Wednesday, October 30, 2013

So slack and lazy

Mea culpa: having, finally, taken the beam out of my eye, I see clearly how slack and lazy I've been about my spiritual life. For, while the Holy Mass and Divine Office are my two great devotions, I have been remiss about going to the former (except on Sundays of course!) and about reciting the latter.

Ever since moving back to Tasmania, I have found it difficult to get to daily Mass – firstly, because I'd become so used to going to the Extraordinary Form (my definite and settled preference, for so many clear and cogent reasons) that I found return to the Novus Ordo very trying; but, secondly, since the only daily Mass that fits my work schedule is the early Mass at Carmel, and I prefer sleeping in, quite frankly.

Now Mass is Mass, the same Christ our God is offered and received as our all-prevailing Sacrifice and lasting Peace; and the presence of the holy nuns at Carmel puts priests on their best behaviour (so one who slumps in a chair and confects the Eucharist on a coffee table in his own parish tries to celebrate properly, not sloppily, in the nuns' chapel), so, while ideally I'd prefer Introibo ad altare Dei, I can cope, and fondly imagine an ad orientem liturgy; and the new translation renders the Latin well, so I don't need to bring along Fr Z's translations any more, nor read along in the Latin of the Ordinary.

But how slumber makes one forgetful of one's higher calling! Yet, as an Old Believer Canon of Preparation for Holy Communion sings (in Ode 3, troparion 3), "The preacher crieth out and commandeth us always to come to the House of God; let us not be lazy, but let us hasten now, for the time is at hand." Yes, in the words of that golden book, The Imitation of Christ, I will confess myself "So wakeful for tales, so drowsy at the sacred vigils" (Book IV, chapter 7): over the past years, I have in the main risen for work at seven or later, too late to get to Mass; and thus I've become disengaged from what ought be my priority.

As I wrote in my missal in a first flush of piety when at University, "I will always be thankful for the Mass, and put the Mass first in my life". What a shame to repeat these words and consider how I have neglected them! From being a daily or near-daily Mass-goer, for the past five years I've rarely gone to daily Mass, except while on holiday, strangely enough, and for a period last year, I think, when I got back into the habit - and then gave it away.

Now I am fearful that, having just resumed getting up at six and going to daily Mass, I will soon slacken off and reject the offer of grace again. As St Philip Neri taught his followers to say, "Do not trust me, Lord, for this day I will betray thee". Judas has more followers.

How did I manage to make a sudden, and, I beg and pray, a lasting change (as time will tell)? - by going on the Christus Rex Pilgrimage, and returning to my senses. On pilgrimage, I got up at five thirty every morning, in order to be ready for our early start each day: and the mornings are beautiful. I resolved – God grant I keep it – to get up with the dawn and go to Mass. Nowadays, when I open my curtains just after six, the sky is bright and soon the sun rises to the south-east, casting a beautiful glow over all things.

The second item so needful to me and yet so neglected has been the Breviary. Again, I must accept the rebuke of Thomas à Kempis, upbraiding me from beyond the grave with being "So negligent in saying thy office" (Im. Christi, IV, 7). I said the modern Divine Office for years; when in Perth, I switched to the Breviary – and since moving back to godless Tasmania, I've slipped further and further away from both. At one stage, I used the Little Office; but even that I gave up.

Any more slackness and I wouldn't have remembered God at all. As it was, I have become disengaged from the liturgical year, the true Year of the Lord, the year of salvation, with feasts even of apostles and evangelists slipping by unnoticed, seeing a reference to sundry celebrations even of the Lord and His Mother only by reference to reading blogs online after they had passed, and the words of the Venite being proven all too true: "if to-day you should hear His voice, harden not your hearts".

Oh, so the Divine Office is too long? I said it daily for years, and it takes less than half an hour. Oh, so the Breviary is a burden insuperable? Yet I said the Hours thereof while working full-time when in Perth, I said it while on pilgrimage this weekend past, and now am again fitting it into my schedule (I said Matins and Lauds before Mass this morning and the morning before quite easily).

I am angry at myself for listening to the siren voice of laziness and slackness, which is really the flesh, not to mention the world and the Devil, luring one down to Hell: a most beguiling journey. And it is entirely unsurprising that, daily Mass and Breviary gone, even the Angelus unsaid, and my other prayers neglected, or haphazardly said sometimes but less and less frequently, I find myself more sinful, judgemental, selfish, slack, nastier, coarser, and worse off. The Devil laughs to lead us astray, promising nothing in return.

As St Augustine taught, if we do not make continual progress in the spiritual life, then we begin to go backwards. My backsliding has been most wretched. At least I have kept going to confession, else God knows how practically atheistic I would have become. But frankly my love of what is holy is so caught up with receiving our Divine Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and singing God's praises in the psalms, that if I but weekly (yes, weakly) partake of the one, and less and less (indeed, hardly ever) of the other, then I turn from the Divinity towards the wretchedness of secularity.

A wise Dominican, Fr Gregory, told me that the last thing to do if one loses one's faith is to stop praying and stop going to Mass, since that is when one needs most of all to say one's prayers and go to Mass! But all unawares I have been praying less and less, and going to Mass less and less – tempting me to live a less and less Catholic life, tempting God, in fact, by spurning the great helps He provides by prayer and the sacraments, rejecting His graces, and preparing my soul to lose the little it has.

Now, thanks be to God that I have always had a strong Faith, ever since I received the grace of a real conversion of heart while a young man at University, and I cannot but believe (though, Christ absolve me, sometimes I have dared wish I didn't) – but I tremble when I think of how throughout my adolescence I hardly went to church, never went to confession, and held many erroneous notions, issuing in despairing thoughts. It was God's grace that delivered me then, lead me into the goodness and truth of orthodoxy, and spurred me on; but the old man is not dead, and my spiritual life has not been in a good way for a long time.

Dear readers, please pray for me, a sinner, that these good resolutions I have made, and the baby steps I have taken, may please God form again the good habits I have lost, to my enduring benefit. I hope this public rebuke of myself may remain fresh in my mind, and force me not to shame myself by going back on my word.


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

May the Lord bless you, Joshua, in your efforts to grow ever closer to Him.

None of us are born Saints but we can always aspire and endeavour to become Saints, and re-turn ourselves and our lives back to God.....

AndrewWS said...

Your zeal, humility and penitence are highly commendable. But as an old monk once said when asked what monks did, "we fall down and we get up again" and St Benedict's Rule is a little rule for beginners, those who start every day anew and commend it to God. The spiritual life is a trudge, so what we need is some refreshment from time to time and then it's back on the road again ...

Joshua said...

Too true, too true (except for the bit about me being virtuous)...

I think we all are really like those members of AA who never say "I'm now no longer an alcoholic", and simply aim at keeping off the booze each day. We are fallen, we are sinners, falling seven times a day in fact, and we must get up each time, dust ourselves off, and trudge along - trudge being a very apposite verb to use for the quotidian grind.

We must say to ourselves what the donkey does in the children's carol: "Gotta keep on plodding onward, Bethlehem's in sight" - for in this life, we go to the House of Bread, to find Jesus Incarnate, our only solace, and here below in His Sacrament a foretaste of what we hope to enjoy hereafter.

I recall that St Philip Neri, whenever he recovered from illness, would announce to all and sundry that from then on he intended to live a new life, and seriously begin to try and be holy: such was his humility. Humility, of course, is about being honest - whereas pride delights in pretence. The greater the saint, the more they realize how imperfect they are, and this humbles them still more.

Gervase Crouchback said...

Joshua I too felt that I was getting lazy aside from Sunday mass and attending Morning Prayers at St Dominic's. Work does not allow much flexibility but when the opportunity arises I go to St Aloysius 7am as well as Mass at st Ds during the week.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Joshua, this Eastern Orthodox understands your plight! I don't have a problem going to church on sundays (I'm a member of the choir and have an obligation to be there) but weekdays, I tend to fall apart unless I really make an effort. I'll pray for you, and hope you'll pray for me, that we both persevere!
Olympia, WA USA