Thursday, August 12, 2010

For Thoughts Like These from Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson was an English convert to Catholicism. No big deal, right? Wrong! You see, RHB had been ordained an Anglican priest in 1895. The thing was, his dad was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time.  Think of how proud his parents and the rest of his family were of him.

In 1896, his father passed away suddenly, and Benson himself was ill as well. While on a field trip to recover his health, he began delving into his beliefs and began to lean toward becoming a Catholic. His relatives were underwhelmed with the idea of the son of the late head of the Church of England doing such a thing. Preposterous—but Bobbie did just that in 1903.

I've been reading his book The Friendship of Christ and found these thoughts of his very helpful. In Part II of the book, he covers finding Christ exteriorly; in the Eucharist, the Church, priests, sinners and saints, and in the average person.  That is the section I needed to read now, because my biggest difficulty (know thyself) is loving my neighbor as myself. Since this is the second greatest commandment, I know I need lots of help putting this into practice. Here is an excerpt from Chapter X,

Finding Christ in the Average Man

To do this perfectly and consistently is Sanctity. To find Him here is to find Him everywhere. If we find Him here, how much more easily shall we find Him in the Saint, the Sinner, the Priest, the Church and the Blessed Sacrament. And there is no short cut to Sanctity.

Two considerations, however, are worth remarking: (i) We have to remind ourselves constantly of the duty, and to remain discontented with ourselves until we are at least attempting to practise it.

For the very charms and allurements of what is usually known as "religion" have this extraordinary danger attached to them — that we should mistake them for religion itself. Hardly any danger is so great as this, in these times of ours when religion calls to its aid so many beauties of art and devotion. We may go even further, and say that actual God-given consolations, given "for our health," may "become to us an occasion of falling."

Christ caresses the soul, entices it and enchants it, especially in the earlier stages of the spiritual life, in order to encourage it to further efforts; and it is, therefore, a very real spiritual snare that we should mistake Christ's gifts for Christ, religiosity for religion, and the joys possible on earth for the joys awaiting us in heaven — in a word, that we should mistake the saying of "Lord! Lord!" for the "doing the Will of the Father who is in heaven"(Matt vii. 21)

Continually and persistently, therefore, we have to test our progress by practical results. I find it easier and easier to worship Christ in the Tabernacle: do I therefore find it easier and easier to serve Christ in my neighbour? For, if not, I am making no real progress at all. I am not advancing, that is to say, along the whole line: I am pushing forward one department of my life to the expense of the rest: I am not developing my Friendship with Christ: I am developing, rather, my own conception of His Friendship (which is a totally different thing). I am falling into the most fatal of all interior snares.

"I find Him in the shining of the stars.
I find Him in the flowering of the fields.
But in His ways with man I find Him not."
-Morte d'Arthur, Tennyson

And therefore I am not finding Him as He desires to be found.

A second aid to this recognition of Christ lies in an increase of self-knowledge. My supreme difficulty is the merely superficial and imaginative difficulty of realizing how it is possible to discern the Unique beneath the disguise of the Average. Therefore, as I learn to know myself better, and learn therefore how very average I myself am, and, at the same time, discover that Christ still bears with me, tolerates me and dwells within me, it becomes easier for me to realize that Christ is also in my neighbor.

As I penetrate deeper and deeper by self-knowledge into the strata of my own character, learning afresh with each discovery how selflove permeates the whole, how little zeal there is for God's glory, and what an immensity of zeal for my own, how my best actions are poisoned by the worst motives — and yet, all through, that Christ still condescends to tabernacle beneath it all and to shine in a heart so cloudy as mine — it becomes increasingly easy for me to understand that He can with even greater facility be hid beneath that exterior of my neighbour whom I find so antipathetic, but of whose unworthiness I can never be so certain as I am of my own.

"Cleave the Wood" — look down into your own wooden stupidity of head, "and you shall find me. Lift the stone"—wrench out that rocky senseless thing that you call your heart "and I am there." And then, having found Christ in yourself, go out and find Him in your neighbour too.

Maybe The Friendship of Christ should be the next selection for the YIM Catholic Book Club. All in favor say "Aye." Many more of Bensons books are available on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.