Living Stones: Offering Oneself as a Spiritual Sacrifice
© Copyright 2012, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
I truly believe we are, in a way, peculiarly chosen to “fill up what is wanting to the Passion of Christ” — why St. Therese and others said that the greatest saints would live in these times. I am not saying we are those saints, only that we are meant to be. As Rev. Jean-Pierre de Caussade says in “Abandonment to Divine Providence,” if we cannot do the marvelous things the saints did we must say to ourselves: “God wants these things from the saints but not from me.” We are a remnant selected out of grace — how or why I don’t know. This crisis in the Church cannot just be a punishment for our personal sins, although it is that, too. We are to atone for the sins today of all those Catholics who caused the great apostasy, just as Christ atoned for all mankind. This is the Passion of the Mystical Body, and we have to endure it to be the most like Christ we can possibly be. How we accept it and use it is up to us. We cannot be perfect victims but our resignation to of all this must be as close to Christ’s acceptance of His own Passion as we can manage. This of course is just how I see it, and I cannot always conform myself to it as I should or would like to. But the very fact that we accept not having Mass and Sacraments and offer that up as God’s will for these times, just as Christ offered up His Father’s own will for Him on the Cross, is not a coincidence. We are victims to God’s will and so was His Son. We must work to be willing victims — accept and not complain or be resentful, and that is the hardest part. The best crosses are the ones that come from God, not the ones we take on as penance for ourselves. This is the teaching of the mystical theologians.
All the ones like us I know have had a lot of crosses to bear all their lives, many since childhood. They have fallen numerous times and made many wrong turns. They are not satisfied with themselves and know they are useless vessels, or as Caussade describes them, “bits of broken pottery” God seems to have flung into some dark corner. He calls them “spiritually and mentally troubled and their everyday lives are full of disappointments.” They need much attention, he says and are lacking in all those things that distinguished the saints. “They feel all the annihilating anguish of their wretched state…They find nothing but confusion within themselves…They are overwhelmed with shame…Whatever [they] do fills [them] with endless contempt for [them]selves, as if [their] whole lives were flawed and faulty.” To others these “strange sort of saints” appear to be “disobedient, troublesome, contemptuous and angry,” and they “feel this way about [them]selves too,” Caussade notes. But he cautions that we must not become “upset or worried by the humiliations which come from the aspect [we] present to the world.”
It is in Caussade’s work, a personal favorite of this author’s for decades, that those Catholics who have no spiritual guide, will, I believe, find a spiritual director sent by God to assist us in these times. His work was collected after his death from various letters of spiritual conferences given to the Visitation nuns in Nancy, France. It begins in a way that for us is a veritable invitation to read on. For he writes: “Today God still speaks to us as he used to speak to our ancestors when there were neither spiritual directors nor any systems of spirituality…God [is] the unique director of souls.” He then reminds his readers that holiness for Our Lady and St. Joseph came through absolute obedience to the divine will, and is mirrored in Mary’s words to the angel on hearing she was to be the Mother of God: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
In this Marian age, it seems all the more fitting to find ourselves without directors, and therefore closer to the method of spirituality used by Our Lady herself. Caussade tells us that this consisted in “the sacrament of the moment,” accepting everything in our daily lives as God sends it, and at the time and in the manner in which He sends it. He says that God compelled him to write to help those “who seek to be holy and are discouraged by what you have read in the lives of the saints and some books dealing with spiritual matters.” How well this describes us today, who find so little of our own lives comparable to the lives of the saints. Caussade encourages his readers to faithfully follow inspirations of grace, a very important component of God’s will, but to follow these inspirations only as long as they also are in compliance with God’s will of signification (the natural law and the laws and teachings of the Church), His will of good pleasure (what happens in our daily lives) and our daily duties. He notes, however, that some are called to the practice of “extraordinary activities” and that some are required to fulfill both their ordinary duties in addition to these persistent and compelling inspirations. “Do you want to think, write and live like prophets and saints?” Caussade queries. “Then you must surrender, as they did, to the inspirations of God…Everything guides you to perfection except what is sinful or not a duty.”
Caussade warns about advising others to follow certain forms of spirituality, maintaining that self-abandonment to the present moment alone is suitable for all souls wishing to find their proper spiritual state. He emphasizes that, “The great and firm foundation of the spiritual life is the offering of ourselves to God and being subject to His will in all things.” In this manner, we ourselves become one with the eternal sacrifice Christ renews by His very presence on the heavenly altar. This today is our “Mass,” and therefore as long as we unite all that we do to this eternal sacrifice with our spiritual communions and morning offerings, while accepting all God sends as Christ accepted His own death, then we lack nothing in this world, not even the Holy Sacrifice. For as St. Thomas says, until the consummation we “must enter into spiritual things with sensible signs.” For only “in the state of glory…will [there] be no more sacraments.” Pope Pius XII wrote in Mediator Dei: “The people must offer themselves as victims…This offering is not in fact confined merely to the liturgical Sacrifice. For the Prince of the Apostles wishes us, as Living Stones built upon Christ the cornerstone, to be able ‘as a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,’” (I Peter 2: 5). This offering for us is the sacrament of the present moment God now requires, in His signified will especially, but also by inspiration and performance of daily duties. Our Lord told Lucia dos Santos in 1943: “The sacrifice demanded by everyone is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of my law. This is the penance that I now seek and require.”
Are Traditionalists who continue to insist on comforting themselves with the sensible illusion that the Mass is yet available to them performing this penance? If they fail to perform it are the rosaries they say and Marian devotions they engage in fruitful and pleasing to Our Lady? Are they doing God’s will, which according to the constant teaching of the Church they must in order to be saved? Not if by so doing they disobey the laws of the Church, which St. Francis de Sales tells us are God’s signified will: “Obedience to the Commandments, both divine and ecclesiastical, is of obligation for all, because there is question here of THE ABSOLUTE WILL OF GOD WHO HAS MADE SUBMISSION TO THESE ORDINANCES A CONDITION OF SALVATION,” (Holy Abandonment,” Rt. Rev. Dom Vital Lehody, O.C.R., 1948). St. Francis mentions in this passage along with the commandments of God and of His Church, “divine inspiration, and those duties peculiar to our chosen vocation.”
Rev. Caussade is interested only in encouraging souls who already obey God’s signified will to advance further. For the souls Caussade instructs, the usual methods of spirituality are neither applicable nor helpful. In fact, he says, these methods actually place obstacles in the way of those souls who wish to forge a straight path to God. He does not discourage anyone who wishes to follow these other methods from doing so; he simply states that in certain cases and circumstances these methods are more a hindrance than a help. Caussade writes: “[Those] who have done all that is commanded by the strictest theologians…are expected to adopt tiresome practices which the Church does not require, and if they do not they are told they are wrong.” This same problem is addressed by one of the greatest spiritual writers of his time, someone Caussade seems to have borrowed some of his materials for his spiritual instructions — Rev. Augustine Baker. Baker wrote in the early 17th century, so his works, first published in 1653, would have been very much in vogue when Caussade began his religious work. Like Caussade, he was a spiritual advisor to women religious leading the contemplative life.
In his spiritual classic, “Sancta Sophia,” Rev. Baker relates that for those already attempting to lead a life of contemplation, “I would scarcely permit [such] souls…to be strictly obliged to a prescribed method of meditation, or to those many and nice rules which are ordained by some modern authors,” and here Baker gives all the the Ignatian rules generally known to Catholics for engaging in mental prayer or meditation, rules initially established for those leading the active life. But for those cloistered or retired souls who have already achieved the contemplative state, Rev. Baker believes that such methods can be “distractive, painful, difficult, encumbering, unprofitable,” and a poor use of time. Today we have been forced to cloister ourselves from the world to a certain degree and meditate on may doctrinal points that affect our present circumstances. We cannot be actives in the true sense of the word for the simple reason that there is nothing in way of Catholic community towards which we can direct our actions. Most of us are forced today to live a solitary existence, and for this reason the words of Caussade and Rev. Baker on meditation ring true for many.
Rev. Caussade sums up our manner of existence quite well when he writes that we must carry on “without thinking and concerned with no models or examples or any particular mode of spirituality. You must act when it is time for action and stop when it is time to stop. In this self abandonment you read or put books aside, talk to people or keep silent, write or drop your pen, and never know what will follow.” How often we find it to be exactly as he says. We who are forced to proceed on nothing but faith alone can also understand his meaning in these words: “Let us acknowledge that we are incapable of becoming holy by our own efforts and put our trust in God, who would not have taken away our ability to walk unless He was to carry us in His arms…The light of reason can only deepen the darkness of faith…No matter what troubles, unhappiness, worries, upsets, doubts and needs harass souls who have lost all confidence in their own powers, they can all be overcome by the marvelous hidden and unknown power of the divine action. The more perplexing the situation, the more we can hope for a happy solution. The heart says, ‘All will be well. God has the matter in hand. We need fear nothing.’” These thoughts of Caussade’s are found expressed in the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who told Juan Diego: “Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?” And Caussade’s words seem to be the inspiration for the “Footprints in the Sand” poem known well to recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, which ends: “Why, Lord, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me? The Lord replied, ‘The times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I carried you.’” No situation could be more uncertain and perplexing than these times, so riddled with personal agonies of every kind. Let us hope that somehow, despite all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles we face in regaining the Church, this will make for the happy solution Caussade predicts.
How do we survive until God sees fit to deliver us? Only by pushing forward cautiously, even though proceeding without the usual guides and lights, through this dark night of faith. “Where God is concerned, the more we seem to lose, the more we gain; the more he strips us of natural things, the more he showers us with supernatural gifts…He appears to take away these gifts so he can give them the greatest gift of all, the one that is the most precious because it embraces within itself all the others. Any soul which has, once and for all, completely submitted itself to God, should always interpret everything favorably — the loss of the most able spiritual directors, and the mistrust it feels for those who push themselves forward as replacements. For usually these would-be guides who chase after souls should quite rightly be mistrusted. Those genuinely moved by the spirit of God have not, as a rule so much eagerness and complacency. They prefer to wait until they are summoned, and even then they come forward rather hesitantly…The self-abandoned soul [should] have no fear when passing through these trials as long as it cooperates with God’s action.” And the way to gauge our response to this strange leading of ourselves by God, as though we were blindfolded, is by intuition rather than reason, Caussade says.
This statement of his must be thoroughly understood, however, to avoid allowing ourselves to be moved to act through emotions, which Caussade roundly condemns. The Catholic Encyclopedia says under this topic: “Intuition is a psychological and philosophical term which designates the process of immediate apprehension or perception of an actual fact, being or relation between two terms and its results…All our knowledge has its starting point in the intuitive data of sense experience; but in order to penetrate the nature of these data, their laws and causes, we must have recourse to abstraction and discursive reasoning…Concepts and reasoning therefore are in themselves inferior to intuition, but they are the normal processes of human knowledge.” For Caussade also cautions that: “The soul which has for a very long time studied and worked to achieve perfection and used every method to cooperate with grace, gradually falls into the habit of acting always by an instinctive following of God’s graces.” In other words, we must train ourselves for some time before we are able to properly discern these intuitions and allow them to guide us.
Rev. Caussade tells us that we can find wisdom and knowledge in the most ordinary things: conversations, sermons, trivial books and everyday occurrences — even the evil we encounter each day. St. Therese of the Little Flower says something similar. She wrote that: “Everything is a grace. Everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love — difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs — everything. Because through them she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events, to the heart that loves, all is well.” And this is the same sense in which Rev. Caussade writes when he tells us that if we become instruments of God’s divine will all things can help “transmit His grace and often do so in simple souls in ways and means which seem opposed to the intended end…Each one of us has a special grace and this is a reward for all of us who cheerfully accept the state in which God has placed us.” Even if the simple souls of whom Caussade speaks should happen to fall into things that could harm them, he notes that, “it doesn’t matter. Providence will see to it that they come out unscathed. Time and time again people plot against them but providence comes to their aid, slashes through all the snares and deals with the plotters so that they fall into the traps they have so carefully devised…Under the direction of God these souls seem to do foolish things —but it isn’t so. For these things wind up setting them free from all the troubles their enemies had planned for them.”
Rev. Caussade’s spiritual treatises to the nuns ends with observations of God’s actions on each soul in these times with words that are practically prophetic. For he uses the passages from the Apocalypse to relay to us the wisdom that he offers, no doubt reserved especially for those living in the latter days. Thus we find the three keys mentioned in Apoc. 3:7, 9:1 and Luke 11:52; the keys to divine wisdom, (Wis. 8:14) he extends to us in his work. Many believe that the Church of Philadelphia related to these keys is the little Church of the remnant living in the end times. “The whole of the Old Testament is only a small diagram showing innumerable and mysterious tracks, and contains nothing but what is necessary to lead us to Jesus. The Holy Ghost has kept everything else hidden among the riches of His wisdom. From all the vast ocean of His activity, He allows only a trickle of water to escape which, after reaching Jesus, is lost in the Apostles and engulfed in the Apocalypse. Thus the rest of the story of the activity of Jesus in the souls of good people until the end of time can be known only by faith.” Caussade talks of the dream King Nebuchadnezzar revealed to Daniel and the interpretation Daniel gave him of his dream. This prophet says it represents the “the image of this world shown to us as a statue…the mystery of evil,” referring this evil to the activities of the “children of darkness, together with the beast coming out of the abyss to war against the interior and spiritual life of man. It is a war that has been going on since time began, and everything that happens in the contemporary world is the continuation of this war, (Apoc. 13:1).”
In concluding his thoughts on this subject, Caussade reminds us that throughout the history of mankind, we have been placed on earth as warriors to fight this great spiritual battle in successive ages. Always the enemy is the same. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, they are beasts precisely because they are not spiritual beings, relying on their base instincts and animal passions rather than God-given reason. Always these monsters arise from the infernal pit and always we must fight them to the death. When we have finished our training here under the tutelage of the Holy Ghost, he says, then “God allows them to slay the monster. A new monster appears and God summons fresh warriors into the arena. Our life here is a spectacle which makes heaven rejoice, rears up saints and confounds hell. And so all that opposes the rule of God only succeeds in making it more worthy to be adored. All the enemies of justice become its slaves and God builds the heavenly Jerusalem with the fragments of Babylon the destroyed.”
What does this mean for us? It means that we are now engaging in the battle described in Apoc. 12, fought by St. Michael and his angels from heaven. But how many of us truly fight the good fight using the tools this master of the spiritual life has left us? We whine and complain, much as the exiled Israelites, that all our comforts are taken away because our spiritual advisors no longer succour us. Yet here is this great work he left us to fill the void. It is perfectly suited to our times and circumstances, but we fail to comprehend its worth. Robert B. Eiten, S. J., in his “A Layman’s Way to Spiritual Perfection,” tells penitents what to do in the absence of a spiritual director. “For one reason or another, it may at times be difficult to find a suitable spiritual director. In this case, good spiritual reading will be the best substitute since in reality spiritual reading is, in a certain sense, written spiritual direction…for achieving sanctity…Besides giving one a certain knowledge of the spiritual life…of spiritual principles and their interrelationships… spiritual reading gives also a certain reliability and dependability which are especially important when a spiritual director is not available.”
In his work treated here, Rev. Caussade states that those lacking directors who “feel left on their own” can nevertheless advance if they remain willing to be directed and peacefully await the will of God. “When they are suffering this deprivation, they meet from time to time persons they feel they can trust, although they know nothing about them,” and at times these people give them useful advice. But if they do not come across such people, the maxims they may find in the spiritual reading of the classics will assist them in these times. Caussade warns his readers that “Any soul which has, once and for all, completely submitted itself to God should always interpret everything favorably; the loss of the most able spiritual directors and the mistrust it feels for those who push themselves forward as replacements. For usually these would-be guides who chase after souls should quite rightly be mistrusted. Those genuinely moved by the spirit of God have not, as a rule, so much eagerness and complacency. They prefer to wait until they are summoned, and even then come forward rather hesitantly.”
We have the answers to our dilemma. We may obtain the grace to put these answers into practice if we fervently petition them from God. We have both the obligation and the necessary tools to become soldiers of Christ even without Confirmation, for like all the other sacraments we forego to avoid displeasing God, He will supply the graces spiritually that are no longer available to us sacramentally. All we need to do is to make the gift of self to God that Caussade, and after him Rev. Nicholas Grou recommend. Christ is the invisible head of the Church and our only superior in the absence of the Roman Pontiff; the crisis in the Church we see before us is necessary to fulfill the prophecies recorded in Holy Scripture. He is our priest, bishop, spiritual director and pontiff if we but let Him act in this capacity.
Holy Scripture itself tells us what Our Lord will do when the shepherd is struck. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand to the little ones,” (Zach. 13:7). The first part of this prophecy is repeated again in Matt. 26:31, but in this passage Christ says, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” Rev. Leo Haydock tells us that this passage in Zacharias means that, “Christ takes care of his little flock, and always is one with the Father.” In the Matt. 26:31 version, he notes that “I will strike” means that Christ’s death (and the vacancy of the Holy See) means that these trials and sufferings are “directed by God.” He quotes from Luke 12:32 which reads: “Fear not little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.” Citing St. Bede, Haydock writes on this verse: “In order to console us in our labors, he commands us to seek only the kingdom of Heaven, and promises that the Father will bestow it as a reward upon us.”
Elsewhere in Holy Scripture we read: “The kingdom of God is within you.” We all have access to the graces we need to allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Ghost. Christ stands at the door and knocks, but there is no door handle. We alone can open the door and allow Him to direct our souls.