The Use of Talking

There is no end of things in the heart.

Pro me

with 2 comments

"Martin Luther" by Lucas Cranach

Since I’ve been in a spiritual funk lately, my wife sent me a link to an article on spiritual perfectionism ( It’s a good article, and I’m sure it will be helpful to many. Just not to me.

Most of the scriptures cited are from Paul. I’m not Paul; I’ve never been knocked off a horse by God (in fact, I’ve hardly ever been on a horse, except on a merry-go-round), I haven’t talked to Peter, James, and John. nor have I founded any churches. My spiritual balance sheet is perpetually in the red.

Now, while I think the usual Protestant attacks on Catholicism as a “religion of works” miss the point, ignore the role of grace in Catholic theology and conflate the sacraments, which are the work of God through the ministry of men, with “good works” seen as the meritorious (or not) work of men, there is, on the popular level and in a lot of preaching, a practical Pelagianism (as in most American Christianity, alas). The idea that we can just suck in our guts and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, whether it’s the “just be nice to people and save the earth” pseudo-liberal approach or the “just man up and say the Rosary in Latin while kneeling in a tub of ice water” pseudo-Trad approach, is all too common. I know that’s the way I (or the “natural I”) look at things.

Sure, grace is there for the taking, but I’ve got to “respond” to it. And frankly, I’m not any good at that. This January (the 18th for those who would like to send me a present) I’ll celebrate the 42nd anniversary of my baptism—far from an infant one—and in May (Pentecost, for those etc.), the 30th anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church. And when I look back over all those years, how much growth do I see? How many sins have I been absolved from (or worse, excused myself for) without true contrition or firm purpose of amendment? How many have I avoided only because of worldly cowardice or lack of opportunity? How many communions have I made thoughtlessly, by routine, or to avoid embarrassing myself?

And no, you don’t have to tell me I’m neurotic. I know that. I know all the things I’m doing wrong—being too concerned with feelings, giving in to sloth and worse, acedia, and on and on.

So Luther can help me to stop worrying about all this stuff, right? All I need is faith—not just assent to the facts (Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day), but trust, knowing that all those facts were for me. And that’s where I get stuck: Even the days when I can convince myself of the facts, I can’t make it to the for me. For you, dear reader, of course, but for me?

And you don’t have to tell me this is all pride, either. I know that. That’s Hans (or at least hans), always putting himself in the center, terrified that someone else will touch the gramophone. Or better (for worse)  it’s Mynheer Peeperkorn in his Peeperkornocentric world. And you remember what happened to him.

Written by hans castorp

December 7, 2011 at 9:09 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Where does prayer fit into this?

    Just wondering

    December 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

    • That’s a good question. I suppose I’m an “in spite of” pray-er. That’s one reason why I (when I’m not so self-absorbed and/or depressed that I can’t manage it) have always prayed an office—there are the words I can’t quite believe, the feelings I can’t feel. I’m writing a post on faith that will go into more detail about this.

      hans castorp

      December 10, 2011 at 10:10 am

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