Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers
This week we are discussing chapter 3 on Naturalism and chapter 4 on The Value of Time. These two topics seem very different, but perhaps we can find a few connections, since they both have to do with the Christian life.
Chapter 3: Naturalism
The book does not really define naturalism. Instead, it describes Naturalism in comparison with the Christian perspective.
Naturalism is a widespread evil of the time (this book was written a century ago, but I don't think things have changed much in that regard). I guess one could also call it the secular or worldly mindset. In that case it has been around since before God first spoke to Abram. Abraham's life compared to other nomadic herdsmen of his time is a microcosm of the supernaturally directed life in comparison to the naturalistic one.
The true Christian is very different from the Naturalist.... his way of thinking and willing and feeling operates under a completely different scale of principles and values than the secular one. He or she will make very different choices OR, if the choices are similar, they will spring from an entirely different interior motive.
For example, the Holy Family was apparently, from the outside, very little different from any other family in Nazareth at the time. However, the inner lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were utterly different from those of their neighbors. Their every simple action had a completely different significance; was transformed into a completely different thing by grace.
When we operate from the presence of God in our lives, our hiddenness will be fruitful in so many ways, and when do stand out from others, it won't be eccentricity or grandstanding but actual Christian witness, like the young Roman teenage girls like Agnes and Cecilia who courageously stood up for their faith in the face of terrible public exposure and death.
If you are interested, you can check out the Catholic Encyclopedia's definition of Naturalism. Also, I found a Wikipedia entry on literary naturalism. Here's a short blog post discussing whether naturalists are Pelagians. These are NOT required reading. I can get geeky sometimes about background considerations.
The book says that many Christians in the state of grace -- that is, baptized, free of mortal sin, living conscientiously -- are yet infected with Naturalism.
"My daughters, some of you may be forced to confess that your souls are yet pagan-like. Perhaps a truly Christian education has been denied you, and the atmosphere of religious indifference, in which you have lived, has left its stamp upon you. Perhaps you have permitted the fire of that Christian life, which burned so brightly in your earlier years, to die out..."All of the above, in my case, to varying degrees.
The bright side of this is that honest pagan souls, in the state of grace, can become excellent Christians. In a certain way, "the supernatural builds upon the natural". You see that Saul, once converted to service of Jesus, used his former zeal and intellectual acuity to great effect in his reversed way of life. You can probably think of other examples. Paddy and I were just reading about Francis of Assisi -- his joy, good humor, and energy before his life turned wholly to God did not go away, but became supernaturally illuminated and turned to a new purpose.
One of the take-away points here, I think, is that when you are composing your Rule of Life, or your Game Plan, or whatever you want to call it, you want to make sure it is motivated and directed to supernatural goals, not simply secular ones. More about this when we actually get to that point in the book, next week. Perhaps now we could start praying for ourselves and each other, that God guides us to do what He wills in this regard.
For right now I just want to say that I often inadvertently compose semi-Pelagian Plans for myself. Basically I see what someone else has done, and want to copy it, but in the spirit of a tower for myself, not an immolation for God. The second is way harder. That is why my soul tries to avoid it.
I think this chapter is important to prepare the ground for the next one, on time, because if I have insufficient or wrong priorities, I won't use time the way God wants me to.
If you look at some of the causes for Christian naturalism listed above, and you find any of them to have application to you, then I suppose then the solution is counter-operations. Start or continue your Christian education; look for ways to counter the secular culture by choice of reading, community and devotions; ask God perseveringly to help you love and trust Him more each day. "Take every thought captive" as St Paul says. Or as one of Chari's boys once told one of my boys, "turn your weaknesses to strengths". Speaking to myself here, of course!
Chapter 4: The Value of Time
Tolkien's elves would agree with Msgr Lejeune and the Psalmist that human lives are brief and ephemereal. Therefore it makes sense to value time and use it wisely, just because it does go by so quickly and can never be recovered.
Ephesians 5 discusses this and also gives some specific guidance on how Christians should live:
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.Psalm 90 appeals to the Lord:
Teach us to number our days,The book also mentions Ecclesiasticus 4 and Galatians 6, which basically tell us to stay away from evil and do good. You can follow the links to the whole chapters to find more details.
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Msgr Lejeune tells us there are at least two ways to misuse time besides doing things that are actually evil:
One is to waste time, or "kill time", simply for amusement or entertainment. Probably this error basically comes from thinking of time as our own rather than just lent to us for a time. If we don't have enough to do, either because of involuntary under-employment or a level of prosperity that doesn't require us to scrounge for subsistence, then we might have trouble filling our hours, so time becomes like a burden we try to shrug off.
Another is to prioritize wrongly. That is, you may be doing something good, but it is taking the place of something better. Perhaps you let reading crowd out prayer time (mea culpa!) or you have a super-clean house or great career but your kids don't have enough time with you. Or you do lots of volunteer activities but hardly ever see your husband. Probably this type of error usually comes from the naturalistic mindset mentioned above. Your crowning values are achievement, or money, or cleanliness and order, or even learning; not that these things are bad, but that they pass away and are not worth neglecting primary duties for.
And as mentioned, Pelagianism is a kind of naturalism. If I am trying to earn my ticket to heaven by doing lots of great spiritual activities then no doubt I will be crowding out the more humble activities of daily life that God wants me to focus on at that time.
Please remember, though, that our day and age is slightly different than the time this book was written, when I am assuming the middle-class Christian mother very often did not work outside the home, and perhaps had servants to help her with the housework and children. We are a frantically busy society. We try to jam too much into the course of the day. We feel uncomfortable and stressed unless we are rushing around in all directions all the time getting our hands into everything. This is NOT much better than being a couch potato. It probably is a little better if it is done in the spirit of the honest pagan but it is worse if we get prideful and think that we are actually achieving anything.
Plus, all humans need some recreation and relaxation, and companionship time, so if my family asks me to watch a movie with them, say, and I would prefer to write lesson plans, I might be better off watching the movie.
Redeeming the time means doing what God wants every moment and consecrating all things to Him.
With these things in mind, Msgr Lejeune suggests some resolutions which I will paraphrase. If once reading them you still don't know quite what to do as a result, you are not alone. : ) Right now we are only trying to get a sense of what the main issues are. If I already did all this perfectly, I wouldn't have to study this book. We are all definitely works in progress, but we have a lot of graces to help us, if we only ask for them.
The Rules for Valuing Time:
1. Do not be idle or waste moments.
2. Compose a rule of life and live by it.
3. Don't procrastinate: ie, don't put off what you can reasonably do now.
The second one I will quote in full, since that will be the topic of next week's reading, and it kind of fills out the other two and gives us the structure to better follow them.
I shall draw up for myself a rule of life, adapted to my state, comprising only a few articles, and capable of being applied to the diverse circumstance of my life.Here is a short homily on The Value of Time which includes a prayer.
I shall ask myself every evening if I have observed this rule in all its essentials.
Action for this Week:
The chapter on how to compose a rule comes next week, but in the meantime you might want to start praying about the idea.
I think one area that I am going to focus on is looking at how I use time and what values it reflects. I usually like to keep an observation journal before I make changes, so I am going to try to do that, listing what I am happy with and what I am not so happy with. This 168 Hours approach can be eye-opening.
Until next week---
Please feel free to share any thoughts on these chapters (or similar topics!) in the com box.