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Katie van Schaijik

Layers of being

Aug. 16 at 9:31am

The other day Jules and I had the rare privilege of getting to spend some hours visiting with three of the Carthusian monks at the Charter House of the Transfiguration in Vermont. They are the only Carthusians in North America. They had invited Alice von HIldebrand, who asked us to bring her. (I so regret not taking a picture! I will see if I can record the beautiful story of her connection to the monastery later today.)

To be with them was to be renewed in faith and hope for the Church. Their serenity was palpable. It was impossible not to feel how attuned they are to God and to humanity, despite their almost unthinkable physical isolation.

One of the three, Fr. Philip, a Norwegian, who has been at the monastery since its founding in 1970, spoke of his joy over the recent conversion of his brother.  He had been praying for him for 50 years.

The Abbot, a Filipino name Fr. Lorenzo Maria, said something that I've been mulling since. He spoke of one of the monks who had died there. He said that while outwardly, even up to the end, this monk had retained some difficult traits (probaby for his humiliy), he, as his Abbot, was able to recognize and attest that, inwardly, he had achieved a high degree of holiness.

I find this a remarkably beautiful and consoling insight. "Don't judge a person by appearances," apparently doesn't refer only to looks, but even to a kind of "first level" of behavior!  Apparently it's possible for a person to achieve holiness inwardly, even though he isn't able to overcome all his real faults.

It reminds me of something I read about in the life of Catherine Doherty, foundress of the Madonna House. One of the house members complained to her spiritual director about Catherine's irritability. She couldn't understand how it could be compatible with her vaunted Christianity. The priest said the woman complaining, "You have to understand: She has no skin." She was undergoing such intense interior trials that her whole being was rendered raw. The slightest touch was painful to her.

We have to be very careful in judging—ourselves as well as others—don't we?


 

Patrick Dunn

""Don't judge a person by appearances," apparently doesn't refer only to looks, but even to a kind of "first level" of behavior! Apparently it's possible for a person to achieve holiness inwardly, even though he isn't able to overcome all his real faults."

In theory, I have a hard time reconciling this with something like the fruits of the Holy Spirit as evidence of true communion with God, or the notion of Christians loving one another as evidence of their authenticity in following Christ (clearly this is a non-negotiable yet who doesn't struggle with loving others?), although in experience, what you note seems to be true. 

It has caused me to change my way of thinking about conversion, though I do struggle to have confidence in the authenticity of my own following of Christ because of the apparent divide between what I observe about myself and my own "vaunted Christianity." 

Sometimes I think that if it wasn't for St. Therese and her teaching about littleness and bearing with our own weakness I would become a practical agnostic when it comes to God's transforming grace.

#1 - Aug. 16 at 12:12pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Patrick, I'm right there with you. The Abbot's comment helped me to realize at a newly that I often focus on the wrong things, and I become discouraged over surface failures without realizing the progress that is happening a level deeper down.

But really it shouldn't be such a doubtful principle to us, since we see it all the time in other areas.  Think, for instance, of the way a flesh wound often gets uglier while it's healing.  Or the way the symptoms of a virus can linger, even we're basically well again.

#2 - Aug. 16 at 12:43pm | quote

 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

I think it is also very common for imperfections to manifest in one area as perfection is approached in another. You see this in people who are overcoming an addiction or other large vice--they often fall into small vices along the way, although the mammoth vice that had been central to their lives is defeated and their character has improved immeasurably. But they may, from the outside, look worse than before--the life long smoker is healthier when they quit, but will probably gain weight; the reformed alcoholic can finally keep a job, but may find his drinking was covering up anxiety that now manifests itself and hampers social interaction, and so on. 

In any case, I find that, as I have again and again experienced disappointment at the hands of people who are outwardly 'holy', I have come to value more the example of those holy men and women I know whose faults are visible to all, but whose virtues are nonetheless remarkable.

#3 - Aug. 19 at 11:15pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Yes, those are better examples of what I had meant to get at.

Like you, having had many bitter experiences of people who seem on one level irreproachable, I have learned not to be overly impressed with virtue on that first outward level.  And I've learned to be much more attentive to and appreciative of the remarkable moral beauties of some people I've found to be outwardly a mess, but golden deep down.

I does seem to me true that an inability to conquer certain bad habits can lead to a deep humility.

#4 - Aug. 21 at 10:09am | quote

 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

"I does seem to me true that an inability to conquer certain bad habits can lead to a deep humility."

Yes!  St. Paul certainly felt that his 'thorn in the flesh' only served to make God's hand in his life more remarkable and glorious.

Perhaps it is simply more difficult to confuse natural and supernatural virtue when our natural vices are so unavoidably evident. 

The Gospels also repeatedly point with approval to the gratitude and fervor of those who feel most keenly the value of God's mercy. 

#5 - Aug. 21 at 10:39am | quote

 

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