Rats in the Cellar

Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth.

―C.S. Lewis

Lenten Reflection: Rats in the Cellar
By C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case.

When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed.

And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.

On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is. If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul.

Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.

And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act?

But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

*Abridged from C.S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity.

Prayer: The Refrain

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death light has blazed forth.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 8 (Listen – 5:06)
Psalm 9 (Listen – 2:21)

 

The Divine Mystery of the Cross

While expecting death I do not feel it; while thinking little of punishment I do not suffer; while careless of fear I know it not.

―Ambrose of Milan

Lenten Reflection: The Divine Mystery of the Cross
By Steven Dilla

“That wood of the cross is, then, as it were a kind of ship of our salvation, our passage, not a punishment, for there is no other salvation but the passage of eternal salvation,” wrote Ambrose of Milan. The saint must have held Isaiah’s prophecy in mind as he wrote:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The Son of God destroyed, his people set free—surely we have just as much trouble apprehending this as Christ’s own disciples. Early Christian writings focus not on the mechanics of the cross, but its implications for present-day living. Ambrose, writing in the fourth century, continues:

That we may know that this mystery of the common redemption was most clearly revealed by the prophets, you have also in this place: “Behold, it has taken away your sins;” not that Christ put aside His sins Who did no sin, but that in the flesh of Christ the whole human race should be loosed from their sins.

O the divine mystery of that cross, on which weakness hangs, might is free, vices are nailed, and triumphal trophies raised. For Christ died for us, that we might live in His revived Body. Therefore not our life but our guilt died in Him, “Who,” it is said, “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

We often join in Peter’s cry, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you”—surely there must be another way. Unlike Peter, our desire is not as much to protect the Messiah we love, but to regain control by finding a logical way Christ could affect salvation apart from the cross.

The ship of our salvation is beyond our control. The gospel is this: though we created the storm, though we suffer as it surges, though we deserve to sink—we shall be guided home.

Prayer: The Cry of the Church

Even so come, Lord Jesus!

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 6 (Listen – 4:17)
Psalm 5-6 (Listen – 2:45)

 

Peace is not to be Placed in Men

He who attributes any good to himself hinders God’s grace from coming into his heart, for the grace of the Holy Spirit seeks always the humble heart.

―Thomas à Kempis

Lenten Reflection: Peace is not to be Placed in Men
By Steven Dilla

“Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort,” writes Thomas à Kempis. Yet the full calling of the Scriptures, and à Kempis’ work, isn’t to disregard comforts, but to reorient them in light of the gospel.

We’ve looked this week at à Kempis’ calling, in The Imitation Of Christ, to confess both our idolatrous love for the world and our inability to weather even the smallest daily frustrations. Today the argument goes further: repent of the ways we avoid the risks of faith by grasping for control and power in relationships.

Relationships, in other words, provide deep earthly comfort. We are called to give ourselves to others—yet we cannot demand from them what ought only be supplied from God. Here, written as a letter from Christ to his children, à Kempis challenges:

My child, if you place your peace in any creature because of your own feeling or for the sake of his company, you will be unsettled and entangled. But if you have recourse to the ever-living and abiding Truth, you will not grieve if a friend should die or forsake you. Your love for your friend should be grounded in Me, and for My sake you should love whoever seems to be good and is very dear to you in this life. Without Me friendship has no strength and cannot endure. Love which I do not bind is neither true nor pure.

You ought, therefore, to be so dead to such human affections as to wish as far as lies within you to be without the fellowship of men. Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort. And he ascends higher to God as he descends lower into himself and grows more vile in his own eyes.

If you knew how to annihilate yourself completely and empty yourself of all created love, then I should overflow in you with great grace. When you look to creatures, the sight of the Creator is taken from you. Learn, therefore, to conquer yourself in all things for the sake of your Maker. Then will you be able to attain to divine knowledge. But anything, no matter how small, that is loved and regarded inordinately keeps you back from the highest good and corrupts the soul.

Prayer: The Small Verse

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9:1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 40 (Listen – 4:07)
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

 

Daily Frustrations

For with God nothing that is suffered for His sake, no matter how small, can pass without reward.

― Thomas à Kempis

Lenten Reflection: Daily Frustrations
By Steven Dilla

We do not typically associate daily frustration with suffering. In his masterful work The Imitation Of Christ Thomas à Kempis not only draws the two together, but highlights the profound truth our inability to handle life’s minor frustrations reveals.

“The man who will suffer only as much as seems good to him, who will accept suffering only from those from whom he is pleased to accept it, is not truly patient,” à Kempis writes. Our idolatry of control runs so deep we become impatient—frustrated—when we cannot control our suffering. He continues:

For the truly patient man does not consider from whom the suffering comes, whether from a superior, an equal, or an inferior, whether from a good and holy person or from a perverse and unworthy one; but no matter how great an adversity befalls him, no matter how often it comes or from whom it comes, he accepts it gratefully from the hand of God, and counts it a great gain.

The way frustrations drove à Kempis to God (not the individual frustrations themselves) became something for which the great theologian was thankful. He prayed; “For though this present life seems burdensome, yet by Your grace it becomes meritorious.” In a challenge, à Kempis writes of his readers’ daily frustrations:

And if they do not seem so small to you, examine if perhaps your impatience is not the cause of their apparent greatness; and whether they are great or small, try to bear them all patiently. The better you dispose yourself to suffer, the more wisely you act and the greater is the reward promised you. Thus you will suffer more easily if your mind and habits are diligently trained to it.

The inability to engage our faith in life’s daily frustrations can be defeating; based on the words of his prayer, à Kempis must have experienced the same thing. Yet, instead of falling into despair, he again clings to God:

O Lord, let that which seems naturally impossible to me become possible through Your grace. You know that I can suffer very little, and that I am quickly discouraged when any small adversity arises. Let the torment of tribulation suffered for Your name be pleasant and desirable to me, since to suffer and be troubled for Your sake is very beneficial for my soul.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;* wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51:8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 39 (Listen – 5:24)
John 18 (Listen – 5:16)

 

Broken Love

For when one trouble or temptation leaves, another comes. Indeed, even while the first conflict is still raging, many others begin unexpectedly.

― Thomas à Kempis

Lenten Reflection: Broken Love
By Steven Dilla

“Often it is a small thing that makes me downcast and sad,” laments Thomas à Kempis. The 15th century theologian was part of a community that, although they took no vows, lived a life of intentional obedience, chastity, and poverty.

It is easy to dismiss those who willingly sacrifice the comforts of their time as far stronger than the average person of faith—but à Kempis’ writings reveal the depth of his daily struggle. In The Imitation Of Christ, he confesses:

I propose to act bravely, but when even a small temptation comes I find myself in great straits. Sometimes it is the merest trifle which gives rise to grievous temptations. When I think myself somewhat safe and when I am not expecting it, I frequently find myself almost overcome by a slight wind.

Look, therefore, Lord, at my lowliness and frailty which You know so well. Have mercy on me and snatch me out of the mire that I may not be caught in it and may not remain forever utterly despondent.

Focusing his argument onto the realities that all Christians face, à Kempis confesses that it is not his commitments that trip him up, but his idolatrous love affair with a broken and sinful world.

Alas! What sort of life is this, from which troubles and miseries are never absent, where all things are full of snares and enemies?… How is it possible to love a life that has such great bitterness, that is subject to so many calamities and miseries? Indeed, how can it even be called life when it begets so many deaths and plagues? And yet, it is loved, and many seek their delight in it.

Many persons often blame the world for being false and vain, yet do not readily give it up because the desires of the flesh have such great power. Some things draw them to love the world, others make them despise it. The lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life lead to love, while the pains and miseries, which are the just consequences of those things, beget hatred and weariness of the world.

Vicious pleasure overcomes the soul that is given to the world. She thinks that there are delights beneath these thorns, because she has never seen or tasted the sweetness of God or the internal delight of virtue.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep me both outwardly in my body and inwardly in my soul, that I may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 38 (Listen – 4:23)
John 17 (Listen – 3:40)

 

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