Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Ongoing Lent

I gave up Facebook for Lent and find, as I found last Lent, that it's surprisingly easy to go cold turkey -- so easy, in fact, that I feel, as I felt last year, that perhaps it was the wrong sacrifice. And yet, my days haven't become more productive, exactly, and I wonder what spiritual benefit I'm accruing, if any. Or is the point of Lent to accrue spiritual benefit, or is that a secondary effect of drawing closer to God? Am I even drawing closer to God? Lent is actually very much like ordinary life, in fact, in which no bright lights signal my spiritual path, no voices guide me, and as usual, I have to rely on my own discernment.

I've realized that the reason I'm not more productive even though I've cut out Facebook is because I was on Facebook a lot while nursing. Well, I'm still nursing a good portion of the day whether or not I'm scrolling through posts on my phone. Perhaps it would have been a more demanding sacrifice if I'd set strict limits on my browsing time. And now, since I'm not nursing in front of the computer either, I'm not reading blogs as much as I used to, and I feel like I've become oddly insular and lost my connection with the larger world, even though I still read the paper. In fact, I feel like my ability to write is slipping, in terms of focus and agility. And so I hesitate to write anything, and so skills atrophy further. Perhaps it would be a discipline to have a set amount of reading and writing time each day, but is that necessarily a spiritual discipline? Or since all aspects of life are connected, does any kind of increased discipline have a spiritual component?

Lent is, in short, a time of refinement, and I'll probably be refining my practice all the way to Holy Thursday. Something I have added is using all that nursing time to finally ready and chew on The Four Cardinal Virtues, by Josef Pieper, and in conjunction with that, to read Father Copleston's History of Philosophy, Volume 2, Part 2, on Thomas Aquinas. Pieper is drawing a great deal from the Summa in his study of virtue, and I'd like to read some of the original, but I'd like a curated introduction. Can anyone recommend a good introductory book of selections from the Summa?

I also need to refine my practice of prayer, which is currently a scattershot of intentions and unfocused meditations throughout the day. Maybe it's time to just buckle down to my stumbling block, the rosary. I can keep company with St. Therese, who said, "Reciting the Rosary costs me more than using an instrument of penance. I feel I say it so bad; in vain do I strive to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary; I am unable to fix my attention For a long time I was sad because of this lack of devotion which surprised me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to say in her honor prayers which please her so much. Now, it saddens me less; I think that the Queen of Heaven being my Mother, she must see my good will and be content with it."

I hope I evince enough good will for God to be content with it! There's another goal for the rest of Lent.

22 comments:

Brandon said...

Gilson's Moral Values and the Moral Life might do, but it could be hard to find. Peter Kreeft's A Summa of the Summa would probably work as well.

Jenny said...

"Or since all aspects of life are connected, does any kind of increased discipline have a spiritual component?"

YES! In my quest to get to work decently, I have been surprised by how much of it is spiritual. I intellectually knew that getting up earlier would be good for me overall even if painful in the beginning (and still painful in the meantime), but the spiritual clarity that comes from exercising the will in a deliberate way is a benefit I didn't see coming.

August said...

This whole approach is a bit of a novelty. At one time everyone in the village or whatever did the same thing, so there wasn't this personalization of it, and nobody had to sit around wondering whether they picked the right thing to give up. The fasts were harder too, but people were more used to it, and there were probably a lot more dispensations given.
So, the idea of a whole community doing it together has an aspect to it that is lost, which is similar to something I see with the Eucharist. Jesus allows this mystery of the Eucharist becoming His body so that we may become His body. But now we are invited to ponder His presence in the bread while ignoring the lack of coherence in our community. Indeed, I sort of hate using the word community, because I figure the meaning has been hijacked- but it doesn't take long for a fellow member of the laity to drive out of the parking lot and become 'traffic.'
Lent, in these individualistic times, threatens to be a way to define self over and against others, rather than developing that sense of being a part of His body. A personal sense of getting closer to God might even be detrimental to your spiritual health under these circumstances.

mrsdarwin said...

August, I am one of those who would qualify for a dispensation, as I'm currently nursing a two-month-old, but I too would like to be able to make a lenten sacrifice even if it can't involve fasting. There is obviously merit in a community doing things all together -- Stations of the Cross come to mind as a community lenten observance -- but perhaps the focus on "personalization" comes from the fact that even if the community as a whole is participating in the same sacrifice, the act of the sacrifice is has to be performed at a personal level. The community can't perform acts of virtue; only an individual can. It seems a bit of a stretch to assume that everyone trying to find the way to God in his or her own life, under his or her own circumstances, of "individualism". We are individuals, even as members of the body of Christ, and what is appropriate for the hand is not appropriate for the foot.

mrsdarwin said...

The results of commenting with baby. The second to last sentence above should read: "It seems a bit of a stretch to assume that everyone trying to find the way to God in his or her own life, under his or her own circumstances, is guilty of "individualism"."

August said...

Goodness, the individualistic approach isn't something someone can be guilty of. This an assumption, an approach we are taught in this country. When things don't work like I've been taught to assume they should, I go looking for clues as to what the progressives changed - for they are sneaky little devils who not only rail against tradition, but innovate and then call their innovations tradition.

Julie D. said...

You, me, Therese ... and the rosary. I've been feeling the same way. Never thought about the fact that it leaves me cold might make it a good offering. Will ponder that ...

Darwin said...

YES! In my quest to get to work decently, I have been surprised by how much of it is spiritual. I intellectually knew that getting up earlier would be good for me overall even if painful in the beginning (and still painful in the meantime), but the spiritual clarity that comes from exercising the will in a deliberate way is a benefit I didn't see coming.

I wish you'd tell us more about when you used to get to work indecently...

But seriously, folks.

This is something I've found in surprising areas as well. Simply exercising the will -- making a rule for oneself and keeping it -- every time -- seems to have a certain spiritual benefit. Perhaps because faith is an act of the will and when we conquer our natural desire to drift and exercise our will instead we get better at the act of faith? Or perhaps it has something to do with getting used to denying oneself.

This whole approach is a bit of a novelty. At one time everyone in the village or whatever did the same thing, so there wasn't this personalization of it, and nobody had to sit around wondering whether they picked the right thing to give up. The fasts were harder too, but people were more used to it, and there were probably a lot more dispensations given.

I suppose it's a bit of a novelty that the required elements of Lenten observance have become fairly light (abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), but it seems to me that picking individual sacrifices and devotions is something with a lot of history to it. Thomas More used to wear a hair shirt as a penance, but that doesn't mean everyone did. And I recall one of the things that struck me when reading Stripping of the Altars was the number of devotions and practices either taken on by individuals of particular devotion, or by groups which were subsets of the community.

Or, of course, more recently -- reading up a lot on turn of the century France -- you a lot of people who had no observance at all, some who did so badly, some who did so to the degree required, and a few who actually went beyond out of personal devotion.

I suppose the difference now is that simply doing all that which is required isn't itself all the onerous and so one feels that one should come up with some way to go a bit deeper.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I can't believe I forgot about St. Therese and the rosary! I'm actually not sure where I got the impression that the rosary was a devotion everybody did and found reasonably easy to do (barring occasional dry periods or special trials). Since I brought up this topic a few days ago, I've been running into a lot of personal stories about people either having difficulty with the rosary or feeling no personal connection to it.

Mrs. Darwin, if someone were to ask you why you persist in trying to say the rosary when there are other beautiful, traditional devotions available, what would you say?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Summa: may I suggest "Summa of the Summa" by Peter Kreeft--a really great, annotated selection of some of the best questions...

Emily J. said...

We were just talking the other day with our teenagers about reading for Lent and Thomas Aquinas came up. I said it's hard to read Th. Aq without a guide, and my husband mentioned a book he had in college - A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists by Ralph McInerny. (I had to google the full title.) I never read it, and my husband used it in a class that was taught by Prof. McInerny, so of course he had to like the book. But based on McInerny's other writings, it probably is accessible and kind of funny, while being full of truth.

Enbretheliel's question is interesting. We've been saying the nightly rosary most nights with the kids for about 16 years now. Sometimes only a decade, sometimes not all the kids are around, most of the time it's kind of a rushed and rote affair. 90% of the time my thoughts are wandering, as I'm sure theirs are, but at least it's a brief moment of communal prayer with the family and the kids remind us of it, even when we'd like to go to bed, and hopefully Mary has mercy on our pitiful attempts and accepts them. It's about the only thing we've got going with any regularity that we can say at least we did that.

mrsdarwin said...

E, I would say that it's an attempted act of humility. There are are so many good and holy people, great saints and exemplary men and women, who have had great devotion to the rosary and have praised its merit, that I can't simply dismiss it because it doesn't entertain me. And of course it's Mary's prayer, and I, like Therese, do have a devotion to Mary even though I'm not a devotee of the rosary.

As I think about this, I'm struck by how ridiculous it is to complain that my current penance isn't working because it seems too easy, and then immediately conclude that I'm not good at another one because it's hard.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

For those finding the Summa as such difficult, I suggest a first reading of what an author called Tour of the Summa. It contains for each article the title where you see what the question is and the response of St Thomas Aquinas, leaving out the objections nad his reply to them.

It could of course also be that Scholastic terminology makes other and actually incompatible habitual assumptions about nature.

In that case, make up your mind, but first find out what the scholastics meant, and there one Gilson would be helpful.

Barb said...

Have you tried using a book with meditations while praying the rosary? It has helped me tremendously...
I found the rosary difficult most of the time also but I can't help but think that there can be great benefit from doing something that is difficult.
When I was recovering from my surgeries with my cancer treatment, I had a very difficult time praying. Praying takes energy and I had little. I just occasionally said little prayers here and there at first when I could. The first real prayer I did after surgery was to say my rosary. Sometimes just a decade at a time and it was a comfort.

Julie D. said...

This is something I've found in surprising areas as well. Simply exercising the will -- making a rule for oneself and keeping it -- every time -- seems to have a certain spiritual benefit.

I've been finding this to be true with my Lenten penance. I'm actually enjoying having a particular limit in place, adhering to it, and knowing that is simply off-limits for me. It is very freeing and that in itself is refreshing.

E asked about doing a different devotion and that is what I've found myself doing in the last few weeks. Before Lent I said the rosary for a week. However, I somehow morphed that into reading a chapter of Exodus every day. No commentary. Just the chapter from the Knox translation. In the same way as the penance above, it has been relaxing and freeing. And I was quite surprised at some of the realizations I had about some of the bits that just never make it into the daily Mass readings. Or perhaps it is that I am reading it as a book. Anyway, this is how I realized that my particular devotion of lectio divina has been tabled for far too long ...

Foxfier said...

I accidentally downloaded the "scriptural rosary" last year before a long drive with the kids, and it hooked me.

http://rosaryarmy.newevangelizers.com/prayers/scriptural-rosary-sorrowful-mysteries/

At long last, I'm able to focus on the mystery being prayed about.
I have to use an MP3, because left to myself I either slur words, spend all my time focusing on my pronunciation or finish it in about ten minutes with no real clue what I just said. Going with a recording makes me slow down and lets the repetitions sink in better.

mandamum said...

Jenny and Darwin re. discipline and spiritual benefits:

A few years ago, I stumbled across the following quote from St. Josemaria Escriva (from Friends of God, they tell me) that I have returned to again and again as a homeschooling mother whose schedule (such as it is) is mostly under my "control" (such as it is).

"Penance is fulfilling exactly the timetable you have fixed for yourself, even though your body resists or your mind tries to avoid it by dreaming up useless fantasies. Penance is getting up on time and also not leaving for later, without any real reason, that particular job that you find harder or most difficult to do.

"Penance is knowing how to reconcile your duties to God, to others and to yourself, by making demands on yourself so that you find enough time for each of your tasks. You are practicing penance when you lovingly keep to your schedule of prayer, despite feeling worn out, listless or cold.

"Penance mans being very charitable at all times towards those around you, starting with the members of your own family. It is to be full of tenderness and kindness towards the suffering, the sick and the infirm. It is to give patient answers to people who are boring and annoying. It means interrupting our work or changing our plans, when circumstances make this necessary, above all when the just and rightful needs of others are involved.

"Penance consists in putting up with the thousand and one little pinpricks of each day; in not abanoning your job, although you have momentarily lost the enthusiasm with which you started it; in eating gladly whatever is served, without being fussy.

"For parents and, in general, for those whose work involves supervision or teaching, penance is to correct whenever it is necessary. This should be done bearing mind the type of fault committed and the situation of the person who needs to be so helped, not letting oneself be swayed by subjective viewpoints, which are often cowardly and sentimental.

"A spirit of penance keeps us from becoming too attached to the vast imaginative blueprints we have made for our future projects, where we have already foreseen our master strokes and brilliant successes. What joy we give to God when we are happy to lay aside our third-rate painting efforts and let him put in the features and colors of his choice!"

mandamum said...

I'd also recommend Summa of the Summa by Peter Kreeft, and anything by Ralph McInerny :) especially if it's "for Peeping Thomists" :) Or follow your Pieper trail and try his Guide to Thomas Aquinas. I love reading Pieper - he made me feel difficult things were intelligible when I read the Four Cardinal Virtues. Or - hey! - look at this: The Human Wisdom of St. Thomas by Pieper - Amazon blurb says he "has attached no commentary to the texts brought together in this breviary of the philosophy of St. Thomas, preferring that the reader should encounter them, "on his own". His work has been one of selection, in which he has sought to assemble such passages as will provide an introduction to the form and design of the whole Thomistic system." That sounds very like a curated introduction full of meat.

Banshee said...

Jose Maria Escriva also says that you should get up as soon as you wake up. Again, very simple, but valuable!

I've been doing iBreviary now that I've got a tablet. It's very nice for bus-riding and Lent.

mrsdarwin said...

Mandamum, that is the best, most relevant quote I've read in a long time. I think I'll print it out and put it on my fridge. Thank you.

Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP said...

Speaking as one who spent years getting no discernible benefit from the Rosary, until I did....

If you wish to acquire not just merit from praying the Rosary, but also consolations and deeper insight into the Gospels, please glance over 'The Rosary: 31 Days, 31 Ways', by Tom Kreitzberg of the Disputations blog.

As I said in a post on Korrektiv:

***

'With 31 short pieces — one for each day of October, the Month of the Rosary — you’re almost certain to find something practical — or at least, interesting. Some present venerable traditions; others are inventions or observations by the author. Many of them are suggestions about how to think through the Mysteries in greater depth — imagining what a specific person involved in the mystery would have experienced, say; or comparing two or more mysteries (e.g., Christ’s crowning with thorns and Mary’s crowning as Queen of Heaven and Earth); or seeing how a given mystery exemplifies a given virtue.'

***

Again, with my very warmest recommendation, here's Kreitzberg's piece:

'The Rosary: 31 Days, 31 Ways'

mrsdarwin said...

Thank you, Angelico! I'll be making use of this.

And here's something amusing and probably familiar: I was trying to pray, really pray, the rosary in bed the other night, and I had the most sterling reflection on one of the mysteries. It was some great insight, very deep, and I had the fleeting thought, "I'm going to write about this." And then I fell asleep, and now not only can I not recall the insight, I don't even remember which mystery of the rosary it was.