Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Emotional Detachment in the Search for God's Will

Growth in spiritual maturity is concomitant with a greater conformity of one's will to the Will of God, a detachment from the things of the world and one's own desires in preference for the eternal joy found in personal surrender to the Blessed Trinity. Yet, though the question of what this detachment is and how it may be accomplished is easily discussed, rarely is this detachment as easily achieved. As I, for one, have often found, expressing a desire for God's will to be done is sometimes more of a lip-service than an authentic interior conformity to this "desire". Our emotions can, at the least, conflict with reasoned surrender to Divine Providence. At the worst, poorly ordered emotions may be a source of mis-direction in our spiritual journey.

During a Sunday dinner conversation earlier this month, some friends posed a question to my husband and I on this very subject. We had been reviewing the year-long series of discussions and events leading us to make a "major life decision", and had shared that though we felt blessed to have such peace with the outcome, confident that this was God's will for our family, we felt equally blessed that we had been able to remain (relatively...we're far from sainthood) emotionally detached through the whole process of discernment. Hence the question: how does one remain emotionally detached when seeking God's will?

It was an excellent and insightful question, which gave both of us pause for some reflection before we answered. It is this reflection that I wish to share, and as a disclaimer, it is only based on our very humble experience - we will spend our lifetimes pursuing greater detachment from our will, greater abandonment to the will of God.

This question seems, to me, to be at the heart of the spiritual journey, the journey to sanctity, for it really is a question of how we not only conform our hearts to, but also love, God's will for us. It is a question that approaches the reality of what it is to be human, soul and body, endowed with a rational, intellectual, as well as emotional and affective, nature. Just as the proper integration of reason and emotions is appropriate to the more material matters of life (just because I love and desire that gorgeous pair of designer heels, doesn't mean I can afford, or should indulge myself by buying them), this proper integration is also essential to a healthy spiritual life.

Authentic emotional detachment is not, therefore, a rejection of the emotions, but an affirmation of their appropriate value. Karol Wojtyla's philosophical work (here I am thinking specifically of The Acting Person) is very strong on the necessity of integration of the constitutive elements of the entire person, body and soul. This integration, therefore, requires a proper ordering of the emotions.

With respect to emotional detachment in the search for God's will, this ordering would consist in a detachment from the desired outcome: a knowledge of the various possibilities, and (though an emotional preference may be present) a peace with allowing God to reveal His will in time. In the most perfect sense, it is an imitation of Christ in Gethsemane, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." (Mt. 26:39).

This attitude of Christ in the hours before His Passion indicates another aspect of how this emotional detachment is achieved. In some cases, it seems as though certain individuals are given a grace to remain detached, to live completely in surrender to the will of God. However, for many, if not most of us (including myself), we learn this detachment through the experience of suffering and sacrifice. The two are closely related. In suffering, whether it be a mundane inconvenience associated with life in family and community or a more difficult struggle or loss, there is a point where we can no longer control the situation through our human abilities. We are faced with fundamental metaphysical reality: the limits of our created, human nature, and our essential dependence upon God. This is a reality we may freely choose to either accept or resist; and the humble acceptance of this reality is the foundation for emotional detachment, and surrender to God's will. The practice of self-denial through sacrifice, for similar reasons likewise possesses inestimable value for us as we seek greater conformity to the Sacred Heart.

In all of this, we remain very human. Sometimes, understanding of God's will precedes and motivates our surrender (especially when we can see that God's will is best for us), sometimes this understanding follows shortly afterwords, and sometimes we will not understand God's providential design until we enjoy the Beatific Vision. As humans, therefore, this is our lifelong challenge: to surrender to God's loving will readily and joyfully both in situations we comprehend and those we do not fully understand.

The question of what it means to conform our will to that of our Creator is thus a mystery, a paradox at once both simple and complex, as uniform as our shared human nature, and as diverse as the all the variety of the personalities of each individual. And the mystery of God's omnipotence far surpasses the vagaries of our human wills and emotions. The love of the Trinity is not coercive: it is an invitation to divine life that we may freely accept in perfect surrender, freely refuse in obstinate disdain, or half-heartedly reciprocate in a lifelong ambivalent struggle. Whatever our spiritual state, we may trust that God works with us, whether our emotions be ordered or disordered, to mysteriously accomplish his ever-perfect will.

A New Chapter

With my husband providing such an enthusiastic preface, it seems appropriate for me to follow with a slightly more personal introduction.

I am a cradle Catholic, and a farm girl with a love of all things Catholic and agrarian. This upbringing naturally opened me to the beauty of Catholic life and culture, but it was my undergraduate education, a Catholic humanities program of studies with a special focus upon Christopher Dawson's vision of the role of Christian culture in the West, that particularly fostered and developed this love.

Having just recently completed my coursework for my M.A. in Catholic Theology, and with my new-found "free time", I am finally taking up my husband's open invitation to offer occasional contributions to Benedictus Dominus. I expect my musings to be motivated primarily by our daily life and experiences, formed by my educational background, and colored by my particular point of view.

It is my hope that my thoughts and reflections will be of some value, and a complement to my husband's more regular posts. As our family begins a new adventure, I look forward to commencing this concurrent enterprise, and wish to express my sincere appreciation for your future readership, and kind support.

May God bless you!

Introducing... My Wife!

With our move to Austria, as well as the free time that she has now that she's finished her MA in Theology, my wife has decided to start contributing to the blog! She's a much better writer than me, anyway, so I hope you'll enjoy what she has to say! Be on the lookout for her first post soon...

Pope Benedict is the Pope of Christian Unity.

Yes, yes he is:
"According to the Vatican official on ecumenism, the Church and the World Lutheran Federation are preparing a Joint Declaration on the Reformation, in view of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, announced this in an interview with the German Catholic agency KNA.
In this context, Vatican Radio reported Monday that Benedict XVI wants his Sept. 22-25 trip to Germany to have an ecumenical focus."

Read the rest at Zenit.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reform of the Reform in Austria...?

Greetings! This is my first post here in Trumau, Austria, where I have now settled in to my continued studies at the International Theological Institute, after having arrived on Saturday (buy coffee to support a starving student and his family!).

Notably, the principle liturgy on campus is the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. I attended a Mass in the Roman rite this evening for the first time since arriving, at the local parish kirche. That it was a parish priest, not formally affiliated with the Institute, is what made my experience so interesting.

Mass was in German, of course. However, Pater led the closing prayers of the rosary from the foot of the altar, prior to the beginning of Mass. Mass went on as normal (presumably, as I haven't yet learned German) until the Liturgy of the Eucharist. At that point, Pater started to chant in Latin the Dominus Vobiscum. He sung the preface, in Latin. The congregation (small-ish, and about 50% students) sung the parts of the Jubilate Deo settings.

Now, here's an interesting bit: he used the Second Eucharistic Prayer, which he sang in Latin. That one threw me off a bit, but I think it was very good to hear him doing so.

As far as I'm aware, Pater doesn't celebrate the EF, so I thought it was very nice indeed to see that he doesn't equate praying the Canon in Latin with it necessitating the use of the Roman Canon (even though that is my personal preference).

Also, the servers rang the bells not dissimilarly from the Extraordinary Form-- to a certain extent (and, I think they were local parishioners, but I can't be sure).

Just as I think that I have it all figured out, they sing the Pater Noster, in German!

Finally, it was very nice to notice that, after the consecration of the host, Pater held his thumbs and forefingers together until after the purification, which he of course held over the chalice as the server poured water into it.

After Mass, we sang the Salve Regina.

All in all, it was a lovely Mass, in a beautiful kirche. I thought that the particular variations from the Ordinary Form were very simple, and very easy to implement. Considering that I don't speak German at all just yet, it was very nice, personally, to be able to participate in Mass using the language of the Church, and to more fully, actively, and consciously participate!

Be on the lookout for more postings on the subject of liturgy in Austria, as Heiligenkreuz Abbey is only about 20 or so minutes away, and there is an FSSP parish in Wien, as well.

(Sorry for no pictures, my camera equipment is still packed up.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Our Lady: Key to the New Evangelisation in Britain

Many blogs and news reports that you read will speak of the dire straits that the Bishop's Conference of England and Wales is in-- in fact, according to these sources, perhaps the one thing going for the BCEW is that it is not as bad off as the Scottish Bishop's Conference!

In light of the riots and other news coming out of the UK, I thought I would share a bit of my experience living and working in ministry there for three years, as this “moderately pessimistic” viewpoint shared by many has not been my experience at all.

In October of 2006, as a new convert I travelled to Scotland to be a part of the Living Water Ministry, a lay community of young Catholics who committed themselves to a year of retreat ministry throughout all of the dioceses in Scotland, primarily targeted toward secondary schools and parish programmes. I travelled quite a bit, but had as a base of operations Taynuilt, a tiny village in the West Highlands, not far from Oban, and, incidentally, not far from the Craig Lodge Community. Canon Fraser, the spiritual director for the community, was a wise priest, full of wit, and "a true Scotsman".

At the end of my year, I discerned that God wasn't finished with me yet in the UK, and so I took up a position at the Maryvale Institute in north Birmingham. While working there, I lived at the Newman House at nearby University of Birmingham, living in a small community of men under the direction of Fr. Julian Green, doing ministry at the chaplaincy. I also was blessed to have a spiritual director in Fr. Philip Cleevely of the Oratory, just up the road in Edgbaston, where I served Mass, and was first really introduced to the Extraordinary Form, and where, later, I would propose to my wife.

During my three years of living in the UK, I came into contact with some extraordinary movements, and some even more extraordinary people. I was involved with Youth2000, I came into contact with folks from the Faith movement, as well as attending the Evangelium Conferences. I made a pilgrimage to Walsingham, to Glastonbury, to Ladyewell, to Harvington, on several occasions to the martyr's shrine at Tyburn, to the cells of Thomas More and John Fisher at the Tower of London, and even on a hunt to find the remains of Thomas a' Becket through Canterbury Cathedral.

I had the opportunity to go on retreat both at Pluscarden Abbey in the far north of Scotland, and at Quarr Abbey in the far south of England. I have met many a fine diocesan priest, such as notable blogger Fr. Tim Finigan, Fr. John Saward, vocations director extraordinaire Fr. Stephen Langridge of Southwark, and I could go on, but then, there would be no room for mentioning the great CFR friars, the blackfriars in Oxford, the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph, the SOLT community... With all of these fine leaders already present in the Church, and now with the influx of Catholics through the Ordinariate-- of people who have actively chosen the truth in spite of great adversity-- Catholic presence in the public forum (both positive and negatively spun) is sure to increase.

The point is, God in his providence really blessed me greatly. As a new convert, I had no concept of "liberal" vs. "conservative," or "progressivism," or "orthodoxy"-- yet he placed me into the heart of the Church to be found in one of the ancient centres of the Faith: Britain, of all places!

Now, I won't name names, but there are plenty of ministries that if you live in England you know that I could have been involved in that would have not given me near the experience and formation in the Faith that I gained while living abroad. To throw darts at a board, I more than likely would have ended up in such a ministry. And yet, without even knowing, I stumbled into this epicenter of orthodoxy, and came to more fully root myself in a Catholic identity.

I write all of this, hopefully to encourage and inspire-- in spite of the problems in English society, and yes, even within the Church herself, her parishes and schools, there is a mighty vine underneath the soil of Great Britain, simply waiting for the right moment to spring up. There is a faith deeply rooted in the spirit of a Briton-- and, dare I say it, that faith is Roman Catholic.

Now, for a challenge.

How do these various groups of people: academics, “trads,” “charismatics,” youth and adults alike, all come together to drive a wedge of orthodoxy into the culture? I’ll give you one idea. This weekend, in the wake of World Youth Day and over the bank holiday weekend, there are two separate groups converging on the National Shrine to Our Lady in Walsingham-- the annual Youth2000 festival, and also the Latin Mass Society walking pilgrimage. Combined, there are sure to be 2,000 or more pilgrims in the same place this weekend. And yet, neither of these communities have traditionally related at all with each other, in spite of the fact that many folks involved in the LMS had some exposure to Youth2000 in the past. I use this as an example, not to be critical of either movement (perhaps there will be some interaction between the two this weekend?), but to point out a trend that many of these groups seem not to interact with each other very much, and many not at all.

The challenge is this: in loving the Church, in cultivating “the Benedict Bounce” further, it seems that it would be prudent to form some strategic plan in order to bring about the New Evangelisation in Britain. Somehow, folks who perhaps come back into the Church through the gateway of Youth2000 or another movement, get passed forward to movements like Faith, or invited to the Evangelium Conference, or perhaps get mobilized into the pro-life movement through the university SPUC Conferences.

I can already hear the nay-sayers complaining that the Bishop’s Conference won’t support it, that they already don’t vocally support these movements individually, let alone collectively. Rather than enter into a political game, which is what too often people reduce some of these rather complex pastoral decisions to, I’d simply say this: the Bishops will never be able to do anything in this arena without a well-mobilised laity.

This is where the ball is in your court. Rather than simply waiting for “the biological solution,” there are a ton of priests and religious (and even Bishops!) today, now, to support this effort. In the face of an increasing secularism and loss of identity, these groups of faithful Catholics need to come together, in spite of disagreements over liturgical preference, methods of youth ministry, etc-- or maybe even because of these disagreements-- in order to form a unified front, rallied around this great “romance of Orthodoxy” that Chesterton spoke of.

I’ll close with one final thought: this “organisation” need not be a bureaucracy by any means. I think that, if you look at what all of these individual organizations have in common, you’ll find the answer: Prayer, the Sacraments, and Our Lady. In 1061, the mother of Christ asked that a chapel of the Annunciation be built there in Walsingham, and though that structure no longer stands, I think that this event holds the key-- the surest way towards achieving this “new evangelisation” is in fulfilling the request that was made nearly a thousand years ago: to, not unlike St. Francis, re-build the church, one that presents the Annunciation, the Incarnation of Christ, to all people.

If this happens, and I believe it has already started and will continue over the next coming years, then the renewal of the Church in England will be a glorious revival-- something that Bl. John Henry Newman dreamed of in his day, and, by God’s grace, will result in the re-awakening of the Catholic in the heart of every Briton.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

More Changes to the Blog...

In light of the changes in our life that are coming up, the blog is changing a bit, as well.

The same general thrust of topics will continue (though perhaps my wife will start to blog, as well?)-- but in addition, we will be including a bit of the stories of our life abroad, and now that there aren't as many distractions, plan on blogging much more regularly.

Also, we are monetizing the site. Since I am going back to school full-time, and have a young family, we are getting creative on how to bring in some income. Of course, it is also necessitating that we review our finances and trim off as much fat as possible! You'll notice that we have added a Mystic Monk Coffee widget, and also an Amazon widget, as well. Simply by clicking through (regardless of what you order), you can support our family by purchasing things you would already normally buy!

If you don't want to buy anything, and would like to donate directly, you can use the PayPal donate button.

If you have any other ideas, or blog post ideas, don't hesitate to drop a message.

Thanks for supporting us in this new endeavor!

Friday, August 5, 2011

From the Director of Catechesis and Youth Ministry

(originally printed in the parish bulletin for Sunday, August 7th, 2011)

Dear Friends in Christ,

You may recall from a bulletin article in June that our parish has been facing some financial challenges, which resulted in a significant change in employee benefits provided by the parish. Unfortunately, due to those changes, my family and I are no longer able to support ourselves living in the Valley. After speaking with Fr. Randy this past week, I have submitted my resignation effective August 17th.

Catechist that I am, I hope you'll indulge me on some parting notes as you continue to move forward as a parish-- these admonitions have been of enormous value in my own life, and I hope that they will be of similar value to you:

• Never underestimate the power of Christ and his Sacraments. If you stay close to Him, especially in the Eucharist, then God is ready to pour out an overabundance of grace upon you. If you have never spent time with Jesus in Eucharistic adoration, then try it out-- He will change your life in ways you never imagined possible.

• Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through the sacrament, we are forgiven our sins and given the grace to persevere in future temptation. Make a habit of regular confession-- as I have told our 2nd graders: it's not unlike brushing your teeth! Make good habits. Go as a family.

• In the same breath, try and cultivate a love for the Church. Christ, in his wisdom, gave us a practical means of becoming Saints here in this life. The mystery that Christ's mystical body is composed of fallible people speaks to the omnipotence of God, and His perfect plan to bring us all to Heaven, even through others' imperfections. Don't apologize for the teachings of the Church, but rather, in faith, seek to understand them. The message of Christ is counter-cultural to what society would have us to believe.

• Finally, regardless of your vocation, seek to live out a Catholic family life-- whatever that family may be composed of. As parents, you are the first educators of your children, especially in the Faith. As children and youth, don't fear what God has planned for you some day, and embrace the challenges of the "rules" and teachings of the Faith, trusting that in God alone lies true freedom and happiness. Be prepared for a radical adventure, taking you places you would never have dreamed of. As adults, don't grow stagnant in your desire to learn new things, especially about this great Mystery of our Salvation; namely, Christ. Whether you are single or married, at the beginning of life or the end-- it is in this Community of Believers, as Catholics, gathered around the Sacraments of the Church, that you will be able to more fully live the extraordinary plan God has for each one of you.

As for next steps, in late August we will be moving to Austria, where I have been given a place in an advanced studies program at the International Theological Institute. For more information, visit:

I want you to know that our time here at Our Lady of the Mountains has been a very joyous one, indeed. We have so enjoyed growing as a family alongside of you (just think-- when I first moved here, I was not yet married!), and will cherish the friendships that we have made here.

May God bless you, abundantly,

Chris Owens

Busy times...

Many apologies for the absence in writing! With my wife finishing the last words of her dissertation for her MA in Theology, I have been very busy between working two jobs and watching after our little one!

Anyway, some big changes coming up, as you'll see from the following post-- I hope you'll stay tuned for the exciting things God has in store for us!

God bless!