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Lectio Divina – Paradox

“Does this shock you?  What if you were to see the Son of Man

ascending to where he was before?  

It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.  The words I have spoken to you

are Spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not  believe.”

 

A Jesuit priest named Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade wrote a beautiful meditation filled with paradox on the verse above from the Gospel of John (6:60 – 69). [1]

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De Caussade’s meditation talks about the mysteries of death and reason, two seemingly dissimilar things. In one sense it seems logical that in death we discover the end of reason … or do we? De Caussade believes “we should listen to the Word which is spoken to us in the depth of our hearts at every moment” not simply at times of crisis or revelation or epiphany. In his meditation he poses two rhetorical questions: if our senses and our reason don’t understand “or penetrate the truth and goodness of that word, is it not on account of their incapacity for divine truths? Should I be astonished because a mystery disconcerts my reason?”

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This prayerful man, De Caussade, was in conversation with his God all the time. God spoke to him in the everyday actions and in the fantastic transformations. He states that “the mystery of the divine is the death of my senses and my reason, for it is the nature of mysteries to immolate them.”

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The word “immolate” stays with me. Contemplating the word choice, I think of spontaneous combustion, bursting into flames, and total destruction of senses and reason. Is there room for life and faith and love, the opposite effects, at the same time?  If the mysteries are incinerated, what is left? De Caussade goes on to say, “A mystery is life to the heart through faith, but for the rest of our faculties a contradiction. The divine action kills and vitalizes with the same stroke.” How can that be? The paradox and contradictions were fingernails on a chalk board. Cognitive dissonance. Auditory interference demanding resolution.

De Caussade goes on to say that “the darker the mystery, the more light it contains.” He explains this paradox as the “simple soul finding nothing more divine than that which in appearance is least divine.” The life of faith consists entirely in this incessant battle, this battle with the senses and reason.

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When did this Jesuit priest deliver his mind-bending meditation? St. Ignatius lay down his sword of battle, surrendered his life, and founded the Jesuits in in 1534. De Caussade said these words in the Mid-1700’s. Has the world changed since that time or has it remained pretty much the same in relation to mystery? Good God question, one I’ll have to ask at the pearly gates.

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[1] Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade, SJ, was a French Jesuit priest, a writer, and a revered spiritual director. He died in 1751. The passages are quoted in Magnificat, Rev. Peter J. Cameron, Editor. Yonkers, New York. May, 2014. Page 140-141.

a Pat Conroy

Fr. Pat Conroy, S.J. is fighting paradox daily as Chaplain to the US Congress

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