When I first started taking a hard look at converting to Catholicism, I was most struck by “spiritual development,” the idea that we have a soul that needs to be nourished and strengthened. I was always taught that I had a soul that would survive death, but it was always kind of an “all or nothing” affair: your soul is saved at death or it’s not. In either event, the soul didn’t have relevance in this life.
When I started to read about spiritual development, I was blown away. I was blown away by the corollary idea of virtue and the soul. I was blown away by the concept of humility. I was blown away, period.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve assembled a sizable library of spiritual works. I’m guessing I have 50 or so volumes, and I’ve actually read many of them (at least large chunks of many of them). I consider myself well-read when it comes to things spiritual.
But every so often, something fundamental hits me. And after it hits me, I realize that, despite my efforts, I still have gaping holes in my understanding.
It happened to me Monday evening. I received a review copy of Courage in Chaos, Wisdom from Francis de Sales. I was delighted to receive it, but the problem is, I’ve never shown much interest in de Sales. I started reading his Introduction to the Devout Life years ago, but I couldn’t stomach the phrase “weave a little nose gay,” so I put it down and never picked it up again.
But Courage in Chaos looked like a nifty little book, so I started reading it when I got home from the office Monday evening. With my children and neighbor kids running around me and raising a constant din of noise, the very first passage hit me between the eyes and addressed one of my key problems that I didn’t even know was a problem:
A Gentle Way
To live a gentle way, it is more important to respect ourselves, never growing irritated with ourselves or our imperfections. Although it is reasonable that we should be displeased and grieved at our own faults, we need to guard against being bitter, angry, or fretful about them. Many people fall into the error of being angry because they have been angry, or impatient because they have given way to impatience; this keeps them in a chronic state of irritation, strengthens the impressions made, and prepares one for a fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and irritation against one’s self fosters pride, springing as it does from self-love, which is disturbed and upset by its own imperfections.
Wow. I’ve always been harsh with myself, and I’ve always viewed my self-criticism as a type of humility. I’ve also noticed that my harshness spilled over toward others, but I never understood why and didn’t draw a conscious connection between the two forms of harshness.
When do these fundamental things stop striking a guy? All of life is a learning process, but geez, how many more gaping holes exist in my net of understanding, even in those areas that I’ve endeavored to learn and master? It’s kinda neat, but kinda discouraging at the same time.Bookmark it: del.icio.us | Reddit | Slashdot | Digg | Facebook | Technorati | Google | StumbleUpon | Window Live | Tailrank | Furl | Netscape | Yahoo | BlinkList
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