Friday, June 5, 2009

Soul Affair

Lauds, according to Benedictine tradition, begins with the Deus Misereatur and the Miserere Mei Deus (Psalms 67 and 51).[1] Their Latin titles may be unfamiliar but it’s hard to escape their familiar basic theme. They contain a plea for God’s mercy because of sin that pollutes the soul, violates God’s higher intentions for created human beings, and places humans in peril of not only eternal separation from God but also a life of emptiness and misery here.

These Psalms, as prelude to the rest of the daily prayers, establish a penitential base that, carried through the day, affects the whole of life. They bring us, if we allow them, to the surest reality of ourselves until we find ourselves, as modern 21st century creatures, standing in the sandals of the ancient Psalmist imploring God’s mercy on our soul on account of our many offences.

It seems rather obvious that the unredeemed modern secular world is unconcerned about this issue of human sinfulness. This is no real surprise. The unredeemed world lives in an on its head false reality anyway. Nor does it really surprise me that the world outside the Church has constructed inroads into the modern Church bringing with it its contempt toward honestly reckoning with the primary issue of the sinful self. Christians, for some reason, want to rationalize away words of warning such as “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”[2] Hell simply doesn’t seem to be a destination to be avoided anymore.

Left unreckoned with, or whitewashed to make it appear acceptable, there is little use in trying to manage the multiplicity of secondary issues that arise by neglect of the primary one. “However high the walls may be that protect a city, and however unyielding its shut gates, it will be destroyed by the betrayal of even that smallest back door. For what difference does it make if the wicked enemy enters the city over its highest ramparts or through its broad portals, or if he does so through narrow and hidden passages?”[3]

Professing the historical faith of the Church does not necessarily mean that one possesses that same historical faith. Personally, I can’t find much contentment in merely talking about the lives of the Saints without also giving myself to attempting to emulate them, if only in faltering attempts, in spits and spurts that reveal to me the depths of my own spiritual impoverishment.

I find myself though, in these fledgling attempts at understanding and emulating the examples of holy models from earlier centuries, growing more and more uncomfortable with any modern day theological notion regarding unconditional grace and mercy. These notions, although quite popular in our modern culture, deface the value of the necessity of cultivating the human soul through the means and works that yielded such holy character in those men and women.

Not that these are ever to be viewed as means and works that earn rights to salvation.[4] Rather, these are divinely designed tools that cultivate the soul in the good works of salvation worthiness represented by faith, hope, and charity – the three essential Theological Virtues and elements of goodness that are made unrecognizable by the action of personal sin.

[1] Monastic Diurnal
[2] Ezekiel 18:4
[3] John Cassian, The Institutes, p. 123
[4] Ephesians 2:1-10