YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 9

This week we read Book IV, Chapters 9,10, and 11.

Can you hear Barry Manilow sing Looks like we made it? Are you turning cartwheels or heaving a sigh of relief? Show of hands: How many of you actually stuck it out and read the whole thing? On second thought, don’t answer that. Don’t worry about it either, because you could get away with reading just Book IV of Mere Christianity and come away with a new appreciation for the path you have chosen.

If nothing else, this last section of Jack’s book will cause you to pause and reflect on the enormity of the task that lies ahead as you walk this narrow path to salvation. In chapter 9 Jack discusses frankly the “be careful what you wish for” aspect of Christianity.

Did you think you just had a few things to work on, and then all would be well? Jack reminds us that  Our Lord says to each of us, “Be perfect.” And that means trusting in Him and enduring all manner of trials as you are undergoing the transformation to perfection. And Jack doesn’t sugar coat it for us either.  Making the change will kill you. Yes, you will become perfect and die trying. 

Tempted to throw in the towel? You can count on that temptation. Expecting consolations in this world? Don’t count on that one. Take heart, fellow sojourner—

When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along-illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation-he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.

Do you think being a Christian is all about being nice? In Chapter 10 Jack does his level best to disavow you of that namby-pamby notion, too. I’m just a regular guy, but I don’t think you would classify me as a really, really nice guy. Ugh! I’m a Marine, for crying out loud! And I’m a Christian. I can’t speak to your experience, but I think many men have just turned off to Christianity because of the attempt to wedge their square selves into the round hole of nicety.

Jack comes up with some solid arguments to the contrary here. We are becoming new people when we become Christians. For cradle Catholics, you still have to go through this transformation just like us converts. Because as you see here, Jack acknowledges the brutal fact that the change isn’t necessarily a rapid one. And what of the conundrum of the not-so-nice Christian and the very nice non-Christian? Jack tackles that question with alacrity via an analogy a land-navigating Marine like me loves: that of the compass combined with free-will,

Will they, or will they not, turn to Him and thus fulfill the only purpose for which they were created? Their free will is trembling inside them like the needle of a compass. But this is a needle that can choose. It can point to its true North; but it need not. Will the needle swing round, and settle, and point to God? He can help it to do so.  He cannot force it.

Not that niceness, on the whole, isn’t to be encouraged. But as Jack explains, remember that Christ came to save the sick and the poor and those most in need of redemption.  The trick is, of course, that this means all of us! For,

God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.

And Jack explains that this is a transformative experience, not unlike turning a horse into a totally different creature with wings. And now to the final chapter, The New Men.

Chapter 12 begins with an idea that lays to rest any fear that science and reason are incompatible with Christianity. The Theory of Evolution? Heck, as Catholics you should know that as far as the Church is concerned, the theory has validity. Jack agrees, and what thinking person doesn’t? And as Jack reports, the next evolutionary step made its appearance over 2000 years ago. Not by evolution will the next step arrive, but by revolution—

It is not a change from brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction-a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God.

And daughters too.  It is almost impossible for me to comment on this last chapter because Jack weaves pretty much all of the concepts from the entire book into this final one. I like how Jack portrays the Christian world as one that is still in its infancy. 2000 years old? A mere blink of the eye. Much more work for us to do so stop focusing on the “end times” and start working on the transformation. Which brings us to this thought (and proof) that insure this book remains a timeless classic:

The present wicked and wasteful divisions between us are, let us hope, a disease of infancy: we are still teething. The outer world, no doubt, thinks just the opposite. It thinks we are dying of old age. But it has drought that so often before! Again and again it has thought Christianity was dying, dying by persecutions from without or corruptions from within, by the rise of Mohammedanism, the rise of the physical sciences, the rise of great anti-Christian revolutionary movements. But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion. The Man came to life again. In a sense-and I quite realize how frightfully unfair it must seem to them-that has been happening ever since. They keep on killing the thing that He started: and each time, just as they are patting down the earth on its grave, they suddenly hear that it is still alive and has even broken out in some new place. No wonder they hate us.

It’s hard to keep a good man down, and impossible to keep the Son of Man or His Church down. I’ll wrap this up and turn it over to you and the comment box with one last thought of Jack’s,

The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented-as an author invents characters in a novel-all the different men that you and I were intended to be.

After all, this is the message of Divine Mercy: Jesus, I Trust In You.  Lord, give me the strength to let go of the reins.

Announcement:

The YIMC Book Club will now go on hiatus. We’ll be back sometime after Easter for our next selection, Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity” Week 8

This week we read Book IV, Chapters 6, 7, and 8.
I have a close friend who suggested to me to give you lubberly book club members questions to help motivate you to read and comment on CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity. To which I say, Phooey on that! Maybe you guys all finished the book three weeks ago and didn’t tell me about it. Jimmy-crack-corn and-I don’t-care!

Oh, what’s that? You don’t know what lubberly means? Look it up, lazy bones. Because here’s the thing: if you quit reading or you’ve gotten side-tracked, or you just don’t understand what CSL is saying, that’s not my fault. And it’s your loss too, because Jack has been saving the best for last.

Much like last week, I’ll skip the chapter by chapter grind and leave the majority of comments up to you. That didn’t work really well last time but so be it. Interestingly, Jack issues a wake-up call this week and quite frankly we all need to hear it. I wrote a post last week on the difficulties of walking The Way. Jack backs me up this week but also clarifies something. The Way is hard and easy. But before we tackle that concept, look what Jack says here:

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run.

Lots of great stuff like that from Jack this week. He discusses why we were given free will by God. Sure, it’s a two-edged sword, but it’s better than being a slave or a robot. Want to make everybody into a little you? Jack talks about why that is a bad idea, and why it isn’t Gods plan. Tempted not to give a hoot about anyone but yourself? Sure you are, but Jack sheds light on why that is no solution either. For practical application of this, see Webster’s post on Anna Deveare Smith.

Jack’s writings in these chapters force you to look deep inside at the real you. Courage, me hearties! Are you an Individualist, a Totalitarian, or somewhere in between?  And

What difference does all this theology make? It can start making a difference tonight. If you are interested enough to have read thus far you are probably interested enough to make a shot at saying your prayers: and, whatever else you say, you will probably say the Lord’s Prayer.

The fact that Jesus taught us to pray by first saying the words Our Father should astound you from reading Mere Christianity this far, if it didn’t amaze you already. You may or may not know that this alone, calling God Father, is impossible for Muslims, for example.

Have you ever heard the expression fake it until you make it? Jack endorses this as a way to begin the process of transforming ourselves into the new person we must become to be Christians. Now we are getting to the hard and the easy I alluded to earlier. Jack even flips this on its head by claiming that maybe God is the one doing the pretending:

The Three-Personal God, so to speak, sees before Him in fact a self-centered, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says, “Let us pretend that this is not a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ in so far as it is a Man, for He became Man. Let us pretend that it is also like Him in Spirit. Let us treat it as if it were what in fact it is not. Let us pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality.”

Golly, looking in the mirror like that makes me wince. How’s that for shaking up your world view? I was bantering with Webster via e-mail the other day about an upcoming post, and I said something that prompted him to respond that he is glad he isn’t married to a Marine. I sent him back this from Jack with the reply of “Yeah, look what you’ve married into now”—

The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”

I think I’ve said before that, for me anyway, the Marine Corps was a cake-walk compared to being a Christian. Jack summed it up nicely here, don’t you think? You really can’t continue on as you were before. And in case you think you can, I’ll leave you to ponder how Our Lord considers the lukewarm.

Your thoughts on this week’s readings (and even the previous weeks’—sheesh!) in the comment box are appreciated.

Next week, we finish by reading Book IV, Chapters 9, 10, and 11.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 7

This week we read Book 4, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

If you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version of Mere Christianity this week, you’re out of luck. I’m basically turning it all over to you guys. A chapter-by-chapter breakdown? Not in the cards. Besides, I don’t think it’s necessary.

The five chapters we read this week really could have been one chapter, don’t you think? Jack could have called it “Theology,” just not “Theology for Dummies.” Not that everything there was way over our heads; it’s just written for an adult audience. Jack points out things that we read before in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy—and also there in GKC’s essay “Why I Am A Catholic”—albeit a little differently.

Jack’s descriptions and explanations of the differences between making and begetting, his geometric explanation of the Trinity are very well done, in my opinion. What do you think? His explanation of God being outside time, although He came into time as a man—starting as it were a good infection that has stood the test of earth time like no other religion—set my mind’s eye spinning in a good way. And since He became truly human and an example for us, He provides us the way to become children of God, rather than stay obstinate toy soldiers. Or mere sterotypical statues, as all created things really are. Keeping in mind (it’s Lent, after all) that we are dust, we very well may stay dust, or be damned if we don’t decide otherwise and get with the program. Our Lord gives us a picture in today’s Gospel reading.

A great set of chapters, uplifting even. Jack scuttles back quickly to Scriptures and counsels us to do likewise throughout. For to stray too far is to fall off a cliff. I like his disclaimer on God being out of our time stream, and I’ll paraphrase, it’s not Biblical, but it’s Christian. Let’s hear it for the Zoe’s! Thank God for the work of the Apostolic Fathers!

My favorite passage from this week’s reading? Right here—

because the whole difficulty for us is that the natural life has to be, in a sense, “killed,” He (Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ) chose an earthly career which involved the killing of His human desires at every turn-poverty, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by one of His intimate friends, being jeered at and manhandled by the Police, and execution by torture. And then, after being thus killed-killed every day in a sense-the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier-real tin, just like the rest-had come fully and splendidly alive.

Thanks be to God! Now I’m gonna hog the cheese dip and listen to you all get the comment ball rolling. Ferris Bueller was out sick last week, not this week!

Next week we read Book 4: Chapters, 6, 7, and 8.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 6

This week we finished up Book III, Chapters 9-12.

I’ve really been enjoying what CS Lewis has been writing thus far. Oh sure, in the early going, the book was pretty weak tea. But since week #2, Jack has been hitting on all cylinders. As a recent convert to Catholicism from the nondenominational Protestant side of the house, I’m enjoying everything he is writing here. For the most part, none of it is controversial to me. Jack hasn’t swerved on the icy roads of the opinions of the modern age. His doctrinal traction-control is in the “on” position.

Some of you reading along with us are probably in the same camp with me. Others may have dropped by the wayside with Jack because what he is writing may be painful to read. Instead of wincing, keep in mind these words St. Paul writes to his young protegé Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-4),

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

For as Jack wrote earlier, we are living behind enemy lines. Which is why being a Christian is hard. Recently my pastor was welcoming the current class of Catechumens and Candidates, and as he and the congregation welcomed them he also warned them that as Catholic Christians, they had chosen a hard way. Jack expounds on that tough road this week as he writes about the theological virtues of Charity, Hope, and Faith. Just some quickie thoughts from me and quotes from Jack this week and then on to the discussion in the comments box. And Chapter 1 of Book 4 will be discussed next week. How does that sound?

Chapter 9, Charity

Jack quickly lets us know that this word means love, and not the modern idea of alms giving. St. Paul reminds us that the greatest of the virtues is charity. Because without love, everything else is naught. See St. Paul again in his letter to the Corinthians. Jack reminds us that love in the Christian sense isn’t a sentimental emotion. Do not confuse eros or romantic love with caritas or brotherly love. And remember that sticky wicket of loving our neighbor? Yeah, that slam-dunk of easy Christian living? Jack reminds us,

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

Stop theorizing about it. Need help? I know I do, and later Jack shows us where to find the strength. For now he shows a few examples of charity, that resonated with me. First this,

The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he “likes” them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on-including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

You know, this has been my experience since I have become a Catholic. It has been an amazing grace to me actually. Think of the unlikely pairing of Webster Bull, lapsed peacenick, and myself, the uber-Marine. Who would have thought it possible? Even St. Paul was losing friends because of the faith, but he gained them as well. See his letter to Timothy again for an example,

Try to join me soon,for Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia,and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak I left with Carpus in Troas, the papyrus rolls, and especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. You too be on guard against him, for he has strongly resisted our preaching. At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them!

So much for Easy Street. But note how St. Paul still hopes that those who deserted him will be saved. That is Christian love for you. Next, my inner finance guy enjoyed this quote,

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.

Well said, Jack! On to the next chapter.

Chapter 10, Hope

A good discussion of how Christians are called to serve in the world today. Naysayers may suggest that Christians are shallow thinkers who leave it all to God. Jack attempts to enlighten them, but the same ridiculous ideas are always in play and, frankly, always have been. Jack notes,

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

There was a short time when Christians did sort of throw up their hands and leave it all to God. We’ll see the effects of that in our next YIMC Book Club selection, The Great Heresies by Hillaire Belloc. Jack really hammers on this later, in Chapter 12. Suffice it to say now that much good has come from Christians working in the world while being faithful as well.

Jack then gives us an idea of the three ways to make sense of the world,

1. The Fool’s Way
2. The Disillusioned Sensible Man
3. The Christian Man—The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

This brings to mind the behind enemy lines analogy and the characterization of the life of a Christian as The Sojourner—our existence as aliens, scattered among unbelievers, far from our true country.

Jack counsels a very British stiff upper lip regarding our reputation in this world,

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.

Imagine if you will, present-day skeptic celebrity Bill Maher attempting to have a match on these points with Jack Lewis. Jack by a knock-out. Which is why Bill Maher didn’t interview anyone with any real substance in his anti-religion movie Religulous. Let’s move on to the back-to-back chapters on faith that close out this week’s readings.

Chapter 11, Faith

In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. Yeah, we’re humans Jack, not Vulcans. Sheesh! Jack talks about two kinds of faith and how faith as a bedrock foundation is rational but still difficult. Which reminds me of the idea that often we focus on the noise while ignoring the signal which I wrote about here. He goes on to remind us of this,

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes…Consequently one must train the habit of Faith…That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life.

Sounds like as good a reason as any to consider your spiritual reading and prayer routines. Sort of like Marines and the daily seven, which may have morphed into the daily dozen nowadays. Routine physical exercises that can be done daily in 15 minutes or so, you know, to keep the body in shape. Which takes a measure of willpower to practice. And then this,

You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

Jack than crashes fantasyland by proclaiming that in the history of mankind, Christ was the the only complete realist. As we come to realize that this road is tough, we also realize that we owe everything, absolutely everything to God.

If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already…When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the second sense.

Chapter 12, Faith

I get the impression that Jack considered this second chapter on faith as optional. Because unless you’ve walked this path for a while, you may not understand the descriptions of this chapter’s account on the higher sense of faith. I’ll let Jack explain through these passages,

I said that the question of Faith in this sense arises after a man has tried his level best to practise the Christian virtues, and found that he fails, and seen that even if he could he would only be giving back to God what was already God’s own. In other words, he discovers his bankruptcy… When I say “discovered,” I mean really discovered: not simply said it parrot-fashion.

All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.” It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.

I know the words “leave it to God” can be misunderstood, but they must stay for the moment. The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. In Christian language, He will share His “sonship” with us, will make us, like Himself, “Sons of God”: in Book IV I shall attempt to analyse the meaning of those words a little further. If you like to put it that way, Christ offers something for nothing: He even offers everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer.

To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says… But trying in a new way, a less worried way…Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.

This idea is one that many who criticize Christianity yesterday, today, and most likely tomorrow fail to understand. That Christians behave out of love for God instead of just out of fear of damnation does not seem to have been considered by them. I have several friends who think this way. Perhaps they haven’t checked their moral balance sheets as closely as Jack and I have. And this is a conundrum,

I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.

And that’s all I have. I’ll meet you at the banquet table and the comment box for discussion on how this week’s chapters spoke to you. I think I’ll have some chardonnay, too.

Next week we’ll begin Book 4 with chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I know I said we would read chapter 1 this week, but I changed my mind!

Thanks to Thomas à Kempis for These Thoughts on Confession

Seemingly, there aren’t enough words to describe the graces we obtain from the Sacrament of Confession. And the number of opinions on this Sacrament are legion, if our poll results and the comments they have prompted are any indication. Webster and I haven’t fully plumbed the depths of this Sacrament yet. For example, we haven’t mentioned Divine Mercy Sunday or the fact that the Sacrament of Confession plays a large role in the diary of Sister Faustina.

And the fact of the matter is no saint on record has ever said,

Look at me! I soar above the heights of the world with the Lord. I have no need of the Sacrament of Confession. Yippee! 

If anything, the importance and necessity of this Sacrament are solidified and bolstered by the saints. St. Teresa of Avila, practitioner of contemplative prayer, writes at length on the importance of this Sacrament and the duty we have of finding a good confessor.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not anywhere near the level of perfection that she obtained while she was here on earth.  If Big Terry says Confession is  important, I listen up.

Although not an official saint, Thomas à Kempis discusses the importance of this Sacrament in The Imitation of Christ. Take a look at these thoughts Thomas wrote down regarding the Eucharistic celebration coupled with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He is writing here in the character of Our Lord. Notice how similar these phrases are to the ones Sister Faustina reports in her diary (bold highlights are mine),

Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

The Voice of Christ,

You must often return to the source of grace and divine mercy, to the fountain of goodness and perfect purity, if you wish to be free from passion and vice, if you desire to be made stronger and more watchful against all the temptations and deceits of the devil.

The enemy, knowing the great good and the healing power of Holy Communion, tries as much as he can by every manner and means to hinder and keep away the faithful and the devout. Indeed, there are some who suffer the worst assaults of Satan when disposing themselves to prepare for Holy Communion. As it is written in Job, this wicked spirit comes among the sons of God to trouble them by his wonted malice, to make them unduly fearful and perplexed, that thus he may lessen their devotion or attack their faith to such an extent that they perhaps either forego Communion altogether or receive with little fervor.

No attention, however, must be paid to his cunning wiles, no matter how base and horrible—all his suggestions must be cast back upon his head. The wretch is to be despised and scorned. Holy Communion must not be passed by because of any assaults from him or because of the commotion he may arouse.

Oftentimes, also, too great solicitude for devotion and anxiety about confession hinder a person. Do as wise men do. Cast off anxiety and scruple, for it impedes the grace of God and destroys devotion of the mind.

Do not remain away from Holy Communion because of a small trouble or vexation but go at once to confession and willingly forgive all others their offenses. If you have offended anyone, humbly seek pardon and God will readily forgive you.

What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time. If you put it off today because of one thing, perhaps tomorrow a greater will occur to you, and thus you will stay away from Communion for a long time and become even more unfit.

Shake off this heaviness and sloth as quickly as you can, for there is no gain in much anxiety, in enduring long hours of trouble, and in depriving yourself of the divine Mysteries because of these daily disturbances. Yes, it is very hurtful to defer Holy Communion long, for it usually brings on a lazy spiritual sleep.

How sad that some dissolute and lax persons are willing to postpone confession and likewise wish to defer Holy Communion, lest they be forced to keep a stricter watch over themselves! Alas, how little love and devotion have they who so easily put off Holy Communion! How happy and acceptable to God is he who so lives, and keeps his conscience so pure, as to be ready and well disposed to communicate, even every day if he were permitted, and if he could do so unnoticed.

If, now and then, a man abstains by the grace of humility or for a legitimate reason, his reverence is commendable, but if laziness takes hold of him, he must arouse himself and do everything in his power, for the Lord will quicken his desire because of the good intention to which He particularly looks. When he is indeed unable to come, he will always have the good will and pious intention to communicate and thus he will not lose the fruit of the Sacrament.

Any devout person may at any hour on any day receive Christ in spiritual communion profitably and without hindrance. Yet on certain days and times appointed he ought to receive with affectionate reverence the Body of his Redeemer in this Sacrament, seeking the praise and honor of God rather than his own consolation.

For as often as he devoutly calls to mind the mystery and passion of the Incarnate Christ, and is inflamed with love for Him, he communicates mystically and is invisibly refreshed.
He who prepares himself only when festivals approach or custom demands, will often find himself unprepared. Blessed is he who offers himself a sacrifice to the Lord as often as he celebrates or communicates.

Be neither too slow nor too fast in celebrating but follow the good custom common to those among whom you are. You ought not to cause others inconvenience or trouble, but observe the accepted rule as laid down by superiors, and look to the benefit of others rather than to your own devotion or inclination.

Several of you have commented about the short lines at the confessional and long lines for Communion. Many complained about priests not motivated to hear their confessions. I’m not saying I don’t believe what I’m reading. Not every parish has uniform hours for this sacrament or uniformly motivated priests to hear them. But this hasn’t been my experience. Keep in mind, I’m a recent RCIA convert. Confession opportunities are plentiful, but especially during Lent. I intend to make full use of them and I hope you will as well.

Semper Fidelis

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity” Week 5

This week we read Book III, Chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Its discussion time, Book Club members! This week’s readings are all from Book III, and Mr. Lewis is showing how politically incorrect Christianity is. All these new changes that many denominations are going through today? I think Jack would be dismayed, but that is my two cents only. I’ll throw my hat in the ring with G. K. Chesterton, who wrote,

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.

Chapter 6 is on Christian Marriage. Nothing new here for practicing Catholics. Of course, that doesn’t mean that this Sacrament is an easy, slam dunk either. It is a Sacrament that is also a vocation. Jack has a lot to say, and all of it is sound and in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church, if not extremely unpopular today. But he said this institution of marriage should possibly be set up as a two-fold institution, one for the Church (think Sacrament) and one outside the Church.

Jack holds forth on a concept not discussed much in terms of a marital relationship, justice, as well as on the different viewpoints between say government and the Church in terms of our ability to control our appetites and impulses. He writes,

If, as I think, it is not like all our other impulses, but is morbidly inflamed, then we should be especially careful not to let it lead us into dishonesty.

He then makes some salient points about the problem of divorce and how one party (government) sees it as just another contract, which holds about as much weight as any other contract; meanwhile, Christians (and the Church) see divorce as a train wreck to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who works in the legal field can tell you that no-fault divorce has become a major growth industry since Jack wrote these words. And as a child of divorce, I am not shocked: I agree with Jack. Who then has the audacity to say,

So much for the Christian doctrine about the permanence of marriage. Something else, even more unpopular, remains to be dealt with. Christian wives promise to obey their husbands.

And that means you agree with this too, Frank? Uh-huh. Looking forward to reading the comments!

While contemplating burning me at the stake, and cursing the name of C. S. Lewis, move on to Chapter 7, on forgiveness—and just in the nick of time! I think Jack does a really good job here of talking about forgiveness with a real-world perspective, especially with the command to love others as ourselves. Here Lewis lets the cat out of the bag on the falseness of self-love. He says, Look in the mirror and realize that if you don’t love everything about yourself, then guess what? Think of that when you are loving your neighbor.

I don’t know how many of you like his argument about soldiers fighting one another, as a “nothing personal” situation.  He uses an example based on the war that had just concluded, mentioning the Gestapo and other scary words.  Here’s Jack,
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything-God and our friends and ourselves included-as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
Loving an enemy doesn’t mean that punishing them is unwarranted either. As Jack says, and I’ll paraphrase, just because I love myself doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be subject to the death penalty if I commit murder. Now, before we get into a fur-ball about the death penalty and Church teaching, what Jack is saying makes sense. Think about this in terms of the posts we have been doing about the Sacrament of Confession. Think of this in terms of what a real examination of conscience is. It means taking a hard look at the part of ourselves that we don’t love, repenting for it, praying about it, and coming to the Sacrament for forgiveness and absolution in a concrete way.
After all, our souls are immortal. Jack explains the Christian perspective like so (bold is mine):
I imagine somebody will say, “Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?” All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.
Chapter 8 is on The Great Sin, which Jack identifies as Pride. Personally, I had to come to terms with this one, and when I finally did, I had no choice but to become a Catholic. I still have to fight this one and probably always will. Blaise Pascal spelled it out for me, Thomas à Kempis held forth on it, and St. Teresa of Avila too.  She pointed me to the capper in my own personal struggle with pride, Francisco de Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet. Look back at this hot link and you will see where I think Jack may have gotten some of his material. Here is a chapter de Osuna writes entitled The Devil’s Army, which is mainly about pride.

Back when I was waiting for my RCIA class to get started, I had a discussion with someone about how pride was my biggest weakness. I hadn’t read Jack’s book yet, but the conversation was hauntingly similar to these passages. In the end I simply said, If you don’t believe you have a problem with pride, then you haven’t examined this issue closely enough. I knew I did and left it at that. Which is almost exactly the same way Jack sums up this chapter:

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
And with a collective sigh of relief, I hope you read that being “proud” of your regiment, son, daughter, etc., really is not Pride. Most likely it means that you have a fond love of or for that entity. Pride is disordered love of self, and one which puts self above all others. Including above God. Ouch!
Now it’s your turn, YIMC Book Club members! How did you take these chapters? What were the passages that resonated with you. Don’t hold back!

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 4

This week we read Book III, Chapters 2 through 5.

I really enjoyed this week’s readings. And let me be the first to say that I have come full circle on my opinion of C. S. Lewis.  I like you, Jack, and I don’t even care if you smoke. See him over there scribbling away? Writing some great stuff, I bet. Like what he was writing this week.

For a change, we stayed in the same book for a whole week so it was easy to stay on track. And Jack kept us focused with the following chapters: 2. The “Cardinal Virtues,” 3. Social Morality, 4. Morality and Psychoanalysis, 5. Sexual Morality.

Jack covers a lot of ground and before we go any further I just want to reiterate that I was wrong about Mr. Lewis. The book started off like a bottle of formula, and I was wailing like a little baby. But now? Jack is slinging some serious hash, folks. You probably won’t see ideas like those in these chapters anywhere else, except in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

From the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude through his assessment of Christian thought regarding sexual morality, it all jibes with the Church’s teachings. Oh, not with contemporary society, not by a long shot. But isn’t that the point? Lewis writes about all of the main ideas that all Christians agreed on up until WWII, when he put this together.

Isn’t it ironic that many of the ideas set-in-stone in these chapters are coming unglued everywhere in many mainline Protestant churches today? I found myself cheering Jack on as he writes,

The job is really on us, on the laymen. The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists—not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time. 

From his thoughts on achieving a truly Christian Society and his jab at our debt-laced economic models (which came close to imploding, again, back in 2008) to his manhandling of Freudian psychoanalysis and his old-fashioned, very Catholic take on sexual morality, it was green lights all the way, for me at least.

But what about you folks? What are your thoughts and take-aways from this week’s readings? I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from this week’s section and then turn it over to you.

All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take.

Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls “busybodies.”

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.

A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.

. . . when Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an amateur.

Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.

. . . you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess.

I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual.

From 1920 until 2010, is more like 90 years now, Jack.  Take it away, club members.  You have the floor.

Next week we read Book III, Chapters 6, 7, and 8

Because Blake Could Paint Such A Portrait With Words

I’m sure you recognize the Divine Mercy image. Seen in a vision by Sister Faustina in 1931 she was disappointed in the original painting of what she had described.  She thought it would be impossible for any painter to depict Jesus as beautifully as she had seen him.

Long before Sister Faustina’s vision in the 20th Century, the English poet William Blake painted the following image with words instead of paint. [Read more…]

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity” Week 3

This week we read Book II, Chapters 3, 4, and 5 and Book III, chapter 1.

Good morning YIMC Book Club Members! If week #1 and week #2 were sleepers, this week’s readings are anything but.  Lewis starts shooting the lights out and fires off a fussilade of thoughts that left me cheering for more.  Jack, “fire for effect!”

Like last week, I’m going to let readers produce most of the ideas here.  I am going to share a few of my favorite passages though.  There was so much good stuff to choose from that frankly, this is a difficult post to write! Here are a few of my impressions of this week’s readings.

Last week ended with Lewis using an analogy that Christians are living in enemy-occupied territory. Obviously not the kind of thought that resonates with modern-day residents of the United States.  The last time US citizens lived in enemy occupied territory was in the Civil War. But these words were spoken during the Blitz. Austria had been annexed, Poland invaded, France fell, and Germany was focused on taking Britain next. The listeners to this radio program understood this message loud and clear. It makes a lot of sense to me too.

This week starts with Chapter 3 The Shocking Alternative.  Right off the bat Lewis uses an analogy that any parent can sympathize with. A mother teaches her children that it is proper to keep their rooms neat and clean.  The children know this is what they should do and yet, they make a mess of things against Mom’s will.  This sounds a lot like my childhood, not to mention sympathizing with my role as a parent! Lewis writes,

She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.

What,  you haven’t given your children absolute free will? Golly, me neither. Point well taken Mr. Lewis! I read this  and thought, yeah Jack, now you are right on target.  And he makes his argument for this being the case throughout all of God’s creation.  Mankind has been given the gift of freewill. What the Founding Fathers of the U.S. deemed unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But what if this freedom is used badly?

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.

Stick around here long enough and you’ll quickly realize that  I am not a risk-averse individual. So nice shot Jack.  See, EPG? I’m warming up to CSL now! Wait a second.  This is baloney and I don’t like it. I argue that a perfect and all-knowing God would never deign to stoop so low as to…give me freedom? Yeah, the argument falls flat because,

When you are arguing against Him (God) you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

Mental picture of Wile-E-Coyote popping into your head yet? Here, let me help.

Talk about the “fall”! This is the price of freedom.  You’ve heard the remark that “freedom isn’t free?” Whaaat?! You just thought it was some trite remark to honor the sacrifices of veterans like me and CS Lewis? Are you smelling the coffee yet? Jack shoots another round right into the black.  This is his genius coming to the fore.

Speaking of the fall,

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”-could set up on their own as if they had created themselves-be their own masters-invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history-money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

We also learn how, and I use Jack’s word, asinine it is to describe the conduct of Jesus in any other way other than as that of God.  No man would say he was God and would forgive all of your sins regardless of how heinous they are to the offended party. But that’s enough from me on this chapter, because other wise I could just post every single word of it and we would be here all day!

Chapter 4 is The Perfect Penitent where Jack leads us to understand that,  given what we have learned this far,

it seems to me obvious that He (Jesus) was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form. And now, what was the purpose of it all?

The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start…A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.

Rally on the Beacon of Light troops!  Because God has given us a do-over of epic proportions! How?

We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world…We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.

And another thing.  Remember how we are in enemy territory? What most haven’t realized is that they are also in the rebel army.  This is like the movie The Matrix when Neo takes the little red pill to be awakened to reality! We read, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Lewis goes on to give a spectacular lecture on the nuts and bolts of how Christian salvation works.  And it works because Christ is the perfect penitent for He is Perfect and as a human, he was humiliated and surrendered willingly to this sacrifice.  Leadership by example troops!

Chapter 5 The Practical Conclusion we see that Christ is the New Adam. Lewis is brilliant again in his exposition on how this comes about and how we as Christians have our own lives transformed.

There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names-Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods. 

(Jesus) taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority. Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority.

Chapter 1 of Book III is The Three Parts of Morality and they are humdingers! Lewis sums them up as follows:

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.

I’m not gonna share anymore on this because I want to hear from you now.  Has everyone else enjoyed this weeks section of readings as much as I have? I promised there would be no pop quizzes, but I wasn’t expecting this much fun this week.  Thanks, Jack! See you next week.

Next week we read Book III Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Because of J. D. Salinger, Unlikely as It Seems

J.D. Salinger died yesterday at the age of 91 and, full disclosure, I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye. Nor have I bothered getting detailed autobiographical information on Mr. Salinger. I can only say that his work had an effect on my prayer life, thus proving once again, to me anyway, that God continues to work through the secular in unexpected ways. [Read more…]