Re-posting a facebook comment about marriage, single life, and the Mass.

As St. Augustine famous wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (well, Augustine wrote it in Latin originally, but you get what I mean)

If singlehood is painful in a deep spiritual sense, then that pain will not be removed by marriage. The deep hunger in all of us for the presence of God will not be satisfied by marriage or even by religious vows. No matter how wonderful, holy, and well-matched the spouse or how well the charism of the religious order fits your spiritual gifts and needs, that deep hunger for the presence of God will still be there, and it will never be satisfied until you’re in Heaven. The deepest pain of being single is the deepest pain of being on Earth, and whatever pain is incidental to being a single person is small potatoes compared to the deepest hunger of our being.

In marriage, the spouses are called to embody God’s unconditional and total love in a particular and exclusive way. By giving fully of oneself to another and receiving the same, the married couple does indeed echo the Divine Love that is at the source and fulfillment of all existence. Indeed, when a married people love each other well, the sacramental nature of that love becomes all the more evident. However, it is not as though the Christian vocation to love completely and unconditionally is restricted to marriage; in fact, it would be a sad life indeed in which the wondrous nature of God’s love could only be discerned through the experience of married love. God has made his love for us clear in uncounted ways, not the least of which is the celebration of the Eucharist, the closest any of us are likely to come in this life to the fulness of God’s love. In the Eucharist, we are reminded of our deep hunger for God and drawn into communion with those who have recognized that same hunger in themselves as well as the way in which the unconditional love of God calls us all to love one another as God has loved us.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’ve stopped complaining about the sign of peace at dorm Mass. Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, does indeed invite our adoration and love, but he also invites us to share that love with each other. He wants us to allow His sacramental presence to be manifest in our actions and for us each to be able to discern it in the simplest act of human affection. In the sign of peace, we affirm each others’ deepest desire for the love of God, and the chaotic maelstrom of affection that is the sign of peace at dorm mass is the clearest embodiment of that principle that I have ever encountered. The sign of peace is intended as an act of communion, an affirmation of the sacramental mystery of the Church through which God’s love is manifested to the world. The sign of peace, at its best, is the result of reverberation of God’s love as made present in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a miracle that shatters the laws of the material universe; if I cannot allow it to crack my pride only so much that I can see, at least for that moment, that those around me experience that same need for God’s love, and, in that moment, sincerely express the wish that they may enjoy the peace that is God’s love, then what kind of Christian am I? If the presence of Christ himself cannot bring me to express love of neighbor, then when shall I express it?

Furthermore, if I can encounter that love in another person even once at Mass, what further can I ask of them? If, in the Real Presence of their Lord and Redeemer, they are nonetheless able to notice me and love me enough to, through signs of affection, invite me more fully into Christ’s Presence, what else might I expect? If that love is sincerely felt, then any other question of affection suddenly seems irrelevant by comparison.

Vows, in binding us to a person (as in marriage) or a rule (in orders), help us by defining exactly how and to whom we are called to manifest that Divine Love in our everyday lives, but the particular guidance granted by such vows does not in any way mean that the single person is somehow deprived of that divine love which the marriage vows only symbolize, or absolved of the Christian responsibility to share that love with the world. The divine love for which we all hunger is shown to us first and foremost in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The mundane sacramentality of married life is the same divine love under different signs, but being deprived of those signs does not by any means mean that we are deprived of either divine love or the responsibility to respond to that love by sharing it with others. Single life is not empty except to the extent that single people box out God’s love with love of self, to mistake the signs of divine love for the thing itself and to try to fill with worldly things that hunger which God alone can satisfy. Gold, be it in bars in a vault or a ring around your finger, is not an adequate substitute for God. Expecting your spouse to be anything more than an imperfect sign of that divine love only serves to foil the way in which that Divine love intends to draw you both closer to Himself through your relationship with each other.

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Asceticism: Unfinished Business

I realized after my previous post that I hadn’t made clear what I meant by connecting blogging and asceticism, nor did I make it clear that I intend to read the rest of Fagerberg’s book in the hopes that it will provide some fodder for reflection (and therefore blogging) about the liturgy.

As for asceticism and blogging, I think the point that I need to make is that my goal is not so must realizing blogging as an ascetic practice (though I suppose it could be that) as it is recognizing the virtues that are most readily promoted by blogging, and the spiritual dangers I will be most likely to face. In making myself aware of the associated virtues and vices, I will hopefully make myself more capable of building up the former and avoiding the latter. Fagerberg’s close study of the ascetic tradition of Eastern Christianity apparently made for slow going: constantly encountering warnings against writing for the wrong reasons apparently discourages one from writing at all.

I’ve not dedicated to the study of the Eastern Fathers even a tiny fraction of the time Dr. Fagerberg has, so it’s not really fair of me to act as if my writing is inhibited to nearly the extent that his has been (apparently the book has been in the works for the better part of a decade). Nonetheless, I want to make it clear that, if I’m going to blog at all, it will be because I’m trying to understand blogging as a way for me to build virtue, and what little guidance I’ve gleaned from Fagerberg’s discussion of the Eastern Fathers has helped me to see a path forward. If I blog, it is not because think I have the solutions to the issues I discuss, but because through thoroughly laying out my own perspective and subjecting it to scrutiny, I can refine my thought process and my writing style.

It’s a bit odd that I end up taking the warnings of the Eastern Fathers as encouragement, but I would like to think that it is typical of how I think about things about which I am unsure: once I have discerned the truth at the heart of the issue, I am more confident in letting that core truth manifest itself in my approach to that issue. I suppose it’s not THAT uncommon when it comes to thought processes, but I’d like to hold myself to that basic structure in my next post or two.

On asceticism and the theory of blogging

I recently received a copy of On Liturgical Asceticism by David Fagerberg, but, because I received it toward the end of the academic semester, I couldn’t justify reading any further than the preface, from which I remembered one passage in particular. On page xviii, Fagerberg quotes Gregory of Sinai on the three justifiable motives for writing: “to assist one’s memory, to help others, or as an act of obedience.” Any motive other than these was, for Gregory, spiritually suspect.

Although I needed no further reason to hold back on blogging than being generally busy these last two months, I could also point to the way in which this passage raised the question of what my own motive was in writing this blog: if, in some dark corner of my mind or heart, I blog because I am seeking attention for my own ego, I am doing neither myself nor my readers (however many of them there are or will ever be) any favors. If I want to get myself to blog consistently, it will, for me, require a clearer mission and greater accountability than I have thus far given myself. However,  Gregory’s words offer me some guidance as to how to formulate what form of self-expression I will strive to realize through this blog.

1. To assist one’s memory:

In writing down one’s ideas in the format of an essay, even a format so informal as a blog post, one is obligated to give those ideas structure: for someone like me, who tends to move quickly from one idea to another without analyzing it completely (my cursory treatment of Fagerberg’s prologue is proof of this), taking the time to write down an idea implies making that idea clearer to myself. On one hand, publishing my thoughts on the Internet means that they will, like those embarrassing pictures on Facebook, never, ever really disappear; there’s a good chance that any thoughts here published will always be accessible to me, so I will always be able to refer back to what I write here and re-learn from my old thoughts. However, the fact that I expect that other people will be reading this blog at some point means that assisting my own memory cannot be the sole motive for writing.

2. To help others

When one writes to assist others, it seems, one must take on a certain air of authority: I know better than you, so in writing this stuff down, I’m telling you something about which you would not otherwise know or which you would not otherwise consider. I’m not sure I like that approach, though: the Internet is a rather more interactive medium than parchment.

There is a good chance that, when I take the time to write something here, it is because I think that I can provide some insight or idea that people seem to be neglecting, and so on that level, I’ll be writing to “help others,” but the fact that readers can comment or contact me directly means that my ideas are open for critique– in other words, others are free to point out the ideas that I have failed to consider as well. In publishing my ideas on the Internet, I make it possible for others to critique them and, if necessary, point out where and how I went wrong. I am not only helping others, but making it more possible for others to help me.

3. Obedience

Gregory was clearly thinking of monastic superiors as he wrote, and that does not quite apply to me. The clearest occasion for obedience with regard to my writing comes by way of professors and their paper prompts: thus, four professors can get 45 pages from me over the space of finals week while this blog gets hardly a thought for two months. As suggested in the previous point, however, I consider myself accountable to any readers I might have: if there is a topic which others have suggested to me, I will probably try my hand at it. In making this blog public, I make myself in some sense subordinate to those who read it… which is really just a fancy way of saying that I will feel obligated to take requests from readers insofar as I have time to carefully consider the topic (which, for as long as I am on summer vacation, should probably not be an issue).

There is a further meaning to obedience here: it is only because a certain someone reminded me that I hadn’t posted in two months that I took the time to write this out. In publishing this blog, I make myself accountable to any and all readers not only with respect to the coherence and integrity of my ideas, but with respect to my commitment to maintain a blog. Even if I do not spark discussion, an occasional reminder to resume blogging may well be a good thing with respect to the first point described above.

 

I think that, taken together, these three motivations as laid out by Gregory of Sinai can give my some guidance as to how to proceed with this blog. At the very least, it will be an aid to my memory. It may, depending on a number of factors, become a forum for open discussion and mutual correction or simply a place for me to ramble on whatever subject is assigned to me, regardless of whether, as with most of the papers I write, these posts are read once or twice at most, judged, and soon set aside in favor of more pressing work.

As for upcoming blog posts, I have some thoughts on the subject of irony (as distinct from sarcasm) that I would like to elucidate, but I might also try to delve into the problem of romance in the context of Christianity. I’ll not explain either idea too much here lest I give away the ending, but if anyone’s reading, here’s your chance to warn me before I really go off the rails.