A little more on the notion of "attentive faith" that St. Francis de Sales described in great detail in that third sermon which I blogged yesterday.
To sum up from memory (I do not have the book with me):
- Jesus praises the Canaanite woman, "How great is your faith!"
- So some persons can have a "great" faith.
- This does not consist in believing more things, or in believing them more surely, but in having excellent attributes.
- The excellent attributes that faith can have are liveliness, vigilance, and attentiveness.
- A lively faith is animated by good works; a vigilant faith is kept alert in its understanding by frequent meditation upon the truths which it believes; an attentive faith is ever-ready to receive what God gives and do what God asks of it.
- Liveliness is accompanied by charity; vigilance by the four cardinal virtues; attentiveness by confidence, humility, perseverence, and patience.
I was pondering those and thought to myself that I find vigilance and attentiveness easier to attain than liveliness. I like to think about things, so it is no great difficulty for me to turn anything I have learned over and over in my mind to extract more from it. And I have a mental habit of being on the lookout for graces, so to speak, crumbs falling from the table. I was trying to describe what this "attentiveness" means to me, and I think it is something like -- always expecting that around the next corner God may be trying to tell you something. Not will tell you something, which would be presumptive. Not a message, like skywriting. I think it is a constant evaluation of the meaning of events, or a quest to live meaningfully in a world where it can be all too easy to see meaningless suffering and random luck everywhere. Maybe like particle physicists trying to get at the very fundamental bottom (top, up, down, strange, charm) of the universe, and seeing those actions somehow even at the top level, stirring sugar into a cup of morning coffee, staring at the rotating liquid, tasting, knowing all the time what is under it all.
I completely see how this goes with confidence, patience, perseverence, and humility. Without humility you might become certain that meaning is only accessible to special people like yourself, and also you would really be looking for meaning in yourself instead of outside yourself and permeating you. But confidence in the basic reliability of God and the universe means that it answers to you just as it answers to any other person, and grace is just as accessible to you as to anyone else. And then of course it takes patience and perseverance to span the long times between insights or consolations. Directions. Crumbs.
Besides the quick-witted Canaanite woman, if you want a modern exemplar of attentiveness among the saints, I think St. Thérèse of Lisieux would do well. Cheeky, that one.