September 2015 Print

The Best Part

by a Benedictine Monk

Interior life, spiritual life, contemplation—these expressions all designate the same reality, and this reality is the very reason for our bulletin. Indeed, The Echo of Our Lady was founded to help its readers, and especially priests, develop within themselves a treasure more precious than all the gold in the world. We work according to our God-given gifts, conscious of our limitations while endeavoring to do something useful for the good of souls and of the Church.

The Inversion of Order

A surely inspired line from Catholic author Georges Bernanos (1888-1948) has come down to us: “Nothing about modern civilization can be understood unless you recognize that it is a universal conspiracy against any kind of interior life.” Indeed, we see the serious, deleterious consequences of this reality accumulating before our eyes. By the abuse of technology, our consumer society relentlessly pursues its work of destruction all the while defending its essential principle: the primacy of action. Even if it had no other purpose, it would already be more destructive than a bulldozer crushing everything in its way. Religious life and contemplative monasteries no longer have any place and have become incomprehensible, being considered useless and unprofitable. Nowadays evil is spread everywhere, not sparing even good Christian families, in which vocations are scarcely able to emerge.

Everything has been constructed to mold sub-humans. Bernanos wrote that modern civilization “deliberately encourages everything that moves, everything that budges, but it judges everything that fosters the interior life as a loss to the community.” The best part of man, his soul, made for God and heaven, is thus deliberately excluded.

Two absolutely irreconcilable conceptions of life stand before us. If eternal salvation is not for us an empty word, then clearly the contemplative life ought to be our first priority. But if we limit our aspirations to the enjoyment of terrestrial goods, then contemplative life hardly makes any sense. Our materialist civilization has no fear of freedom of action, but it especially dreads freedom of thought, of true thought. The only kind of interior life the technocrats might allow, Bernanos said, would be that necessary for modest introspection under the control of doctors so as to cultivate optimism by extirpating the least trace of other-worldly desires.

Our civilization of agitation exerts terrible pressure on the multitude of men. Like all tyrannical regimes, materialist democracy strives to shape a type of man in conformity with its system. To do so it disposes of widely varied and considerable means unknown to previous generations. Bernanos concludes his analysis with a prophetic vision:

“This civilization is perfectly arranged to gradually induce its citizens to barter the higher freedoms for a simple guarantee of baser ones, freedom of thought (having become superfluous since it will seem silly not to think like everyone else) for the right to a radio and the movies.” Today we would substitute television and the Internet.

The Re-establishment of Order

So long as man is alive he always retains a vestige of interior life. For our nature comprises two facets: thought and action. Before any action we necessarily have to think, however rudimentarily, and then deliberate and make up our mind. The two domains work together and form the warp and woof of human life. But the interior life is more important and conditions the success of exterior action.

Our eternal salvation depends on the holiness of our actions, and these upon the depth of our interior life enlightened by faith and fortified by grace. The happiness of heaven will be essentially interior, since it will consist in the loving contemplation of the infinite good which is our Lord Jesus Christ with the Father and the Holy Ghost. This is why Jesus approved Mary Magdalen as she stayed at His feet listening to His words and contemplating them: “Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken from her.” Contemplation is the best of our Christian life. What a pity so few understand this, and thus deprive themselves of the sweetness of the rose while keeping only the thorns!

We conclude with a thought from the priest and theologian Romano Guardini (1885-1965):

“We speak, we listen, we work, we strive; there are works and institutions, but the profound meaning of all that lies within. The Christian conscience has always given first place to a peaceful interior life devoted to the striving for truth and charity over the exterior life, however skilful and courageous it might be. It has always put silence before speech, purity of intention before success, generosity of heart before the greatness of the undertaking... Both make up life, but the interior takes precedence.”