Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beyond the Absolute Part 2 of 3:The Paths of the Absolute

Last post at the start of June I commented on a Carthusian essay titled, Beyond the Absolute (from the book The Wound of Love), which regards the contemplative and the seemingly mundane lifestyle which imitates Christ's own self-poverty. Here is the link to the first part of this commentary.The life of Christians are often taken to be mundane, even those who are holy, but this is much the same mistake that others made with remark to our Good Lord. For it is in this radical self-emptying and humility that transforms our most mundane tasks into offerings of tremendous amounts of love to God our Beloved. And so the Savior's words ring strongly: "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little is unjust also in that which is greater." (Luke 16:10) Make no mistake that this self-offering of resplendent love was present in every beat of Christ's Sacred Heart, and just as well the path of humility and self-offering was present in our Lady through God's assistance and favor. So too then the Carthusian who wrote this essay will describe the call of his own life in view of the captivating, seducing call of God Who loves us as if we were the only ones, His special chosen Beloved. Below I will commentate on parts of the essay.

Introductory Paragraph
"Once settled in a Charterhouse, we soon learn that the radical choice to live for God alone must necessarily implant itself on our entire concrete existence, our perceptions and our social interactions, however fragile and unstable they may be. We begin to learn what this entails and how difficult it is. We cannot go into detail here, but let it suffice to point out how this choice, apparently so purely spiritual, has to express itself in all its radicality within the limits of time and space in which a Carthusian lives out his life."

Indeed this is the mark of the devout Christian that our faith and our love for God which was called by Him out of His sheer love and gracious condescension must touch our entire being. We must be transfigured with and by Christ, which proves to be a difficult and painful process. Human frailness and sin are most easily perceived in the reflective soul who falls deeper into God's love, and so our call to faith must not simply reach our soul, but also our bodies in a way. The Lord became Man, and through Him even our frailness can be transfigured into the life of humility and meekness. And so though our mind may will a certain thing, the body in its frailness (or the mind's addiction to sin afflicting the body) can go astray. It is the mark then of a good soul to ask for the Lord's medicine when one feels he is about to fall. The love felt at the moment of our call must be recalled in our mind and by the Lord's good grace (which we humbly implore) at every moment of our day and so reach our "concrete existence" and come from being "radically spiritual" to embodied, bold, and incarnate in both the mind's will and the whole person's will and action.

The 'limits' of a Charterhouse
"Historians who study the foundation of Charterhouses in the Middle Ages usually discover something which shocks them if they are unfamiliar with Carthusian life. They find that Carthusians, once decided on a foundation and a site for it, began by setting up 'limits' around the site which effectively define the boundary between themselves and the world. It did not matter whether or not surrounding land already belonged to the Carthusians; for, if not, the objective was to acquire it or to obtain privileges which would ensure that no other human habitation should exist within its boundaries. This was considered by the early Carthusians to be an essential condition for a foundation. The monastery had to be the heart of an area of genuine solitude. The division between the Charterhouse and the world needed to be clearly defined. Once this had been achieved, a further set of limits was laid down which detailed the boundaries which the monks were not to cross if they wished to be faithful to the spirit of solitude. The novice who makes profession knows that he is committing himself to remain within these boundaries, which constitute his desert, his solitude."

Very profound is the dedication of the Carthusian order. Central to their way of life is the striving for the way of the desert, illustrated and exemplified in the Desert Fathers, ancient Christians who sought God far off in the desert. To embrace His love apart from the distractions of the world. We are each called to love the Creator as Father and Divine Spouse, to love anything else inappropriately is spiritually dangerous, but not uncommon. Might I remark that Catholics in a similar way are asked to make time for solitude, and this the soul needs desperately. What boundaries might our own souls require? Do we create boundaries from the common culture that has deviated from the ways of God's commandments so as to strive to perfect our own hearts and souls for the Divine Principle of our life? Are we not also to ensure that there is a special time for us with God alone, to adore Him, even if we are surrounded by others who love Him? The love of God and His intention for us is not only to love Him as the Absolute but to embrace each other in His kingdom. Here I am touching upon that communion which God sought to establish as our perfect goal and aim, and touching upon the purpose of this essay as regarding Beyond the Absolute.

"It would be shabby to see in this some kind of acquisitive instinct or power-seeking on the part of Carthusians. Even if the question of boundaries has frequently involved them in lawsuits or disputes with their neighbours, one has to understand this fierce determination to cut themselves off from the world as giving rather bald expression to their feeling of really having chosen God and nothing but God. The Absolute has burned Itself into their lives in a frighteningly demanding way. To tumble definitively into God, as we have said, is to enclose oneself within Him both spiritually and physically. The 'limits' of a Charterhouse are the material sign that we have enclosed ourselves within God. 'Your  life is hidden with Christ in God' said St. Paul. Such is the goal of the Carthusian: to be hidden, to compel others to respect his anonymity, to be forgotten. Yet, it is also to impute on himself the restriction of no longer being able to wander about, nor to go here and there as his fancy might lead him. He is anchored in God, even in body, even in basic human freedom which has the entire earth, bestowed by the Creator, at its disposal"

This is the beauty and simplicity of the Carthusian lifestyle, the spiritual and physical enclosing of man in the simple and dedicated goal of doing the sublime, loving God. He sears in each of our hearts a wound that imitates His own love, that great desire for Him to love us to which He bore even a laceration on His heart for our sake. May we let our lives become hidden with Christ in God, that is may we feed all of our inner ambition, our energy, our passion, our whole soul and heart to the singular desire worthy of man to seek, that which is Absolute and above all else, God almighty. Our hearts were made for you, may we seek to become humble and meek like You, O Lord! As the feast of St. John the Baptist ends today, may you grant us the grace to desire not to be loved by others, approved by others, but sink in anonymity, in meekness, all in the service of our Beloved.

The meaning of the vows
"It is obvious that religious vows are not a monopoly of the Carthusians. Yet, perhaps we are approaching a time when only the Carthusians will still have a lifestyle that corresponds to the frame of mind that prevailed in the monastic circles in which the vows were born fifteen hundred years ago. The vows in their deepest reality, are strictly modelled on the structures of the structures of the Carthusian life."

I admit that this paragraph strikes me as somewhat dissimulating, and perhaps bears too much in the Carthusian order. The life of the monastic is to radically enclose himself in the love of God, both physically and spiritually. This does not mean that the monk must be totally closed off, but that he sees his principle vocation each day and hour before him, the silent ardent love of God. Let us then pray for all religious and contemplatives that they might be holy. It is very true however that in all of its centuries, until perhaps the decline of the monastic orders after the Council of Trent, the Carthusian Order has been singled out as a principally honorable and serious dedication.

"The origins of the first monastic vows are obscure. Nevertheless, it would seem that they came into being spontaneously, in order to deal with instability among monks, whether as regards the vocation itself, or as regards their tendency to wander from one monastery to another. The vows were a sort of 'limit', in the sense discussed in the previous paragraph. They mark a complete break in the life of the monk, in that he sees himself obliged to remain fixed in God, through a decision freely made when he enters the monastery, and binds himself to it in profession. Without wishing to deny the juridical exaggerations which have grown up around the vows, we must know how to rediscover the deep inspiration underlying them. Their authors probably did not realize it clearly, but they were following a very real inspiration."

Here we may take it in part that within our own lives God has given us our own small community of family whom we cannot abandon and in the sense of responsibility (God commands in the Fourth Commandment to honor our father and mother [and all other lawful authorities]) must lend ourselves over to. This too is difficult as life with others can cause a constant strain as the gruffness of our sinfulness and passions grind away at each other, only to be, hopefully, brought to a calm in the loving reconciliation that comes from unconditional familial bonds. Such and such, is the difficulty of loving one's neighbors as one's self.

"The intention of one taking monastic vows is to make a truly absolute gift of himself or herself to God. The seduction of the Absolute implies the desire to imprint within ourselves a reminder of the Absolute which prepares us to meet It. That choice, which made us give up everything for Him, is one that we wish to see mould our whole interior being. We must therefore make a complete break with the outside world: the vow of stability corresponding in each one of us to the concrete existence of limits. Above all, it is important to draw a clear line between the flight from God, to which all weight of our fallen nature disposes us, and the choice of a love ever faithful to God: the vow of obedience."

St. Therese of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church, once said that we cannot be half a saint, but must be entirely a saint. This is what the Carthusian here is trying to say of making our life in faith an absolute gift and offering of our selves to the Good Lord. This is the mystical ascent and desire of the whole fabric of our being, which we may or may not be conscious of, to have that imprint and relation to God. To have the imprint of Him is to have sanctifying or saving grace, the abundant love of the Savior poured out into our hearts to grow daily as if our hearts were hidden and buried in Christ in God. This state of grace imprints Him upon our souls and inquires us daily to be molded in our whole being, that is become more holy and more righteous in Him. The Christian life is a radical break from the world, and without grace we fear God and cannot know Him in His acceptation as Divine Lover and Divine Father. Without His help and outstretched arm of favor we cannot know Him as lover and so our life is spent running from Him, perhaps having a fleeting moment (called actual grace, or assisting grace in theology) with Him, but it cannot endure unless the call dwells deep withing the very fabric of our being; a faithfulness that endures unto final justification.

"To the superficial observer, the monk finds himself enmeshed in a network of obligations that bind and paralyze him, and, in fact, that is sometimes the way his life is described. The reality, though, is exactly the opposite. The vows are the unbreachable line of demarcation between the realm of Absolute, the zone in which we wish God to be undisputed ruler, and everything else. They are the gateway to divine freedom"

And so we see that to serve is not to be in servitude unless we mean that divine servitude of love. Let this then be our own model as we go in our lives. We all have obligations, but it is the Holy Spirit acting in us Who changes our obligations from rote external relations and motions into internalized acts of love and the ardent yearning and desire to carry out God's every whim and desire.

"In order to have a better understanding of the radical break imprinted on a monk's life by Carthusian solitude, it might be helpful to view it alongside other forms of solitary life.

The Hermit. The hermit is certainly a man of solitude, but by the very nature of things, as history bears ample witness, also a man liable to evolve in many different ways. He may end up as the founder of a cenobitic abbey, or as a preacher, or be summoned to the episcopate as a pastor of souls. He, too, has therefore felt the burning desire of the Absolute, but has not perceived the call to bury himself in it once and for all. his solitude could indeed last all his life; but it could also very well be only a staging post on the road towards another vocation to which the Lord is calling him.

The Camaldoelese. Son of St. Benedict, he places his solitude in a context not unlike that of the hermit. It is but one among many forms of worshipping God. Remember, for instance, that the apostles of Poland were the first Camaldolese. There is nothing wrong with having teacher and preachers, etc. among them, in addition to solitaries and even recluses. But, in itself, to be a Camaldolese does not necessarily imply the radical decision of casting oneself exclusively on God.

The Recluse. Materially, he or she enjoys a solitude that is often profound. in fact, however it is fragile and subject to all manner of contingencies quite outside the recluse's control. When one considers the life of a recluse in actual practice he or she always forms part of a community of some kind, be it monastic, canonical or parochial, and depends on it both spiritually and materially. this means that his or her situation is very unstable, even if it sometimes offers exceptionally favourable circumstances."

This long reflection on other groups is intended I believe to show the radicality of the Carthusian call to embrace a partially cenobitic and partially eremitic lifestyle, that is partially communal and partially solitary monasticism. These monks are called to immerse themselves in the wideness of prayer, as community and as soul before His God. There is a uniqueness in the Carthusian order that this is all they are called to do, but it is a reflection of our own lives that the Christian is charged to pray unceasingly. We will each do this in varying ways. Solitude, prostration, and other ideas of prayer do not necessarily have to be so. We may offer our entire day and actions as a prayer, as St. Benedict wrote that to work is to pray, but it requires extreme humility, a greatness of heart, and a stillness to listen for God's voice.

It is then clear that the life of a Christian mirrors the life of the Carthusians in the sense that we are sometimes less radiant mirrors of that same call to Communion with the Lord. The Carthusians are not called to holiness uniquely, but we must remember that each is called in a special and unique way, a way that determines our entire being and the whole fulfillment of the person, that is to be consumed in God's all-consuming love. And so our call at the start of our journey to embrace the Absolute forever carrying the wound of love that He has inflicted upon our hearts is again embraced in the faithfulness that must shake our entire being, to be arisen and transfigured anew as we learn and strive to be in God's grace and friendship.

May my grandmother and all the holy souls in Purgatory, who yearn for You O Lord, finally find and embrace You. Most Merciful Trinity have compassion on these souls in Purgatory and please show them the Splendor of Your Light. Amen.

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