bear - ingn.1 the manner in which one comports oneself; 2 the act, power, or time of bringing forth offspring or fruit; 3 a machine part in which another part turns [a journal ~]; 4pl. comprehension of one's position, environment, or situation; 5 the act of moving while supporting the weight of something [the ~ of the cross].
How often is a parish that blathers on the most about “hospitality” also one that is locked up tight during the week?
Here’s the real Catholic “ministry of hospitality” at work: an open church, decorated in a way that renders the Church, past and present, militant and triumphant, present – in the images of saints, in telling stories – in a way that you can just walk in and be in the midst of it, even in a small way if that’s all that can be managed - the crucifix, the Mary and Joseph statues, the Ways of the Cross, a statue of the of the parish’s patron, and some candles and the holy water, of course. All there in the Real Presence of Christ. Welcoming. If that’s all there can be, so be it. But it’s a start – to hospitality – that is, welcoming whoever walks in into the Church.
Although I think Francis's approach is shockingly modern for the early 1600s, the way he has organized his information is not what we expect when we crack open a self-help book these days. Five hundred years later, if we want to reform ourselves, we are used to picking up a step-by-step guide. But there are two big problems with trying to read St. Francis straight through as if that's what he were writing.
First of all, we are going to be all over the place, attempting to focus on this virtue today and that virtue tomorrow and then back to the first virtue the day after next.
Second of all, Francis makes it quite clear that different people need to focus on particular virtues according to their state in life. So his general overview of the virtues could not possibly be a step-by-step guide for everyone.
Commenter Jeanie wrote:
Your posts are encouraging me to keep reading the book. In the past, I've always been overwhelmed by the changes every chapter seemed to require of me and would stop reading. Your idea that the book should be read first in its entirety to get an overview and thus discover that he doesn't mean to do it all at once is brilliant.
Yes, it seems to be working well, isn't it? I'm going to continue trying to organize and re-present what I am getting out of it, in an order that is easier for us woefully-used-to-self-help-books people to follow.
So, last time, I decided to group the following chapters of part three together as a sort of introductory collection:
•Ch 1-2 The choice of virtues •Ch 37 Discernment of desires for things we should not have or cannot have; dealing with over-ambitious desire for virtues •Ch 23 Mortification of the body •Ch 24 Society and Solitude
I read over these chapters as a group, and here is what I think all five of them have in common, which is also why I think they belong in the "Read These First" pile:
All five of these chapters are guidelines that the reader ("Philothea") can use to discern which practices and virtues she should try to develop and in what degree she should develop them.
I wrote before that the first two chapters "The Choice of Virtues" and "Further Advice on Choice of Virtues" are about selecting the right virtues to practice in accord with your state of life, and understanding what virtues are and are not. Now let's look at the other chapters in my cobbled-together introduction.
Chapter 37, "Desires," is about desiring the right things, not the wrong things -- including the wrong spiritual goods. According to Francis, it is useless to desire what you ought not to have, or what you can't possibly have, or even what you can't have until far in the future. We need to examine even our apparently-GOOD desires, to determine whether these desires are really right for us, or whether they take the place of the desires we ought to have:
If I desire to buy something that belongs to my neighbor before he is ready to sell it, such a desire is merely a waste of time. If a sick priest desires to... carry on his work as usual, such desires are pointless, since at the time they cannot be realized; they merely take the place of those he should have, namely, to be patient, resigned, mortified, obedient and submissive in his sufferings, which is God's will for him at the time.
But often enough our desires are like those of a woman with child who wishes for cherries in the autumn and fresh grapes in the spring....
If I, as a bishop, desire the solitude of a Carthusian I am wasting my time and this desire takes the place of the desire I should have to carry out my present work properly.
I would not even wish anyone to desire greater talent or better judgement, for such desires are useless and take the place of the desire everyone should have to cultivate whatever talents he already possesses; instead of desiring new means of serving God, he should rather desire to make good use of those already at his disposal....
A soul once purified... has a great appetite for spiritual things, desiring, as one famished, countless practices of devotion, mortification, penance, humility, charity and prayer; such a good appetite, Philothea, is a good sign, but consider whether your digestion can cope with it all. You should rather choose with the help of your confessor such desires as can be put into practice here and now; when you have done that God will send you others which in their turn can be put into practice without wasting your time.
This does not mean that you should relinquish any of your good desires, but merely that you should put them into practice in due order, locking them away in some corner of your heart while you give your attention to those which can be made to bear fruit in the present moment. This applies both to spiritual things and to worldly things. To act otherwise is to live in a constant state of restlessness and anxiety.
How did you like the comparison to pregnancy cravings? Priceless, no?
This is a GREAT chapter to read before going on to read the rest of the chapters on particular virtues, because it reminds us to search out those virtues which it is actually in our power to develop in ourselves -- and to develop them, not all at once, but "in due order." Otherwise, we'll be anxious. Any of this stuff sound familiar?
My top blog project right now is re-categorizing the healthy eating/fitness posts, gluttony posts, weight loss posts, related recipes and whatnot, in preparation for producing a printable version. I'm literally clicking through one post at at time looking for posts that I missed and giving them new categories.
Second from the top is continuing to blog through Introduction to the Devout Life, which I'm assuming is continuing to be of some interest and at any rate is interesting to me.
Then, the "detachment from time" blogging. Which is bearing some fruit. I'll post more on that later, but the short version is that I am seeing lots of similarities with trying to give up gluttony.
I have already written about the first two chapters of Part III, which function as an introduction and which guide the judgement in selecting virtues to practice. The rest of this part is given up to discussions of specific virtues or habits both good and bad. There are forty-one chapters in all, but some of the chapters naturally go together in common themes -- not necessarily in the order that St. Francis presents them. It seems, for example, that St. Francis wanted to put chapters on poverty, chastity, and obedience next to one another, even though the themes appear to flow more naturally if they are not.
Here is a thematic list of the chapters in Part III:
Introduction. These chapters all deal with the discernment of which virtues to focus on and how to go about practicing them prudently. They are more general than the other chapters.
Ch 1-2 The choice of virtues
Ch 37 Discernment of desires for things we should not have or cannot have; dealing with over-ambitious desire for virtues
Ch 23 Mortification of the body
Ch 24 Society and Solitude
The rest of the chapters all deal with practicing virtue in everyday life.
Virtue when in troubles: Ch. 3. Patience
Virtue when others find fault with us: Ch. 4-7. Humility, love of humiliation, and care of our good name
Virtue when faced with frailties, faults, and weakness in ourselves and others: Ch. 8-9, Gentleness towards others and patience with ourselves
Virtue in the performance of duties Ch. 10-11 and 35: Avoidance of over-eagerness and anxiety; obedience; fidelity on all occasions
Virtue in the face of material riches or material poverty: Ch. 14-16 Spiritual poverty
Virtue in friendship: Ch 17-22 Friendships, true and false
Virtue in sexual matters: Ch 12-13 and 38-41. Chastity, with specific advice to those who are married, to widows, and to virgins
Finally, some advice for remaining devout in dealings with society:
Ch 25 Proper attire (not modesty, but attractiveness of attire)
Ch 26-30 Honest and respectful speech
Ch 31-34 Fun and recreation
Ch 36 "We must be reasonable." Fairness to neighbor as to yourself.
As I go on writing more about the book, I'm going to take the chapters (more or less) in the order I gave them above rather than straight through. Unless I just decide to write about them in the order that seems most useful to me.
Commenter MelanieB wrote a great comment on the post waaaay back here, the one with St. Francis de Sales's advice on praying a devotion appropriate to one's state in life. Totally worth reposting, especially since you might miss it if I don't.
I had written that although the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH) appeals to me tremendously, I have a hard time fitting it into my day, and was beginning to resign myself to the idea that I should try something different. Melanie says, don't give up:
I agree that you shouldn't force yourself to stick with a devotion that simply isn't working. However, I have had some success with modifying my ideas of how LOTH should work s that it meshes better with my life as mom of little ones. So you may find that LOTH just doesn't work for you; but perhaps you might also have some success by tweaking the way you approach it.
I have found that I can mostly fit LOTH into my chaotic life but I have had to learn to be very flexible and interruptible and loosen my expectations. I did already have the habit of saying morning and evening prayer before I was married, so I did have a leg up in that regard, I suppose. I also started praying LOTH by being loose in my expectations. I was in grad school at the time and kept very irregular hours and very short in discipline. I said morning prayer whenever I first got up, no matter how tired I was and if I fell asleep a dozen times as I tried to pray, well that's just how it went. And evening prayer I would say last thing before going to bed, also falling asleep many nights multiple times before I got through it all. For me developing the habit of daily prayer was more important than the quality of the prayer on any given day. So yes my concentration wsn't what I'd like it to be; but I think one can pray the hours with reduced concentration and there is still much good that comes from just saying the words even if it feels very empty. But like I said, I was single, so I did push myself to finish each hour.
These days those habits do stand me in good stead. Still, some mornings I only get through part of one psalm before I'm interrupted. And I've learned to count that as my morning prayer time and just pick up on the next hour and do the best I can. It's been very hard to overcome my perfectionist tendencies which try to insist that it doesn't "count" if I don't say the whole hour's psalmody and reading and intentions and prayers; but I've definitely made progress in that regard in the past couple of years.
Like Kate suggested, I print out some of my favorite hymns and post them on the cabinets and sing as I cook breakfast and wash the dishes. They are my backup plan. On mornings when LOTH is interrupted or disappears completely, I try to at least start with a mumbled morning offering, try to say the Invitatory Psalm (95), which I've memorized, and then sing a few hymns as I go about my morning, making breakfast and doing dishes.
At noon I have my cell phone set to ring and we all pray the Angelus (the 2 yr old and 4 year old know most of the prayers and often join in; but I don't require it of them.) I just pray regardless of what I'm doing, I don't necessarily stop momming changing a diaper, dishing out lunch, moderating an argument, etc.
If I can, during nap/afternoon quiet time I pray either the short midday or midafternoon prayer or the longer Office of Readings.
Then evening prayer usually doesn't happen these days till after the kids are in bed, which may be 8 or 9pm. I'm often nodding off or very distracted; but I do my best to get through. If I'm really tired, I just skip evening prayer and say the much shorter night prayer and if I'm super tired I do a shortened version of night prayer that omits the psalm and just says the responsory and canticle and closing prayer.
I've also had success in getting the kids involved in praying LOTH with me instead of fighting to keep them away, make them be quiet. I allow myself to be distracted and figure God will give me quiet prayer times when I need it and at other times praying in the midst of interruptions and the circus is undoubtedly good for me too.
I have a big pile of holy cards in my prayer book and hand them to the toddlers to look at as I pray. Sometimes that becomes my prayer as I use the cards for an improvised litany of the saints: that's St Patrick. St Patrick, pray for us...
The girls have both learned how to repeat antiphons and like praying with me. Another way to get them involved was to listen to the LOTH at divineoffice.org I was totally able to feed the baby and listen to that while I got stuff done. Not optimal to multi-task while praying; but better than not praying, no?
When I've got a new baby I try to use the nursing sessions as my monastery bell and say at least a part of the nearest hour whenever I sit down to nurse. Having a laptop nearby allows me to access universalis. Or with the latest baby I did the readings on my ipod touch. Very handy technology which lets you scroll with one finger and works until baby is old enough to be fascinated with the shiny thing in mama's hand.
Sorry if this is too long and not helpful. [(note from Erin -- you've got to be kidding!]) But I think I might have given up early on if I hadn't had some cheerleaders telling me it could still work for me if I reduced my expectations of what LOTH requires.
It's kind of the same thing I've learned about attending Mass. I may be very distracted by keeping the baby and toddlers from screaming and fighting and I may not hear the readings and miss the homily and even have to leave to change a diaper and miss the consecration; but there is a grace at simply being present as much as I am able and allowing God to be present even in the midst of the distractions and interruptions. I've become convinced that liturgy doesn't require our full attention and concentration to be a source of grace for us-- though it is good for us to try to give it as much as possible.
(All emphasis mine)
What do you think, readers? Should MelanieB expand this blog comment into a whole SERIES of how-to-pray-LOTH-with-toddlers on her own blog? Is this not absolutely chock full of wonderful advice and don't you want to read more?
So, Melanie... thank you for the reminder. The "all or nothing" perfectionism is bad for most people, but especially poisonous for mothers of littles... most of our "all" is spoken for already.
And look... more reinforcement of my thesis that strengthening habits is the foundational skill for all kinds of self-reform...
And of having a backup plan... love the idea of hymns as backup plan for prayer!
In the meantime, remind the young single Catholic woman you might know that there's no better time than the present to learn to pray the LOTH...
I haven't posted much the last couple of days because I've been updating the master chronological index post. These are, of course, the posts that will go into some hypothetical printable version, which is one reason I wanted to update it. Anyway, it's now current up through today.
For newer readers, that updated post (which also has a link on the right sidebar) is the link to share if you want to point anyone to my entire archive of weight loss posts -- at least until I get some printable version up and running.
There's lots more about prayer and the sacraments in Part 2 of Introduction to the Devout Life, but I would like to move on to Part 3, "The Practice of Virtue."
I'll write more in another post about the overall structure of this part of the book; right now I want to focus on the introduction that is formed by the first two chapters, "The Choice of Virtue" and "Further Advice on Choice of Virtues."
By "choice of virtue" Francis seems to mean the selection of which virtue or virtues to prefer in practice. Wait a minute, aren't we supposed to practice all virtues? Francis has some reservations about that. Let's look at a few points from the first chapter.
We are called to practice particular virtues on particular occasions:
A just man is like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit in due season, for his soul, watered by charity, brings forth fruits of virtue, each one in due season.
So we can't just pick one virtue and focus on practicing it to exclusion of the others:
To insist on performing acts of a particular chosen virtue on every possible occasion is a great defect... and still worse, to criticize and blame those who do not do the same.
And of course we are never free from the obligation to practice certain "general virtues":
Some virtues...should be practiced universally, either in themselves or in so far as they direct the practice of other virtues; for example, we seldom have the chance to practice fortitude, magnanimity or great generosity, but our whole lives should be coloured by the virtues of gentleness, temperance, modesty and humility.
Occasionally there is tension between the practice of two virtues, forcing us to prefer one over the other:
We should prefer the virtues which accord with our duty rather than our inclination. St. Paula felt inclined to practise great austerities for the spiritual consolation they brought, whereas obedience to her superiors accorded more with her duty! That is why St Jerome blamed her for practising immoderate austerities against her bishop's advice.
And there are different ways to practice the same virtue, which we must do in accord with our state in life:
...the virtues of prelates, princes, soldiers, married women and widows are all practised in a different way; though everyone should have all the virtues, they are not bound to practise them in the same way.
Also, we have to be careful not to show off:
With regard to the virtues which go beyond our duty, we should prefer the more excellent to the more spectacular.... because [certain virtues] are more striking and more material, are commonly more highly valued and preferred; for example, temporal almsgiving is preferred to spiritual; wearing a hair shirt, fasting, using the discipline and similar mortifications of the body, are preferred to gentleness, kindness and modesty and other mortifications of the heart, which point of fact are more sanctifying.
So, Philothea, choose those virtues which are best, not those which are only thought so; those which are most noble, not those which are most noticeable.
So those are some general guidelines for the "choice" of virtues and of ways of practicing them.
But a major point of this chapter, and the one I want to focus on today is that practicing one virtue will help a person make progress in other virtues.
Partly this happens because, when we work hard to practice a single virtue, we can't help but call upon all our available strength in other virtues to support that practice:
When troubled by some vice we must as far as possible practice the opposite virtue, making use of all the other virtues to this end. In this way we shall not only overcome our enemy but make progress in all the virtues. For example, if tempted to pride, or anger, I must force myself to practice humility and gentleness, making use of prayer and the sacraments, and exercising prudence, perseverance and temperance.
Yes, you heard it right: Concentrating on practicing just one virtue will help you get better at all the virtues:
Wild boars sharpen their tusks by polishing them with their other teeth and sharpen them all in doing so; in the same way, a virtuous man seeking to perfect the virtue most necessary for his defence sharpens it by the practice of the other virtue, which in consequence are perfected and polished in their turn. It was in this way that Job, by concentrating on patience in the midst of the temptations which assailed him, perfected many other virtues. As St. Gregory Nazianzen says, it is possible to attain the perfection of all the virtues by the perfect exercise of only one....
You know what this means, don't you?
This means we can take them one at a time!
No more must we resolve in moments of wild abandon to reform our entire lives completely and totally from top to bottom!
Maybe, just maybe, I was on to something last week when I made that resolution that I was going to work on one virtue, detachment (specifically from my time, plans, and schedules), and that I was going to work on it by first resolving to look at my kids (instead of at my work) when talking to them. Preferring, as befits one in my state of life at most moments, the virtue of love toward my own children to the virtue of perseverance in my work. Could it be that everything, not just this one thing, could get better if I just take it one at a time? Could it be that focusing on just one virtue (and one specific resolution to improve that virtue) is not necessarily a slacker method, but, um, the wisdom of the saints, or at least a saint?
Yeah, yeah, I know this whole post could be seen as an exercise in reading into something exactly what I hope to see in it... nevertheless it does provide me with some suggestions and practical help towards the way I am trying to stumble forward.
I am still looking around for blog-slurping options that will let me easily produce a printable copy of the gluttony posts, but I haven't found them yet (at least not for TypePad).
I may have to do this manually. Ever the perfectionist, I am stomping hard on the part of me that is chirping, "No problem! I'll just manually convert all the material into LaTeX! I'm sure I remember how to do it, after all, I finished my thesis only 6 years ago!"
What I'm getting at is that, if I do put it together manually, I'll probably use the opportunity to organize the material at least somewhat. I think someone suggested I put it together thematically, but with themes that generally progress chronologically. Maybe so.
Another question I had. Do I own comments on my blog, or do commenters own comments on my blog? I've never had a tagline that asserts ownership or copyright of the content of comments, so I was wondering. I would prefer to include comments, if I won't get in trouble for it -- but then again, maybe the comments aren't all that important?
Really good stuff, continuing the theme of specific and practical advice, especially looking forward to actually reforming oneself.
Be sincerely sorry for the sins you confess, however slight, firmly resolving to avoid them in future. Those who make a habit of confessing their venial sins without thought of amendment remain under the weight of them all their life to the detriment of their spiritual advancement.... it is an abuse to confess any kind of sin, mortal or venial, unless you will to be freed from it, for that is the very purpose of confession.
Here's a real kicker:
Avoid vague accusations such as 'I have not loved God as much as I ought'; 'I have not prayed enough'; 'I have been lacking in reverence in receiving the sacraments', and so on; for such accusations convey nothing to your confessor as to the state of your soul; there is no saint in heaven and no one on earth who could not say exactly the same.
Ouch! Accusing oneself of generalities is really about as good as making no confession at all. It's like coming to confession and saying "I'm a sinner." Which, since we all are, is like saying you don't commit any sins worth mentioning.
Consider the particular reason you have for making such accusations and then accuse yourself simply and openly of the actual fault, for example: you accuse yourself of not loving your neighbor enough, perhaps because you saw a poor person in great need and you did not help or console him when you could easily have done so. Say, then: 'Having seen a poor man in need I did not help him as I might have done through negligence', or hardness of heart, or contempt, or whatever you know the real reason to have been. In the same way, do not accuse yourself of lack of devotion in prayer but simply of the fault which led to this, namely that you had distractions through your own fault, or that you did not choose a suitable place or time, and so on.
Can you see how following Francis's advice would help you not only to make a good confession, but would help your confessor to understand your problems and recommend a remedy, and also to help you see what practical steps you could take to reform yourself?
Do not be content with confessing the mere facts of your venial sins but also the motive for which they were committed, for example, do not just say that you have told a harmless lie but that you did so to put yourself in a good light, to make an excuse for yourself, from obstinacy or just for fun. If you cheated in some game, say why: perhaps from a desire to win, and so on.... If you have given way to anger, for example, say why....
By accusing yourself in this way, you not only make known your sins but also your evil inclinations, customs, and habits, and the very roots of your sin, enabling your confessor to understand your heart better and apply the best remedies.
Very, very good advice. I am seeing in here also a theme of distinguishing sins from mere imperfections, both of which can be remedied by the sacraments and by personal effort, but toward which our attitudes should be very different.