Sermons

Summary: The objection that caution be exercised, that illusions are possible, may appear contrary to evidence.

“Catholic doctrinal truth and sound spirituality are companions. They support and protect each other...” page 99

“In the more esoteric instances of pursuing experiences of God, the labyrinth of the soul’s interiority is the temple where the religious seeker must make pilgrimage. The passage is no simple journey. To traverse it requires a training in the rigors of interior silence. Learning to overcome an undisciplined mind is necessary, and thus arises the special interest in Asian methods of silencing the mind. They are adopted to tame the impulses of thought and so convey a soul though the holy layers of quietude dormant within selfhood. Within the caverns of inner consciousness await fertile encounters with God. The one condition is that a soul navigate this passage on the currents of a pure silence. All thought must be at rest and extinguished. At the end of that journey into the soul’s deeper silence, the hiding place of God may emerge, a garden within the soul’s inner recesses, the coveted sanctuary where we presumably meet the mystery of God....—page 100

...There is a common thread in false spiritual pursuits. God’s transcendence, his infinite otherness, is increasingly lost from sight, replaced by a conviction of God tangibly present with one’s own soul. The veil of divine concealment purportedly lifts. The soul enjoys in direct ways a God who now unites himself to the soul. The silence and peace inhabiting the soul are indistinguishable from God’s own presence. In a certain sense this is to make the features of mysticism a measure of spirituality. The esoteric becomes the norm. The rare and ineffable become a coveted goal. But what if this is incorrect and God in himself, as Saint John of the Cross remarks, is incomprehensible and inaccessible to our inward experience? Catholic spiritual tradition affirms that God is by his nature wholly other to our being and therefore uncontainable, unencloseable, within any spiritual experience. We do not take hold of him at the center of our soul even as he is present there....—page 106

....The question whether God is experienced in prayer may seem unanswerable. How do we know? Is there some way to measure within the experience itself? Perhaps not, but there is the traditional test of fruitful prayer, observable in the urge to self-giving when prayer is concluded. Generosity towards others upon leaving prayer, a soul turned humbly and charitably towards others, a tendency to self-effacement, these are among the reliable signs of graces given during prayer. If a soul has loved God during a time of prayer, the same love requires becoming a servant to the needs of others outside of prayer.”— page.109

“The popular appeal of methods of prayer using a mantra raises some questions in this regard. These methods propose a silent repetition in the mind of a single word known as a mantra, steadily and rhythmically repeated in the manner that breathing itself has a rhythm. At the same time a person practices an inattention to particular thoughts that arise during the prayer, letting them fade from view. The inattention to passing thought is not by force of will, as though one had to conquer by mental effort the recurrence of unwelcome distractions. The slow, inward repeating of the mantra in itself releases the mind form intrusive thoughts and their veneer of importance. By repeating the mantra, particular thoughts that might draw interest drift away before disappearing from sight. As the method is used and the clearing away of thoughts becomes a regular exercise, a bare and naked state of mind can be achieved more consistently. Consciousness arrives habitually at an open, inward space, accessible now, it is thought, to the presence of God residing at the center of the soul. A tranquility felt at the center of that inward emptiness seems to confirm that God is drawing the soul to himself.

The method, it is said, shows immediate benefit, it is a way of bringing silence to the mind, of easing anxiety and nervous strain, of relaxing the whole being of a person. As the practice continues, the sustained rhythm of repeating a single word soothes consciousness, infusing it with a mood, a feeling of peace and harmony within itself. Consciousness, in effect, simplifies with the repetition of a mantra; it becomes free and unencumbered. Instead of discursive meanderings of thought, a simple state of attention without thoughts more often fills the mind. Ideally, silence permeates one’s inner being in a complete manner, so that no thought competes with the slowly repeating rhythm of the mantra. The mantra after a time repeats itself without effort. Consciousness becomes like a boat at anchor rocking in peaceful waves.

The exercise is directed at the achievement of this inner tranquility, and not simply at emptying thought, because God is assumed to be present in that peace, and the source of it. With the mind free of thought, unfocused except for the slow repetition of the mantra, and the inner spirit serene and enjoying a tangible peace, it would seem that God is laying a gentle hand upon the soul, pleased with it, inviting a plunge into further depths where he awaits encounter. The soul has only to give itself to this inward peace.The method seems reliable, the gains consistent and real. Inner tranquility, the release from stress, coincides with perseverance in method. The peace, it is said, confirms the presence of God. On the other hand, one should note that consciousness can be pacified in many ways, by listening to the rush of waves on a beach, to the leaves in the woods in an autumn wind, or to rainfall on the roof of a summer cabin. These are not equivalent to the voice fo God speaking to a soul. They are God’s creations, and reasons one might turn a thought to God. But the peace they bring is a natural effect, not identifiable in itself with an action of grace.

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