Update: I’m re-posting this as I found a picture of a mangy donkey…
Easter Sunday evening until today [Easter Monday night 2016]
My neighborhood, in fact, in front of my little rectory, was the epicenter Easter Sunday evening for what so far seems to be the world championship dog happiness days, happy, that is, to get away from what seems to be some ill treatment against them. There were a couple of our friendly police trying to assess the situation, and there were dogs everywhere, six in view and uncountable others screeching and howling and barking, that is since Easter Sunday evening until today, Easter Monday, pretty much non-stop, all night. This recording is taken from my phone. Sorry it’s not very loud. In person, it’s really, really loud:
Meanwhile, someone on yet another street over got out a super-loud martial-law-enforcement-quality public address system, about enough to make the windows of this part of town shake, and — incredibly — started to berate the dogs, as if that was going to do any good. Honestly. The dogs did stop for a few seconds in amazement, but then went on with their happy mayhem.
The dogs that I happened to see were in pretty good shape, unlike the one pictured here. They were thin, but able to run around, at least because it seems they were happy not to be where they had been until that time, which may have been some sort of confinement. There seems to be a consensus among the dogs that the immediate neighborhood of the rectory is safe territory. Wherever they had been before, they seem to run straight here for refuge. I haven’t seen these dogs since I was in Rome until just now (the beginning of February 2016 until Easter Sunday evening).
Mind you, dogs on the loose often smell of rotted fish or whatever carcass they happen to be happily chewing on, but these smelled like their own feces, really rank, really bad. Dogs might eat their own vomit, but they don’t ever roll around in their own feces. What happened is what I want to know, or maybe not. I’m guessing they had been locked up for these months with plenty of food and water, but were never checked, and somehow got out. Nature finds a way. But maybe that’s a silly guess. Did the owner die back in February and the owner has yet to found dead today?
At various times during the night (it was really loud!) I went outside and stood in the street, immediately surrounded by the dogs if they weren’t happily rampaging elsewhere in the neighborhood. They would quiet right down and come up respectfully for a pat on the head, and then lie down then and there to get some rest, right on the road, totally exhausted as they were. Then I would go inside and the mayhem would start all over again.
I was out talking with the neighbor just after 6:00am, and he said that the animal control crowd is going to come by to pick up what animals they can get in our neighborhood. It’s a dogs life, a dog eat dog world.
Holiness is for the dogs
Can’t let this go by without making an analogy, right? How about reading some fallen human emotions and feelings of whatever kind into this kind of doggy situation.
Over in Rome, when my leg was in pre-op traction with some 13 breaks and the traction bolt having been pounded literally right through my heel, with bits and pieces of bones coming out in multiple places, an Archbishop friend came to visit. Many weeks later I thanked him for having taken the time to come by, and he said that surely my happiness and patience at the time was all a bit of a façade, that I had instead really been suffering. It’s not that I was faking it, as it were, but I can see his point; latching on to happiness was, I suppose, a kind of coping mechanism. But, I mean, I would rather go that way than into despair.
So, what about the suffering underneath the surface thing, dragging all the past into the present and projecting it into the future and pulling all that back into the present in one heap of dark existentialism, all with a façade of happiness? It can happen, just like with the dogs chasing about here and there and everywhere, happy to be out, but being pushed into running about in happiness by the great suffering they have endured and are still carrying with them, anxious as well, about what will now become of them. But right now, for the sake of distraction: Happy! Happy! Happy! Hmmm….
Add to that for ourselves that we’re dealing not only with the effects of original sin (weakness of mind and will, temptation, feelings and emotions all over the place, knowing that all is not right with God if we are apart from His grace, sickness, death), but also of whatever effects of our own sin. Self-inflicted suffering is still suffering.
Our is so often the mistake of the dogs, feeling that not all is right even if we are in the grace of God. We look for mercy as an escape, not realizing that, in justice (for ourselves) we must retain the just consequences of sin chosen with the sin as a matter of God’s own justice while we are in this world, a justice which, unbeknownst to us, is the very foundation for mercy.
- Did not Jesus stand in our stead so as to have the right in His own justice to have mercy on us, with justice providing the foundation for the mercy? For the sake of His sorrowful passion (justice) have mercy on us and on the whole world (mercy).
- Does not Jesus use the just consequences of our sin, our weaknesses, as the cross He commands us to pick up and carry though meanwhile looking only to Him, following Him? The weakness is the occasion for receiving the mercy of joy, God using our very weaknesses to have us turn to Him, that which could be an occasion to drag us down being the occasion to have us look to Jesus for His strength.
Ignoring the implications of all that, spiritual directors so often offer merely psychological coping mechanisms to lull a person into thinking that they are making progress, when, instead, such Pelagian self-medication cannot save us, cannot introduce us to a personal friendship with Jesus. No matter how many rosaries, holy hours, masses, no matter how much fasting and almsgiving, one can be left with such coping mechanisms with grit determination to be nice covering over a whole lot of repression of the just effects of sin. That’s a recipe for disaster. But this is absolutely typical spiritual direction. It’s insane.
The purpose of the spiritual life in this world is not to be introspective, and its certainly not to be more whole, and nice, and balanced and wonderful, and effervescent. No. The purpose of the spiritual life in this world is Jesus dragging us into reality away from our hell of denial, dragging us right to Himself on the Cross, right through all of hell broken out on Calvary, right up to Himself on the Cross, so that we can thank Him not with fake happiness of any dog on the street, but with the true joy of the Holy Spirit.
The catastrophe of self-referential, self-congratulating, self-absorbed, Promethean Neo-Pelagianists (those who equate psychology and the spiritual life), is that they deny that the spiritual life is about love; they effectively deny that we cannot go to heaven without dragging others there. Thus, psychologically someone might seem to be on an even keel until for some unknown reason the person is thrown into a spiritual tizzy. The psycho-spiritual director might say that this or that aspect of one’s childhood is surely coming to the fore or whatever other stupid thing. Meanwhile, it is just the blinders coming off the person’s eyes just a little bit more as occasioned by the need of someone else of whatever time and place in the Mystical Body of Christ, not that one carries the other person’s cross, but because one is carrying one’s own cross better as occasioned by the need of the other person. When one is simply faithful to Jesus no matter what, this makes one’s very life into an act of intercession for others. How about let’s let Jesus be our spiritual director in His love? I think that that’s the way to go. After all He’s the Way.
The upshot: Just because we are mangy dogs at the beginning of the spiritual life doesn’t mean that we are not already dragging others to heaven. One is saintly inasmuch as one has the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity from the beginning. Sure, one can grow. Whatever. That’s good. But don’t ever feel left out (even if you feel that way!) just because you bear all the more intensely the effects of sin, with Jesus letting you know all the more accurately whence He called you. Even the greatest of contemplative saints, to grow, must go by this way of dragging others to Jesus (by intercession) by carrying one’s own cross all the better. To judge where we are in the spiritual life is not the thing to do. The thing to do is to get direction about how best to be faithful in whatever circumstances one find’s oneself in, letting Jesus do what He needs to do in the greatest most tender solicitation for our eternal welfare and that of others.
The spiritual life isn’t a mind game. It’s love. God is love. Rejoice!
Even I rejoice, mangy dog that I am!
Or is it that I’m a mangy donkey?
Sometimes I think I’m having too much fun. It’s Jesus’ fault.