Mark the Hermit: Love of Christ is tested by adversity Monday, Feb 3 2014 

St Mark the AsceticEvery thought has its weight and measure in God’s sight.

For it is possible to think about the same thing either passionately or objectively.

After fulfilling a commandment expect to be tempted: for love of Christ is tested by adversity.

Never belittle the significance of your thoughts, for not one escapes God’s notice.

[…] The enemy, understanding how the justice of the spiritual law is applied, seeks only the assent of our mind.

Having secured this, he will either oblige us to undergo the labors of repentance or, if we do not repent, will torment us with misfortunes beyond our control.

Sometimes he encourages us to resist these misfortunes so as to increase our torment, and then, at our death, he will point to this impatient resistance as proof of our lack of faith.

Many have fought in various ways against circumstances; but without prayer and repentance no one has escaped evil.

Evils reinforce each other; so do virtues, thus encouraging us to still greater efforts.

The devil belittles small sins; otherwise he cannot lead us into greater ones.

Praise from others engenders sinful desire, while their condemnation of vice, if not only heard but accepted, engenders self-restraint.

[…]  All vice is caused by self-esteem and sensual pleasure; you cannot overcome passion without hating them.

‘Avarice is the root of all evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10); but avarice is clearly a product of these two components.

The intellect is made blind by these three passions: avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure.

Scripture calls these three the daughters of the horseleech, dearly loved by their mother folly (cf. Prov. 30:15, LXX).

These three passions on their own dull spiritual knowledge and faith, the foster-brothers of our nature.

It is because of them that wrath, anger, war, murder and all other evils have such power over mankind.

We must hate avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure, as mothers of the vices and stepmothers of the virtues.

Because of them we are commanded not to love ‘the world’ and ‘the things that are in the world’ (1 John 2:15); not so that we should hate God’s creation through lack of discernment, but so that we should eliminate the occasions for these three passions.

‘The soldier going to war’, it is said, ‘does not entangle himself in the affairs of this world’ (2 Tim. 2:4).

For he who entangles himself with the passions while trying to overcome them is like a man who tries to put out a fire with straw.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 87-89, 91-95, 99-107, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 116-117.

Basil the Great: “Give Heed to Thyself, Lest Perhaps a Wicked Thought Steal in Upon Thee” Friday, Jan 31 2014 

St-Basil-the-GreatIn the eastern calendar, January 30th was the Synaxis of The Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, & John Chrysostom.

“Give heed to thyself, lest perhaps a wicked thought steal in upon thee” (Deut. 15:9).

We men are easily prone to sins of thought.

Therefore, He who has formed each heart individually (Ps. 2:35:15), knowing that the impulse received from the intention constitutes the major element in sin, has ordained that purity in the ruling part of our soul be our primary concern.

That faculty by which we are especially prone to commit sin surely merits great care and vigilance.

As the more provident physicians offset physical weakness by precautionary measures taken in advance, so the Protector of us all and the true Physician of our souls takes possession first and with stronger garrisons of that part of the soul which He knows is most liable to sin.

[…] Beware, therefore, lest perhaps a wicked thought steal in upon thee.’ For, ‘he who looks upon a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matt. 5:28).

The actions of the body, therefore, are retarded by many impediments, but he who sins in his intention has committed a transgression that is accomplished with the swiftness of thought.

Where the lapse into sin is sudden, therefore, the power of swift protection has been granted us, ‘lest perhaps,’ as the Scripture declares, ‘a wicked thought steal in upon thee.’

And now, let us return to the theme of our discourse. ‘Give heed to thyself’ says the Scripture.

Every animal has been endowed by God, the Creator of all things, with an interior power of self-protection.

[…] In obeying this, precept, we become vigilant custodians of the resources God has bestowed on us, avoiding sin as the beasts shun noxious foods and following after justice as they seek for pasturage.

‘Give heed to thyself’ that you may be able to distinguish between the injurious and the salutary.

[…] It remains, therefore, to interpret the precept as referring to a mental action. ‘Give heed to thyself. that is, examine yourself from all angles. Keep the eye of your soul sleeplessly on guard, for ‘Thou art going in the midst of snares’ (Sir. 9:20).

Traps set by the enemy lie concealed everywhere. Look about you in all directions, therefore, ‘that you may be saved as a swallow from the traps and as a bird from the snare’ (Prov. 6:5).

The deer cannot be caught with traps because of the keenness of his vision…. A bird, if alert, easily flies out of the range of the huntsman’s snare.

See to it, then, that you are not more remiss than the animals in protecting yourself. Never let yourself be caught in the snares of the Devil and so become his prey, the captured plaything of his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily on the Words “Give Heed to Thyself”,  from Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, translated by Sr M Monica Wagner, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 9), pp. 432-434.

Evagrius the Solitary: Prayer is Intimate Conversation of the “Nous” with God Tuesday, Sep 20 2011 

Prayer is intimate conversation of the nous (intellect) with God.

So then, what stable state must the nous possess to be able to stretch out unalterably toward its own Master and converse with him without any intermediary?

If Moses was hindered when he attempted to approach the bush burning on earth, until he had taken off the shoes from his feet (Exod. 3:2-5), do you not think that, if you wish to both see the One who is above every concept and perception and to converse with him, you should cast away from yourself every impassioned mental concept (noema)?

First of all pray that you may receive tears, so that by means of sorrow (penthos) you may be able to calm the wildness within your soul; and by confessing your iniquity to the Lord, obtain forgiveness from him.

Make use of tears to realize every petition, for it delights your Master to receive prayer offered with tears.

Even if you weep rivers of tears at your prayer, on no account be inwardly haughty, as if you were superior to others.

For your prayer has received this help so that you may be able to more easily confess your sins and propitiate the Lord by means of tears.

So do not turn into passion the antidote to passions, lest you anger all the more the One who gave you this grace.

[…] Stand patiently toiling, and pray well-toned, and put to flight the assaults of anxieties an [tempting thoughts: they disturb and trouble you in order to make you relax your tone.

 When the demons see that you are eager to truly pray, they insinuate mental concepts (noemata) of certain affairs that seem to demand attention.

And within a short time they arouse the memory of these things and move the nous to seek them out. And failing to find them, it becomes very sorrowful and disheartened.

Then when the nous stands for prayer, the demons remind it of the matters it had sought and remembered, so as to make it halfheartedly seek knowledge of them and thus lose the fruitfulness of prayer.

Exert your nous to stand at the time of prayer [as if] deaf and dumb, and [then] you will be able to pray.

Whenever you encounter temptation, contradiction, or yearning; or when indignation (thumos) moves you to take revenge on your opponent or to break out yelling.

Remember prayer and the judgment that attends on prayer, and immediately the unruly movement within you will be quieted.

Evagrius the Solitary (345-399): On Prayer, 3-12, translated by Luke Dysinger OSB.

Bede the Venerable: “Guard Your Heart with All Vigilance, for Life Comes Forth From It” Tuesday, May 24 2011 

icon_bede-We ought to keep watch meticulously… so that we may render not only our words and works, but also the very secrets of our hearts, worthy of divine inspection.

[…] Let us be mindful of the Lord’s threat wherein he says I am coming to gather their works and their thoughts (Is. 22:18).

When the traces of chaotic vices have been driven out of our heart, let us prepare a dwelling wherein he, who is its ineluctable examiner and judge, may deign to abide.

We should be aware that there are three degrees of evil thoughts:

one, of those which contaminate the mind by the deliberate choice and purpose of sinning;

another, of those which confuse the mind by the delight of sin, yet do not allure it to consent to sin;

the third, of those which move across the mind in a natural way yet do not entice it to give in to vices, though they keep it from the good things it ought to reflect on.

This occurs, for example, when we brings back the phantasms of things which we know were once idly done or spoken.

A frequent recalling of these matters, like the troubling annoyance of flies, tends to swirl about the eyes of the heart; it does more to disturb its spiritual vision than to blind it.

Solomon convinces us to chastise all these kinds of evil thoughts when he says, Guard your heart with all vigilance, for life comes forth from it (Prov. 4:23).

Following his suggestion, let us act quickly, that if we transgress in any way in our thoughts by consenting to carry out something wicked, we may swiftly wipe away this transgression by confession and fruits worthy of repentance.

If we perceive that we are being tempted by delight in committing sin, let us drive away this noxious delight by our frequent prayers and tears.

[…] And, if we see that we are not capable of ridding ourselves of it on our own, let us seek the help of our brothers, that we may accomplish by their advice and intercession what we are unable to do by our own strength.

[…] Because we cannot totally avoid idle thoughts, we should put them to flight, as far as we can, by stirring up good thoughts, and especially be frequent meditation on the scriptures, according to the example of the psalmist who said Oh, how I have loved your law, O Lord; it is my meditation all the day (Ps. 118:97).

Let us ask for heavenly clemency, which is truly to ask in the name of the Saviour, that he may provide us with both purity of heart and the efficacy of good works.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Homilies on the Gospels, 2:12 (Easter), “Homilies on the Gospels, Book Two, Lent to the Dedication of the Church”, trans. Lawrence T. Martin and David Hurst OSB (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1991).

Mark the Hermit: Nothing is stronger than prayer in its action, nothing more effective in winning God’s favour Thursday, May 12 2011 

The intellect changes from one to another of three different noetic states: that according to nature, above nature, and contrary to nature.

When it enters the state according to nature, it finds that it is itself the cause of evil thoughts, and confesses its sins to God, clearly understanding the causes of the passions.

When it is in the state contrary to nature, it forgets God’s justice and fights with men, believing itself unjustly treated.

But when it is raised to the state above nature, it finds the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace and the other fruits of which the Apostle speaks (cf. Gal. 5:22).

And it knows that if it gives priority to bodily cares it cannot remain in this state.

[…] Each man’s knowledge is genuine to the extent that it is confirmed by gentleness, humility and love.

Everyone baptized in the orthodox manner has received mystically the fullness of grace.

But he becomes conscious of this grace only to the extent that he actively observes the commandments.

If we fulfil Christ’s commandments according to our conscience, we are spiritually refreshed to the extent that we suffer in our heart. But each thing comes to us at the right time.

Pray persistently about everything, and then you will never do anything without God’s help.

Nothing is stronger than prayer in its action, nothing more effective in winning God’s favour.

Prayer comprises the complete fulfillment of the commandments; for there is nothing higher than love for God.

Undistracted prayer is a sign of love for God; but careless or distracted prayer is a sign of love for pleasure.

He who can without strain keep vigil, be long-suffering, and pray, is manifestly a partaker of the Holy Spirit.

But he who feels strain while doing these things, yet willingly endures it, also quickly receives help.

One commandment is higher than another; consequently one level of faith is more firmly founded than another.

There is faith ‘that comes by hearing’ (Rom. 10:17) and there is faith that ‘is the substance of things hoped for’ (Heb. 11:1).

It is good to help enquirers with words; but it is better to co-operate with them through prayer and the practice of virtue.

For he who through these offers himself to God, helps his neighbour through helping himself.

If you want with a few words to benefit one who is eager to learn, speak to him about prayer, right faith, and the patient acceptance of what comes.

For all else that is good is found through these.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works, 90-102, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), online version here.

Teresa of Avila: Acquiring the Habit of Prayer and Recollection Monday, Mar 7 2011 

Continued from here, where Teresa is discussing interior battles with thoughts and passions.

By the blood which our Lord shed for us, I implore those who have not yet begun to enter into themselves, to stop this warfare.

I beg those already started in the right path, not to let the combat turn them back from it.

They should confide in God’s mercy, trusting nothing in themselves; then they will see how His Majesty will lead them from one mansion to another, and will set them in a place where these wild beasts can no more touch or annoy them….

Then, even in this life, they will enjoy a far greater happiness than they are able even to desire….

I have explained elsewhere how you should behave when the devil thus disturbs you.

I also told you that the habit of recollection is not to be gained by force of arms, but with calmness, which will enable you to practise it for a longer space of time.

[…] The only remedy for having given up a habit of recollection is to recommence it, otherwise the soul will continue to lose it more and more every day, and God grant it may realize its danger.

[…] “He that loves danger shall perish by it” (Sirach 3:27) and the door by which we must enter this castle is prayer.

Remember, we must get to heaven, and it would be madness to think we could do so without sometimes retiring into our souls so as to know ourselves, or thinking of our failings and of what we owe to God, or frequently imploring His mercy.

Our Lord also says “No man cometh to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6)…and “He that sees Me sees the Father also” (John 14:9).

If we never look up at Him and reflect on what we owe Him for having died for us, I do not understand how we can know Him, or perform good deeds in His service.

What value is there in faith without works?

And what are they worth if they are not united to the merits of Jesus Christ, our only good?

What would incite us to love our Lord unless we thought of Him?

May He give us grace to understand how much we cost Him;

that “the servant is not above his lord” (Matt. 10:24);

that we must toil for Him if we would enjoy His glory;

and prayer is a necessity to prevent us from constantly falling into temptation (Matt. 26:41).

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Interior Castle 2,1,17-20.

R. Garrigou-Lagrange: Ascetical and Mystical Theology Friday, Oct 16 2009 

Moral theology ought to treat, not only of sins to be avoided, but of virtues to be practiced, and of docility in following the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. From this point of view, its applications are called ascetical and mystical theology.

Ascetical theology treats especially of the mortification of vices or defects and of the practice of the virtues. Mystical theology treats principally of docility to the Holy Ghost, of the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith, of the union with God which proceeds from it, and also of extraordinary graces, such as visions and revelations, which sometimes accompany infused contemplation.

We shall examine the question whether ascetical theology is essentially ordained to mystical theology by asking whether the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith and the union with God that results from it is an essentially extraordinary grace, such as visions an revelations, or whether in the perfect it is not rather the eminent but normal exercise of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are in all the just. The answer to this question, which has been discussed several times in recent years, will form the conclusion of this work.

R. Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877-1964): The Three Ages of the Interior Life