From Nothing But Christ: A Benedictine Approach to Lay Spirituality
Complacency is the sin of the rich, and because we are rich in faith and the sight of God we are all too often guilty of it. Like all sins of omission it is an easy sin to commit; we just do nothing. And at that we are all experts. Saint John said that Christ “was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came into his own, and his own received him not.” (1:10,11) This is intolerable, and we should never rest until we have righted the wrong.
Our Lord spoke of casting fire on the Earth and of how he was in eager distress until it had been kindled. Can we dare either to horde the fire of faith or neglect to pass it on? If we do, we do so at the risk of watching the fire grow dim, flicker, gasp, and then go out. To live it must grow and give birth. Our faith, by an intrinsic necessity, demands that we be apostles.
That is what Saint Benedict meant when he wrote that we were to bind our lives with “faith and the performance of good works.” (Prologue) The second follows from the first. Truth always implies rights and obligations. Truth, simply because it is truth, imposes the obligation of giving to others this treasure that is not diminished by being shared with many. The obligation is all the greater when the truth is divine truth. Watch carefully and you will notice that where the obligation is not adverted to a cancer sets in; the cancer does not corrupt the truths of faith but the sick repository of a faith that has become static. The apostolate is one among many of the good works which flow from faith. We mention it because it is one of the most noble of the good works, and because it is so easily forgotten.
Only our faith can triumph over the world. And we know that there can be no triumph without a battle, no battle if there are only generals, but no soldiers. Besides, will the victory really be ours if we have neglected to fight? How can we be found good and faithful servants if we have refused to serve? A Catholic must be an apostle, soldier, and servant under the penalty of not being Christian.
Our faith introduces us into a mysticism (which is not the same as something unreal or vague or illusory) for by it we are led not only to the love of God, but also to the mind of God. We make judgments that are truly divine, see with a sight that has about it the power and penetration of God’s sight. The world too has its faith; we might call it the faith of unbelief. And it is not without its own peculiar mysticism. Mysticism, whether true or false, has always been found attractive and enticing. Once we surrender to mysticism it gathers us to itself and binds us to the faith from which it springs.
There is eternal enmity between the faith of God and the faith of the world, as also between the mysticism of God and the mysticism of the world. Our mysticism is bound up with the transformation and transfiguration of man and all that man uses to attain God. In the light of faith all is seen as touched by God; what has been touched by God cannot but speak to us of God. Seeing with the sight of God we perceive God everywhere we look: in the crank next door, in our friends and enemies, in the beauty of a waterfall, in the glory of an afternoon in May. We not only believe, but we see that “God is present everywhere. . . always.” (c.19) Our mysticism has an upward motion; it is Godward.
In order not to be considered inferior the mysticism of the world’s faith boasts of a transfiguration. But here the movement and motion is downward. It would not be too bad if the downward motion ended with man; usually it finds its ultimate in that which is less than human. The transformation effected by the faith of the world consists of two things: denudation and isolation. First man and all that man uses or comes in contact with is stripped of anything that is not purely human. The divine has no place in this mysticism because it is considered an illusion not taken seriously by men of mature minds and intellectual attainments. Grace and glory, the presence of God, nature as a reflection of God’s perfections, man as the image of God, all of these must go. They are not only illusory, they are positive hindrances to man’s attainment of the things that really are. They are treated as old garments, threadbare and patched and dirty which must be stripped from man so as to reveal man in his own bare beauty. Because the demanding is done with such religious fervor no notice is taken of the fact that in divesting man of the divine, great strips of what is human are torn off. Now we can understand what the Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, meant when he said that this mysticism is not satisfied “with the miracle of turning water into wine; it goes further; it changes wine into water.”
But it is not sufficient that man be exposed in all his nakedness. He must be isolated from God and all that smacks of God. This isolation does not consist in placing man in opposition to God; that would focus too much attention on God and defeat the purpose of isolation. Rather it consists of a studied indifference. This is better than open opposition to God because it is more casual. Its nonchalance gradually sinks into that forgetfulness which Saint Benedict so feared.
In the passionate zeal to isolate man from God, and to do it with an affected carelessness, it is not adverted to that in isolating man from God, man has been isolated from man. On discovering the accomplished fact there is little remorse; it could not have given the mystics of the world’s faith more pleasure had they thought the bright idea themselves. Each thing, cats, and cows, and carnations, and cowboys is a god unto itself. They owe no dependence on any other being. They find their perfection and purpose in themselves. They realize that it is a selfish perfection, but that is what makes it so satisfying.
What did escape them was that in isolating man from God, and man from other men, they also isolated man from himself. And that is the surest way to destruction and annihilation.
It will not be an easy task to show minds perverted by the glamour of the worldly mysticism that our miracle of changing water into wine is preferable to theirs of changing wine into water. The false mysticism that the faith of the world diffuses has a will to live which presents a formidable barrier to our efforts to win the world for God. Difficult though the task is, it is quite definitely our task. It is a task that will never be accomplished by the comfortable philosophy of letting good enough alone and minding our own business. Incidentally, truth is always our business.