‘Just try to be the best version of yourself.’
No thank you. I’d rather try to just be me.
I don’t want to be any “version” of myself. They’re fake, every last one of them. I’d know – I created them. They’re just different masks I wear for different people.
And what on earth does it mean by “best”? Whose standard am I using? Who am I supposed to please? Others? Myself? God???
The simple truth is, God doesn’t love “the best version of me” – the “me” that acts “best”, and no one else does either. No one ever could. You can’t love a dead thing.
He loves me. Not this or that version of me. He loves me, with all my wounds and all my weaknesses. I have nothing to hide, even if I could.
Not that I shouldn’t improve and grow. But I can’t do that by pretending. The only way to truly grow, is to live in God’s love, being stripped of my illusions and defenses, and made more truly me. And this, this death to my selves, is to be made into Christ. ‘It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.’
God bless you!
[P.S. One more issue with this phrase, is that it suggests there is one best version, and you can’t possibly better it. If there is a “best version”, there is a limit. And it doesn’t imply that the “best version” is all that great. God bless!]
I read today about how, after searching out whether God called to him to preach or pray, when given the answer, St Francis ran out and preached the gospel first of all to a large flock of birds of various kinds, who listened with reverence and perhaps even true piety. “My brother birds,” he said, “you should greatly praise your Creator, who clothed you with feathers, gave you wings for flight, confided to you purity of the air, and governs you without your least care.” As he spoke, they listened actively, fluttering about in a wonderful way, stretching their necks, spreading their wings, opening their beaks and looking at him. ‘He passed through their midst with amazing fervour of spirit, touching them with his tunic.’ And at the end of it all, he reproached himself for not preaching to the birds sooner!
What really strikes me here, is his incredible boldness. Francis walks in a different world to me, a world where the most extraordinary things can be taken for granted, simply because God is with him. He doesn’t doubt or hesitate: God is with him.
This story isn’t even the best demonstration of this bold confidence. There is the time he was faced with a man-eating wolf. Where I would quickly rack my brains and try say my “best prayer”, Francis simply makes the sign of the cross, and immediately makes peace. Or when Francis was offered chicken on a Friday (he couldn’t eat chicken on a Friday, but also must “accept whatever you are given” [Lk 10:8]). I can’t imagine what sophistry I would use, but Francis simply makes the sign of the cross over it, and it comes back to life and flies away!
In fact, this boldness characterises his whole life. As soon as he receives God’s call, he jumps to action, no questions asked (meaning he didn’t fully understand a couple of times). He is defiantly “unrealistic” in his way of life, and that of his followers too. They live firmly in the knowledge that they can never trust him too much, and never love him too much.
St. Francis is the most exciting saint I’m aware of, because he’s a madman running head first into God.
I pray that I may live with bold confidence in God, just like St Francis.
God bless you!
P.S. I was reading from the Major Life of Saint Francis by St. Bonaventure, in Such is the Power of Love
‘The root of all sin is fear: the very deep fear that we are nothing; the compulsion, therefore, to make something of ourselves, to construct a self-flattering image of ourselves we can worship, to believe in ourselves — our fantasy selves. I think that all sins are failures in being realistic; even the simple everyday sins of the flesh, that seem to come from mere childish greed for pleasure, have their deepest origin in anxiety about whether we really matter, the anxiety that makes us desperate for self-reassurance. To sin is always to construct an illusory self that we can admire, instead of the real self that we can only love.’
– Herbert McCabe, OP, quoted in ‘Why Go To Church?’ by Timothy Radcliffe, OP (a very good book so far)
Why do I bother writing, or even thinking, about matters so high above me, that already have so much said about them, by so many truly extraordinary minds? Am I not just adding to the noise?
No. I’m entering into, and adding to, the harmony of the whole. The things we speak about- the true, the good, and the beautiful- impart themselves to the mediums that bear them, and make prose into poetry and speech into song.
My voice might not be extraordinary, but it was made to sing. And it will not detract from the other, stronger, more beautiful voices, because we were always meant to rejoice in singing different parts of the same song. And not only is the whole made more beautiful with each voice added, but each one, in the mystery that is music, adds to the beauty of each other.
I began writing this thinking only about why it’s worth me bothering to write, when so many people more holy and more learned than me have already spoken on almost everything. By the end I realised I was actually writing about the communion of the Saints. I love it when a post doesn’t do what I planned for it!
God bless you all!
I just read an article on habits, which basically noted that as we gain expertise and more advanced skills and practices, we will often end up actually regressing, because we’ve lost the “fundamentals”. The advanced stuff becomes easy, but the basic (and far more important) stuff is quietly withering.
This is something I have noticed in my prayer life. I tend to develop a set of relatively fixed prayers for regular activities, such as exercising, eating meals, reading the Bible, and going to bed. I like it this way, because I want to make sure that I always say everything that needs saying. As it goes on, these prayers naturally develop, being expanded and refined, and reworked again and again, aiming for a sense of completeness and symmetry, so that my prayer may be “perfect”. I also develop rules for what prayers to say each day, and when, and these too grow nuanced over time, including various technicalities. [I’m the kind of person who actually sort of loves rules, routines, and waking up early, and though Past-Me might have disdained that, I don’t care. The difficult thing is marrying this to my love for chaos and late nights… I oscillate in life.]
But after a while, these prayers grow old. I can say them easily, even in my head, while I’m actually thinking about God-knows-what. My prescribed and required prayers can become a duty and a burden, and get in the way of practices that might do me more good. I grow “pious”.
For this reason, every so often, I revolt against my system, seriously simplifying my prayer life. I return to the basics –just me and my God– and let everything reform from there. Many elements of the previous system are gradually reintroduced, and new ones too, and the complexity, beauty, and rigidity return, step by step, but with their centre restored to them.
I think this may be a near perfect analogy for what the Church was doing at Vatican II. The Church wanted to rediscover Herself, and return to Her first love. Her practices had grown elaborate and majestic and beautiful, but perhaps also comfortable and stifling. On the one hand, the religion was thoroughly encapsulated, but on the other, it was somewhat captured and contained. At least that’s the impression I’ve been given…
The Council set in motion a process of renewal, rediscovery, and reformation that’s ongoing. As Pope Francis stresses, ‘Time is greater than space.’ I think we can see this process at work both in the emergence of new practices and the re-emergence of old. The new wave of traditionalism should be seen as a fruit of the Council, to be celebrated with all the others.
On that note, I feel the need to briefly defend V2 against those who would claim it has borne bad fruit. There are those who have misinterpreted it, as being essentially a liberalising or dilution of the faith. But that would be as shallow as interpreting my personal cycles of reform and simplification, to my faith weakening, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Externally, many things were temporarily shed, but only so that we could reconnect with what is truly essential.
But these are just my thoughts. What do you think? God bless!
435 The name of Jesus is at the heart of Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words “through our Lord Jesus Christ”. The Hail Mary reaches its high point in the words “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The Eastern prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Many Christians, such as St. Joan of Arc, have died with the one word “Jesus” on their lips.
2666 But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. The divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity The Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: “Jesus,” “YHWH saves.”16 The name “Jesus” contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray “Jesus” is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.
2667 This simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms in East and West. The most usual formulation, transmitted by the spiritual writers of the Sinai, Syria, and Mt. Athos, is the invocation, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.” It combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican and the blind men begging for light. By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior’s mercy.
2668 The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and “brings forth fruit with patience.” This prayer is possible “at all times” because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus.’
‘Therefore, just as at the beginning God marvellously, without cultivator or seeds, created grain and other terrestrial things to nourish people, so too he marvellously, without human learning, made the minds of prophets and apostles and, above all, the Gospels, rich with seeds for our salvation. These are the source of whatever we sow salutarily, in God’s husbandry, for the nourishment of our souls, just as what we cultivate for the nourishment of our bodies derives only from the original seeds of the earth.
‘In fact, we proclaim what is useful for the salvation of souls only what Sacred Scripture, made fecund by the marvellous activity of the Holy Spirit, has produced or contains in its womb. For if at times we assert by a process of reasoning a conclusion which we cannot explicitly cite from the sayings of Scripture or demonstrate from the bare wording, still it is by using Scripture that we know in the following way whether the affirmation should be accepted or rejected. If the conclusion is reached by straightforward reasoning and Scripture in no way contradicts it, then (since just as Scripture opposes no truth so too it abets no falsehood) by the very fact that it does not deny what is inferred on the basis of reason, that conclusion is accepted as authorised by Scripture. But if Scripture indubitably opposes our understanding, ever though our reasoning appears to us to be impregnable, still it ought not to be believed to be substantiated by any truth at all. It is when Sacred Scripture either clearly affirms or in no wise denies it, that it gives support to the authority of any reasoned conclusion.’
-De Concordia 3:6
Is St Anselm supporting some form of the protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, over four centuries before Martin Luther? Sort of.
That’s not to say that this Roman Catholic Archbishop and Doctor of the Church didn’t acknowledge the authority of the Church’s magisterium (i.e. authoritative teaching) however. That the minds of prophets and apostles are the original seeds, seems to imply that that the fruit they bore produced the plants that nourish us now, which must surely be their legitimate successors. For St Anselm, that must have meant the Holy Catholic Church and his fellow bishops. So we can’t say Scripture was for him the sole authority, as Luther made it.
However, he does clearly consider the Scriptures alone to be sufficient to tell between all truth and falsehood, at least regarding ‘what is useful for the salvation of souls’. Everything we teach must either be straight from Scripture, or proceed from straightforward reasoning and not contradict the Scriptures. Simple enough. While every heresy must, however reasonable it may seem, contradict the Scriptures and so be rejected. Revelation must protect us against the horrific reasonableness of heresy, because what else could? Yes, the magisterium of the Church, but the magisterium always refers us back to the revelation given to us once and for all in Jesus Christ.
This is a point we need to be clear on: The Church, as the authoritative interpreter of the Scriptures, has no authority over the Scriptures. Interpretation has come to mean something dishonest in our times; we suppose the meaning is being distorted and lost; in our post-modern world, we’ve started to wonder if there are any “correct interpretations”. Yes, there are. If the Bible is the Word of God, then its meaning is what God means by it, not what I decide to make of it. No one cares what I think. The Church, then, is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, simply because She is the one who hears God’s voice and listens. The Scriptures were spoken to the Church, the Beloved Bride of Christ, and therefore they are Hers to understand. The Word of God belongs to Her, precisely because She belongs to the Word; ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’ [Sg 6:3].
Yes, the Scriptures are also written to me particularly, but to me within the Church. They are never my private possession. The faith is mine, because it is ours. It is mine, only because I am a living member of the Body of Christ, and my faith cannot contradict that of the Church. As I wrote in the past, your religion is mine, and mine is yours.
I hope and pray that all Christians can establish true unity with one another. ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’ Amen.