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Book Club – Journal of a Soul (Week 4 of 12)

October 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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And what about all the other things which surround me? If God has given them to me they are extras: they have not been given to all, nor to all in equal measure. Their purpose is to serve man in the attainment of his end. Any other use I may make of them is bad, upsets the order of nature and lands me in deplorable confusion. My attitude towards them must be governed by that golden rule of detachment for which the saints were so much admired. My own St. Francis de Sales speaks for them all. This detachment is not natural apathy, such as we find in certain characters, but supernatural virtue, detachment from everything, according to the will or pleasure of God; serenity, calm, nobility of soul, profound philosophy because of which, in aiming at loftier ideals, we no longer care for these base and worthless things, or we use them in whatever way they represent themselves as powerful wings to soar to God, to practice virtue and to make ourselves holy. Here I will mention a few practical examples, not without relevance to myself, which I must bear carefully in mind.

The blessings of fortune, such as wealth – the Lord could have given them to me or withheld them – I had no right to them. He was pleased to withhold them. Why should I complain about this? Their absence is a means of my sanctification. So, blessed be the name of the Lord. At times dire necessity obliges me to contract small debts with the Bursar, and I dislike very much having to do this; it makes me feel wretched.But this is not right: God permits this to happen, and that is enough.

Mind and memory are gifts from God. Why should I lose heart if others have more of these gifts than I? Might I not have received even less than God has given me? Examination results and successes are things which, whether I will or no, mean a great deal to me. Very well, when I have done all that God has required of me, what does the good or bad result of my studies matter?

Sometimes, even in my practices of piety, an intense effort to preserve stillness in my soul and to enjoy all the sweetness of conversing with God is all of no avail: my heart feels as if it were made of stone, I have a steady stream of distractions and the Lord seems to have hidden himself. Sadness and discontent take hold of me and I become agitated. Away with all those weaknesses! We must keep cheerful and calm, in all circumstances. Indeed, we must rejoice, since that is God’s will. – Journal of a Soul, pg. 127-128

 

A year ago, I would have told you that I’ve developed a spirit of detachment. After all – my husband and I drive cars that are almost 13 years old, and for 12 years we’ve lived in houses that have been constantly under construction. In most of the eight years of our last home, our family photos bely brown flaked off wallpaper in the kitchen, complete with worn honey oak cabinets, a pantry that consisted of wide open shelves in the hall, and a plywood floor. Not only have we lived in a humble environment for several years, but we’ve also opted to purchase our clothes from consignment shops and garage sales, even though we could have afforded to do otherwise.

While I’m sure we’ve lived more elaborately than most of people in the world, I’ve long considered the above to be quite an improvement over the girl who purchased a Mont Blanc pen with her first paycheck just out of college. Twenty years ago, I probably would have been scorned on this site – laughed off the page as having much too much of an attraction to the material things of this world.

Having grown up with a single mom in a lower middle class home, I coveted the large homes and nice cars of friends, determined to have them all when I became an adult. I’m embarrassed to share that as soon as I got my first job, I went to work acquiring all the things I’d never had – there wasn’t a name-brand I didn’t like. I had a pair of shoes and jewelry for every outfit, and credit cards for just about every major department store in a three-state radius. I purchased a new car, rented a nice apartment and made eating out part of my regular diet.

Thankfully, God’s grace and a loving husband helped me to see the error of my ways. Over the past several years my husband and I have actually developed financial goals, preferring to live debt-free and give more money back. We recognize, as John XXIII comments, that “in aiming for loftier ideals, we no longer care for these base and worthless things, or we use them in whatever way they present themselves as powerful wings to soar to God.” For us “things” no longer hold any value as they will never get us to heaven.

Materially, that’s where I’m at. And in all my despicable pride, I’ve given myself a figurative pat on the back over the past few years for having pried the claws of the material world from my soul.

But the devil is sooo sly. Of course he would have my pride delude me into thinking I’d released my attachments, while he inched his way through the back door, creeping much deeper into my heart than material attachments could ever take him.

Now, rather than wanting to keep up with the Jones’ by purchasing this, that or the other “thing,” I realize I’ve been trying to catch up with every person I meet whom I believe to be more virtuous than I. When I see other mothers with their children, I think, why can’t I be more cheerful? Why can’t I be more patient? Why can’t I be more loving? So and so is such a great wife – why am I not more attentive to my husband?

Of course, I tell myself that it’s good to want to grow in virtue. And if I want to become more virtuous, I need to spend time with virtuous people, right? Whether reading about them or befriending them, this is where I should focus my efforts. But I’ve found in my life there is a slippery slope between looking to others for inspiration and beating myself down for not measuring up.

Rather than being thankful for the gifts I’ve been given, I spend much time being frustrated with my lack of virtue. I fail to trust that my Heavenly Father will grant grace for my spiritual growth as He sees fit, and I spend hours contemplating my shortcomings and my failures.

Instead, I must recognize that where I am is God’s will for me at this moment. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux says, “He has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but He has also created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daisies or the violets which rejoice His eyes whenever He glances down. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be.

Whether material wealth, intellectual or spiritual gifts or even spiritual desolation, where I am is where God wants me to be. And at each moment, His great gifts, whether large or small compared to others, are given to Me in the exact measure needed for My sanctification.

 

Discussion Questions:

1. What attachments have you struggled with over the years? Have you overcome them, and if so, what advice do you have for helping others overcome theirs?

2. Open forum – comment on any of the reading for this past week.

Reading Assignment:

Week 5: 1904 – End of 1914 (pg. 152-187)

Happy Reading!

 

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

 

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • Robert Kraus

    Very good reflection this week…I hadn’t thought that, as opposed to the ‘keeping up with the joneses’ in terms of material possessions, there’s a similar effect in attaining virtue. Interesting…I guess the focus just has to stay with your relationship with God and what He’s telling you in your meditations about where you’re at, and probably some good discernment with your spiritual director. Otherwise, it’s easy to talk yourself into any level of goals.

    I’m a big ‘keeping up with the joneses’ person and its gotten me into financial trouble all my life. In the short time I’ve been Catholic, I think I can detect a similar pattern with virtue. If that person prays that prayer, I need to too. If he owns that DVD or that Catholic book, I have to have that too. If he goes to adoration or a daily Mass, I have to too. Good things and ends, but for the wrong reasons.

    Again, great reflection this week, much fruit for my meditations.

    • Vicki

      Robert – Thanks for your comments. I’ve always done the same with respect to virtue – what does that person’s prayer life look like? What do they watch, to what do they listen?

      Doesn’t it just feel like there is a formula somewhere, and if we only knew the ingredients, we could be holy? I think there is – that of doing God’s will. But we make it so much more complex – probably because doing God’s will would entail giving up our own, and I know I’ve been unwilling to do that in many cases. As I’ve told my children – you can’t just decide which rules you’re going to follow – you need to submit to the rules of the house. Likewise with us – if we’re going to be followers of Christ, we need to FOLLOW Christ – submission is the only way to holiness – that’s just such a hard pill to swallow. On the bright side (heaven help us all), my obstinance helps me to understand my children a little more – I guess we’re more alike than I’d want to admit:-).

  • Joan

    Thank you for this reflection, it has been a blessing from God since, especially these past few days, I have been bemoaning my severe lack of patience.
    Robert, you sound very wise for a new Catholic., God bless you.

  • Thomas Irenaeus

    Beautiful! God’s blessings to you!

  • abandon56

    Over the years pride has been one struggle among many. Especially spiritual pride: the attitude that it’s my job to be
    a good Christian as if God really doesn’t do much to help
    me. What a burden! In the last few years, after being reintroduced to St. Therese, the truth is more evident to me.
    Hopefully this quote from a holy priest will help:
    “Love him from your littleness (weakness), like St. Therese.
    She discovered that this is the place where love finds the
    deepest intimacy, tenderness and confidence, by loving
    in her littleness.”
    I find great peace in this simple, humble way. And when I
    am not at peace, it’s usually because I am falling back into
    my old ways of trying to get it right, failing, and then not
    placing my trust and confidence in God’s merciful love.

    • LizEst

      This is beautiful! Later on, the good Pope goes on to write that when he has peace of mind, he has his liberty and he means to preserve that. So, your finding a way to great peace is a wonderful treasure. May God’s blessings continue for you!

    • Jackie

      Thank you for this reflection from St.Therese. I returned to the church over a year and half ago after 44 years as a Protestant and for this short time I beat myself up about not being able to speak or write as eloquently as many on this blog do with regards to their spirituality. I feel like so many “have it together”. Reading this book also makes me realize I have a long way to go to come even close to being this spiritual. But the quote by the priest about St. Therese have given me pause to marvel at “Love him from your littleness (weakness)” and I realize in my weakness and newness of this Catholic faith that I am showing him my purest love.

      • abandon56

        Jackie, it is the TRUTH that you are, indeed, showing him your purest love. Thanks for posting, and welcome to the Church and the arms of Our Jesus. He is nothing but mercy and love!

  • Cecilia

    Vicki, when you wrote of the envy of anothers’ virtues, I immediately thought of something that happened just recently. I commented to a priest that I was so envious of my husband’s incredible gift of patience. The priest said, “My dear don’t you know that thru the Sacrament of Marriage you became one flesh so his virtues are yours and yours his?” Wow!
    My favorite story when I was growing up was “The Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings.” Every time this rabbit saw another creature, he wanted what made them unique. Eventually this cute little bunny gets his wish of a cardinal’s red wings. Here is a a bunny w/red wings and can’t even use them.
    Fr. Faricy teaches that each gift the Lord gives us is unique to us and fits us perfectly like a glove. Actually, if we look at it the sin of envy would be a very comical sin if it wasn’t so deadly!

    • Becky Ward

      Great visual reminders there! Thanks!

    • Vicki

      I’ve always loved an Archbishop Fulton Sheen tape that talks about the virtue of one spouse obtaining heaven for the other. If only we knew the power of grace that accompanies the sacraments!

  • Brilliant post that resonated with me. Thank you for causing me to look at an issue from a different angle.

    • Vicki

      Thank you for your kind words. God bless!

  • Guest

    Thank you for sharing this post with us Vicki! I so relate to your comments! Its such a battle at times for me to just let go and let God direct! I do get caught up in comparing and measuring myself with others. I’m my worst enemy. I do feel when this happens I’m not open to the Holy spirit’s direction but my own and as a result I get discouraged but in saying all that I am grateful that God never gives up on me! this article as spoke volumes to me today. I love St. Therese’s reference ” He has created saints who are like lilies and roses and some who are like daisies and violets” I was told this last couple of days that I was trying to hard, is there actually such a thing as trying to hard to wanting to be in closer relatioship with Our Father! I feel strongly the need to be in prayer and to take the time to just be present with Him. So I’ve in the past listened to others instead of going with the direction or nudges of the Holy spirit and God sooner or later shows me I’m not in His space but my own. If I devoted as much time in conversation with God, as I do in trying to grasp alot of book knowledge I’d be far more advanced in my spiritual journey. My love and trust in God has to always override my prideing myself with others knowledge and books, I do find enjoyment in reading the messages, also the reflections are very helpful in my spiritual walk but I have to fess up I can get caught up in spending alot of time over thinking some times. God bless you Vicki !

  • LizEst

    Just came across a review of a new book on Pope John XXIII here: http://snoringscholar.com/2012/10/the-good-pope-a-book-review/#comments

  • LizEst

    1. Having struggled with so many different attachments over the years, it’s hard to single out any particular one. Many have been mastered…or better yet, are under control! How? By the grace of God as a fruit of prayer, devotions, mortification, the assistance of people God has put in my life, trusting in Jesus and frequenting the sacraments. Advice for helping others overcome theirs attachments is: celebrate the sacrament of Penance often, trust the Lord completely and do not be afraid of the cross. Much grace for the conversion of heart flows from sacramental Reconciliation. When we truly believe God is the one thing necessary, attachments pale in comparison. So, one must have a firm purpose of amendment. It can’t be halfhearted or lukewarm. When we truly seek God with all our heart, He himself helps us in our journey towards Himself. I’ve got a long way to go. Thanks be to God, He does not leave us orphans; He helps us when we fall.

    2. I love Blessed Pope John XXIII’s quest for humility. His notes and observations give much food for thought: “My attitude towards them [things other than God] must be governed by that golden rule of detachment for which the saints were so much admired.” “I must make a habit of thinking of myself as ignorant” (great mortification for someone who received his PhD at age 22). “I still cannot form an idea of what this humility must be like.” “I want to be humble.” “Self-love! What a problem it is…” “God does not consider the number of my deeds but the way in which I do them; it is the heart he asks for, nothing more. An intimate sense of the presence of God, as the final end of all creation, and a total forgetfulness of myself: these two things alone, and with these whatever I do is complete.” “The solution of all difficulties is Christ, and Christ crucified.” It’s inspiring to read of him struggling with himself. These difficulties, and his resolve to get back up when he fails, show a heart becoming completely converted to God. The Lord must love Pope John XXIII very much. Reading his journal makes it clear I can learn much from him.

  • $1650412

    This really spoke to me too, Vicki! thanks so much for sharing, you are really a gift in the Lord!

  • AnnieB

    I haven’t been able to join in with this book as I’ve been unable to get a copy in the UK at a sensible price. Last night after mass we were clearing out a cupboard and you have guessed it, there was a copy. I could not believe my eyes! Only 4 weeks behind now….

    • LizEst

      What marvelous testimony. Praise be to God! And, thanks to Blessed John XXIII for whatever part he may have had in this discovery. Thanks for sharing that AnnieB. All the best on catching up. You are blessed.

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