Posted by: Christine Johnson | June 26, 2006

More IHM Notes, or Yoda was Wrong*

A couple of weeks ago, I copied here my notes from a talk given by Father Paul Scalia at the IHM Conference earlier in the month. Today, I’d like to share my notes from Father Robert Levis, of Web of Faith fame. (In case you are wondering, Fr. Levis is the one in the smaller picture. You can read his bio from the IHM site here.)

The title of Father Levis’ talk was “What is the Interior Life?”

To start off, Father Levis talked about how we all like ourselves a bit too much. He said that he pretty much thinks he’s the best thing going since sliced bread. We laughed, but he challenged us to realize that we pretty much think that about ourselves, as well. As his talk went on, I came to understand what he meant by that, and why it is true.

First, he said, our devotions are not enough. We are called to infuse our contemplation with perfection. We cannot, as he likes to put it, drive our own little red truck. We all have one, and we like to drive and be in charge. But Jesus needs to be at the wheel and in control. We cannot and should not be in charge.

You see, God wants all of you (and me), not just what I’m willing to give. Well, more specifically, He wants us to be willing to give ALL of ourselves.

And, the only way we can truly know Jesus is through the Cross. There is no other way. So Jesus is not closest to us when we feel all warm, fuzzy, and cozy with Him. Jesus is closest to us when we are suffering. He comes to us through our crosses. And it is through these crosses that we can strive towards holiness.

And we are not agents of our own holiness, either.

The Gospels call for us to die unto ourselves, for the death of our egos. In the Gospel of Saint John, 6:65, Jesus tells us that no one can come to Him unless the Father chooses him. And without Jesus, we can do nothing.

But the big problem for us is this:

We do not want to surrender or abdicate.

Jesus comes to us when everything is confused and upended. He comes to us when we are in trouble, but we don’t want that. We look at our situation and tell Jesus, “Step off!” We still want to drive that red truck, and Jesus is asking to take the wheel for us.

It is in these times that we much trust and abdicate to God. Let our egos die.

It is in these times that we must lose ourselves completely to God – IN God!

We must die to self.

But we don’t know how!

To start, Father Levis said, we must be sure of our unimportance. That’s right. No matter what you’ve heard, you are not important.

GOD IS THE IMPORTANT ONE.

And when God is close to us, we are disgusted with ourselves. We can see our worthlessness. And yet we still want to build up what Jesus is trying to knock down. Jesus wants to knock down our egos. He wants us to understand who we are, especially next to Him.

We are like the Pharasees and the Saduccees. They were religious. They wore those tassels. They were righteous. They were not saved.

The sinners were saved. Think of that woman with the alabaster jar. She was filled with guilt for her sins, filled with a fear of God because He is so big and she was so small. She knew how she looked compared to Him – not so great.

But God is generous. He gave Himself completely on the Cross.

We cannot be afraid to trust in His Goodness. God loves me not because I’m good, but because He is Good; God is Love.

My own actions won’t help me. When we are full of ourselves – full of complacency and self-righteousness – there is no room for grace. There is no room for God.

We are stained. We are scarred. Original Sin has done this to our very souls. Our pride puts us down when we try to keep control. I am not God. I must allow Him to be in control of my life. I can be a saint, but not without His help. And to gain His help, we must listen!

Turn off the TV. Turn off the radio. Don’t be afraid of the silence, for it is in the silence that God speaks to us.

Look out for images of heroism that “look like” saintly holiness. Beware! Real saints don’t necessarily come off that way.

Saint Therese, the Little Flower, said in some of her memoirs that she was a failure. She had no spiritual riches. She said, “Beware of all that dazzles!”

Saint Therese! A failure! Spiritually poor! If she is spiritually poor, I am in pretty awful shape!

Saint Therese and Saint Bernadette both abadoned themselves to God and met Him on His terms.

But even the saints don’t necessarily “feel” God with them. Saint John of the Cross called this the “dark night of the soul.” And you’d be surprised at those people who have gone through it. (As an aside, I’ll have to post about one such case another time. When I read about it, I was absolutely flabbergasted!)

Father Levis continued and said that the first virtue is poverty. Christianity, he said, isn’t easy. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible. But, as it says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me!”

A story to illustrate this is one about a king who was going to give his kingdom away. His son was not be in charge when the king died, so the king brought his three best servants before him. He explained how his kingdom was to be given away to the man who successfully answered the questions on a test he would give in a month’s time. The only person aside from the king to know the answers was his son, who would not be taking the test.

Now, this king was very kind, and the servants knew it. The first servant said to himself, “The king is a good man. The test cannot be all that bad!” He did little to prepare past this thought.

The second servant was very smart, and he said to himself, “I’m smart enough that I’ll be able to figure out the test on my own.” He did nothing else to prepare for the test.

The third servant was very worried. He did not think he could figure out the test, and he was certain it would not be easy just because the king was a kind man. So each day, he sought out the king’s son and asked him question after question about the test, working to learn as much as he could from the man.

By the time the test came, the third servant had been able to learn what he needed to know from the king’s son, and he was awarded the kingdom.

We are like this third servant. We cannot do it on our own.

We must be ready to give up our hopes and plans in order to let God be in charge of our destiny. And when we are feeling down, we must not blame the devil for it. We must also remember that our feelings are not adequate in our faith! Remember that in the dark night of the soul, we might not “feel” God at all. It might feel as though our prayers are floating into nothingness. We might be removed from Him, or so we think. But He is there, even when we cannot feel Him, and we must not despair! Our feelings are not an adequate measuring stick for our faith!

Father recommended a couple of books to read to help us understand this topic a bit more. One is called Abandonment to Divine Providence, and the other is Dark Night of the Soul (by St. John of the Cross). (You can go to Aquinas and More and search for both. I’m certain you’ll be successful there.)

Lastly, he reminded us to surrender! Surrender to God like you surrender to your spouse. And, if you don’t know how to do that, ask Mary! The Blessed Virgin can teach us all how to surrender completely!

Tapes of the speakers from the IHM Conference can be ordered here.

*The title of the post mentions Yoda. For those of you who are not big Star Wars fans, you can read the quote that inspired it here.

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