I write, speak, invest, network, and question to stimulate fruitful conversation. Let's talk about human flourishing! It begins with freedom. Holy leisure is the key to human being, freedom and generativity. Please join me in the adventure of realizing Christ!
Flannery O’Connor says
“The ideal form for unadulterated wisdom is the aphorism.”1
A. G. Sertillanges, in Chapter 1 of The Intellectual Life, concurs:
“The world is in danger for lack of life-giving maxims.”
Well, here we go!
I love aphorisms, so may all my unadulterated wisdom be yours for the taking, or at least some of it I’ve managed to aphor-ize.
“Truth can comprehend error, but error can’t comprehend truth.”
“Don’t be a BB!”
“It’s not a great idea until it’s well-expressed.”
“Unless it moves through you, it doesn’t get to you.”
“Aim to get the child done through the work, not the work done through the child.”
“Your free act is an invitation to freedom for those who receive it.”
“Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.”
“You’re not going around in circles, but growing spirally, like a tree!”
“Christ makes you more truly and fully who you really are.”
“Today, you are more fully realized than ever before.”
“If it isn’t moving, it’s not mercy.”
“Sarcasm is the sound of one who despairs of being heard.”
“Frustration is the constant state of impatient souls.”
“Stop driving and dance!”
“To be free is to wield yourself according to your own desires, and to yield yourself according to God’s.”
“Think great thoughts!”
1Flannery, in a review of Walter F. Kerr’s book Criticism and Censorship, collected in The Presence of Grace (and other reviews by Flannery O’Connor), compiled by Leo Zuber, edited by Carter W. Martin, published by University of Georgia Press, 2008
Are you making full and right use of things?
Your life is filled with objects that aren’t good or bad in themselves. Things ill-used, though, can become problematic for you – causing little ‘knots’ of attachment, blindness, rebellion and disorder in the soul, and thus disposing you to sin. Use of one thing can get disordered when we lean on it too much, or remove it from the context of other things, just as monoculture can be detrimental to the land and as vitamins are less effective than whole foods. Having just come through the salutary corrective of Lenten fasting, you may feel a newness of life, a lightness of soul and, thus be particularly well-disposed to do an interior scan for trouble spots.
To that end, I offer some paired statements – like scales into which you can mentally place some of your things. Notice whether your use of each thing resonates more with Freedom or Bondage. Then take steps to tip the scale toward freedom, untie the knot, change the way you use it. Each statement can apply to a variety of things, but I had these twelve in mind as things I, personally, need to ‘weigh’ regularly: food, alcohol, computer, desserts, friends, TV/movies, air conditioner, car, my imagination, books, and money. One final word on the right use of things: When you misuse, or use things less well, you increase your disposition to sin. When you bless them, they – actual things around you – help dispose you to receive grace! Here it is in the Catechism:
“Among sacramental, blessings (of persons, meals, objects and places) come first.” (CCC 1671) “Sacramentals…prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. …There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” (CCC 1670)
Now I’ve learned from experience that the first thing that happens when I say, “Hey, the Catechism teaches that we should bless the things we use (CCC 1669: Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons)” is that I’ll hear cautions about never, ever stepping into the role of a priest (I am NOT going there…the door is closed, Peter has spoken, I love that!) and not to think I’m ‘creating Sacramentals,’ and ‘only a priest can make the Sign of the Cross’. Okay, calm down everybody! The priesthood of all believers “derives from” our High Priest, Jesus Christ. This little possibility that our own little invocation, prayer, utterance that springs from awareness and gratitude and trust in God is not the stuff heretic alerts should be made of.
I don’t advise anyone to go around thinking they have magic powers…only whatever it is Jesus meant when He said we would do greater things than He had yet done. Somehow it resonates with me that those things are going to be greater because they are smaller, like blessing my computer, my garden, my art supplies. He seems to have allowed me in to play at asperging the world while His own Divine Mercy accomplishes the great washing by the blood and water flowing from His side. I have not found a definitive statement about not making the Sign of the Cross, but am willing to be instantly stopped in the practice by my bishop, or priest if it is in any way not the done thing. As I make that Sign over my world, I am praying, “God, please bless this notebook, this book, this stove, this car, this printer, etc…” and am never thinking I have just turned them into official Sacramentals. They do, however, now possess a heightened significance for me that, hopefully, disposes me to receive God’s beautiful grace. As I look around I am reminded to give God glory in profundis, and to be hopeful that my use of each little thing in my sphere will somehow magnify and please Him.
I submit. I place myself in the vast, unyielding, immutable, cold beauty of the structure of the Liturgy. I stand before Him with awe and trembling – with keen awareness of my failure to measure up, to conform, to correspond to the I Am. I am carried to Him by the form, the order, the ritual, the structure of the Celebration, and we are united. The Church, the Mass, the Liturgy has become a mediating structure, an interface between us, a place where we are made one. Each of us, leaving Him, carries wine away in a new wineskin.
How Pithy Can Your Apologetics Get?
When a child asks “Where do babies come from?” he may just be wondering if the new one can be exchanged, or he may need a simple reassurance that he came ‘from Mommy’ and not from toxic slime as his older brother insists. Experienced parents know what he probably does not want is a long, technical explanation accompanied by slides and illustrations.
Restraint is often the better part of apologetics as well. When an evangelical Christian, who really cares about these things, asks “Do ya’ll worship Mary?” the answer is “No.” If you go into the definition of worship, the historical veneration of Mary, and the different types of worship, he will hear one thing only: “Yep, they do–look at him try to weasel out of it!”
It may be frustrating to you that they don’t want to know the Whole Truth. Especially if you were an evangelical yourself and searched with great zeal for the big ‘T’. Give it up. Anyone with that goal in mind will keep asking questions. You’ll get your chance. Often these questions are trotted out as a ‘gotcha’ or a ‘dare’. They know we worship Mary and plan for you to be mighty uncomfortable being forced by their challenge to admit it.
You must discern when “Do Catholics offer Christ in sacrifice at every Mass?” really means “Do you think Christ’s one death wasn’t enough?” The answer is “No.” Keep to yourself all the rhetoric about un-bloody sacrifice and re-presentation of the one sufficient sacrifice. If you blurt it all out, they’ll hear one thing: “Yep, they think He has to die again every week–look at him try to weasel out of it!”
Here are some other pithy answers to ‘dare ya’ questions:
“Do you pray to dead people?” — “No.” (If you define the word pray, or explain the Church Triumphant, he’ll hear one thing: “Yep, they do–look at him try to weasel out of it!”)
“Is the pope perfect?” — “No.”
“Do Catholics think all of us other Christians won’t go to heaven?” — “No.”
“Did the Catholic Church add books to the Bible?” — “No.”
“Do Catholics worship that bread and wine?” — “No.”
“Do you guys have to earn your salvation?” — “No.”
“Do you worship saints?” — “No.”
“Is there any mediator besides Christ between God and man?” — “No.”
“Do you think saying a formula prayer over and over works better than just sharing your heart with Jesus?” — “No.”
“Do you have to believe all those wild apparitions?” — “No.”
You may need to convert their question into one you can answer concisely. Try to get to the core of their concern in your restatement of the question. Translate “Do you believe Mary is up there answering prayers and working miracles?” by saying “Does the power to work a miracle come from Mary? No!”
Convert “You think I need a priest to stand between me and God?” into “Does everyone have a direct, personal relationship with God? Yes!”
Change “Do you really believe I can say certain prayers or do some good works and then God is obligated to reward me?” to “Does anyone obligate God? No! He rewards good works and answers prayers however He sees fit.”
This refusal to bandy many words is not meant to be a withholding from others of the gift of your apologetics. It is based on careful assessment of your audience and your determination that you are dealing with someone who is daring you to admit what he already knows and considers proof positive against the Faith. He is not asking to hear answers, but an admission of guilt. Wordy answers will only prove things in the Catholic Church are as bad as he suspected. Your pithy ones may surprise him into digging deeper.
Cal Newport, in Deep Work cites A. G. Sertillanges, which is enough to recommend his book to me! Among Newport’s insights, are his observation that boredom is quite valuable for concentration training, that multitasking frays your capacity for forward attention, that we need to take internet ‘sabbaths,’ that we need large uninterrupted quantities of time for deep work, that rituals help minimize the ‘transition friction’ as we shift between tasks, that it’s helpful now and then to design a ‘Grand Gesture’ by which we invest a great deal in some particular accomplishment. Most surprising in an already interesting book is the proof that many who work in serious creative or intellectual work have established strict boundaries around the amount of time that can be stolen from ‘deep work’ by social media and email.
Newport highly recommends Clayton Christensen’s four disciplines of execution, having accomplished a lot of ‘executing’ as a young professor.
- Focus on the Wildly Important (none of my work seems ‘wildly important,’ but I do sit down periodically to assess which work seems most important, most loudly resonant with my heartbeat at the moment).
- Act on lead measures vs lag measures (In other words, measure the things that get the job done, rather than measure finished jobs. For me, this means count the number of chapters, not the number of finished books.) In this way, the measurement itself helps you get the jobs moved along, rather than just letting you carve a notch in your belt for each one.
- Use a visible scorecard for whatever you are measuring, so as to connect visually to the achievement of milestones. (Perhaps I should put up a daily weight graph for the next twenty pounds I need to lose.)
- Create a cadence of accountability (Get into the habit of regularly facing that scoreboard, making the next commitment, checking up on your forward progress.)
I’ve definitely ‘executed’ more since this book inspired me to honor my own ‘deep work’ by strengthening my get-it-done skills. I tend to avoid the ‘production’ side of writing, but once I have done the deep work of creating something, I need to ‘ship,’ as they say in business. I’ve taped the word EXECUTE to my computer as a reminder that this is a skill I’m aiming to improve.
Next, I’d like to think of some ‘grand gesture’ like his holing up in a ritzy hotel for a particular writing project. Hmmm…maybe I’ll just copy his! I’d need a Kickstarter campaign just to fund the gesture, so maybe not. Until then I’ll just hole up in my great home office and keep writing.
A complete digest of The Intellectual Life by Sertillanges is included in my new book, Upschooling.