Lenten Thoughts

Some Lenten thoughts, week I.

This text will appear in the April 2019 issue of the "Canticle." There will be additions later.

Rumaging through my library, I located a wonderful book I got in the 1990’s while in a friary. It is “John of the Cross for Today: The Ascent” by Dr. Susan Muto, published by Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. Susan Muto, Ph.D. is an author, teacher, and leading scholar of the literature of spirituality. She is the former director of the Institute of Formative Spirituality at Duquesne University, where she taught as a full professor in its master's and doctoral programs. She is currently executive director of the Epiphany Association, a nonprofit ecumenical center dedicated to spiritual formation. Dr. Muto is the author of more than 90 articles and 16 books, including John of the Cross for Today, Womanspirit, and many others.

“John of the Cross for Today: The Ascent” carries an Imprimatur. To some it’s not important but to me it is, especially for researching the spiritual reflections I write.

In order to foster a deep spiritual life, particularly one leading to a deeper relationship with the Lord, it is necessary to examine what you (the reader) think about all the time. The reason for this question is to set aside impure or improper thoughts but to retain or increase pious thinking. I don’t mean “pious” in the sense of the world, but pure and wholesome thoughts. Fr. Jim Whalen (2002)1 writes, in: "Promiscuity, A Rejection of Truth and Morality", the following: "The Judeo-Christian tradition, which explained and gave purpose to life, humanity and the world, has been bombarded by a culture that perceives truth as a matter of subjective taste or convenience, and morality as a matter of individual preference (e.g.: pre-marital sex, cohabitation, same-sex unions). Youth and young adults are inundated by mass media propaganda that seeks to manipulate and control them by glamorizing immorality, promoting pornography and maliciously mocking biblical and church values (e.g.: contraception, sexual abuse, perversion)."

Fr. Whalen’s definition, part of a longer article, describes precisely what happens to a teenager, and what is retained in one’s thought-pattern for many years to come. That’s often the cause why young people fall away from the Sacraments: they get sidetracked by promiscuity and it keeps one away from the Lord.

People who are living in this promiscuous culture need to experience an inner conversion toward pure and wholesome thinking. Start going to Holy Mass again, see a priest or seek help from one of the Deacons in your Catholic church. If you have a desire to live a life close to the Lord, it is a necessary step. There were about 25 years when I was away from the Church, and gradually, through friends and good advice, I felt a great desire to return to the Church, talk to a priest (I did), and then good things began to happen in my life. I was bombarded with God’s Grace, the gift of His Love. I ended up joining the Secular Franciscan Order (next October, I’ll be professed 25 years), and at the time of conversion I also sought to join the Order of Friars Minor. That did not turn out so well but through that experience, I became a contemplative monk for 5 years living in religious life. The order I was with ‘folded’ since we did not have sufficient members to continue, but the experience was invaluable and still today not a day goes by that I don’t think of these wonderful five years.

These five years brought me very close to the Lord and at the end of those years, already back in Vero Beach, in December 2002, I made a voluntary Vow of Obedience and Chastity. I would have made these vows in cloister if the Order had continued and when I returned to the life of a lay person, I had a strong desire to make these Vows. It is possible to do this while a Secular Franciscan but not necessary. These Vows were made before a Parish priest, and a Franciscan Bishop knew of my intentions. I have never been sorry and these Vows were a gift of God that continue to give.

By recommending that people straighten out their way of thinking and how they cope with today’s Culture, to find a way to live closer to God, that is an individual journey. We are all on a journey, a journey hopefully leading to Heaven, eventually. I’m 78, so I think about Heaven more often than a younger person might. Always keep the promised land in your sights, it makes it easier to stay focused.

The first 39 pages of the Muto book, viz. all of Chapter One, talk of getting ready, examining the ‘Detrimental Effects of Inordinate Attachment,’ explaining the harm caused by these ‘Appetites’, and ‘Counsels that Ensure Progress’. I want to add these Counsels by quoting the following lines from “Ascent to Mount Carmel” written by St. John of the Cross. These lines speak for themselves.

“To reach satisfaction in all, desire Its possession in nothing. 
To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing. 
To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing. 
To come to the pleasure you have not you must go by a way in which you enjoy not. 
To come to the knowledge you have not you must go by a way in which you know not. 
To come to the possession you have not you must go by a way in which you possess not. 
To come to be what you are not you must go by a way in which you are not.
For to go from all to the All you must deny yourself of all in all. 
And when you come to the possession of the all, you must possess it without wanting anything. 
Because if you desire to have something in all your treasure in God is not purely your all.
In this nakedness the spirit finds its quietude and rest.
For in coveting nothing, nothing raises it up and nothing weighs it down, because it is in the center of its humility, 
When it covets something in this very desire it is wearied.”

(citation: AMC, 1, 13 [11]): See: https://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/ascentcarmel.pdf
1 Fr. Jim Whalen's words can be found in: 
https://sites.google.com/site/faithfulcatholics/Home/living-the-gospel-of-life/father-james-whalen-in-memoriam/priests-for-life-newsletters (this is an index)


"Lenten Thoughts" are reflections written by Fred Schaeffer, OFS (March 2019)

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