Ascending by Steps

This morning began for me in the early morning chill watching the sun rise in the east while sitting on my patio with my cup of coffee and my breviary. The sun shone for only a quarter hour before disappearing behind a bank of clouds just above the horizon. It would not shine forth again on this day and ten hours later would find me in the same spot, again with my breviary, seated in the early evening twilight of late November. Instead of coffee I had a very small glass of brandy to keep me warm as I prayed from the evening office. As it was in the morning the air was still and all was quiet. At least until the sound of two dozen honking geese was heard overhead. I looked up just in time to see them flying in the familiar “V” formation and passing in the line of sight between me and the almost full moon that was visible between the treeline of my backyard.

The geese had moved on by the time I took this photo.

For some reason I readily identified with the evening scene. While it could be argued that I’m still in the late summer of my life there are times (like today) when I feel as if I’m in life’s autumn. I used to have no qualms about wasting a day away watching football or some other idle past time. But over the past several months and especially today I feel more and more that every day is precious and that to waste one a tragedy. How many do any of us have left?

Wasting a day brings back to my mind something I’d read once by Og Mandino in his terrific book The Greatest Salesman in the World.

Time teaches all things to he who lives forever but I have no the luxury of eternity. Yet, within my allotted time I must practice the art of patience for nature acts never in haste. To create the olive, king of all trees, a hundred years is required. An onion plant is old in nine weeks. I have lived as an onion plant. It has not pleased me.

I felt like a big fat onion tonight.

This morning I had read something by Fr. Joseph T. Lienhard in the Magnificat Year of Faith Companion:

We begin in the darkness of ordinary life. As we ascend the mountain, we leave the darkness behind and climb toward the light. The light grows brighter and brighter; but then, with Moses, we enter the cloud, and darkness envelops us. For at that moment of revelation, we know that we can never know God; it is the mysticism of darkness.

Wait, what? We can never know God? I found that terribly depressing for some reason when I read that. What’s the point? Why aspire to be a saint if I can never know God? Why pray? Why the commandments; the Beatitudes? Seriously…why bother if it all ends in some mystical cloud of darkness and in my never knowing God?

Yeah, I was a little hacked off by 7:15am. And by the end of the day I felt like a lousy onion growing in the dark.

But then tonight I read something by St. Augustine that helped (in my mind at least) bring it together.

“To You, O Lord our God, we must always cling, that with Your continual help we may live in all holiness, godliness and uprightness. The weight of our weakness drags us down: but by Your grace, may we be enkindled and raised on high, may we be inflamed so as to climb from the depths, arranging in our hearts to ascend by steps. Let us, then, sing the song of ‘ascents,’ burning with Your holy fire and journeying on toward You.

“Where are we going? On high, to the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, as it is written: ‘I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord.’ There, good will shall be so ordered in us that we shall have no other desire than to remain there eternally. So long as we live in this mortal body we are journeying toward You, O Lord; here below we have no lasting dwelling place, but seek one which is to come, since our home is in heaven. Therefore, with the help of Your grace, I enter into the secrecy of my heart, and lift up songs of love to You, to You, my King and my God!”Divine Intimacy, #364.

I may never know God in His fullness in this life, but I cling to the hope that I will know Him as such in the next when I’m in my home in heaven. Yes, I am very much weighed down by the thoughts I allow to enter into my mind about the state of affairs today; the normal cares and worries a parent has, or increasingly those had by a practicing Catholic living in America. Or any of us, really. Despite the cares and trials of this life I continue my journey of ascension in mind, heart and soul, ever climbing towards the Creator of the Universe.

Today was celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is the end of the liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church and next week we celebrate our “New Year’s” with the first Sunday of Advent. We begin the climb anew and another cycle of ascent towards Heaven. Once more we’ll begin in Bethlehem.

For now this onion (yours truly) is sitting at the end of the year and as such I pause to take a look back and reflect on the journey that got me here. I’ve climbed a little higher this year, gone a little farther, and understand a little more. I’ve also got much work to do if I’m ever going to grow into an olive tree. These are plans that involve making some difficult changes ahead.

And so despite my climbing a higher and gaining what I thought was a glimmer of clarity Fr. Lienhard is right in that the “mysticism of darkness” remains. And that’s not a bad thing.

“…may we be enkindled and raised on high, may we be inflamed so as to climb from the depths, arranging in our hearts to ascend by steps.”

Thank you Augie.

Thank you Jesus. My King.

(November 25, 2012 – Solemnity of Christ the King)

An online copy of Magnificat’s Year of Faith Companion is here.


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