Monday, July 8, 2013

Holiness, Salvation - Simple?

I have mulled over this before. Salvation cannot be accessible only to those who can read, who have access to books (devotionals, bibles, manuals) because the vast numbers of people out there simply have not and will not have access to them, or be able to read them. Are we to believe that the billions of people before use simply could not be saved, or at least, could not become holy because they had no books, or ability to use books, AND no access to a spiritual director? That only nuns and monks and priests had access to holiness or salvation?

I don't believe it.

For that matter, there are a goodly number of Catholics who not only have no or limited access to books, or spiritual directors, but they also have limited access to the sacraments and to the ministers of the sacraments: to confession and the Mass. They might not even have access to a reasonably local church building.

So, holiness and salvation cannot be dependent upon books and daily Mass and regular confession. That cannot be God's intention, that lack of access to books means most people either barely get to heaven, or will certainly go to hell. It is not possible.

And yet, should the exceptional be the rule? I mean exceptional in that the church and the sacraments of the ordinary means of salvation and holiness, but if most people don't have regular access to them, that means most people are saved or made holy by the extraordinary means. That doesn't seem right either.

So, let's suppose that, in God's plan, even irregular, infrequent access to the sacraments and to good preaching are the ordinary means of salvation and holiness, what does that mean to those of us who have daily access to these things, but who are far from holy, and perhaps at risk of losing salvation? We are surrounded by sacramental and homiletic and devotional abundance, but we are caught up in the world's affairs and barely making it as Christians. How can this be? We are missing something.

And the early Christians did not have much of what we have. They did not have the devotionals. They probably did not have daily Mass or frequent access to confession, especially outside of the main cities like Antioch and Corinth and Rome. Yet many of them were holy. The monks in the desert, many of them, were very holy, with very limited access to these means.

Those of us in the first world, also, have come to rely on evangelization through the electronic media, but I think we are mostly perceived as a preachy, argumentative, hypocritical and judgmental lot. We even fight and argue amongst ourselves (just look at the comments on many Catholic sites.) We do not present the best of profiles for our faith. And many of us are not very dissimilar from unbelievers or persons of other faiths. We seem to divorce and remarry and contracept and abort and steal and pilfer and lie pretty much the same as the rest of the population, so whatever we "preach" on the internet, is lost on the world because we don't seem to live what we profess to believe.

Even in "good" Catholic families, that go to daily Mass and homeschool their kids, and are careful about what kinds of media they are exposed to, who do not commit many of the big sins on a regular basis, are still shouting at their children, fighting between spouses, hitting and berating, getting impatient, worrying about bills, striving to keep up with certain of the Joneses, and some of them are getting divorced for one reason or another, and some of these are later getting anullments and remarrying.

So, obviously, there is a problem here. A big problem.

And... there are a lot of people out there who have adopted the Breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours for their daily prayer, a perfectly good thing, but really, this prayer was originally designed for community use. It is the exception to the purpose that it be recited, not sung, and that it be used by individuals rather than communities. It is, by definition, a Liturgical Prayer, a prayer of the church, a PART of the Divine office, which includes the Mass and the Sacraments. So, I think it is fine that so many people, including lay people are using the Liturgy of the Hours or the Breviary, but the fact that it is recited out of community is really an aberration.

Prayer is what? Conversation with God. The perfect prayer is the Mass, which is the prayer and the sacrifice of Jesus. We are to participate in that prayer, as Christ's body, praying with and in Him to the Father. In the same way, we can, and probably ought to participate in the companion prayer, the Hours, as much as we can, in the Parish or Monastic community, but let's just make it clear, just as Mass said alone by a lone priest is something like abnormal, so are the Hours recited alone by a lone layperson also something like abnormal. It can be good, but it is not and should not be taken as normal or preferred.

So, IF one is fairly well catechized, and can attend the sacraments and the Liturgies at least sometimes, or as often as lifestyle and community situations allow, and one prays sincerely and often, as possible, I think the key then is to take what one has learned through catechesis and liturgy and prayer and live as best as possible by imitating Christ as seen in the Gospels, and by imitating the examples of saints who are set before us.

What does this mean, in practical life? First of all, to love God, to make him our first goal and aim and purpose, to let him be our Father and Leader and head. To see his will in the duties and obligations and trials of life, as if he stood directly before us commanding us to do this duty or accept this trial with patience and resignation, out of a motivation of love and trust and hope, because we believe Him to BE infinitely worthylove and trust and hope.

Second of all, to live in relationship with our fellow man as if we truly believed him to be our brother under the Fatherhood of God, our co-worker under the leadership and headship of God, without ill-will or rivalry, or bitterness or competition or deceit or any kind of injustice, lovingly correcting and reproving when we see error, showing mercy, setting a good example, being faithful and honest and sincere in all our words and actions, all for the love of God.

Really, we need no book for that. We don't even need to own a bible, or a breviary, or have access to a library or the internet for that. In some ways, it might even be easier without those concrete means, which can distract us, or make us THINK that we are holy because we have them or use them. And whether we can assist at daily Mass and weekly confession or not, to always avail ourselves to them and the other sacraments with as complete a love and devotion and attention and reverence as possible, with the help of grace.

As to prayer, while the Breviary is good, what is better, either in its place, or in conjunction with it, is frequent thought of God, as a young man thinks of the young woman he is attacted to, who wonders what she is doing now, who ponders her dress and how she wears her hair, and the scent she wore "that day," so we should ponder God, and the model of Jesus. We ought to think about and wonder about this thing that he did and those words that he spoke, and what did he mean and why did he do or say that, and how can I apply them to my life. In what way can I mystically BE Jesus to my wife, my children, my friends, my co-workers, even my enemies? How can I mystically BE Jesus in my duties and my trials and in my prayer?

This thinking is more useful than spoken, recited words, but the thinking should give rise to mental or verbal utterances, pleas, requests, praise, thanks, adoration, wonderment.

Holiness has little to do with the things: the rosaries, the breviaries, the bibles, the medals and scapulars, but of making the best, most intentional, most loving use of the things if we have access to them, but mostly of making the best, most intentional, most loving use of the present moment with its duties, trials, obligations, joys and sorrows, seeing in them the loving, merciful, eternally creative, eternally providential will of God our Father, and Jesus our Savior, keeping our mind's eye ever fixed on God and on thoughts of God and of desires for God.