Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Real Sword in the Stone and Real Penance

Today, December 3rd, is the Feast day of St. Galgano. St. Galgano was a Knight in Tuscany who lived a very worldly and sinful life, through a series of visions from St Michael the Archangel he reformed his life,  and despaired of his salvation he said “Ah, but I could more easily plunge my sword into this stone, than obtain forgiveness for my many sins” at that he thrust his sword into the rock up and it entered like a knife through butter. (Hear more on the free Audiobook here, or purchase the text here).

The sword in the stone is still preserved today in a chapel that was built around it, the sword has been scientifically analyzed and authenticated to match the narrative of the story, read more here.  

Unsurprisingly, the world embraced the Story of the Sword in the Stone, but not as a sign of mercy and a call to penance, but rather as a sign to establish Camelot, an earthly paradise here on earth, a sign of waiting for a leader to arrive to establish justice, rather than a God already come to show us to embrace the cross.

“Assure yourself you can not have two paradises; it is impossible to enjoy delights in this world, and after that to reign with Christ.”  The Imitation of Christ, Of Judgment, and the Punishment of Sinners

Where are we in this whole mix?  During this advent I believe there are several questions we should interrogate ourselves with, before standing before God in judgement when we die, so that we are not surprised, when Jesus Christ who was crucified for our sins asks them to us in justice.

  1. Have we ever done penance for our sins?  Is this part of our regular life?  God assures us that unless we do penance we shall perish. Luke 13:3 
  2. Has our penance been worthy?  It is impossible to ever repay Christ fully for laying down His life for our sins, or even to repay the divine forbearance for not casting us into hell to do eternal penance after our first mortal sin.  But, when God numbers our penances will he only find trivial sacrifices? Will he find numbered among our works of penance, tears, fasting, prayer, bodily mortifications, humiliations, flight from worldly pleasures?  Or will he find giving up chocolate now and then and meat on Fridays during lent?  People forget that even the little way of St. Therese if you have read of both her childhood and her life as a Carmelite in detail her life was highly mortified, and she added little sacrifices on top of that.  

Today some live and teach that to do real penance is to somehow foster a doubt that God has forgiven us, or that great penance is not necessary.  This attitude is far from the truth Blessed Columba Marmion said that penance is the “greatest possible assurance of perseverance in the way of perfection – because it is, when one really looks at it, one of the purest forms of love.” Christ the Life of the Soul.

God performed a miracle to show how easy it is to forgive our sins, and St. Galgano embraced a life of penance. This is the first time translation of his life into English and was translated by Ryan Grant of Mediatrix Press, in a joint project between us.  Compare the penance that St. Galgano did with your own and then ask yourself this last question.

What am I going to do about the small amount of penance I have done up until this point?  How can do more, (especially hidden) penance?  

“Then a strict life and severe repentance will be more pleasing than all earthly delights. Accustom yourself now to suffer a little, that you may then be delivered from more grievous pains. Prove first here what you can endure hereafter. If now you can endure so little, how will you then be able to support eternal torments? If now a little suffering make you so impatient, what will hell fire do hereafter? The Imitation of Christ, Of Judgment, and the Punishment of Sinners

In my own heart of hearts I stand convicted by these questions, but I am never the less hopeful.  God helped St. Galgano become a great Saint in only one year.  It is a new Church year, my God grant us the grace dear reader to also become great saints quickly.

The Sword in the stone is real, it is still there, and  it endures as a reminder of God mercy, and mans call to do penance.  The Cross is real, it is still there and without it we will not be saved. Will we embrace it?

St. Galgano, Pray for us. 

NB There is a lot more to his story, and to find out more please listen to the Audiobook available here, or purchase the book available here, to find out more about his incredible life. 


Anonymous said...

I have a hard time understanding St. Therese in light of Tradition, at least on matters like Purgatory and the Judgment, and also on the idea of indulgences and the yearning for merit before God.

She reversed this last bit, in a sense, teaching not to be seeking after those but to appear before God empty-handed.

With Purgatory, and this is something I really do not understand at all, she almost rebukes a fellow nun for dreading purgatory and saying, in effect, if you trust in God's mercy enough, there will be no purgatory because God does not want that, but if you want God's justice, you'll get it.

First, who really *wants* God's justice? I highly doubt that nun did. The nun was probably drawing upon the teaching regarding purgatory and the fewness of the saved that had been common. Could anyone blame her? And what do we make of this daring notion of St. Therese? How does it add up?

She speaks of trust so much, even in terms of the Judgement: "As far as little ones are concerned, they will be judged with great gentleness… ‘At the end, the Lord will rise up to save the gentle and the humble of the earth.’ It doesn’t say ‘to judge'; but ‘to save.'” (Last Conversations, 67)

There is no doubt that trust is essential, that we cannot save ourselves, yet I cannot help but think the emphasis on trust was so exaggerated as to make it seem like that is the only virtue (sort of like humility is blown out of proportion today). Where does this confidence come from when many saints before spoke of the fewness of the saved, and themselves feared judgment?

Anonymous said...

Let me add: St. Therese herself said her way was "totally new" so it does not make sense to situate her in the tradition of spirituality as it existed to that point, as if she were one more great penitent. Penance was not the point.

Of Therese's way, von Balthasar claimed she offered "a new interpretation of revelation [and] bring out the scarcely suspected treasures in the deposit of faith." ("Two Sisters in the Spirit").

Therese was revolutionary. She proposed a new stage of faith and path of holiness.

So much so that, and this is not a coincidence I don't think, In his work on the implementation of Vatican II, Sources of Renewal, Karol Wojtyla, who later would be the one to name Therese a Doctor, wrote that the Council “profoundly developed the doctrine of faith,” a development which enriched the Church’s understanding of faith “in the objective sense,” and which “[constituted] a new stage in the Church’s advance towards the ‘fullness of divine truth.’"

This is in line, I think, with Therese's own claim about a totally new way.

This is a big deal. If this view of reality, doctrine and even holiness is accurate, then Traditionalists need to make major changes in their way of thinking, which is checking the new against the old and established, while the Church, according to Wojtyla, is developing, maturing, progressing in understanding, coming into greater fullness of divine truth.

And, I take one of the theological implications of such a view to be, via Therese, that faith, that trust, is a bigger deal than perhaps we ever realized, and that it goes beyond an intellectual assent to fixed doctrines which were preserved in the Tradition.

Noah Moerbeek said...


I thank you for your feedback, but I am a bit befuddled. You raise many points, I just want to know if you are looking for a response, and in particular to which one.

It would take a blog post, or longer, to deal with some of these topics at the length they deserve.

Please take my comment in charity, I just want to try and be helpful as I can be.

Anonymous said...

Not looking for a response, though I appreciate any discussion of any of these.

To me, the biggest issue is how to understand the revolution and all its implications that occurred at the Council, for it has effects on nearly everything, including penance.

Is the Church, Her teaching, essentially dynamic, that is, moving forward toward the fullness of divine truth? If so, then I can see the place of St. Therese, of the canonizations of John XXIII and JPII, and of much else that is in seeming opposition to what came before.

But if the Church, Her teaching, is not dynamic and VII represented a departure (such as in its understanding of the very essence of Divine Revelation!), then we have a major problem, as many Tradtionalists have been arguing.

This is the 1 bazillion dollar question, for it touches everything. It brings me to near despair not to know how to make sense of the confusion that I see everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Also, the very concept of heroic sanctity can be questioned. In the earliest days, saints were martyrs. In the middle ages, one reached perfection primarily by means of radical asceticism.

This is where Therese comes in. She is the definitive break because the means for her were not penance, though she did practice penance, but the "elevator" of confidence in God, the little way. People wrongly describe it as simply doing penance in small, every day ways and contrasting that with extraordinary fasts and such. But that's not it. The little way was totally new - it is evident in her discussion of the eagles John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila that she is not discussing degrees of penance but entirely different means of holiness. Therese, in that image, is lifted up by nothing other than grace and her own hope and confidence in said grace.

Noah Moerbeek said...

There were confessors in the Early Church too, St. John the Apostle, St Mary Magdalene, St. Basil the Great etc.

There are numerous ones that are mentioned by name in the Roman Martyrlogy.

The Martyrs were often times Ascetics as well, if you read their Acts.

I disagree with some things you have written about St. Therese. However, I do believe the views you expressed are fairly common and that in order to address them correctly I would like to provide sources to show a contrary opinion.

What was sacred in the past, is sacred now. St. Charbel the great Maronite saint, who died in 1898 lived a life closer to the Desert Fathers of the ancient Church, who performed numerous miracles in life and now after death is worthy of imitation.

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught, without penance we shall perish, St. Therese did penance and so did St. Charbel. Both did penance for their sins, for the sins of others and to become pleasing to God.

So we should follow their example, and do penance. St. Galgano did not lack confidence in God after the sword was thrust into the stone, rather he had great confidence and that encouraged him to do great penance: the great penance that God told him to do.

Noah Moerbeek said...

When I Said

"However, I do believe the views you expressed are fairly common and that in order to address them correctly I would like to provide sources to show a contrary opinion."

I meant to say that I would need to put together something complete with sources to address your points, and the following is just a very basic point to address the general thrust of your concerns.

Anonymous said...

I conceded that St. Therese did practice penance, though that was not the point for her. Her sanctity was her confidence and abandonment to God. That is why she could speak of wanting to stand before God with "empty hands" (without her own 'merit' or good works, penances, etc. to boast of). Believing herself to be incapable of great penance anyway, she wished to have God be her sanctification, to do "everything" for her. It sounds almost Quietist though of course we must understand it correctly.

In terms of the progression go holiness, I was just providing general categories. Not all early saints were martyrs, and some martyrs were also ascetics, yes, just as there are still ascetics and martyrs today. My point is about the broader understanding of holiness in a given era, which is a necessary context to provide in the case of someone who is proposing a "totally new way".

Boniface said...

These are just differences in emphasis; Therese, in her humility, might have thought she was appearing before God empty handed though in reality it was full of merit. Her way was not "totally new"; Wojtyla and Balthasar are exaggerating here - although Therese does have a certain kind of emphasis and sweetness that is refreshing, it was hardly entirely novel.

There is no question of "dynamism" versus a static situation. Yes, doctrine and spirituality develop, but as vines from the branch. In one sense, what St. Francis did was totally, radically "new", but in another sense he was only emulating others who had come before him, ultimately Christ Himself.

The mustard seed grows into a very large tree, and there is room in the tree for all the birds of heaven. The distinctions you point out are real, but I don't think they imply what you think - then again, I am not entirely sure what your argument is, so I may be wrong.

Anonymous said...

No, it is much more than emphasis. "It is
confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love."

Therese's doctrine is essentially that the Lord is doing something new, that He wants His very self to be our merit and our sanctity, that He no longer is asking for the austerities and great deeds that he asked of saints before. He wants merely our trust, and He will do the rest.

My argument is essentially that just as the Church has gone through an unprecedented develop recently, so too has the very concept of holiness been developed, to such an extent that the saint who brought it to us - not her interpreters or commentators - describe it as totally new. Nothing can be totally new in the absolute sense, of course, though it is certainly a break from the way saints of the past conceived of holiness. Therese parts with the rough road of holiness and *receives* instead from God her sanctity. The 'penance' she most eagerly sought after and accomplished was that of overcoming one's own willfulness and self-reliance, one's self-dependence. Her open hands received everything from God. She meant that quite seriously. You misunderstand if you minimalize that.

Noah Moerbeek said...

"Therese's doctrine is essentially that the Lord is doing something new, that He wants His very self to be our merit and our sanctity, that He no longer is asking for the austerities and great deeds that he asked of saints before. He wants merely our trust, and He will do the rest."

I don't agree with this assertion that this is the doctrine of St. Therese.

No amount of confidence replaces the Divine demand given to us from the very mouth of Jesus Christ written down in Sacred Scripture.

One does not need to read St. Therese to find instruction to Trust and have Confidence in the Lord, they can read the Psalter, they can read the Gospel, and there have been many beautiful things written about it since the beginning of the Church.

Maybe individuals have altered their perception of holiness, but not God.

Noah Moerbeek said...

"No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish." Luke 13:3

Anonymous said...

I can understand the theoretical argument that the concept of holiness *should* not change, even *can* not change (given the appeal to Scripture that you make), though I do not think it can be refuted that, taking Therese's doctrine at face value, unto itself, it represents a 'new way' to holiness.

And I not sure such a thing is really that novel. St. Louis De Montfort, even while acknowledging that his doctrine on true devotion to Mary was found, at least in seed, in prior saints, set forth a way to holiness that is easy, short, perfect and secure. Moreover, he stated that this way is especially for saints of the latter times.

St. Therese predicted that her own way was intended for a legion of "little souls" who would follow her. Now, there is another facet to this that I believe cinches the argument: how in the world does one make a distinction between a different type of soul itself (a little soul, opposed to a big soul) if there is not in fact a different way to holiness?

Again, I maintain this is more than a mere matter of emphasis. It is a different means. It is not just to highlight the importance of trust or confidence in God which, as you note, is certainly nothing new. It is, sort of like the Divine Mercy devotion, something truly new, a new promise, a new means. It is not just, "be a great penitent like me but also remember to trust and trust boldly." For, if that were so, the distinction between little and big souls would be meaningless.

No, she is saying that, because there are souls which are weaker than others, perhaps not capable of sanctity by penance the way others have been/are, God, in His mercy, has provided another means: that "elevator" of humble confidence in His love.

She goes so far as to create an act of oblation to Merciful Love.

I do not think this is an easy thing at all to accept, just as it was not for her contemporaries (think of that nun who feared judgment and Purgatory). I do not pretend to be able to reconcile it with Tradition unless we accept that, as a matter of necessity, God's Revelation truly is more dynamic than we thought; that Tradition is something developing more organically and progressing more than we imagined; that it is not as fixed or static.

Anonymous said...

May I add this summary of the Little Way, which perhaps more efficient than my own?

"The Little Way then is not about having to grow up but choosing to remain little. In order to become a saint, one doesn't need to be perfect and full of great deeds. One simply needs to be little and to accept being little. Story of a Soul is full of stories of being a little child. For example, there's the story of the little child at the bottom of the stairs and the father watching at the top. As long at the little child makes the effort of climbing the stairs, the father will come down to pick the child up and carry it up the stairs himself. That's the way God the Father is with each of His children. However, He does need our cooperation as well."


Noah Moerbeek said...

"I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of the Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: 'My God I choose all!' I do not want to be a saint by halves. I'm not afraid to suffer for You." Saint Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

Anonymous said...

"You know, Mother, I have always wanted to be a saint. Alas! I have always noticed that when I compared myself to the saints, there is between them and me the same difference that exists between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and the obscure grain of sand trampled underfoot by passers by. Instead of becoming discouraged, I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealisable desires. I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am with all imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new."

"We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the home of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. I searched, then, in the Scriptures for some sign of this elevator, the object of my desires, and I read these words coming from the mouth of Eternal Wisdom: “Whoever is a LITTLE ONE, let him come to me”. And so I succeeded. I felt I had found what I was looking for. But wanting to know, O my God, what You would do to the very little one who answered Your call, I continued my search and this is what I discovered: “As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you.” Ah! Never did words more tender and more melodious come to give joy to my soul. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more."

Anonymous said...

von Balthasar says, describing her way:

"With the utmost severity and unsparing clarity Therese directs her attack against every ascetical practice which aims not at God but at one's own 'perfection', and which is nothing more than spiritual beauty treatment."

Therese says: "Jesus does not demand great deeds, but only gratitude and self-surrender. 'I will not,' he says, 'take the he-goats from out of Thy flocks, for all the beasts of the forest are Mine... Shall I eat the flesh of bullocks, or shall I drink the blood of goats? 0ffer to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.' That is all Jesus asks of us! He has no need of our works, but only of our love."

Again, she says: "Sanctity does not consist in performing such and such acts; it means being ready at heart to become small and humble in the arms of God, acknowledging our own weaknesses and trusting in His fatherly goodness to the point of audacity."

von Baltharsar:

"Admittedly Therese, like all the saints who have spoken similarly, had already gone through a great deal of penance. At the start of her religious life she experienced "a strong inclination to works of penance". "I had taken too much pleasure in them" she confesses, "and so the good God let me realize that the strictest penances can be mingled with natural satisfaction." She once tried wearing a little iron Crucifix with a sharp point upon it on her breast, but the point pressed into her flesh and caused a slight inflammation. "I would not have abandoned it for such a trifling reason if the good God had not wished me to realize that the mortifications of the saints are not meant for me, nor for the little souls who will also walk in the way of childhood."

Nor was it only a question of bodily harm. She tells Pauline that her previous mortifications at meal-times had been the occasion of disagreeable thoughts: "Later I found it simpler to offer whatever pleased my taste to the good God." "It was well that Our Lord warned us, 'In My Father's house there are many mansions, if not I would have told you'. Yes, if every soul called to perfection were obliged to perform these mortifications in order to enter Heaven, He would have told us, and we should have undertaken them with willing hearts. But He explains to us that 'there are many mansions in His house'. If some are for great souls, those of the desert Fathers and penitential martyrs, there must also be some for the little children."

Anonymous said...

One more, very touchy and bold quote from Therese: "My protectors in Heaven, my favorites, are those who stole it, such as the Holy Innocents and the Good Thief. The great saints have won it by their works: for myself, I wish to imitate the thieves, to take it by a trick, a trick of love which will give me entry, me and other poor sinners. I am encouraged to do so by the Holy Spirit, who says in Proverbs, 'Come to me, little one, to learn subtlety'."

Boniface said...

Yes the concept of holiness has broadened over the centuries, but the fundamental reality has not changed. St. Therese's way is not essentially "new"; even if St Therese herself thought so, that does not make it so.

Boniface said...

That was the same reason why St Benedict wrote his rule. So that common people could find their own way to practice detachment.

By the way, quoting Balthasar here carries very little weight. Myself and most of my readers consider him a heretic.

Boniface said...

But in taking this approach and placing herself last, she has in fact placed herself first and has great merit before God. I don't get the point of all your quotes. We have all agreed early on that not everybody does penance in the same way, although all do penance.

Anonymous said...

"St. Therese's way is not essentially "new"; even if St Therese herself thought so, that does not make it so."

So, Boniface, you're going to serve as the editor of Therese and insist that she was exaggerating? She said it was "totally new."

You don't get the point of the quotes? I continually point to examples of where she distinguishes in sharp terms herself and her way, her very soul, from other saints, only to be told Therese must have been mistaken in speaking about her own way! Not to mention that none of the examples otherwise have been refuted.

That von Balthasar is a heretic or not does not mean he could not have articulated some insight into the way of Therese.

Anonymous said...

Let me ask this, if I may: why is Therese a Doctor of the Church? Why has she received that distinction?

Boniface said...

Because she is a spiritual master. But that doesn't mean her assessment of her own method within the totality of Catholic Tradition presents an objective, unbiased view. Her teaching has a freshness to it - as I said a distinction of emphasis - but the core of what she is saying is found in the Gospels and the saints who came before, though differently. St. Benedict was profoundly different from the Desert Fathers; in one sense he was doing something new, but at the core he was getting at the same thing the fathers were getting at - detachment.

Boniface said...

So am I to take St Francis literally when he says he is a worm and no man when really he is the greatest saint? Or when St Paul says he is the chief of sinners when reality he is the greatest apostle? Or St Thomas when he says his Summa is for for beginners when really if is a masterpiece?

I don't deny that aspects of Therese's way were new, but you can find everything she taught in prior saints. Her genius is not in making up something totally new but in bringing together different elements that already existed within Catholic Tradition and harmonizing them in a teaching that was explained in a simple way suitable for simple souls. Call that new if you want. Yes it is a development. Yes tradition develops. But it was a development in continuity with what had come before. It was not as if before Therese came none of these principles had ever been enunciated. Just because St Therese is not aware that they had does not mean they weren't.

Boniface said...

Much of Therese's spirituality had already been formulated by Teresa of Avila and Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, both of whom influenced Therese. No saint exists in a vacuum.

Boniface said...

Woops...scratch Elizabeth of the Trinity. I'm thinking of someone else whose name escapes me. Elizabeth was after Therese.

Anonymous said...

You brought up St. Francis...

Here is what James Larson says in an article on him:

In May of 1217, the famous Pentecost “Chapter of the Mats” was held at the Portiuncula. The Speculum Perfectionis, #68 relates what occurred. Nothing in all of the early sources more clearly reveals the web of destructive and falsifying love that was, at this period, being spun around Francis and his ideal:

“When blessed Francis was at the Chapter General held at St. Mary of the Portiuncula – known as the Chapter of the Mats, because the only shelters there consisted of rush-mats, which were used by five thousand friars – a number of prudent and learned friars went to the Lord Cardinal of Ostia [Ugolino] who was present, and said to him, ‘My Lord, we wish that you would persuade Brother Francis to follow the advice of the wiser brethren, and allow himself to be guided by them.’ And they quoted the Rules of Saint Benedict, Saint Augustine, and Saint Bernard, which lay down the principles of the regular life.

The Cardinal repeated all that they had said to blessed Francis in the form of advice; but without making any answer he took the Cardinal by the hand, and led him before the friars assembled in Chapter. And he spoke to the friars in the fervor and power of the Holy Spirit, saying, ‘My brothers! My brothers! God has called me by the way of simplicity and humility, and has in truth revealed this way for me and for all who are willing to trust and follow me. So I do not want you to quote any other Rule to me, whether that of Saint Benedict, Saint Augustine, or Saint Bernard, or to recommend any other way or form of life except this way which God in His mercy has revealed and given to me. The Lord told me that He wished me to be a new kind of simpleton in this world, and he does not wish us to live by any other wisdom but this. God will confound you through your own prudence and learning.

End quote.

"A new kind of simpleton in this world." Of course, Francis was not the first one to incorporate Holy Poverty into his spirituality, his way just as Therese was not the first to point to confidence in God. But it would be a mistake to reduce what Francis was about to a mere change of emphasis or degree. Larson argues in fact that such a rationalization destroyed the original vitality of the Saint's charism.

It is the same with Therese. God called her to a new way, not merely to emphasize something that we could already find elsewhere. No, it is a new way, a new charism just as Francis' was. It is an unprecented reliance on trust and confidence in God, as evidenced by the act of oblation and numerous first-hand quotes I've mentioned. We run the risk, I believe, of stifling the Spirit if we seek to minimalize this newness.

Boniface said...

I can accepted "unprecedented" - what St. Anthony, St. Benedict and St. Francis did was all unprecedented - but "new", eh...

You admit that Therese was not the first to incorporate this reliance on God, but also say that "emphasis" is not an appropriate way to describe it.

I will just be content to say the answer lies between the two then. Even with Francis, I think his charism lies in an exceptional emphasis on the vow of poverty, since that wasn't "new."

I don't know if Larson makes the same point you are making; the point of his article is that the Franciscan spirit was betrayed after Francis died by those who thought his charism was incompatible with the Christian life. But I would say, if anyone has a claim to something "new", Francis' claim is much stronger than Therese.

Boniface said...

I really appreciate your thoughts. It has given me a lot to mull over. I'm not going to respond to any more comments, however, as it seems what this comes down to is how we each define what is "new", which is a matter of perspective. Thank you sincerely for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Thank you as well for the opportunity to discuss.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Slough off the old Church and put on the new church.

So that is what contnuity means in practice