Friday, May 20, 2011

The Pope, St. Teresa, and Subjectivism...

The Holy Father addressed the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum on it's 75th anniversary. In his address he spoke of the need for all Christians to have spiritual direction. There's no doubt that a good spiritual director is needed, ideally, by everyone.  As many can attest, finding one is another story.  Sometimes, the next best bet is to read the Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila, or the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. 

In the first part of his address Pope Benedict talks about St. Teresa of Avila. He then shifts to talk about spiritual direction. This was particularly interesting (emphasis mine in bold).
As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ. Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God. A guide can help defend oneself from facile subjectivist interpretations, making available his own supply of knowledge and experiences in following Jesus. [Spiritual direction] is a matter of establishing that same personal relationship that the Lord had with his disciples, that special bond with which he led them, following him, to embrace the will of the Father (cf. Luke 22:42), that is, to embrace the cross.

Human fallen nature functions almost like a set of blinders. Others often see things in us about which we are unaware. When that someone is a trained spiritual director, rooted in the Church's richest understanding of the spiritual life, they can help us to navigate these areas. Teresa is very big on self-knowledge and self-mastery. You really cannot have self-mastery without the former. 
The Holy Father brings up that word "subjectivist". Stop and think for a moment what that means. Here, we have a simple definition from

[suhb-jek-tuh-viz-uhm] Show IPA

1. Epistemology . the doctrine that all knowledge is limited to experiences by the self, and that transcendent knowledge is impossible.
2. Ethics .
a. any of various theories maintaining that moral judgments are statements concerning the emotional or mental reactions of the individual or the community.
b. any of several theories holding that certain states of thought or feeling are the highest good.
In society today, subjectivism is rampant.  There is a loss of objectivity, yet there must be a balance between the two, and never sacrificing objective truth for the feelings.  In prayer, people make the mistake of thinking that feelings towards prayer at a given moment somehow has an impact on it's efficacy.  Yet, the opposite is often true.  It is when we least feel like prayer and we pray; or, when we don't feel like going to Sunday Mass, but we go despite that "dryness" that it is most precious to God.  Here, it becomes a real act of love because now you do it not for your own sake, but for God's sake. 

Ponder whether feelings are truly the measure of what is good. On the moral front, we know that adultery and fornication are displeasing to God, so much so, that they were written in stone.  But many follow as the anything goes route, "if it feels good, do it".  There are probably more Christian couples cohabitating today than any other time, revealing a sad ignorance of Scripture and far less familiarity with Jesus.  Read Matthew 5:17-20.

17 "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18* For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19* Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Others will use drugs, steal, defraud others, and even sexually assault and/or commit murder because it feels right at a given moment.  Those things are obvious, but it is the little things we are confronted with each day that we need to examine against something far greater than feelings.  The greatest metric we have is Jesus Christ and he did not live by feelings, but by objective truth.  The many martyrs of the Church would have felt just fine to avoid torture and stay alive, but they followed Christ in conquering feelings, with grace, for the sake of what was good and true.

There's much more that could be said on this and I think the topic of subjectivism needs to be looked at more deeply. 

You can find the full text of the Pope's speech at Zenit:

Catholic Culture has a few more links on this event and the organization.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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