Fanciful vapors and a sacrifice of praise

child in front of tv screen

Two approaches to the day, or “Why Jeff prefers to sanctify time.”

*****

No. 1

Faith today faces a challenge in the modern culture of technology, which in turn is also an obstacle to contemplative life. The problem is not technology in itself, but a certain poverty of spiritual intelligence resulting from a predominant exercise of mind. The drive for efficiency and practical advantage can become a primary quest of intelligence. But this habit of mind closes the human soul to the more elusive and invisible realm of God and his revelation. While God is the ultimate truth to be sought, it is difficult to experience a need for him while keeping steady companionship with a computer. By means of the machine, one is supposed to become wise. But what kind of wisdom is this? Taking hold of truth is easily identified with discoveries of pragmatic usefulness or the acquisition of fact and information. This narrow search for practical benefit suffocates a deeper hunger of the human soul. The struggle for religious insight and for God, unanswerable at the touch of a keyboard, can be neglected provided the electricity continues to flow. In this sense the new century is a new era. The challenge to faith may not be primarily from an aggressive rejection of God. In a culture of technology the question of God can be simply ignored as lacking practical purpose, a wasteful glance at fanciful vapors.

Contemplative Provocations, by Fr. Dan Haggerty. Page 41-42.

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No. 2

From the first rays of the rising sun until heaven’s fiery orb sheds its final light – and even beyond that – the Church offers a spiritual sacrifice of praise through the Divine Office, that compliments the sacrifice of the Mass, and in union with it serves to sanctify the day, returning praise to the God who gives us not only the day but every good and perfect gift. Through the seven day-time offices, and the office of Matins which is properly said either as the clock strikes midnight to announce the new day or as the streaks of dawn announce the returning sun, the Church draws on hymns, psalms, and scriptural canticles, to raise praise, prayer and petitions of every kind to God.

From the Introduction to the Baronius Press edition of The Roman Breviary

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As Fr. Haggerty points out in the first passage, technology can become an obstacle to contemplative life. There can be a tendency for man to commune more with his computer, tablet or smartphone instead of with his God.

Yesterday on the Art of Manliness website Brett and his wife Kate wrote about FOMO, or the “Fear of Missing Out.” It’s an interesting concept that I admit struck home for me.

FOMO is the experience of worrying that other people are doing more interesting things than you, have more friends than you, and are just all around living a better and cooler life.

A form of FOMO has been around for centuries, but its prevalence and intensity has greatly accelerated in our modern age. If you were a peasant living in the 14th century, you might wonder what it was like to be lord of the manor, but there weren’t many other options and lifestyles with which to compare your own (“I wonder if John’s got a less severe case of the bubonic plague than I do…”). Today, you can compare your own life and choices against millions of others.

While I don’t obsess over whether someone is doing something more interesting than me, I do recognize that it can become all too easy to fall into the trap of comparison. I generally love my life, like the choices I’ve made, and realize that in order to do some of the things I see single or childless friends doing I would have to give up way more than I’d ever care to give up. My friends could just as easily say the same thing about me, and that’d be cool too. To each their own.

So what’s an effective way to avoid FOMO? That’s where the second passage I quote comes in. It may be cliché but it’s true: taking our eyes off of ourselves and putting them on the plight of others helps to foster the ol’ “attitude of gratitude.” I’ve found the way that works best for me is in praise of the One who created it all. This is why I’ve found the ancient prayers of the Divine Office to be so key for me. In that introduction to The Roman Breviary Pope Pius X quotes St. Athanasius’ testimony to the power of the psalms in our spiritual life:

The psalms have the power to fire our souls with zeal for all the virtues. ‘All our scripture, both Old and New Testaments, is divinely inspired and is useful for teaching, as the apostle says. But the book of psalms is like a garden which contains the fruits of all the other books, grows a crop of song and so adds its own special fruit to the rest.’ These are the words of Saint Athanasius, and he goes on: ‘It seems to me that for him who recites them the psalms are like a mirror, in which a man may see himself and the movements of his heart and mind and then give voice to them.’

A vital part of this communing is found by developing an interior life of prayer. There are several good books on the subject but one of the best I’ve found is The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard. Born in the French Alps in 1858, Chautard was studying economics at the University of Marseilles when he had the following experience:

While walking across the campus one day Jean-Baptiste came upon a priest praying his breviary. This priest was unaware of the impression he was making on the economics student.

“His bearing, full of respect and religion, was a revelation to me,” said Dom Chautard, “and produced in me an urgent need to pray from then on, and to pray in the way this priest was praying. The Church appeared, concretized, so to speak, in this worthy minister, in communion with his God.”

life cover - breviaryThis incident led Chautard to change his life and become a man of prayer. A few years later he received his calling to the priesthood. He entered the Trappist Abbey of Aiguebelle, was sent on a mission to Paris in order to use his knowledge of economics to help save the community from financial ruin, and in the first decade of the 1900s faced down the French government under Georges Clemenceau, a man who hated the Church and closed down many religious orders in France. It was during this time of persecution that Chautard noticed that too many leaders of the Church was fighting their political enemies by using worldly and political weapons: newspapers, magazines, etc. Instead of measuring success by material means he saw that what the Church needed were saints. Saints, grown in an environment of prayer and an interior life. Seeing that there must be a harmony between the active life and the interior life Chautard wrote The Soul of the Apostolate.

All of which was set in motion by an anonymous priest seen praying his breviary.

So as for me I, too, am focusing even moreso these days on further developing and strengthening my interior life. It is not yet where I want it or where it needs to be. As I mentioned in my last post I won’t be blogging much though when I do I suspect it’ll be because I’ve come across a nugget or two that I want to share.

One of the many things I love about praying the Divine Office is not just the time I spend communing with God but the sense of community I have with thousands upon millions of Catholics around the world who do are praying the same prayers. It is in a sense like being a sentinel of prayer, praying for those I love, those I know, and those I don’t know in this world. We do this without fanfare, anonymous and steadfast. It is a duty I take very seriously yet undertake with a sense of great joy. It’s difficult to describe but I consider it an honor and a privilege to pray for the world in this fashion.

I spent seven hours on Saturday moving over two tons of 1.5 inch limestone for a landscaping project in our backyard. When finished I sat on my patio with a large glass of ice water and my breviary. It was a gorgeous fall day and I was ready to relax and celebrate the completion of a multi-week phase of the project. After praying Vespers I sat for an additional twenty minutes just soaking in the quiet along with the sights and smells of autumn. Because I still have a long ways to go with my interior life I then found myself scrolling through Facebook on my smartphone. A good friend of mine had been enjoying the day as well and had written as his status update:

Sitting in my easy chair with the TV off and the windows open; listening to the kids playing in the park across the street and the sound of the wind making trees talk. How I love autumn.

In his own way, he had also been participating in the interior life by unplugging from the technology that immerses us until we are in danger of being drowned. Two men on the same day enjoying the beauty of Creation and each giving praise for it.

man sitting in field

Technology isn’t evil, nor do I mean to convey that as my message. Technology is like many things a tool meant to serve us. How we use (or abuse) that tool is up to each individual. All I know is that when I abuse it I lose sight of God. By growing and developing my interior life of prayer and meditation the pathways to communion are more clear. The highway is free of debris and the lines of communication are open.

And if you do not want to pray the Divine Office? What then for someone who longs to see and hear Him? Where then is God?

He is in the sunrise. He is in the glorious mountains, and the vast sea that stretches beyond the horizon. He is in the tender touch of a mother’s hand on her newborn baby. He is in the protective arm of the police officer who comforts the lost child. He is in the words of absolution pronounced by the priest after a good confession. He is in the smiling face of an old woman at the site of a young couple holding hands. He is in the wonder of the cosmos on a darkened night. He is in the giggle of a small child playing with his grandfather. He is in the warmth of a kitten held in one’s hand.

He is in the cross that bore the Son of Man. He is in the bread and wine that become His body and blood. He is the transforming Spirit that changes hearts and makes men saints. He is closer to us than our own breath, more loving than a grandmother’s embrace of a sick child. He is everywhere, for there is no place He can not be. He fills all things. He is everywhere to be seen if only we look with open eyes and open hearts. – Abbot Tryphon

In conclusion:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3: 15-17

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