The Noonday Devil: Acedia

In every person self-opinion prevents self-knowledge. Do you wish to know God? Learn first to know yourself.[1]š› Don Quixote has not arrived at the age of taedium vitae, which is commonly manifested among not a few modern spirits in the form of topophobia: these people spend their lives running at top speed from one place …

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The Christian Tradition of Asceticism

[Fr Ignacio Ellacuria SJ, the president of Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” (UCA), was murdered by members of the Salvadoran army in San Salvador on November 16 1989, together with two other Jesuit scholars – Fr Segundo Montes SJ and Fr Ignacio Martín-Baró SJ – three university colleagues and two employees. Not long before his death, Fr Ignacio spoke to Christians of the first world:] I want you to set your eyes and your hearts on these peoples who are suffering so much some from poverty and hunger, others from oppression and repression. Then (since I am a jesuit) standing before this people thus crucified you must repeat St Ignatius’ examination from the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. Ask yourselves: what have I done to crucify them? What do I do to uncrucify them? What must I do for this people to rise again? [1]

If you would come after me you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. For if you would save your life you will lose it, and if you lose your life for my sake and the gospel’s you will save it. For what does it profit you, to gain the whole world and forfeit your life? For what can you give in return for your life?[2]

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Befriending Your Emotions

There are two assumptions we can – perhaps must – make about our emotions: They contain wisdom and they contain healing.

We can speak of emotion (feeling, affect) as a reaction that tends to move us in a certain way:

o Reaction – not response;

o The English word emotion comes from the Latin word movere meaning to move;

o The movement involves the whole person, though it may be more focused:

• In the body – eg as physical pain or satisfaction or

• In the psyche – eg as anxiety or anger or

• In the spirit – eg compunction or ecstasy;

o We always experience emotion

• In clusters (ie never just one emotion on its own) and

• The experience is always both universal and unique;

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Four Interlocking Exercises

Our life in Christ – that is, our Christian life – is first and last a gift. The two most obvious signs that this is in fact true in my life are grace and freedom. There is a graciousness about people alive with Christ. Such people have a freedom in themselves and they help to set others free. Beware of rigidity and dogmatism – these do not radiate Christ.

The Dominican priest, Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) writes: “This above all else is needful: you must lay claim to nothing! Let go of yourself and let God act with you and in you as He will. This work is His, this Word is his, this birth is His, in fact every single thing that you are.” (“Sermon One” in Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises, Volume I, translated and edited by M. O’C. Walshe, Element Books, 1989, 33.) In another sermon, Eckhart’s gentle words – with just a touch of irony – are full of promise. They remind us that the pursuit of the moral life is in fact the opening of ourselves to the greatest possibilities that can be ours as human beings: “My dear friend, what harm can it do you to do God the favour of letting Him be God in you?” (“Sermon Thirteen (b)” in Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises, Volume I, op cit, 118.)

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Breathing into Contemplation

In the Book of Genesis we read: “then the LORD God formed man (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah), and breathed into his nostrils the breath (nâshamah) of life; and the man (adam) became a living being (nephesh)”. (2:7) (In Hebrew thought, there is no “body” distinct from “soul”. Nephesh means literally “a being animated by the breath of life”.)

The “breath of God” is also referred to by the Hebrew word ruah and is generally translated as “spirit” – see for example Genesis 6:3, Psalm 104:30 and Job 33:4. Ruah – meaning either wind or breath – is generally used in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures when speaking of the Spirit of God. In Greek the word becomes pneuma and in Latin spiritus.

In the Gospel of John we read: “(Jesus) breathed on (the disciples) and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”. (20:22)

We breathe because of God’s breathing.

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Eucharist and Reconciliation – the Forgotten Teaching

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the treasures of the Catholic Tradition. Yet it is not well understood. Among other things, to refer to the Sacrament as “confession” actually misses the point. The focus should be God and God’s gift and action in Jesus Christ – we are reconciled! That needs to be celebrated. In the celebration we certainly bring our need for healing and forgiveness, we seek the mercy of God and so we confess our sins. It would help revive that focus on God’s gift in Christ if we re-discovered one of the Catholic Church’s central teachings concerning the relationship between Eucharist and Reconciliation: to receive Holy Communion is to be forgiven your sins.

“That by the Eucharist are remitted and pardoned lighter sins, commonly called venial, should not be matter for doubt. For whatever the soul has lost through the ardour of passion, by falling into some slight offence, all this the Eucharist, cancelling those same lesser faults, repairs, in the same manner …. Justly therefore has it been said of this heavenly sacrament by St. Ambrose, ‘That daily bread is taken as a remedy for daily infirmity’.” (Part II, Chapter IV, Question L The Eucharist remits Venial Sins. T A Buckley, The Catechism of the Council of Trent, London: George Routledge and Co., 1852, 239.)

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An Introduction to the Jesus Prayer

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. (1Thessalonians 5:16-19)

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”[1]

This is an ancient prayer with its roots in the Christian Scriptures. Very early in the tradition there developed the practice of repeating a word or brief phrase, often taken from the Psalms. For example, John Cassian,[2] in his well-known Tenth Conference, recommends the repetition of “O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me” (Psalm 70:1). Such a practice was intended to keep alive one’s awareness of God and availability to God, and to seek protection from the Evil One. Thus Macarius of Sketis (d c 390), said:

There is no need to lose oneself in speaking. It is enough to hold out one’s hands and say: ‘Lord, as you know and will: Have mercy!’ If the combat presses hard, say: ‘To the rescue!’ God knows what is needful for you and will have pity on you.[3]

In the form above, the Jesus Prayer dates from about the middle of the 5th century. It is a cry from the heart that is at once an acclamation of faith in the victory of God in Jesus Christ, a cry for mercy, a defence against any evil force and a profound expression of hope.

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Becoming Contemplative and Sane

There is a story from the Desert Fathers where the great Anthony offers ome advice: “A time is coming when people will go mad and when they meet someone who is not mad, they will turn to them and say, ‘You are out of your mind,’ just because they are not like them’.” (Benedicta Ward, editor, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Mowbray, 1975/1983, 6.) Our world is fast paced – dangerously so. Most of us find it difficulty to slow down and be actually present to ourselves and those we love. The following notes offer a response.



What a difference the presence of a little baby makes in a family, especially if it is the first. What a difference it makes in a strange place with people you do not know when you discover the presence of someone you know, especially a friend. What a difference the presence certain people make in a group – for better or worse! What makes “presence” good or bad? How is it that the presence of one person who says nothing in a group can be far more powerful than someone who says a lot? And what about those occasions when you are physically present but distracted, “absent,” “off with the fairies” perhaps? Or when someone comes to visit you in hospital – or elsewhere – and they are already doing the next thing before they have left you, they are not truly present to you?

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