obedience—as if our role as religious persons is to "figure out" what God wants us to do in every option that faces us.

#8 - Feb. 12 at 2:47pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Boy, what a great post Katie. It is by far the best thing I have read since the Pope's announcement. Full disclosure: she is watching every word I type ;-)

There seems to be an analogy here with the way in which God inspired the Scriptures. Rather than dictating the words, and thereby reducing the freedom of the human authors to a simple yes or no choice, he decided to inspire them in such a way as to require the free and thoughtful cooperation of their full personalities. That is why we meet not only God, but als St. Paul in his epistles. This fact, which presents endless difficulties for Scripture scholars, is also a manifestation of its divinity. Only the Divine omnipotence, as Kierkegaard says, "which can handle the world so toughly and with such a heavy hand, can also make itself so light that what it has brought into existence receives independence."

#9 - Feb. 12 at 2:58pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

I definitely agree with you, Katie, about the dangers of overspiritualization. It's a very real danger and can be very harmful if carried too far. Actually, I think the term, "overspiritualization" is not accurate. For, what's going on is misunderstanding a personal experience of emotional intensity in the midst of a religious context of some sort, as de facto equivalent (by the mere fact of it's emotionally intense nature and as concomitant to something externally religious) to a genuine sign of divine presence--divine grace--divine affirmation. So much confusion can result from this. As you stress, the necessity of a serious, personal, prayerful, ongoing discernment, with full engagement of one's reason as essential to the process, is important for full personal freedom to be engaged and active.

This has to be it from me for now! God bless.

#10 - Feb. 12 at 2:59pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

OK. One more remark (just saw Jules' post). I totally agree with you, Jules! You hit the nail on the head here. The inspiration of Scripture is a great example for how nature and grace (freedom and the will of God) mysteriously comingle within the full nature of a human person.

And, I wonder, did DVH mean by his phrase, "pure instruments," to say that those who speak this way are necessarily meaning to preclude the very sort of divine-human cooperation (with God's will and human freedom both fully active) as was effective in the inspiration of Scripture? It seems to me that in looking at the lives of the Saints (many of whom probably used that sort of language) one does not see impersonal, blind obedience to a mere exterior divine will without regard for their genuine personal desires, judgement, prudence, gifts, etc. The language of piety, and the real underlying meaning of it--when taking in to account how a person actually lived--can sometimes seem a contradiction on the surface (especially in today's climate of a tendency to look down on pious expressions as impersonal and superficial--they can be, but, not necessarily)

#11 - Feb. 12 at 3:12pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I just came across this quote from the Pope's brother, who learned months ago that the Pope was thinking and praying about this matter:

"I didn't offer him any advice in what are very personal circumstances," he said. "And I certainly didn't try to influence him. The responsibility is his and his alone, the decision is one he reached himself," he said.

Notice how he doesn't say, "God told him what to do; he's just doing God's will." 

#12 - Feb. 12 at 5:45pm | quote

 

Sapperdepitjes

Remember Augustine: Dilige, et quod vis fac. Love, and do what you want...

#13 - Feb. 13 at 12:40pm | quote

 

Fr. Roger Landry

It's interesting I found out about this dialogue happening from a friend in Spain. 

I plead guilty to imprecise wording in a hastily written article on deadline, the main point of which was to try to help shocked American Catholics recognize Pope Benedict wasn't a quitter — something which was the first reaction of lay people questioning me about it and journalists interviewing me about it. 

I certainly didn't want to minimize Benedict's personal responsibility in the decision. 

But what I did want to say is that it seems to me highly unlikely that Benedict would not have been resigning unless he got the Lord's nihil obstat in prayer — just as he didn't resign from the CDF, despite repeated requests, because he didn't get JP II's. It's clear that from his declaration that such permission was something B16 was asking the Lord insistently. 

What I didn't like about this thread was that, while it is strong on personal freedom, it's inadequate with regard to its understanding of conscience. God can and does speak to us in conscience. We can be misguided in hearing his voice, but I doubt B16 was. 

#14 - Feb. 13 at 1:02pm | quote

 

Fr. Roger Landry

Continuing my previous post… 

So while affirming Benedict's full responsibility for the decision, at the same time it wasn't a decision he was making autonomously, but one in prayerful consultation with the Lord, which is not merely a thought exercise but a real dialogue. Knowing his personality, I strongly doubt he would have made the decision to resign unless he knew it was what the Lord wanted of him. Benedict, like his Boss, believes in doing not his own will but the Father's.  

So as to the infelicitous phrase in the original article, I didn't mean to imply either/or, but both/and, something more like Acts 15, "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…" Yes, Benedict is fully responsible in his human acts, but at the same time, I believe, he's cooperating rather than opposing the will of God, saying yes to God now, just as he did at the assumption of his papacy, and at so many other stages in his life. 

One last point: the conscientious obedience of a child of God is free. There's no conflict between freedom and obedience. 

#15 - Feb. 13 at 1:14pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Fr. Landry, I consider it a great honor that you comment here.  Thank you.  I hope you don't mind if I push back a little on your clarification.

it seems to me highly unlikely that Benedict would not have been resigning unless he got the Lord's nihil obstat in prayer — just as he didn't resign from the CDF, despite repeated requests, because he didn't get JP II's. It's clear that from his declaration that such permission was something B16 was asking the Lord insistently. 

Here I think you go too far.  I mean, I don't think we can assume something like a directive or "permission" from God.  

Knowing the Pope as we do, we can trust that nothing in his prayerful deliberation led him to believe that God opposed the idea.  But that's not quite the same, is it?

It often happens in the spiritual life that God does not reveal his will definitely to us one way or another, even though we seek it earnestly in prayer.  Rather, we sense Him indicating, "You must decide."

The analogy you invoke falls short, since JP II was his superior in office.  In this case, the decision was the Pope's.

#16 - Feb. 13 at 2:12pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

What I didn't like about this thread was that, while it is strong on personal freedom, it's inadequate with regard to its understanding of conscience. God can and does speak to us in conscience. We can be misguided in hearing his voice, but I doubt B16 was. 

I agree (of course!) that God speaks to us in conscience, and that we can be misguided in hearing his voice.

What I object to is the suggestion that the way God speaks to us in conscience always takes the "yes or no" or the "do or do not" form.  

It's a normal experience for especially less-than-fully-mature Christians to pray like this: "Lord, I love you and I'll do whatever you want—just tell me what it is!"  and then to feel frustrated because we hear no answer.  

As we mature, we learn that He is teaching us to stand, spiritually and morally, our own two legs.  We learn that His grace manifests itself in us in and through our own intelligence and judgment.  We come to learn exactly that He wants us to make the decision—to learn to take proper charge of the territory He has assigned to our keeping.

#17 - Feb. 13 at 2:22pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Knowing his personality, I strongly doubt he would have made the decision to resign unless he knew it was what the Lord wanted of him. Benedict, like his Boss, believes in doing not his own will but the Father's.  

 Here again I think you set up a false alternative.  I mean, suppose it's God's will that Benedict decide?

Would I be happy if my adult children called up every day to ask what they should do in every situation?  Or wouldn't I be worried that they hadn't matured properly?  Would the King be pleased with an Priime Minister who couldn't make a move without first running to the King to find out what He wants?  

A key part of human dignity and the friendship with God that we have through baptism, is that He makes us not slaves who don't know what their master is about, but intellgient collaboraters in His plan of salvation.

We get to know the Lord by living the Christian life, and through prayer.  The more we get to know Him and ourselves, the more confident we become in exercising the "office" He has given us.

#18 - Feb. 13 at 2:30pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Fr. Roger Landry

So as to the infelicitous phrase in the original article, I didn't mean to imply either/or, but both/and, something more like Acts 15, "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…"

I have to object to this too.  It seems to me that in that verse in Acts, Peter was handing down an ex cathedra decision, as Pope (though of course we didn't yet have either term).  Therefore had the guarantee of the Holy Spirit.  He was explicitly declaring a binding decision.  He was invoking divine authority.

This decision of Pope Benedict's is in an altogether different category.  It was not an ex cathedra, doctrinal decision for the whole Church.  It was a personal decision, a human decision, responsibly and prayerfully exercised.  

I think the Pope has deliberately refrained from treating as something the faithful should regard as "God's will".  Rather, it's the conscientious decision of a man of deep thoughtfulness and prayer, who knows well what the job calls for, and recognizes that it is beyond his health and strength to continue.

He knows that it's within the authority of his office to resign.  So, he resigned. 

#19 - Feb. 13 at 2:42pm | quote

 

Fr. Roger Landry

The real issue at hand, it strikes me, is what is involved in discernment. I have about 30 spiritual directees — priests, deacons, religious, consecrated women and a few lay people — who are freely and constantly seeking in prayer what the Lord is asking of them. They want what God wants and recognize that the pinnacle of freedom is doing what they ought, not necessarily what may please themselves most. 

Having spent two years studying and preaching about Pope Benedict's writings on prayer (both papal and pre-papal), this is what I'm convinced is the way he looks at the decision. It seems to be quite clear he wanted to resign but he repeatedly consulted the Lord in conscience to determine whether it was the right and moral thing to do, whether it was a decision that conformed with God's will for him and for the Church. I'm convinced that, short of having total confidence that what he was doing was what God wanted, he wouldn't have made the decision to lay down his office, because, precisely, he's not a child insisting on his own will, but a mature adult wanting to do the will of the Lord he loves.

#20 - Feb. 13 at 2:51pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Final thought:

I don't mean to suggest that it's impossible that God made it clear to the Pope that He wanted him to resign.  That may well be the case.  My point is only that He needn't have done so in order for the faithful to be confident that it was a good decision.

#21 - Feb. 13 at 2:54pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Fr. Roger Landry

The real issue at hand... is what is involved in discernment. 

 Yes, I agree.  I also agee with you that the pinnacle of freedom is doing what I ought rather than what I please.  But I'm still not satisfied that you you see the problem I am trying to point to.

Maybe let me put this way: The right question in discernment is often not, "Lord, what do you want me to do here?" but rather, "What should I do?  What is right for me to do?" 

I would go so far as to say that in many cases—and maybe especially in the conduct of office—the latter question is the more perfect question, because the authority for making the decision rests in the office—and therefore in the person holding the office.   We are not looking to God to make the decision and communicate it to us; rather we are conscious that the decision is our responsibility.

I know many religious Catholics who reduce the spiritual life to obedience to God's revealed will.  They have a tendency to think they cannot make a move until "God tells them" what to do.  This is not our faith.

#22 - Feb. 13 at 4:55pm | quote

 

Fr. Roger Landry

If I'm understanding you correctly, I think you're exactly wrong about the question in discernment and in conscience. For someone who loves and serves the Lord, the question is precisely, "Lord, what do you want me to do here?" It's not and never will be a question independent of God's will. The whole point of prayer and the Christian life is to seek, find, love and be transformingly united with God, which means we learn to love what he loves and want what he wants. The question, "What should I do?," especially with regard to a big decision like resigning the papacy, is and must be coextensive with the question, "Lord, what should I do? What do you want of me?" Remember, we're not voluntarists pitting our will against God's. We recognize his will is for our good and happiness. 

We're not looking to God to make a decision. We're asking God to reveal to us his purpose for us, who we are, why we're here, what's for our own good, his glory and the good of others. 

You seem to be reducing issues of spiritual discernment to prudential decisions made in the light of God. 

#23 - Feb. 13 at 5:11pm | quote

 

Fr. Roger Landry

Continuing… 

There's no need to ask God everything — e.g., "Lord, do you want me to have an apple or an orange for dessert?" — and the Lord wants us to be prudent and responsible, applying what he's already taught us and sound human judgment to the multitude of decisions we make each day. There are also lots of decisions on bigger things that are made prudentially when God doesn't clearly reveal himself and his will in prayer. God, after all, has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to buttress the natural virtue of prudence. 

But I want to insist that this not what discernment is about, as a mere application of moral principles to our decision-making. It's an active listening to God's voice in prayer, not just seeking his opinion and then making the decision on our own, but asking for his guidance to make the right decision, which is the decision that conforms to his plans for us, especially in the big vocational decisions of life. 

Throughout this thread you seem to reduce God's agency in discernment and in prayer, as if God's helping in this way incompatible with human spiritual maturity. It's not. It's foundational. 

#24 - Feb. 13 at 5:17pm | quote

 

Samwise

Fr. Roger Landry, Feb. 13 at 6:11pm

We recognize his will is for our good and happiness. 

You seem to be reducing issues of spiritual discernment to prudential decisions made in the light of God. 

 2 cents:

Free will vs. voluntary will--

All men exercise free will daily in their decision-making.  Like natural/cardinal virtue, it is typical of un-redeemed man but important for living well in the world, prospering, etc.

Few men exercise voluntary will, that is, the clear, unquestionable, and single-hearted living out of Divine purposes daily.  Faith, hope, and love (deep prayer life) are necessary for this type of redeemed living, not just natural virtue.

In my view, Katie is arguing for both of these exercises of will in a Christian's life (which is the norm).  Whereas, Fr. Landry is holding man to a higher standard. 

Conclusion: we should hold Fr. Landry's view and not settle for free will, because his view will bring us true freedom (freedom for excellence, perfection and communion with God).

Nevertheless, we should still be aware of free will, since we live in a fallen world.

#25 - Feb. 14 at 8:21am | quote

 

Samwise

'fallen world' meaning, people's free-will is oftentimes void of faith, hope, and charity.  It can easily be self-centered, worldly, self-protective/exemplary of natural virtue, but lacking mercy/grace/love. 

(feel free to correct me if I speak heresy on these points, thks)

#26 - Feb. 14 at 9:02am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

You're definitely not understanding me, Father, or the concern I'm addressing.  I'll try spelling it out further in a separate post.

Here I'll just say I agree with you that our aim as Christians is to "live and move and having our being" in God, to be united with Him and transformed through His grace, to have perfect harmony between our will and His, and in all things to seek what is holy and love what is right.

I am not a voluntarist.  

The term voluntarism would be better applied to the view I am here critiquing, namely a view wherein there is an essential and ineradicable gap between the what and why of my acting.  I don't see; I don't understand.  I just do as I'm told.

Nor do I hold that our discernment is a mere application of moral principles.  Rather, Christian discernment is rooted in a lived, intimate relationship with God.  My point is only that, in that relationship, our selfhood as individuals is not abolished, but enhanced.  

Our relation to God is not the relation of a slave to his master.  His will is for us to exercise ours.

#27 - Feb. 14 at 9:05am | quote

 

Devra Torres

No time to do this whole dialogue justice, but I just wanted to say, first, Hi, Father Roger, and welcome!  I was just thinking of the Scavi tour you gave us in Rome, back in the Year of Jubilee, because our son, Baron, is there now (he's 20 now--he was 7 then!).

Second, here's a funny (and relevant) story: Long, long ago, when I was trying to discern whether I was called to religious life or marriage, a pious friend advised me to pray to St. Therese to send me a red rose for marriage, a white one for the convent.  I did this, completely in the spirit of "Hey, this is great--a way to circumvent actually making a decision!"  Very soon afterward, as I was walking down the street minding my own business, a complete stranger who had been working in his garden came up to me and handed me a rose.  It was pink.

(Not meant as an argument for one side or the other!)

 

 

#28 - Feb. 14 at 9:00pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

May I gingerly venture to suggest that perhaps, Katie, Fr. Landry could have the impression from what you have said (except for your latest comment above) that you tend to give short shrift not only to the importance--but to the primacy--of grace in discernment. The way you have been writing might be seen as placing an unbalanced primacy on merely natural human reason, and only considering the role of grace as a kind of afterthought.


I don't necessarily think you hold this. But, the things you emphasize above can make it seem as though you regard unaided human reason as primary, and grace as a distant second, in their relative importance for making a serious discernment.

I would also venture to suggest that your language could seem to preclude the possibility of God making his preference known in some personal way via some sort of communication through the created world (indirectly, through secondary causes) to a person who is deeply open to grace and ardently desiring to embrace God's will in freedom. Not speaking here of a miraculous manifestation. But, a quiet, subtle message that only a prayerful soul attuned to the Holy Spirit would perceive.

#29 - Feb. 15 at 3:55am | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Katie, I think your main concern seems to be the depersonalizing tendency toward "overspiritualization" of certain pious but misdirected souls. They perhaps have an unfortunate notion of the typical operation of God's grace as something that sends pious persons direct, specific, clear and obvious messages. And on top of this erroneous notion, they can mistake their own merely human emotions (especially when intense) for such clear divine communication.

Given your aim to keep in mind this (appropriate) concern, I think you may be in the process overlooking or downplaying the initiative and freedom of God in the way His grace might be infused into a particular person.

I would like to offer the following thought (not seeing it as a contrary statement to your thoughts, Katie, but more as a suggested balancing): That a guiding grace can be communicated to a human person in such a way that both a) a supernatural element is present in the interaction beyond what nature alone could originate, and b) the freedom of the individual person is fully intact, with all of his natural faculties of mind, heart, and will unfettered and able to act fully.

#30 - Feb. 15 at 4:18am | quote

 

Scott Johnston

It's hard to try to put this into words. . .

So, in an authentic and robust process of personal, spiritual discernment, more than natural faculties of the person are involved. Divine in-breaking can happen in a way that surprises--that is unexpected; in a way that is recognizable to the person as coming from above. But, also, the graced insinuation of a divine message to a particular person that is particular for that person, I want to say, ordinarily does not have a spectacular character. It's not usually an externally impressive happening. This is what is involved in discernment. The eventual recognition is of gentle whispers of divine origin, at first unnoticed, but coming to be seen more evidently over time and with consistant prayer and openness to grace. Supernatural, but cloaked from all but the most spiritually attuned. Supernatural, but working delicately through the natural.

God, I want to say, can take an initiative in leading a person who is truly open to seeing a path the Lord is offering to Him. This interaction, though from above--supernatural--happens in such a way that the person is not overwhelmed, not forced, never stripped of his full personal integrity, individuality and freedom.

#31 - Feb. 15 at 4:32am | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Thank you, Fr. Landry and Scott, for pressing the issue a bit. Katie's point is one that easily falls between the cracks, and the discussion here helps me to get a firmer grasp on it.

In The World and the Person, Guardini says about the medieval concept of the world, that for all its fervor and greatness, "it contained at all points, [a] religious short-circuit. The absolute was so strongly felt that the finite and its own meaning were not given proper and proportionate consideration."

I think Katie's point about the person is analogous. We must be careful, in our zeal to live for God and do His will, not to take a similar "religious short-cut." God created us to love and serve him indeed, but to do so as self-standing and self-determining persons. It is the last part of that sentence that is overlooked by the hyper-pious people Katie mentions in her post, and also by the expression Fr. Landry used in his article about Benedict's resignation: that "it was not his decision, but the Lord’s."

Katie was not trying, then, to write a comprehensive article, but to highlight and rescue one important truth in danger of being overlooked.

#32 - Feb. 15 at 12:29pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Last comment continued:

It is possible, of course, to distort a truth by taking it out of context, or by absolutizing it. But one can also miss a truth, or underestimate its significance, by a premature desire for balance and completeness. The latter, it seems to me, is the greater danger in this comment thread.

Here is an illustration of what I mean. Fr Landry writes:

For someone who loves and serves the Lord, the question is precisely, "Lord, what do you want me to do here?" It's not and never will be a question independent of God's will. The whole point of prayer and the Christian life is to seek, find, love and be transformingly united with God, which means we learn to love what he loves and want what he wants.

In itself this is entirely true and beautiful. But in the present context what strikes me most is that Katie's concern is not really addressed. It has become invisible. It has been submerged, rather than qualified and completed. This is why the hyper-pious teenager Katie refers to in her post can endorse it as wholeheartedly as can I. So what happened to the problem of over-spiritualization?

#33 - Feb. 15 at 12:31pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Scott Johnston

But, the things you emphasize above can make it seem as though you regard unaided human reason as primary, and grace as a distant second, in their relative importance for making a serious discernment.

I will say candidly—since gingerliness is alien to my nature :)—that anyone who thought that would be misreading what I wrote.   The distinction I'm making throughout is between two ways of understanding how grace operates, not between grace and "unaided reason"—as if sometimes we seek grace and sometimes we decide to forgo grace!

I would also venture to suggest that your language could seem to preclude the possibility of God making his preference known in some personal way via some sort of communication through the created world (indirectly, through secondary causes) to a person who is deeply open to grace and ardently desiring to embrace God's will in freedom. 

This, too, would be a misreading. Not only do I not preclude the possibilty, I affirm it explicitly and repeatedly.

I only deny that in all concrete cases of discernment, the Christian is supposed to find out what decision God wants him to make, and then obey it. 

#34 - Feb. 15 at 1:07pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Katie, I think your main concern seems to be the depersonalizing tendency toward "overspiritualization" of certain pious but misdirected souls. 

Yes and no.  The problem is particularly acute and noticeable is some cases—especially among new and young Christians, or in certain cult-like communities that overstress obedience.  But I actually think it quite a common problem.  It is a widespread confusion about the spiritual life.  And the issue isn't that these souls demand clear and direct answers to prayer, when really we come to know God's will in more discrete ways.  Nor is it that they confuse their human feelings for God's will.  That's an entirely different problem (likewise frequenty found among those who "overspiritualize".)

My concern is with those who fail to be properly selves in their relation to God—with those who think that to be holy means to live as if we have no will of our own—as if all that we are is God's "yes men", as it were.

I am working on a longer post to draw out my meaning more fully.  Here I'll just say that a properly full and personal "yes-with-our-lives" to God entails the creative exercise of our wills, our personal subjectivity.  

#35 - Feb. 15 at 1:29pm | quote

 

Devra Torres

That strikes me more and more: the importance of rightly understanding things like the imitation of Christ, conformity to the will of God, losing the self in order to gain it, selflessness. laying down one's life, "no longer I live, but Christ lives in me"...They're straight out of Scripture and sound doctrine, but they're very easy to misinterpret.

#36 - Feb. 15 at 1:46pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Devra Torres, Feb. 15 at 2:46pm

That strikes me more and more: the importance of rightly understanding things like the imitation of Christ, conformity to the will of God, losing the self in order to gain it, selflessness. laying down one's life, "no longer I live, but Christ lives in me"...They're straight out of Scripture and sound doctrine, but they're very easy to misinterpret.

 I agree, Devra.  We easily go off.  

One thing that helps me conceive it is John Crosby's distinction between self-giving and self-squandering.  

We can give ourselves well and fully only if we first "possess ourselves" well and fully.  

If we don't "take possession of the land" that is our interiority and the whole range of responsibilities entrusted to our care, it will tend to get overrun.  It won't be a beautiful, rich, fruitful, and aromatic habitable place for God or anyone else to dwell...

#37 - Feb. 15 at 1:56pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

My concern is with those who fail to be properly selves in their relation to God—with those who think that to be holy means to live as if we have no will of our own—as if all that we are is God's "yes men", as it were.

Thank you, Katie. This is well said and helpfully clarifying. I totally agree with you. (And interestingly, the way you are probing this type of issue reminds me of Dominicans. It was my experience of Dominicans--generally speaking--that they tend to have a healthy caution about situations that seem hyper-pious, not because they are against piety per se, but, they are sensitive to a lack of an appropriate human balance in the spiritual life for the very reasons that you are speaking of here--especially this particular clarification of yours that I quoted).

At the same time, I want to mention that it is also a temptation for more intellectual persons to use a reason like this (of not living the faith with one's entire human self) as an excuse for not engaging their heart and will fully, but remaining too exclusively in their head. (witness too many theology professors of the last century)

#38 - Feb. 15 at 6:46pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

A few additional points I would like to offer:

Any time the subject of the spiritual life and the human person's individual relationship to God with it's full and mysterious dynamism is broached, it is difficult to generalize. We should try (as the Saints who wrote about the spiritual life did), but there is a paradox in effect. The human uniqueness and unrepeatable individuality of each person standing before God makes the particular character of each person's relationship to God unlike in some ways to that of any other person. Caution is needed lest we over-generalize based on somthing more in the category of a dynamic particular to ourselves. But, of course, as human persons, there are also many things that are relevant to all. Seems a bit like trying to write about marriage. Each couple is unique. And yet, there is much that is applicable to all.

I am very mindful of being a total novice when it comes to the spritual life, and I want to acknowledge that the personal experience of a priest who has directed many people one-on-one (e.g. Fr. Landry) gives that person access to insights and wisdom I do not have.

#39 - Feb. 15 at 7:17pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

The Christian aspects of our American culture, such as it is, are definitely Protestant. This has a big impact on this whole subject and lies behind, I think, why Katie above says that over-spiritualization (in the standing-before-God-not-as-my-fully-whole-and-unique-self, way) is a wider problem than we may realize.

I think (and I may be oversensitive to this as a convert) that Protestant spirituality (to the degree it can be lumped together at least according to what it lacks in common) is very prone to this problem--more so than Catholicism. Now, this is speaking very broadly; and there are certainly many Protestants who are very grounded and very themselves before God (and many Catholics in more Catholic cultures who are not). But I think it's generally true. Catholic spiritual writers (Saints and especially Doctors of the Church) have a depth to them that, generally speaking, I don't think is present as much in Protestant spirituality. I hope I don't sound anti-Protestant by saying such a thing. I don't intend such.

#40 - Feb. 15 at 7:32pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Scott Johnston

I am very mindful of being a total novice when it comes to the spritual life, and I want to acknowledge that the personal experience of a priest who has directed many people one-on-one (e.g. Fr. Landry) gives that person access to insights and wisdom I do not have.

Well, now wait.  Here you seem to be suggesting that since Fr. Landry is a priest involved in spiritual direction (while I am not), his view on the matter must be superior to mine, so I shouldn't be criticising his public comments.

This is a version of an argument from authority, which doesn't belong in a discussion like this.

I only "know" Fr. Landry through this article of his, which a friend had linked at Facebook, so I do not refer to him when I say have known many priests who are themselves guilty of the fault I am here addressing and who have therefore mis-directed the souls under their care.

Moreover, an excessive deference to priests is one of the symptoms of the spiritual immaturity I am speaking of.

Laymen have our own, independent contact with the spiritual realm, our own powers of insight into truth.

#41 - Feb. 16 at 9:34am | quote

 

Sapperdepitjes

Our human condition is set in time and space. When we make a decision, there's a before and an after. God is not bound by our time and space limits. He's at our before and after "at the same time". But not just as a spectator. I admit that his moving our souls without affecting our freedom remains somewhat mysterious to me. I remember having read in Scripture: Nobody can say Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Spirit...

#42 - Feb. 16 at 11:36am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

It is very mysterious.  And yet, though we can't comprehend it fully, we can affirm certain truths and repudiate certain errors in our understanding of the mystery, can't we?

We can say that while our freedom as persons is not absolute, it is still real freedom.  We can say that that freedom of our consciences is not limited to the freedom we exercise in saying "yes or no" to God.

We can say that God's will doesn't move us the way my will moves my fingers as I type.  He relates to us as persons, not as mere instruments of His ends.  He doesn't act through us the way a ventriloquist speaks though his puppets—so that our aim is to be as "empty" and insignificant as possible, in order not to interfere with whatever He wants.

We can say that, in creating us persons, God "hands us over to ourselves", in such a way that His power is manifest in and through our freedom.  We can say that we ought to take responsibility for ourselves: for what we want, what we hold, what we aim for and why...

#43 - Feb. 16 at 12:13pm | quote

 

Sapperdepitjes

When we do good, we are in harmony with truth and truly free. When we do evil, we show our capacity to be free but we are not, and become the slave of our sin...

#44 - Feb. 17 at 4:30am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Friend Marie Meaney just put this up at Facebook.  It strikes me as apropos:

‎'Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:

"I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. ... I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined."

 

#45 - Feb. 17 at 8:51am | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Katie van Schaijik, Feb. 17 at 9:51am

It strikes me as apropos 

Are you kidding me? Strikes you as apropos? I would say it is absolutely perfect!

#46 - Feb. 17 at 1:05pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Okay.  Still lots of loose ends hanging, but I finally managed to finish take II on this theme.  

#47 - Feb. 17 at 8:33pm | quote

 

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