Special Forces Training in Holiness – Class #1

by Fr Richard Heilman | September 1, 2017 5:30 PM

[1]Today began our “Special Forces Training in Holiness” for Junior High and High School students (First hour: 29 Jr. High, Second hour: 20 Senior High). We are meeting in the coolest place on the planet. Shown in the photo, here, is the undercroft of St. Mary’s. It has remained untouched since the church was built in the 1880s. Literally, you feel like you are sitting in the 1880s when you are down there. We found some pews and statues for the space. During class, all the lights are turned off and about 30 candles are lit throughout the undercroft, as we reenact those days before electricity.

As I prepared for “Day One,” I checked the Mass readings for the day – always prepared for God’s hand in these things. And, low and behold, one of the Gospel readings I used in My “Church Militant Field Manual[2]” landed squarely on today’s first class. We began our semester by drawing attention to the Gospel for today’s Mass (Matthew 25:1-13[3]):

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
‘Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise ones replied,
‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But he said in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

In our candlelit undercroft, my lecture went on to say …

Remember, it was Mary’s ‘fiat’ (‘yes’) that brought the Holy Spirit: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word” (Lk 1:38). Because Mary submitted, the Holy Spirit came upon her, and she was filled with the life of God. Spiritually speaking, the same thing happens to us once we are ready to set aside our foolish pride and humbly offer our “yes” to God. And, just as Mary delivered a Savior into the world, we are called to bring this Divine Life we’ve received to all we encounter.

Think of the OIL in today’s Gospel by way of this acronym: Obedience In Love (O.I.L.) is what Sacred Scripture refers to as “fear of the Lord” or holy fear. This is, precisely, what we will be exploring together, this semester. The whole idea revolves around getting to a place that we fear ever wanting to disappoint God our Father, Who we love SO MUCH. More to it, we want ABBA (Papa, Daddy) to be SO PROUD of us!

Why did the Bridegroom say, “I do not know you” (Mt 25:12) to the foolish virgins who did not bother to bring enough oil? You see? They represent those who are stuck in that kind of empty religiosity that avoids the extra effort, the sacrifice that is vital in any real love relationship. Instead, they neglect, take shortcuts, or avoid altogether the greater demands of obedient love. Trapped in spiritual sloth (indifference), there is no holy fear and therefore, they are content to keep God at an impersonal, manageable distance as they remain just a face in the crowd — a pew potato — a bench warmer who is content to be on the team but avoids the effort needed to be ready to get in the game. “Faith means battles;” said St. Ambrose, “if there are no contests, it is because there are none who desire to contend.” No … we don’t want to be a bench warmer on God’s team … we want to be in His Divine Life as His Champion! This, we will discover together, is the source of TRUE happiness in life!!

 

WHY THE DIVINE LIFE MATTERS

Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center, and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually devout people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than the least religious people. Secular analysts seem to be doing back flips trying to explain away the simple reality that there is no other authentic and fulfilling way to live other than a supernatural life; the Divine Life.

The problem is that this number is declining at an alarming rate. And, so too is the desire to live holy, Godly lives. The unfortunate result is an epidemic of immoral and brute lifestyles that is leading to a rapid demise of our civilization. The British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee is known to have said, “Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now.”

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle (394-322 B.C.) observed that no person deliberately chooses to be unhappy. The purpose and end of man, Aristotle argued, was happiness – for happiness is self-evidently what all men seek and strive for … it is what he directs all his powers towards. So, this universal quest for happiness defines humanness. “Happiness”, Aristotle pointed out, is the only thing willed by man for its own sake. Everything else is willed for the sake of happiness.

The truth behind this insight is now confirmed by theology, philosophy, psychology, sociology and indeed many modern disciplines. These disciplines may use different terminology, but they are all basically talking about the same thing that Aristotle was talking about 2400 years ago.

Drawn from these disciplines, four levels of happiness emerge. Let’s take a look at them …

Happiness Level 1

Happiness level 1 is simply sensual gratification: enjoying a good meal, sexual gratification, owning the latest BMW or gadget, watching a good football match, etc. The pleasures of happiness level one are intense but short lived. There is nothing wrong with happiness level 1 unless one puts the little word ONLY in front of it. When you do this, you will sooner or later hit a crisis where life seems to be pretty shallow and empty. We realize, animals live at level 1 … humans – children of God – strive for more!

Happiness Level 2

Happiness level 2 is ego gratification: being the best, the fastest, smartest, funniest, most liked and esteemed, popular, admired, powerful etc. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with happiness level 2, it’s what drives progress, makes us build the Sydney Opera House, etc., and it’s what makes the fundamentals of happiness level 1 healthy – we now eat and relax to perform better.

There is nothing wrong with happiness level 2, unless one again puts that little word ONLY in front of it. When we do this, others become competitors, a challenge, problems. Men locked into happiness level 2 may have several failed marriages. Friends and wives are for such people there to stroke their ego and tell them how wonderful they are. When they cease to do this, they are rejected for a new relationship. The worlds of politics and entertainment are filled with HL2 types.

Happiness level 3

Happiness level 3 is best summed up by the word “love.” It is reached when we genuinely move from the self to the other. That is, when we start to live to serve another, or others, or a cause that will be of benefit to others. HL3 involves commitment, giving, loyalty, care, concern, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion and above all self-sacrifice (we highlighted all those rising to help after Hurricane Harvey). HL3 again makes HL2 healthy: we start to achieve, to serve. I want to be a good lawyer so that I may give my children a good education and represent the poor well, for example. Other people are now no longer mere competitors or ego-strokers. Others become partners with whom I can work in a much more noble enterprise than my own ego-gratification.

But HL3 also has its crisis when we again put ONLY in front of it. Why? Because human beings do not just want love, we want ultimate unconditional love. We do not just want truth, we want ultimate unconditional truth. We do not just want beauty, we want ultimate unconditional absolute beauty. We do not merely want being, we want absolute being.

But I cannot be an ultimate unconditional infinite anything for you, nor you for me. Why not? Because I’m a creature, finite, limited. The more deeply we know one another, the more apparent that becomes and the more disillusioned we become. The crisis in the HL3 person leads to cynicism, the feeling that whatever I commit myself to inevitably disappoints me in the end. The philosopher John Paul Sartre summed it up when he wrote: “I seek perfection, but perfection does not exist, therefore life is absurd.”

Happiness level 4

The happiness level 4 person simply acknowledges his human desire for the ultimate and consciously seeks a relationship with God, the ultimate truth, love, goodness, beauty and being. HL4 involves surrender. The kernel of HL4 is summed up in the prayer: “Thy will be done.” The true HL4 person enjoys a great inner peace. HL4 makes HL3 healthy, for you no longer need to be perfect for me and I no longer seek the ultimate in you. I’m easy and comfortable with the fact that we are deeply flawed and very finite. This liberates me to love unconditionally. One of the greatest examples of an HL3/4 personality in our own times would be Mother Teresa.

Where we, or more importantly, our culture, sits on the “staircase” of happiness affects every issue of life. It affects our view of success, quality of life, suffering, ethics, freedom, human rights, the common good, personhood and love.

“Personhood” is the real biggie. If the culture is built on happiness level 1 attitudes, then it is focused on things – eating things, consuming things, owning things. In such a culture, we will tend to look upon other people as just things. And if you are a thing, I’m a thing. This is hardly likely to do much for our self-esteem and abortion and euthanasia are unlikely to cause us too much loss of sleep.

If we are in a happiness level 2 culture, i.e. ego gratification, where outstripping, performing, achieving, competitive advantage, is the name of the game, once I become weak and dependent then euthanasia makes perfect sense. “Persons” in such a culture are either winners or losers, and once nature has determined from here on you are going to be a loser in competitive terms, then self-murder makes perfect sense. And if a new baby is getting in the way of you winning a Wimbledon final, why not murder it by abortion. Winning is what life is all about. Winning is what makes you happy and all human beings seek happiness don’t they?

For the happiness level 3/4 person and culture all this is just too shallow to contemplate. To the happiness level 4 person human beings are mystery, with the potential for infinite love, beauty, justice, goodness and being. Before such a mystery the only appropriate response is to genuflect. And this is as true for the one cell zygote in a woman’s fallopian tubes as it is for you and me – for all three of us are defined by the same potential thirst and capacity for the infinite, the same potential perfection of our powers.

“St. Thomas Aquinas believed that man is more than a composite of body and soul, that his is nothing less than elevated to a supernatural order which participates, as far as a creature can, in the very nature of God. Accordingly a person in the state of grace, or divine friendship, possesses certain enduring powers, the infused virtues and gifts, that raise him to an orbit of existence as far above nature as heaven is above earth, and that give him abilities of thought and operation that are literally born, not of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Fr. John Hardon).

“The spiritual man” according to the Navarre Bible, “is the Christian reborn by the grace of God; grace elevates his faculties to enable him to perform actions which have a supernatural value — acts of faith, hope, and charity. A person who is in the state of grace is able to perceive the things of God, because he carries with him the Spirit in his soul in grace, and he has Christ’s mind, Christ’s attitude. ‘We have no alternative,’ St. Josemaria Escriva teaches, ‘there are only two possible ways of living on this earth: either we live a supernatural life, or we live an animal life. And you and I can only live the life of God, a supernatural life’ (Friends of God).”

What Has Been Lost?

As I wrote in an earlier article[4], I’ve come to understand that over the past 50 years we have, by and large, removed the very gateway into the Divine Life. I happen to agree with Pope St. Gregory the Great who, wanting to capture the spiritual dynamism of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, posited the following order:

“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” (“Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam,” II 7,7).

As you can see, the entry point is “Fear of the Lord (or Awe and Wonder).”

What is Fear of the Lord? According to Fr. John Hardon, Fear of the Lord …

“… inspires a person with profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help. The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial. It is based on the selfless love of God, whom it shrinks from offending. Whereas in servile fear the evil dreaded is punishment; in filial fear it is the fear of doing anything contrary to the will of God.”

Fear of the Lord (or Awe and Wonder) is the entry point into HL4; this is the trigger that ignites all of the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Without this “trigger,” we are prone to reduce our faith/religion to merely another organization that has a sense of social responsibility; Jesus is then reduced to a historic figure to emulate; Mass is just a social gathering. We are stuck in the lower levels of happiness.

In speaking of the need for a New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI said, “the true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God’, the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity.” Before the destructive post-Vatican II trend of stripping out of all things sacred, Catholicism led the way in preparing the souls to be open to receive this first and most necessary “trigger” Gift of Awe and Wonder through sacred art, sacred architecture, sacred music and special attention to the sacred offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Pope St. Pius V summed it up, “All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics.” If the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity established the Church, and infused it (us) with the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the world, then an epidemic of lukewarm, unspiritual Catholics would have no power to turn back the darkness of evil. In fact, they are prone to conform to the world.

In a recent talk given by George Weigel, he briefly described the work of Rod Stark, the historian of the classical era. Stark asks the question,

“How is it that Christianity converted practically the entire Mediterranean basin in just a few centuries when it was a poor, rag-tag group of nobodies from the dregs of the Empire? The power of Rome was brutal – everyone under its thumb was at its mercy. Christians looked very different. They treated women with dignity and not as property. They cared for the sick, elderly, and widowed. Most of all, they lived joyful, decent lives. Christianity did not “win” through military conquest but through its love of neighbor. It did not win by argument but by example.”

What Professor Stark is referring to is a people literally “lit up” by the power of supernatural grace. These supernaturally illuminated souls cause others to question the darkness of their own souls, and compels them to seek whatever source these Christians have found for living life to the fullest; to live life “for God.”

This semester, we will learn what it means to be “lit up” … not a “bench warmer” on God’s team, but God’s “Champions!”

PRAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY

[5]In the video, (below), which I showed to my students, Coach Lou Holtz (Notre Dame Coach, 1986-1996) explains the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign in the tunnel leading from the locker room to the football field. Coach highlights three things his players should focus upon when they hit the sign as they run by it:

  1. Think of all the people in your life who played a role in getting you to Notre Dame
  2. All of the great athletes before you who helped build this great tradition.
  3. Obligation to your teammates, not to let them down.

[6]I asked my students to touch the sign “Pray Like a Champion Today” (shown in this photo, as they enter the undercroft) when they come and go from class, and remember …

  1. Think of all the people in your life who play a role in leading you into the Divine Life.
  2. All of the saints and all of your ancestors who have built this tradition of holiness.
  3. Your obligation to the living and deceased members of the Catholic Church, who are counting on you to “make a difference” with the the precious gift of life God has given you.

 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: https://www.romancatholicman.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Undercroft2.jpg
  2. Church Militant Field Manual: https://romancatholicgear.com/books-and-manuals/church-militant-field-manual.html
  3. Matthew 25:1-13: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090117.cfm
  4. As I wrote in an earlier article: https://www.romancatholicman.com/the-day-i-discovered-the-greatest-and-deepest-truth/
  5. [Image]: https://www.romancatholicman.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Play-Like-a-Champ-ND-Sign.jpg
  6. [Image]: https://www.romancatholicman.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PrayLikeChampionUndercroft2.jpg

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