"...for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it."

-Pope Pius XI, Encyclical "Mortalium Animos"

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Why I Didn’t Convert to Eastern Orthodoxy by Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S.

I am probably a rather unusual convert to Catholicism, in that my spiritual journey to Rome involved both the other major world divisions of Christianity—Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. As an undergraduate university student, guided by the rational λογος (logos) of classical philosophy (which Pope Benedict famously insisted upon as an attribute of God in his 2006 Regensburg discourse), I came to see the essential logical incoherence in Reformation Christianity: Its fundamental sola scriptura principle itself nowhere appears in Scripture and so is self-referentially contradictory.

I was also becoming increasingly convinced that if there is to be any true and definitive revelation from God to humanity, then—given that God has plainly not decided to offer this revelation immediately and directly to each individual—he will need to establish a completely reliable intermediary, perennially accessible here on earth to ordinary people like you and me. In short, an infallible teaching authority. However, with further reading, I found myself confronted by the reality of two great communions—the two largest in Christendom, in fact—presenting themselves as rival claimants to the gift of infallibility. I had long known of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the divinely appointed authority endowed with this charism. But now—in 1971, that is—I discovered the similar claim of Eastern Orthodoxy. Constantinople now flashed onto my radar screen as a challenger to Rome. How was I to decide between them?

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Vladimir Soloviev: Convert to Russian Catholicism

Excerpted from: http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/soloviev.htm


The Russian legend of St. Nicolas and St. Cassian, its application to the two separated Churches.

A popular Russian legend tells how St. Nicolas and St. Cassian were upon a visit to the earth. On their journey they met a poor peasant who had got his wagon, with a load of hay upon it, stuck in the mud and was making fruitless efforts to get his horses on.

'Let's go and give the good fellow a hand,' said St. Nicolas.

'Not I; I'm keeping out of it,' replied St. Cassian, 'I don't want to get my coat dirty.'

'Well, wait for me,' said St. Nicolas, 'or go on without me if you like,' and plunging without hesitation into the mud he vigorously assisted the peasant in dragging his wagon out of the rut.

When he had finished the job and caught his companion up, he was all covered in filth; his coat was torn and soiled and looked like a beggar's rags. St. Peter was amazed to see him arrive at the gate of Paradise in this condition.

'I say! Who ever got you into that state?' he asked. St. Nicolas told his story.

'And what about you?' asked St. Peter, turning to St. Cassian. 'Weren't you with him in this encounter?'

'Yes, but I don't meddle in things that are no concern of mine, and I was especially anxious not to get my beautiful clean coat dirty.'

'Very well,' said St. Peter, 'you, St. Nicolas, because you were not afraid of getting dirty in helping your neighbor out of a difficulty, shall for the future have two feasts a year, and you shall be reckoned the greatest of saints after me by all the peasants of holy Russia. And you, St. Cassian, must be content with having a nice clean coat; you shall have your feastday in leap-year only, once every four years.'

We may well forgive St. Cassian for his dislike of manual labor and the mud of the highroad. But he would be quite wrong to condemn his companion for having a different idea of the duties of saints' towards mankind. We may like St. Cassian's clean and spotless clothes, but since our wagon is still deep in the mud, St. Nicolas is the one we really need, the stout-hearted saint who is always ready to get to work and help us.

The Western Church, faithful to the apostolic mission, has not been afraid to plunge into the mire of history. After having been for centuries the only element of moral order and intellectual culture among the barbarous peoples of Europe, it undertook the task not only of the spiritual education of these peoples of independent spirit and uncivilized instincts but also of their material government.

In devoting itself to this arduous task the Papacy, like St. Nicolas in the legend, thought not so much of the cleanliness of its own appearance as of the urgent needs of mankind. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, with its solitary asceticism and its contemplative mysticism, its withdrawal from political life and from all the social problems which concern mankind as a whole, thought chiefly, like St. Cassian, of reaching Paradise without a single stain on its clothing.

The Western Church aimed at employing all its powers, divine and human, for the attainment of a universal goal; the Eastern Church was only concerned with the preservation of its purity. There is the chief point of difference and the fundamental cause of the schism between the two Churches.

It is a question of a different ideal of the religious life itself. The religious ideal of the separated Christian East is not false; it is incomplete. In Eastern Christendom for the last thousand years religion has been identified with personal piety (1), and prayer has been regarded as the one and only religious activity.

The Western Church, without disparaging individual piety as the true germ of all religion, seeks the development of this germ and its blossoming into a social activity organized for the glory of God and the universal good of mankind. The Eastern prays, the Western prays and labors. Which of the two is right?

Jesus Christ founded His visible Church not merely to meditate on heaven, but also to labor upon earth and to withstand the gates of hell. He did not send His apostles into the solitude of the desert, but into the world to conquer it and subject it to the Kingdom which is not of this world, and He enjoined upon them not only the innocence of doves but also the wisdom of serpents. If it is merely a question of preserving the purity of the Christian soul, what is the purpose of all the Church's social organization and of all those sovereign and absolute powers with which Christ has armed her in giving her final authority to bind and to loose on earth as well as in heaven?

The monks of the holy mountain of Athos, true representatives of the isolated Eastern Church, have for centuries spent all their energies in prayer and the contemplation of the uncreated light of Tabor (2). They are perfectly right; prayer and the contemplation of uncreated things are essential to the Christian life.

But can we allow that this occupation of the soul constitutes the whole Christian life?--or that is what we must do if we try to put the Orthodox East, with its peculiar character and special religious tendencies, in the place of the Universal Church. We have in the East a Church at prayer, but where among us is the Church in action, asserting itself as a spiritual force absolutely independent of the powers of this world?

Where in the East is the Church of the living God, the Church which in every generation legislates for mankind, which establishes and develops the formulation of eternal truth with which to counteract the continually changing formulas of error? Where is the Church which labors to re-mould the whole social life of the nations in accordance with the Christian ideal, and to guide them towards the supreme goal of Creation--free and perfect union with the Creator?

The advocates of an exclusive asceticism should remember that the perfect Man spent only forty days in the wilderness; those who contemplate the light of Tabor should not forget that that light appeared only once in the earthly life of Christ, Who proved by His own example that true prayer and true contemplation are simply a foundation for the life of action.

If this great Church, which for centuries has done nothing but pray, has not prayed in vain, she must show herself a living Church, acting, struggling, victorious. But we ourselves must will that it be so. We must above all recognize the insufficiency of our traditional religious ideal, and make a sincere attempt to realize a more complete conception of Christianity. There is no need to invent or create anything new for this purpose. We merely have to restore to our religion its Catholic or universal character by recognizing our oneness with the active part of the Christian world, with the West centralized and organized for a universal activity and possessing all that we lack.

We are not asked to change our nature as Easterns or to repudiate the specific character of our religious genius.

We have only to recognize unreservedly the elementary truth that we of the East are but a part of the Universal Church, a part moreover which has not its center within itself, and that therefore it behooves us to restore the link between our individual forces upon the circumference and the great universal center which Providence has placed in the West. There is no question of suppressing our religious and moral individuality but rather of crowning it and inspiring it with a universal and progressive life.

The whole of our duty to ourselves consists simply in recognizing ourselves for what we are in reality, an organic part of the great body of Christendom, and in affirming our spiritual solidarity with our Western brethren. This moral act of justice and charity would be in itself an immense step forward on our part and the essential condition of all further advance.

St. Cassian need not become a different person or cease to care about keeping his clothes spotless. He must simply recognize that his comrade has certain important qualities which he himself lacks, and instead of sulking at this energetic worker he must frankly accept him as his companion and guide on the earthly voyage that still lies before them.

Russia and The Universal Church, pp. 39-42


Critical Observations on the Russian Slavophiles and their ideas concerning the Church

... The Church is one and indivisible; yet it may at the same time comprise various spheres, not to be separated but to be clearly distinguished from one another. Otherwise it would be impossible to understand the past or present history of religion or to do anything for the religious future of mankind. Absolute perfection can only belong to that higher part of the Church which has already once for all appropriated and assimilated the fullness of the divine grace--the Church triumphant or the realm of Glory.

Midway between this divine sphere and the purely earthly elements of visible humanity stands the divine-human organism of the Church, invisible in its mystical power and visible in its present manifestation, sharing equally in the perfection of heaven and in the conditions of material existence. This is the Church, properly speaking, and it is with her that we are concerned. She is not perfect in the absolute sense, but she must possess all the necessary means of secure progress towards the supreme ideal--the perfect unity of the whole creation in God--in spite of countless obstacles and difficulties, through the struggles, temptations and weaknesses of men.

Here below, the Church has not the perfect unity of the heavenly kingdom, but nevertheless she must have a certain real unity, a bond at once organic and spiritual which constitutes her a concrete institution, a living body and a moral individual. Though she does not include the whole of mankind in an actual material sense, she is nevertheless universal in so far as she cannot be confined exclusively to any one nation or group of nations, but must have an international center from which to spread throughout the whole universe.

The Church here below, though she is founded on the revelation of God and is the guardian of the deposit of faith, does not therefore enjoy absolute and immediate knowledge of all truths; but she is infallible, that is to say, she cannot be mistaken when at a given moment she defines such and such a religious or moral truth, the explicit knowledge of which has become necessary to her. The Church on earth is not absolutely free, since she is subject to the conditions of finite existence; but she must be sufficiently independent to be able to carry on a constant and active struggle against the powers of the enemy and to prevent the gates of hell from prevailing against her.

Such is the true Church on earth, the Church which in spite of the imperfection of her human element has received from God the right, the power and all the required means to raise and guide mankind towards its appointed end. Were she not one and universal, she could not serve as the foundation of the positive unity of all peoples, which is her chief mission. Were she not infallible, she could not guide mankind in the true way; she would be a blind leader of the blind. Finally were she not independent, she could not fulfil her duty towards society; she would become the instrument of the powers of this world and would completely fail in her mission.

Russia and The Universal Church, pp. 57-58


Soloviev's Reflection on Sts. Andrew and Peter

"Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who had heard what John said and had followed Jesus. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him: We have found the Messiah (which means, the Anointed). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus having looked upon him said: Thou art Simon, the Son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas (which means, Rock)' (John 1:40-42).

The Greco-Russian Church, as we have seen, claims the special patronage of St. Andrew. The blessed apostle, inspired by goodwill towards his brother, brings him to the Lord and hears from the divine lips the first word of Simon's future destiny as the Rock of the Church.

There is no indication in the Gospels or in the Acts of the Apostles that St. Andrew ever felt any envy towards St. Peter or questioned his primacy. It is because we would justify the claim of Russia to be the Church of St. Andrew that we shall try to imitate his example and to conceive the same spirit of goodwill and religious harmony towards the great Church which is especially connected with St. Peter.

This spirit will preserve us from local or national egotism, the source of so much error, and will enable us to examine the dogma of the Rock of the Church in the light of the very essence of the revelation of the God-Man, and so to discern in that revelation the eternal truths which this dogma expresses.

Russia and The Universal Church, p. 84


Soloviev's Reflection on The Church and Fatherhood

From another point of view, there is bound to be an hierarchical gradation in spiritual fatherhood in proportion to the extent of the social units which it embraces. We know that the Church is natural humanity transubstantiated. Now natural humanity is constituted on the analogy of a living body. A physical body is a complex unity made up of relatively simple units of different degrees in a complicated relationship of subordination and coordination.

The main degrees of this physical hierarchy are three in number. The lowest degree is represented by the relatively simple units, the elementary organs or organic elements of the body. In the middle degree we find the limbs of the body and its organs properly so called, which are more or less composite. Finally, all these members and organs are subordinate to the unity of the whole body controlled by a central organ.

Similarly in the political organism of natural humanity, which was to be regenerated by Christianity, relatively simply units--tribes, clans, rural communities, small states--were united in composite collectivities more or less subdivided, nations at different stages of development, provinces of varying extent; finally all the provinces and nations were united in the universal monarchy, governed by a unique social organ, the city of Rome, a city which concentrated in itself the whole world and was at once urbs et orbis.

This was the organism which was to be transubstantiated by Christianity. The body, historic humanity, was to be regenerated in every part in accordance with the order of its composition. And since Christ established a spiritual fatherhood as the basis of this regeneration, that fatherhood had to take form in accordance with the given variations in the forms of society.

There were therefore three degrees in the spiritual fatherhood or the priesthood: each primary social community or village, transubstantiated into a Church, received a spiritual father or priest; and all these priests together formed the lower clergy or the priesthood properly speaking. The provinces of the Empire, transubstantiated into eparchies or dioceses of different orders, each formed a large family with a common father in the person of the archiereus or bishop, the immediate father of the priests under him and through them of all the faithful of his diocese.

But all the spiritual social units of this second order represented by the episcopate, the particular Churches of cities, provinces and nations governed by prelates of all degrees (simple bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, primates or patriarchs) are only members of the Universal Church which must itself be manifest as a higher unit embracing all these members. The mere juxtaposition of its parts is not in fact enough to constitute a living body. It must possess a formal unity or substantial form which definitely embraces in actuality all the particular units, the elements and organs of which the body is composed.

And if the particular spiritual families which between them make up mankind are in reality to form a single Christian family, a single Universal Church, they must be subject to a common fatherhood embracing all Christian nations. To assert that there exist in reality nothing more than national Churches is to assert that the members of a body exist in and for themselves and that the body itself has no reality.

On the contrary, Christ did not found any particular Church. He created them all in the real unity of the Universal Church which He entrusted to Peter as the one supreme representative of the divine Fatherhood towards the whole family of the sons of Man.

It was by no mere chance that Jesus Christ specially ascribed to the first divine hypostasis, the heavenly Father, that divine-human act which made Simon Bar-Jona the first social father of the whole human family and the infallible master of the school of mankind.

'It is not flesh and blood which have revealed it to thee--but My Father Who is in heaven.' God the Holy Trinity is as indivisible in His action ad extra as in His inner life. If St. Peter was divinely inspired, it was by God the Son and God the Holy Ghost as much as by God the Father, and since it was a matter of inspiration it might have seemed more appropriate to make special mention of the Holy Spirit who spake by the prophets.

But it is just here that we see the divine reason which governed every word of Christ, and the universal significance of His utterance to Peter. For it was not a matter of asserting that in this particular instance Simon had been inspired from above; that was as possible for him as for any of his fellows. But it was a matter of establishing in his favor the unique institution of universal fatherhood in the Church, the image and instrument of the divine Fatherhood; and therefore it was above all to the heavenly Father that the supreme reason and sanction for this institution was to be referred.

Russia and The Universal Church, pp. 198-200

1--In old Russian the word 'piety' (blagochestie) was ordinarily used to express 'orthodoxy', and the expression 'pious belief' (blagochestivaya vera) was used instead of 'orthodox belief'.

2--By certain physiological or psychological processes which are summed up among us under the name of 'cerebral action' (umnoye delanie) the hermits of Athos experience unique sensations and achieve a state of ecstasy in which they claim to see the divine light which manifested itself at the Transfiguration of our Lord. The curious thing is that this phenomenon is regarded as an eternal, subsistent reality. In the fourteenth century furious controversy arose in the Greek Church over the inquiry into the real nature of the light of Tabor and its relation to the essence of the Godhead.

Russia and The Universal Church, Vladimir Soloviev (translated by Herbert Rees), London, The Centenary Press, first published 1948

Friday, May 1, 2009

What aspects of the Eastern Orthodox spirituality of the "Jesus Prayer" are in accord with Catholicism? Part II

"The hesychast controversy marked another distinctive moment in Eastern theology. In the East, hesychasm means a method of prayer characterized by a deep tranquillity of the spirit, which is engaged in constant contemplation of God by invoking the name of Jesus. There was no lack of tension with the Catholic viewpoint on certain aspects of this practice. However, we should acknowledge the good intentions which guided the defense of this spiritual method, that is, to emphasize the concrete possibility that man is given to unite himself with the Triune God in the intimacy of his heart, in that deep union of grace which Eastern theology likes to describe with the particularly powerful term of "theosis", "divinization"."

Excerpted from "Eastern Theology Has Enriched the Whole Church", an Angelus Message by Pope John Paul II.

Fr. Chrysostom Frank, Russian Orthodox priest in Communion with Rome.

Excerpted from the "Denver Catholic Register"

Married Byzantine priest to serve as administrator of downtown parish

Father Frank to offer both Latin and Eastern-rite liturgies at St. Elizabeth Church

Roxanne King

For the last four years, a married priest has taught at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and now, he will also serve as a parish administrator.

And it's all in keeping with the teaching of the Church.

Byzantine Catholic Father Chrysostom Frank, 48, a professor of Church history at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, is assigned to serve as administrator of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish located on the Auraria campus downtown, beginning July 1. His wife, Marica, a native of South Africa, teaches Greek and Latin at the seminary. The couple has three children.

In addition to his seminary duties, Father Frank also has served as administrator of Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church. His new assignment means a farewell there.

Raised Protestant, and with an English accent acquired during the many years he lived in Great Britain and South Africa, the Pennsylvania native likes to say he "slowly progressed towards Catholicism."

"When I was doing my doctorate at the University of St. Andrew in Scotland I became a Byzantine Christian and ... in 1985 I was ordained to the priesthood in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. A few years later, I canonically transferred to the Orthodox Church in America."

His unique situation in the Denver Archdiocese — he is likely the first married priest to oversee a Roman Catholic parish here — is not his first trailblazing experience.

For 10 years he served a parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, that was a cooperative venture between the Greek Orthodox and the American Orthodox churches. The parish, St. Nicholas of Japan (named after a contemporary Russian Orthodox saint) was "the first one of that kind in South Africa."

Father Frank became a Catholic in 1998.

"I saw no reason for the schism of 1054 to continue," Father Frank said referring to the split between the Eastern and Western churches over several issues, including papal authority. "It seemed to me that it was possible for Eastern and Western Christians to live together in communion despite the fact that we have different liturgical, spiritual and theological traditions. But our roots are basically what unite us.

"The only way for that to be done is to be in communion with the bishop of Rome, the chair of Peter," he continued. "It really was a desire on my part to find a fuller expression of the Church's universality and catholicity. In other words, there are differences that remain but those differences don't seem to me to be sufficient for perpetuating the schism. So really what I saw myself as doing is being an Orthodox Christian in communion with Rome."

Msgr. Tom Fryar, vicar for clergy and seminarians for the archdiocese, sees Father Frank's marital status as revealing "the diversity present in the Church."

"It's going to be an opportunity for people to fully understand that the richness of the Catholic Church is far wider and more diverse than what many knew from their experience," he said.

While the Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest of the Catholic churches, 21 Eastern Catholic churches share the same essential Christian faith and are in communion with the pope. Many of them use the Divine Liturgy (Mass) of St. John Chrysostom, which dates back 1,700 years.

The tradition of the Eastern churches, Orthodox and Catholic, is to have both married and celibate clergy. The Western Church recognizes all the sacraments of the Eastern churches, including the ordinations of married men, Father Frank said.

"So for an Orthodox priest to become a Catholic takes about two minutes," he said with a chuckle.

Married former Protestant clergy also have been accepted into the Catholic priesthood since 1980, when the Vatican approved special U.S. provisions under which former Episcopal priests could apply for ordination in the Catholic priesthood, according to a Catholic News Service report.

While a married priest might be a novelty now, they may be on the increase. CNS reported May 23 that the Vatican has stopped suspending ordinations of married men for Eastern Catholic churches in North America and Australia. Since 1929 Church rules generally allowed such priests to minister only in the traditional homeland of their church. Eastern-rite bishops have said the Second Vatican Council's call to respect the traditions and disciplines of the Eastern churches and similar affirmations in the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches have nullified the ban.

But all this doesn't mean the Western Church is ready to toss out its tradition of a celibate priesthood.

"Both disciplines are ancient and the two parts of the Church are equally committed to their own disciplines," Father Frank said. "Having Eastern Catholic married priests doesn't mean that the Latin Church needs to embrace that as its discipline because clerical celibacy has a rationale all of its own."

The discipline of clerical celibacy in the Western Church stands on its own merits and it can stand alongside the discipline of the Eastern churches, Father Frank said.

"The married pastoral model, which is normative within Eastern Christianity — not exclusive but normative — would give priority to human intimacy as being the normal means towards intimacy with God. That is, through the sacrament of marriage, or the mystery of marriage, a pathway is opened up towards intimacy with God. That then becomes the means for the average pastor to carry out his ministry in relationship to other people," he explained.

Celibate priests in the Eastern tradition are often monks, Father Frank said.

"The Eastern tradition, by and large, doesn't like to have celibate men left on their own. It would prefer to see them live in a community of some sort simply because of the realization that it's in many ways difficult to live a celibate life by oneself — not impossible but difficult."

The Western tradition "would give priority to intimacy with God which is not mediated through that kind of intimacy that we find in marriage," Father Frank said. "It would hold forth the life of the angels, for example, to be the model that would be used in expressing how a pastor would relate to the Christian community."

Both traditions require ascetical discipline and both have eschatological value, he said.

"Both of them point towards the kingdom of God. Certainly within the Eastern tradition celibate monastics have always been regarded as being signs of the kingdom."

The two disciplines "reflect legitimate plurality," Father Frank said. "Oftentimes there's a fear of that but I think that we are now coming to the point where that fear is being dissipated."

If both traditions are to survive, each "must stand on its own merits," he said.

"And they both can," Father Frank said with conviction.

Although the Byzantine priest said he is saddened to leave the community of Holy Protection Church, he is also excited about the prospect of leading St. Elizabeth's, which offers a chance to reach out to the thousands of students who use the Auraria campus and to celebrate the Russian Byzantine rite.

"It's an opportunity for there to be a place right in the heart of the Archdiocese of Denver where Western Christians can encounter the Eastern tradition. In this case, the Russian Byzantine tradition. ... I really hope it's a genuine place of encounter for Christians — and this is what Pope John Paul II has repeatedly called for — an encounter between the East and the West so we can learn to breathe with two lungs again."

On Sundays, Father Frank will celebrate the Latin-rite Mass at 9 a.m. and the Russian Byzantine rite — in English — at 11 a.m.

The Byzantine tradition traces its roots to the Church of Constantinople. Roman Catholics may attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy to fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation.

The Divine Liturgy is always sung and is more elaborate than a Latin-rite Mass. One significant difference Roman Catholics might notice in the Byzantine rite is that Communion is done by intinction, meaning the consecrated bread is soaked in the consecrated wine, and served on a spoon. Another difference is that all the baptized faithful, babies and children included, receive Communion. That's because all the sacraments of initiation, including confirmation and Communion, are received at the time of one's baptism in the Eastern churches.

"I'm quite excited about this possibility at St. Elizabeth's of actually serving both a Roman Catholic community as well as trying to form a Byzantine Russian Catholic community," Father Frank said.

Known as an "open" parish with a solid music program and a strong sense of community makes St. Elizabeth's an ideal place to offer the Byzantine rite, Father Frank said.

"And that's quite nice," he said.

And the St. Elizabeth community is in for a treat, too, Msgr. Fryar said.

"Father Frank brings an insight and wisdom of the faith to the local setting which currently benefits our seminarians to a large degree and will now benefit a parish community in a new and dynamic way," he said.

Other churches in Denver offering Eastern-rite liturgies include Holy Protection of the Mother of God (Ruthenian rite), Transfiguration of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic (Ukrainian rite) and St. Rafka Maronite Mission at All Souls Parish (Maronite rite).

What aspects of the Eastern Orthodox spirituality of the "Jesus Prayer" are in accord with Catholicism?

The answer can be found in a document put out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called "LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON SOME ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN MEDITATION"

III. Erroneous Ways Of Praying

11. However, these forms of error, wherever they arise, "can be diagnosed" very simply. The meditation of the Christian in prayer seeks to grasp the depths of the divine in the salvific works of God in Christ, the Incarnate Word, and in the gift of his Spirit. These divine depths are always revealed to him through the human-earthly dimension. Similar methods of meditation, on the other hand, including those which have their starting-point in the words and deeds of Jesus, try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense perceptible or conceptually limited. It is thus an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which, as such, is neither terrestrial, sense-perceptible nor capable of conceptualization.12 This tendency, already present in the religious sentiments of the later Greek period (especially in "Neoplatonism"), is found deep in the religious inspiration of many peoples, no sooner than they become aware of the precarious character of their representations of the divine and of their attempts to draw close to it.

VI. Psychological-Corporal Methods

27. Eastern Christian meditation32 has valued "psychophysical symbolism," often absent in western forms of prayer. It can range from a specific bodily posture to the basic life functions, such as breathing or the beating of the heart. The exercise of the "Jesus Prayer," for example, which adapts itself to the natural rhythm of breathing can, at least for a certain time, be of real help to many people.33 On the other hand, the eastern masters themselves have also noted that not everyone is equally suited to making use of this symbolism, since not everybody is able to pass from the material sign to the spiritual reality that is being sought.

Understood in an inadequate and incorrect way, the symbolism can even become an idol and thus an obstacle to the raising up of the spirit to God. To live out in one's prayer the full awareness of one's body as a symbol is even more difficult: it can degenerate into a cult of the body and can lead surreptitiously to considering all bodily sensations as spiritual experiences.

28. Some physical exercises automatically produce a feeling of quiet and relaxation, pleasing sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and of warmth, which resemble spiritual well-being. To take such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life. Giving them a symbolic significance typical of the mystical experience, when the moral condition of the person concerned does not correspond to such an experience, would represent a kind of mental schizophrenia which could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations.

That does not mean that genuine practices of meditation which come from the Christian East and from the great non-Christian religions, which prove attractive to the man of today who is divided and disoriented, cannot constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God with an interior peace, even in the midst of external pressures.

It should, however, be remembered that habitual union with God, namely that attitude of interior vigilance and appeal to the divine assistance which in the New Testament is called "continuous prayer,"34 is not necessarily interrupted when one devotes oneself also, according to the will of God, to work and to the care of one's neighbor. "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God," the Apostle tells us (1 Cor 10:31). In fact, genuine prayer, as the great spiritual masters teach, stirs up in the person who prays an ardent charity which moves him to collaborate in the mission of the Church and to serve his brothers for the greater glory of God.35

33. The practice of the "Jesus Prayer," which consists of repeating the formula, rich in biblical references, of invocation and supplication (e.g., "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me"), is adapted to the natural rhythm of breathing. In this regard, see St. Ignatius of Loyola, "Spiritual Exercises" n. 258.