Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Little Catholic Philokalia

I have always loved having works wherein digestible chunks, aphorisms, maxims, and all the rest are presented to the inquisitive reader for spiritual edification. In reading the Philokalia, the great collection of Orthodox wisdom gathered over the ages, I have met with some very rich spiritual reading. 

I have been toying with the idea of doing a Catholic Philokalia (such are my lofty dreams), and wanted to test the waters here.  Below, you will find some brief quotes that pertain to spiritual life  - since "philokalia" itself means "love of the beatiful" (roughly translated), I will try to keep this in mind. The focus will be on specifically Catholic saints and not saints that are part of our shared heritage with the Orthodox.

Perhaps my Orthodox readers will think that what follows is nothing more than a cute attempt to compile spiritual wisdom, I have no idea.  But I wanted to at least present those who happen to spend time on here with some spiritually edifying quotes to ruminate on this Sunday. 

I have roughly categorized the excerpts that follow, though I only present the words of the following saints and writers as they are, not pretending that I know what I'm doing.  One may find gems, and still not know what to do with them, other than show them to others.  For myself, I have learned so much from even compiling this selection of quotations - the words of St. Francis on imitating the saints rather than merely talking about them hit me the hardest in my own life.  Obviously, my finding that quote was needed in my own spiritual life.  However, I am already diverging from the topic. 

Without further ado, I give you a very tiny Philokalia of Catholic wisdom.

Spiritual Wisdom

Bl. Henry Suso
"Do you see that only Truth leads and brings one to this mountain?  Truth leads; Truth is that which guides; I gladly follow Truth; I do not hold suspect such a guide.  Truth knows to lead; Truth does not know how to mislead.  But what is Truth?  What do you say, good Teacher, teacher Christ, what is Truth?  'I am,' he says, 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life' (John 14:6).  Therefore let one who wishes to ascend to the mountain follow Truth.  Follow Christ, whoever you are who wish to ascend this mountain.  We have learned from the teaching of the Evangelist: 'Then Jesus took his disciples, viz., Peter, James, and John, and led them into a high mountain apart' (Matt. 17:1).  Thus the disciples of Jesus are led above and apart, that they may take possession of this high mountain.  It is a steep way, a secret way unknown to many, which leads to the summit of this mountain.  I think only those run without error, only those arrive without impediment, who follow Christ, who are led by Truth.  Whoever hastens to high things, you go in security if Truth goes before you.  Without it you labor in vain.  As Truth does not wish to deceive, so it is not able to be deceived.  If you do not wish to err, follow Christ."1
-Richard of St. Victor

"It is the highest of all learning to know that one knows nothing."2
-Geert Grote

"Persist in nothing that is not God."3
-Bl. Henry Suso

"He who is mad with love for Christ
In appearance is troubled and distressed - 
But in truth he is a doctor
In natural philosophy and theology."4
-Bl. Jacopone da Todi

"The highest praise which Scripture pronounces on the holy man Job is comprised in these words, 'He was simple and upright'."5
-Rev. Alban Butler

"Turn thyself with thy whole heart to the Lord; and quit this miserable world, and thy soul shall find rest."6
-Thomas a Kempis 

Spiritual Struggle

St. John of Avila
"All things work together for good to them that love God.  If this love seems good to us, let us lay the axe of diligence to the root of our love of self and let us fell this enemy of ours to the ground."1
-St. John of Avila

 "And behold, a voice from heaven saying (Mt. 17:5), 'Be still, you have sinned.'  And this is what it says.  An overflowing sewer now contaminates the whole house with intolerable filth.  It is vain for you (Ps. 126:2) to empty it when the filth is still flooding in, to repent while you do not cease to sin."2
-St. Bernard of Clairvaux

"The enemy's behavior is also like that of a military leader who wishes to conquer and plunder the object of his desires.  Just as the commander of an army pitches his camp, studies the strength and defenses of a fortress, and then attacks it on its weakest side, in like manner, the enemy of our human nature studies from all sides our theological, cardinal, and moral virtues.  Wherever he finds us weakest and most in need regarding our eternal salvation, he attacks and tries to take us by storm."3
-St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola
"Remember: that a bad man who is ashamed of the wrong things he is doing, is nearer to God than a good man who blushes at doing the right thing."4
-St. Padre Pio

"The devil will often allow a man at peace to do many good works, provided only that in one point he sin deeply. If he has one free entrance into the castle of the soul, he thinks it enough, he is secure of its capture. This temptation, however, he often keeps concealed till death is coming. Then he is wont to fight more fiercely, and with more crafty cunning, knowing that, if he then fail, he will completely lose everything."5
-Jean Gerson

"Every morning during meditation, I prepare myself for the whole day's struggle.  Holy Communion assures me that I will win the victory; and so it is.  I fear the day when I do not receive Holy Communion.  This Bread of the Strong gives me all the strength I need to carry on my mission and the courage to do whatever the Lord asks of me.  The courage and strength that are in me are not of me, but of Him who lives in me - it is the Eucharist."6
-St. Faustina Kowalska

"If you have taken up arms, therefore, and found a guide to lead with counsel and direction, the time has come to begin the fight.  You are to do battle against all the disordered affections which arise primarily from the loss of the soul's powers in your first descent away from original righteousness...Do not fight them all at once, just as you cannot make all the ascents at once.  As the Lord says, 'I will not drive them from your face in one year but slowly lest the earth be turned to waste.'"7
-Gerard Zerbolt

The Christian Life

St. Teresa of Avila
"In the first stage, that of jubilatio, a person becomes intensely aware of the dear signs of his love that God has marvelously given us in the heavens and on earth...And when a person experiences this fully through loving insight, there is born in him great genuine joy.  The person who perceives these things with genuine love is so flooded with an interior joy that his frail body cannot contain this joy and erupts in a strange way.  If it did not do so, blood would perhaps burst forth from his mouth, as has often been observed, or the person might feel a great pressure weighing on him.  And in this way our Lord showers him with great sweetness and gives him inwardly an embrace of palpable union."1
-John Tauler

"The state of sin was a state of spiritual death; a state in which, more or less consciously, he made himself the centre of all his activities and the end of all his desires; in which he was actually the slave of everything, the slave of his passions, of the spirit of the world, of the spirit of evil.  The state of grace, on the other hand, is a state of life in which man begins seriously to tend beyond himself and to make God the centre of his activities, loving God more than himself.  The state of grace is entrance into the kingdom of God, where the docile soul begins to reign with God over its own passions, over the spirit of the world and the spirit of evil."2
-Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

St. Francis of Assisi and Christ
"Let all of us, brothers, look to the Good Shepherd Who suffered the passion of the cross to save His sheep.  The sheep of the Lord followed Him in tribulation and persecution, in insult and hunger, in infirmity and temptation, and in everything else, and they have received everlasting life from the Lord because of these things.  Therefore, it is a great shame for us, servants of God, that while the saints did such things, we wish to receive glory and honor by recounting their deeds."3
-St. Francis of Assisi

"You must comfort the sick and yet have nothing yourself.  You must drink the water of suffering and light the fire of Love with the wood of the virtues.  Thus you live in the true desert."4
-Mechthild of Magdeburg 

"The beginner must think of himself as of one setting out to make a garden, in soil most unfruitful and full of weeds, in which the Lord is to take His delight.  His Majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their place."5
-St. Teresa of Avila

"True devotion consists in a constant, resolute, prompt, and active will to do whatever we know is pleasing to God."6
-St. Francis de Sales

"They have the love of God before them in their inward vision as a common good that flows out in heaven and earth, and they feel the Holy Trinity inclined towards them and within them with plenitude of grace, and for this reason they are adorned with all virtues, with holy exercises and with good works and within.  Thus they are united with God by means of their intermediary of divine grace and of their holy life.  And because they have given themselves to God, whether in action or in abstention or in endurance, they always have peace and inner gladness, solace and savor, which the world cannot receive nor any hypocritical creature, nor any man who seeks himself and has himself in mind more than the honor of God."7
-Bl. John Ruusbroec


"Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God Himself, and not what you get out of Him.  Indeed, hate to think of anything but God Himself, so that nothing occupies your mind or will but only God."1

St. Therese of Lisieux
"Therefore, first of all I invite the reader to groaning prayer through Christ crucified whose blood purges us from the stains of vices.  I do so lest the reader might thnk that reading is sufficient without heavenly anointing, or thinking without devotion, or investigation without admiration, or mere observation without rejoicing, or effort without piety, or knowledge without charity, intelligence without humility, endeavor without divine grace..."2
-St. Bonaventure

"If we experience God in contemplation, we experience Him not for ourselves alone but also for others."3
-Thomas Merton

"Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards towards heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy!"4
-St. Therese of Lisieux

Section 1 - Spiritual Wisdom
1 - The Twelve Patriarchs, LXXVII
2 - Noteworthy Sayings of Master Geert
3 - The Life of the Servant, 49
4 - Lauds, 84
5 - Butler's Lives of the Saints, "St. Tarasius"
6 - The Imitation of Christ, II:1

Section 2 - Spiritual Struggle
1 - Spiritual Letters
2 - On Conversion, VI:8
3 - The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life, pg. 17
4 - Fr. Charles Mortimer Carty, Padre Pio: The Stigmatist, pg. 242
5 - The Snares of the Devil, V:2
6 - Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 91
7 - The Spiritual Ascents, 52-53

Section 3 - The Christian Life
1 - "Sermon 39"
2 - The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life, pg. 17
3 - The Admonitions, VI
4 - The Flowing Light of the Godhead, I:35
5 - Life, XI
6 - Introduction to the Devout Life, IV:13
7 - The Little Book of Enlightenment, XI

Section 4 - Prayer
1 - The Cloud of Unknowing, 3
2 - The Soul's Journey Into God, prologue
3 - New Seeds of Contemplation
4 - Story of a Soul, X


  1. Well, I know this may sound too spanish... But some texts of the "Subida al Monte Carmelo" of Saint John of the Cross and some texts of Saint Josemaria Escrivá could suit very well for this proyect...
    PS: You may think this is a "lofty dream", but if you, in a fit of madness, finally publish a "Catholic philocalia", I do not care the thousand of miles between us, I'll buy it!!
    Greetings from Spain, God bless you

  2. are being inspired by the Holy Spirit! What a wonderful idea...I would support you fully in this project and help in any way that I could. I agree with Luis. I would mention that St. John of the Cross's Sayings of Light and Love and his Letters would fit in this category perfectly.

    Will be keeping you in prayer while you discern...

  3. Hey...what's going on with Mixpod...I loved the music you and I had going there. If you find something comparable, let me know.

  4. Hey Jason, I'd love to have a Catholic Philokalia.