Betty Duffy

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I've been feeling, lately, like I need to go on a retreat, or like I just need a bit of monasticism in my life, some order, a rule. As Kate says in The Moviegoer, "What I want is to believe in someone completely and then do what he wants me to do."

Part of my new longing for a Resurrected Christ-- rather than the one that hangs eternally on the Cross-- is a recognition that I'm going to have to get up. I'm going to have to start doing stuff. And not just finding vague ways to fill my time until the end of the world. I hate that feeling of having a free afternoon, knowing I've got to milk it for all it's worth, and finding that the only thing my community has to offer is an upscale mall. What a bust.

"Doing stuff" in pursuit of the Resurrection, or the Kingdom of God on Earth, seems to mean the practice of pious works.

I know we've heard this out of Betty Duffy before. I can look back through my archives at all the different times I've revved up my engine and gotten ready to start. Holiness has always been just an arm's length away, and I don't know how many times I've announced that now, at last, the time has come, for me to reach out and grab it.

The truth is, I have a slippery grip. I've grabbed at it, I've gotten hold of it, I've played with it, and then for one reason or another, I've let it go. Holiness, like sin, is more like a state I pass through on my way to my next confession or my next fall, whichever comes first.

I've wondered sometimes if holiness is just an idea I keep around for rainy days, when I feel restless and stupid, and I wonder what I'm going to do with myself--well, I've got that old novel I could work on, or I could pursue some pious works (better yet, I could write a novel about the pursuit of pious works). Having my future better self in a drawer to pull out keeps me from feeling like a complete waste of a person. Don't cut me down yet, Lord, I'm just getting started (again).

Or perhaps I have trouble pursuing piety, because it sounds, to be honest, a bit dull, or like the labor of stuffed shirts who go around fraternally correcting people on the internet. Does the pursuit of piety automatically make you unsympathetic? Does it make you too ethereal and spiritual to ever really meet people on a personal level?

I've known too many practitioners of pious works who, maybe out of fear of temptation, or a wish not to be sullied, or a stubborn personal need to point out others' immorality, have blocked out of their lives the very people who most needed their companionship and understanding.

How many conflicts lately have you witnessed among fellow Christians, who seem to be at odds over some nonexistent incoherence between faithfulness and charity? The ones rooting for charity appear to have softened the lines between good and evil, while the ones rooting for faithfulness and piety have thrown kindness under the bus.

If there really is a line to be drawn between faithfulness and charity, I think it's just human nature to want to side with the nice guy over the right guy, which leads to speculation that maybe the right guy is somehow just as wrong as his opponent. Maybe everybody's doing it wrong.

The meditation today in Magnificat blew my mind a little. From Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade: "What is there among creatures that can resist the force of a faithful, gentle, and humble soul?"

The word that most jumped out at me there was "force." Why do I always think that to really make an impression you have to do it with a blunt object? But gentleness and humility make deeper impressions on others than the most enlightened arguments.

"What is Lucifer? He is a brilliant intelligence, the most enlightened of all, but an intelligence discontented with God and his order..."

At least for me, the discontent starts with little things, like the effort of keeping and picking up a home, even though home life is the nucleus of my family, the stability of my kids, and clearly the law of God in my life. I would like to sit around having enlightened thoughts about pursuing the Resurection, and yet, "The more lights, knowledge and general capacity a person has the more he is to be feared, if he has not the foundation of piety which consists in contentment with God and his will."

Piety is contentment--Humility. Will I stoop to pick up the clutter on my floor? Will I do it day after day, several times a day, and be happy with it?

I'd prefer to think of nobler ways to be holy--something more like telling people when they are in error of God's law (because I love them so much and would hate for them to taste hellfire, that is). But it's usually not productive, especially when I need direction myself.

So yes, a rule. I want to follow a rule of life with a schedule that tells me when to pray and when to stoop and when to write. I want to believe that this rule for my life comes directly from the Resurrected Christ and that it matters eternally whether or not I follow it. I want to follow it humbly and contentedly all the rest of the days of my life [or at least until I reinvent myself in middle age]--(joking).

I'll let you know how it goes... if it goes well.


Julia said...

Have you considered reading (or re-reading) Brother Lawrence lately? I find him exceedingly helpful when I get stuck in feeling I need direction.

ellie said...

I live under the Rule of a monastic order, as an Oblate under Vows, out in the world, raising a family. To encapsulate it in just a few words really isn't possible but: I wouldn't be whole, without this Rule. Affiliation with my order has brought me immeasurable peace, joy, and purpose. This is God's call to me.

(earlier, I stopped by your blog and found it closed to general readership -- I am so glad to find it open! -- I would miss you)

Peter and Nancy said...

A friend of mine just recommended something by Brother Lawrence. I also like to read Madeleine L'Engle (her non-fiction, drawn-from-life books) when I'm feeling unsure how to weave together writing, Christianity and real life.

I think the thing that most helps me when I consider the pursuit of holiness and pious works is thinking about Christ as the Incarnation. He walked around here too, and ate and talked and laughed and got sick and did work . . . those kinds of thoughts help me find my way into incarnational living in my own imperfect life.

BettyDuffy said...

Ok, I know I'm supposed to know who Brother Lawrence is...but I don't. What's the title of the book I should read?

Ellie, I've been wondering if I should seek out a monastic order. I've been leery since I was involved with Regnum Christi for so long. I think I might be more of a Benedictine though. Anything that helps with the discipline of desire. I want to want the right things.

I did shut down access to the blog this afternoon. Sorry about that. Maintenance, of a personal nature. Just practicing my rule.

Lizzie said...

Amen, Amen, Amen. That is all...

Brother Lawrence 'The Practice of the Presence of God'

JMB said...

This is all very good Betty, but what about Jesus' own words that " unless you become like children you will not enter the kingdom of God". So what does that mean to you? I have spent the last 17 years around my own children and I can say that they don't normally tell each other off or correct each other. You always have that annoying carpool friend of one child whom you just want to smack beside the head, but by and large, little kids are pretty nice to each other. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think we should be correcting each other, only God knows what serious shit goes on behind close doors.

BettyDuffy said...

I think you might have misread me, JMB. I was being (or trying to be) ironic when I was talking about correcting people. I absolutely agree with you--it's usually not wise to stick your nose in other people's business. And the point of the meditation I was reading is that meekness is a greater influence than hot-headed force.

BettyDuffy said...

I've edited to make more clear what I meant.