Category: Pope Francis


AMDG

‘Saints next door’ is what the Pope Francis reminds us of in his new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. This encouraging document is a call to holiness in today’s world and it may prove more attractive to many young people than the empty promises of celebrity and the tyranny of physical perfection.  The Pope is reminding us that ‘Holiness’ is not just found in esoteric devotional practices or historical hagiographical accounts.  Holiness is ‘a practical way for our own time.’

It is tempting to restrict our understanding of holiness to something that is for ‘professional religious’ i.e. for monks and nuns, and therefore out of the reach of ordinary people. However, in Vatican 2, Lumen Gentium spoke with great clarity about ‘The universal call to holiness’.  Pope John Paul II spoke powerfully about holiness being a task, not a state.   Here Pope Francis is building on this,  showing how this path to holiness involves a daily encounter between our weakness and the transformative power of God’s grace.

There is nothing new or radical about this, it has been a theme in the Church at many different times of renewal in its long and fascinating history – recently Francis de Sales gave some very practical steps for this.  For Pope Francis, as well as encouraging every-day holiness,  it is also about spotting the temptation to ‘false forms of holiness’.  Some of his familiar themes come up, for instance, the simple but heroic act of resisting gossip is a step on this path to holiness. Listening with patience and love, in a time when the experience of attentive listening and being listened too is becoming all too rare, is another way.  There is also some very good advice about where many of us spend a lot of our lives – online.

“  115 Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the
internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media,
limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and
all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.
The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be
unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own
discontent by lashing out at others. It is striking that at times, in claiming to
uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids
bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others. Here we see how the
unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze (cf. Jas 3:6).”

 

 

AMDG

How do we know we are on the right track in life? There are many cues that we get from our friends, work, family,  that we are socially integrating well.  Sometimes this is not enough and we become aware of deeper things and internal experiences. We get an itch that something is missing or conversely we sense that everything is going well.

Human beings are quite brilliant in many ways, with varying levels of mastery in different areas. Howard Gardener famously classified 9 types of intelligence or 9 ways of being smart –

  • Naturalist (nature smart)
  • Musical (sound smart)
  • Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
  • Existential (life smart)
  • Interpersonal (people smart)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
  • Linguistic (word smart)

St Ignatius teaches us how to be spiritually intelligent.  Maybe that is linked with being ‘life smart’.

Aware of the complexity and richness of our inner life – Ignatius talks about ‘spiritual movements’. He describes spiritual consolation as being an interior movement.  In order to recognise consolation,  one has to be sensitive to the whole fluid and elusive world of one’s feelings and reactions and so we have to be wary of false-consolations. Spiritual consolation is more than just ‘feeling good’,  our feelings vary and sometimes are not trustworthy. So how can we discern than an experience is one of true consolation? Ignatius says it will be marked by an increase of faith, hope, love and interior joy.  It also leads to a sense of peace which has a deeper quality to it – the peace which the world cannot give.

download (2)We shouldn’t be suspicious of consolation especially when we are surrounded by a narrative of decline in society and in the church. It is easy to mistrust it – or not expect it if we have low expectations and our hearts have become hardened.  Pope Francis in an address to his fellow Jesuits at their most recent General Congregation to be insistently seeking consolation. “ It is the task of the Society to console the faithful and to help with discernment so that the enemy of human nature does not rob us of joy: the joy of evangelising, the joy of the family, the joy of the Church, the joy of creation. That it does not rob from us, neither in discouragement when faced with the greatness of the ills of the world and the misunderstandings between those who presume to do good, nor fill us with fatuous joys that are always to hand in any shop. Thisservice of joy and spiritual consolation’ is rooted in prayer. It consists of encouraging us and encouraging all to insistently ask for God’s consolation. … Practising and teaching this prayer of asking and begging for consolation is the principal service to joy. … Joy is not a decorative ‘plus’, but rather a clear indication of grace: it indicates that love is active, operative and present … and it is sought in its existential index which is permanence. In the Exercises, progress in spiritual life is given in consolation. … This service of joy was what led the first companions to decide not to disband but to constitute the society they offered and they shared spontaneously, and whose characteristic was the joy that they received from praying together, going out in mission together and returning to reunite, in imitation of the life the Lord led with His Apostles. This joy of the explicit proclamation of the Gospel – through the preaching of faith and the practice of justice and mercy – is what led the Society to go out towards all the peripheries. The Jesuit is a servant of the joy of the Gospel”.

 

Spiritual Exercises    Rule Three – First week

I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.

Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise.

Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

AMDG

Milton Erikson,  a  psychiatrist, would ask patients who were experiencing depression to count chimneys.  It proved to be surprisingly successful.  First of all, it got people out of their houses (rather than sitting inside and letting negative thoughts rotate around their heads.  Secondly, when they were outside counting chimneys they lifted their heads up ensuring the maximum amount of daylight was entering their eyes.  This simple act would lift their spirits in a very effective way.  By forcing his patients to get out of their head and be more present to the environment a desolating spell had been broken.  This is exactly what happens every time we deliberately get out of our heads and engage with the present,  in the popular pseudo-Buddhist language it is a form of mindfulness. In the language of Pope Francis and Evangelium Gaudium, ‘Realities are more important than ideas’ 231-233.

Returning to the world of ideas, maybe the next step then would then be developing a mindfulness of gratitude – or ‘gratefulness’.  Start the day in gratefulness of a hot shower. For me, it is something that I am especially aware of when I come back from travelling, particularly in the developing world.  I find myself standing in a powerful hot shower in the morning, thinking about all that has gone into this working. It helps me start the day in a good mood, grateful for all that has gone right to put that in place, trying not to feel ‘entitled’ to have a hot shower when so many of the billions on the planet don’t have a luxury like this to start the day.  I think of friends I have lived with in India, Peru, the Philippines, East Africa all whose morning ablutions are very different.

When I am actually standing in the shower I think of where the water is from the Thames or the River Lee? What journey has it been on, from Teddington Weir or closer? How does it get to Tottenham in the first place?  All the infrastructure that comes into play to get clean water in my shower, all the thing that have to go right for it to be a reliable supply.  Then I think about the thermostat hidden away somewhere that constantly adjusts the temperature so that I’m not boiled like a lobster or frozen like a penguin, especially when someone else is using water in the building.  Having experienced a fair amount of showers that are alternately too hot or too cold, this feels like a blessing.  Then the electric pump that makes sure that high-pressure water comes out which is so refreshing.

It’s a simple exercise but a great way to start the day.