Showing posts from June, 2013

St. Clare and the spiritual meaning of virginity

My spirituality class ended last Friday, but there's more to say!  I'll keep posting some of the "lessons" I learned in teaching this class for a while.  At least, until I'm finished with them.   image from We had a fascinating conversation one day about the image of virginity in the Catholic tradition.  It came up because we read one of St. Clare of Assisi's letters to Agnes of Prague.  Clare writes a number of letters to this noblewoman ("daughter of the most excellent and illustrious king of Bohemia"), and this one was written in 1234.  She uses quotations and ideas from the Office of the Feast of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr. "For, though You (Agnes), more than others, could have enjoyed the magnificence, honor, and dignity of the world and could have been married to the illustrious Emperor with splendor befitting You and His Excellency, You have rejected all these things and chosen with Your whole heart and so

St. Catherine's Bridge

My spirituality class read a selection from St. Catherine of Siena's major writing, the Dialogue , in which she describes the spiritual journey as crossing a bridge. This bridge is a metaphor for Christ, and there are three stairs, which become the three steps toward deeper union with God.  The first stair, she says, is the affections, which are symbolized by the feet (she says "the affections carry the soul," much like our feet carry our bodies). The second step is the "stair by which you can climb into his side, where you will see revealed his inmost heart."  (Do you hear the echos of early Sacred Heart spirituality here?) The third step is where the soul reaches Christ's mouth, "where she [the soul] finds peace from the terrible war she has had to wage because of her sins." So, Catherine continues, "At the first stair, lifting the feet of her affections from the earth, she stripped herself of sin.  At the second she dressed herse

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Continuing on with yesterday's exploration of spirituality...the second thing my students read was a selection from St. Bernard of Clairvaux's work "On Loving God" (also called "On the Love of God," depending on the translation). This is a little work that's not terribly easy to read.  In it Bernard outlines four degrees of love, which mark our progress along our spiritual path toward God.  They are: 1. To love myself for my own sake. 2. To love God for my own sake. 3. To love God for God's sake. 4. To love myself for God's sake. It's that fourth one that seems tricky, right? And yet, we are called to live the best life that we are capable of, to use the gifts God has given us to the benefit of our neighbor, of our world, of God.  Is it not love to be able to recognize the good in me? So, Bernard of Clairvaux makes me happy, and makes me think about what life means, what my desires point to, how I want to live my life.  How I n

Adventures on the Spiritual Path

Benedict of Nursia and the Cup of Poison, image from This week, I am teaching a course called "Pathways of the Spirit," in which we are exploring five (plus a few extra) spiritual writers from the middle ages.  We began Monday with Benedict of Nursia and Benedictine spirituality  I hope to do a little series of blog posts, chronicling the insights of our journey through the history of spirituality.  So, we begin with Benedict! Benedict lived around the year 500.  What is so amazing is that he wrote a document that remains to this day the guide of life for monks around the world.  It is a simple document, with an ideal vision of Christian life but a realistic view of the challenges of being human.  It offers flexibility to account for the different needs of people and groups.  This quotation comes from the prologue: Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord's service.  In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh

Knowing and Loving

My mind today is on the Cloud of Unknowing , a fourteenth-century writing by an anonymous English author.  This is a quote from that author, from another of his works, which is called Discretion in the Stirrings : God cannot be known by reason, he cannot be thought, caught, or sought by understanding.  But he can be loved and chosen by the true, loving will of your heart…. If God is your love and your purpose, the chief aim of your heart, it is all you need in this life, although you never see more of him with the eye of reason your whole life long. Such a blind shot with the sharp dart of longing love will never miss its mark, which is God. That's all for today. I'm am trying to hold on to that claim of my heart--to love God completely, wholly giving myself into that love. Life has been challenging lately, and most of it is too internal for a blog post.  But I'm still here, and will try to catch up a little bit soon. May God bless each one who comes