THIS SUBJECT may without exaggeration be regarded as the most vital one which has engaged our attention during the Congress.
We may be concerned for the Glory of God; we may seek the welfare of humanity; we may recognize that religion is corporate; that a man cannot function apart from the solidarity of the race; or a Christian apart from the fellowship; but we must also understand that a dead man is of no use to the race and a dead soul is of no use to the Church.
It is the individual man that gives us the idea of unity, identity, and personality. We come into place in the human family, one by one; and we come into place in the Christian family, one by one. Our contribution to either family depends upon what we are rather than upon what we think, what we possess, or even what we do.
Saint Paul says, "See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, understanding what the will of the Lord is, redeeming the time because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5: 15). It is noteworthy that it is because of the evil conditions of Roman civilization that this advice was given. We declaim against the paganism of our day, we fulminate against unbelief and disbelief; we deplore the low moral standards of the time and—"The days are evil."
In a world full of distraction, where the dominant philosophy is in some form or other materialistic, where religion is so largely humanism or formalism, that which recalls us to the possibility of direct relationship with God cannot be lightly disregarded.
Men are asking to be set down upon a "rock that is higher" than themselves. Conventions, councils, congresses are asking how the world may be brought to Christ; how men may be saved; how the Church may be extended; how society may be redeemed. We, ourselves, are here to consider how American Christianity may be led to the acceptance of the Catholic religion. One answer is not far to seek. We cannot convert the world unless we, ourselves, are converted. We cannot commend the Catholic life unless we, ourselves, show the fruits which are a natural growth and which are the best evidence of that life.
We may not be content with exact adherence to tenets, however orthodox; with fixed routine; with formal righteousness; or with exterior devotion. What is needed in the Christian world is a sense of the "proportion of faith." What Catholics need above all else is the passion for holiness, striving for the wholeness of man in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
This requires a recognition of the interior life and a cultivation of the life of the spirit.
What is the spiritual life? The Catholic has but one answer. It is the life of the Christ begotten in the individual by the Holy Spirit.
The interior life is a vague phrase to many people. It seems to some an unreality about which many things are said in terms not easily understood. To others it is the hidden life of the spirit of man, or the soul as known only to its Creator. The common thought seems to be of something apart from ordinary human experience, or, at any rate, quite separate from the concerns of daily need.
"Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
'Tis woman's whole existence."
So likewise of personal religion; because it is individual it becomes individualistic and is a thing detached. It is like the oyster lying hidden within its shell, or possibly more like the precious pearl resulting from the suffering of the oyster.
My thesis is that it is such a contact of the Spirit of God with the spirit of man as may dominate his whole being so that it builds his frame; strengthens his tissues; pulses in every heart beat; quivers in every nerve; controls every thought; colors every emotion; and regulates every movement of the will.
"The mystical is only one element in religion, and while every true Christian is, to some extent, a mystic, the spiritual self comes to its own in temperaments which main bent is not in the direction of Mysticism. Communion with God, spiritual inwardness, inspired insight into Reality, are not confined to mystics; nor must it be forgotten that the greatest mystics have owed their force and stability to the admixture of other elements, whether rational evangelical or institutional, in their spiritual constitution. A 'pure' mystic is, indeed, unthinkable outside the madhouse." (E. HERMAN: Meaning and Value of Mysticism, page 30.)
The interior life is best described by Saint Paul in his beautiful prayer to the Ephesians:
"That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
"May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
"And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3: 16-19).
There is, I think, no better description of the interior life than this.
There is no need to attempt even a brief outline of the history of mysticism in the time at our command, and the occasion does not require any discussion of the psychological problems involved; but there is need for a practical restatement of the facts included in the development of the spiritual life and the occasion affords me an opportunity to speak out of the fulness of my own heart.
I, therefore, make no apology for avoiding technical terms and for speaking in the simplest language very directly and possibly very emphatically.
I am not going to lead your thought along the traditional mystic way, purgative, illuminative, and unitative in any obvious manner; but we must not be unmindful that the method which great saints have found to be the way that leads to complete consecration and to communion with God cannot safely be neglected by those who would follow after them even at a distance. Nevertheless, it suits our present purpose better to use scriptural terms, and language that may be understood by the mythical man in the street.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
Religion exists quite apart from any individual; but its experience is personal. It may not be had at second hand. It is not enough that we read about it, hear about it, discuss it, witness it in others; we must make it our own.
Every man is a potential mystic. Every man can know God if he will fulfill the conditions of such knowledge. We can grasp that which we cannot embrace. We can see that of which we cannot behold the whole. We can apprehend that which we cannot comprehend. So finite man can know the infinite God directly, immediately, surely.
We may not say, "this knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me. I cannot attain unto it"; for it is possible to say, not only I believe, but I know. The Gospel of Saint John and his first Epistle, and the Epistles of Saint Peter and some of the Epistles of Saint Paul bear out this statement.
1. This is a vision of God which also changes man's life. One can never remain the same after seeing it that he was before. This process we call conversion. William James (in Varieties of Religious Experience) tells us that conversion is a "changed center of potential energy." This statement is exactly true; but for the Christian religion it is simpler and even more exact to say that it is the Vision of God which changes all things in the light of the Vision.
Some have it from the earliest moments of conscious existence, and for them it grows brighter as the years pass. Some slowly attain to it with an intense appreciation of it at times. To some it appears suddenly as to Moses when he turned aside to see the burning bush, to Isaiah, and to Saint Paul upon the Damascus road. It is the vital fact of our religion. Our Master said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (Saint John 17:3).
Conversion, then, is a factor in the progression of the Christian soul, and it is a question whether even in the greatest saints it ever is quite perfect, and it may need the beatific vision for its perfection.
I am aware that this is not the popular idea about conversion in modern religious revivals against which many react; but it is a necessity of the Catholic religion. Catholicism begins with the thought of God and of God seeking man. Protestantism begins with the thought of man and of man seeking God. It may be said that eventually it comes to the same thing, if man find God and be found of Him; but a right understanding of conversion is fundamental for the interior life.
2. Conversion, then, being the changed attitude of the soul toward God, necessarily means a changed attitude toward life and every human experience; and especially is it true that a face turned toward God must be turned away from sin. Hatred of evil is not because of its injury to the individual, but because of its denial of God. The soul in the presence of the Holiness of God is first of all conscious of its imperfection and it must abhor everything which would separate it from God. Outstanding illustrations of this are to be found in the words of Job:
"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear;
But now mine eye seeth thee
Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5, 6.)
and the cry of Isaiah:
"Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).
and the utterance of Saint Peter:
"Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Saint Luke 5:8).
True conversion precedes repentance—or perhaps it is better to say repentance proceeds from conversion. No one but a truly converted man can truly and perfectly repent.
These are primary states in the growth of the Christian soul in its progress toward more perfect union with God and in its quest of holiness.
The mistake of our generation, as it has been of every generation, is to think that civilization is sufficient unto itself and that evolution is largely a movement always forward and upward, or that man who was created by God for God can ever be satisfied with anything less than God.
Dean Inge, commenting upon Saint Paul's thought about the vision which he had seen, says:
"External revelation cannot make a man religious. It can put nothing new into him. If there is nothing answering to it in his mind, it will profit him nothing. Nor can philosophy make a man religious. 'Man's wisdom,' 'the wisdom of the world,' is of no avail to find the spiritual truth." (W. R. INGE: Christian Mysticism, page 60.)
Christianity is not a philosophy, though it has a philosophy; it is not a body of dogma, though it has a definite creed; it is not an ethical system, though it possesses a code of morals; it is not mere ceremonial, though it has a method of worship. It is before all else and above all else a life. It is the life hidden with Christ in God. As Saint Paul writes, "To me, to live is Christ." The result of it is a sense of freedom from sin which enables man in spite of unworthiness to come into the presence of the All Holy.
We have seen that Christ is the life, but according to His own words He is also the Truth; and we have His further declaration that it is the truth which makes man free. This freedom will be found in the exercise of his intellectual powers to the utmost in every sphere, fearless in the consideration of every fact, no matter how presented, because everything is necessarily related to and finds its fullest meaning in the expression of the life of Christ.
This gives to man poise and serenity in a world bewildered with the conflicts of philosophies; by the problems of comparative religion, and by the discoveries in the field of natural and exact science.
This is the state of the soul guided by:
"The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye shall know him: for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (Saint John 14: 17).
The implication of this phase of the interior life is that it is a life guided by the Spirit of Truth. This is not a guidance which is promised to the individual per se; but just as the individual is capable of the reception of the ordinary gifts of the Spirit because of his place in the Church which is the Spirit-bearing Body, so also individual perceptions of the truth are corrected and regulated by that same Body in which the indwelling Spirit finds the sphere of his immediate operation.
In other words, it is for the Church as a whole to witness to the facts of revelation; to state the postulates of the faith; to find the permanent principles of morality and to regulate worship; but the individual who seeks a guided life hears a voice constantly saying, "This is the way. Walk ye in it," and he will find sure leading in his daily work and conversation.
The remembrance of this saves us from the vagaries of mere visionaries and opens the whole realm of thought enlarged by spiritual power. This at least is what I take Saint Paul to mean by "comprehending with all saints what is the breadth, the length, the depth, and the height." The reason why he uses a fourth dimension is that he suggests at least the possibility of a knowledge which lies beyond the ordinary categories of human thought.
Phillips Brooks, in a passage which I saw somewhere many years ago and which I do not remember in his published sermons, said that he is not most free who believes the least; but he who believes the most of the things that are true. Such freedom not merely satisfies human desire, but fits one into his own place in the scheme of things and adjusts him to the place which he is best fitted to fill. It is that wisdom which enables one to carry on in that station of life to which it has pleased God to call him.
Christ we have seen to be the Life, and the Truth, and He is also the Way.
Mystics in all ages and in every religion may have much in common; Christian mystics have much in common, in purpose and possibly even in attainment; but what differentiates the mysticism of the Catholic is the method of approach. It is the latter which now occupies our attention as our subject is The Catholic and His Interior Life. It is not so much difference of purpose as it is difference of method.
How may we best proceed to find the true and living way? There are four necessary characteristics of the Catholic life.
I. First the yielded will. We cannot be content to be governed by commandments, laws, and rules; but we must submit ourselves not merely cheerfully, but eagerly to the fulfillment of the will of God for us and in us. This is the example of our Lord Himself, of whom the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says:
"Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10: 9, 10).
This is one of the most pregnant statements in all Holy Scriptures in its wide application. The reason why there are so many spiritual wrecks and so many sad moral failures is that men are willing to give to God everything except that which it is possible to give and which gives meaning to any other offering. We can't get far (and if we think that we do, we shall sometime be grievously disappointed) unless we give ourselves to our Master without reserve. It is holding back part of the price with the pretense of devoting the whole which proves to be the lie to the Holy Ghost.
There are different means of attaining into blessedness, as our Lord tells us by the Beatitudes. There are somewhat different paths to holiness and many ways of serving God. Saints have found many ways for the expression of God's glory; but all have been alike in this one respect, the completeness of their consecration.
2. The second essential in the progress of the pilgrim soul is humility. It may seem sometimes that humility is the crowning grace of the Christian character for the last root of sin to be eradicated is pride; but if humility is the cap-stone of grace, it is also the foundation stone. No virtue is complete without it. No increase in strength or power may come to him who lacks it. It marked the life of the greatest saints and is predominant in Blessed Mary herself.
3. The third necessary element in the cultivation of the spirit is the use of the four sacraments of life, and especially of the Sacrament of the Altar. It may be objected that we are dealing with the things of the interior life and are now directed to something external. This, however, is not the case, for we are interested in the external because of its spiritual content—the visible sign because of invisible grace.
The Bishop of Fond du Lac has well said, "God is everywhere; but if we do not find Him somewhere, we shall find Him nowhere." So for those who would have the constant sense of the Presence of God are most helped by frequent sacramental contacts with him.
The air is full of music; and we hear it not until there is set up a receiver rightly tuned; we cannot communicate with each other save by and through the five gateways of sense. This is one meaning of the Incarnation—the invisible God becomes visible in Christ. "He who has seen Me, has seen the Father" (Saint John 14:9).
Our Lord who is ever with us as God, and who made the Church to be His Body by the indwelling Spirit, has also left us a means of contact with His Glorified Humanity in that Sacrament which is a Holy Communion of God with man.
Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, is the center of the Christian religion. Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is the center of the Christian life.
4. Another feature of importance to the interior life is that it must be a regulated life; not only ruled in the primary matter of morals, i.e., the restraint of fleshy appetites, passions, and desires, and the control of the impulses of the mind and the tongue; but also by systematic application of all the principles of exterior righteousness and interior holiness.
It is not too much to expect that an equivalent amount of time and effort should be given to the soul's needs as is spent upon the needs of the mind and of the body.
I trust that I shall be thought to be neither presumptuous nor impertinent if I suggest to such a group of Catholics as this the desirability of a rule of life in spiritual things.
A Religious of our own time, one of great wisdom and experience, in giving guidance to another said, "Be simple, have few rules, and these elastic.". To this I would add, be meticulous in the observance of the rule, not as a slave, but as one who through obedience seeks the perfection of the yielded will.
I suggest principles rather than the details of a rule for the circumstances and conditions of different people are so varied; but six things must be included:
Penitence and fasting
Eucharistic worship and intercession
Sacramental communion and meditation
After many years of experience and much observance of devout persons, I do not hesitate to say that the two things most necessary for growth in grace and for nearer approach to God are sacramental communion and meditation; by which this communion is realized and extended.
Saint Teresa, I think it was, who said that no soul could be lost that would spend fifteen minutes each day in meditation.
Hear the conclusion of the whole matter.
It is a good religion, however crude, which finds God and unites the soul to Him. It is a poor religion, however beautiful, intellectual, and practical, which fails to do this. The externals of the Christian religion, the Bible, the creed, the ministry, the Church, worship, all exist that God may be glorified by the union of souls to Him.
"But one thing is needful; for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Saint Luke 10:42).
From the considerations which have occupied our thought in this paper two things result:
I. Freedom and joy for the soul; the companionship of angels; the fellowship of the saints and a foretaste of heaven.
"And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5: 18, 19).
"No voice can sin, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find,
A sweeter sound than Jesus' Name,
The Saviour of mankind.
"O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
"But what to those who find?
Ah, this Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved ones know."
2. The service of God among men for men by an instrument more fit for his use. Union with God by the bond of love expresses itself by being poured out upon man. This, Saint John tells us in his first Epistle, is the full purpose of the Incarnation.
"In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (I Saint John 4:9-11).
It is true for us as for our blessed Lord that the power and glory of God are best manifested in the present enfleshed state of the soul and the manifestation of His love.
I give you as my final word a recent utterance of the Bishop of Chicago: "It is not the Catholic religion which repels people but the lack of Christian charity."