This book by C.S. Lewis was the first book that I had read outside of his Narnia series. I found an old copy at the back of my high school Theology teacher’s classroom. I was intrigued because I hadn’t realized he had written other books besides his children’s novels. She graciously allowed me to borrow it, and although I didn’t quite understand it as I do now, his words elevated my thoughts to an entirely new plane. This book spurred my C.S. Lewis obsession… or rather appreciation. What especially attracted me was the immense beauty of the ideas contained within this little book, perhaps because he writes so descriptively of earthly and heavenly beauty. Also, one thing that was so striking was that Lewis seems to put into words the truths that I’ve always held in my heart, but could never quite articulate. In the following passages, he speaks of man’s experience of earthly pleasures, which never truly satisfy our longing and rather urge us on to discover the source of all beauty and goodness.
“In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you–the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is our desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited . . . Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies… bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere… They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now… Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.”
“We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as ‘the journey homeward to habitual self.’ You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to the world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: ‘Nobody marks us.’ A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising they don’t take notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I’m speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
“We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it… That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause use to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. One day, God willing, we shall get in.”
Into the sinking sand I wade—
With each move, I further fade,
No hope for a valiant rescue.
Sand swallows as I bid adieu.
Branches of an ancient olive tree
Extend themselves deliberately.
My feeble hands take hold tightly,
And the wise wickers pull faithfully.
Delivered from my sunken tomb—
My imperiled soul escapes doom.
I now lie at the foot of my Savior,
Who beheld my vile behavior.
I kiss the tree’s roots, which penetrate the earth,
With lips foul and devoid of worth.
I prostrate bow, consumed with shame.
Then, in my ear, winds whisper my name.
Smiling rays of sunshine show through
A veil of my hair, which shrouds my view.
Hands on my shoulders help me to stand.
I see no one, yet I’m not alone in this land.
I carry on under crimson sun.
Truth saved me. Lies—let there be none!
I’m cleansed, having suffered death’s cold caress.
Now, down which road shall I progress?
The following are excerpts from Scott Hahn’s brilliant exploration of the nature of sin, punishment, confession, and penance. If you think you already know everything there is to know about sin and the sacrament of confession, you will be pleasantly surprised by the Biblical depths Scott Hahn illuminates. The great thing about our beautiful faith is that it’s mysteries are inexhaustible and despite the wealth of knowledge and understanding you may possess, you can continuously experience newly found wonders.
“Adam feared the beast [the word for snake in the Bible can also be translated as dragon] . . . he feared for his life more than he feared for his wife; for he did not step forward to protect her . . .
Why would God subject Adam and Eve to such a trial? Because something greater lay on the other side of it. Adam and Eve were given the life of grace, but that was only penultimate. God had intended that grace to be a seed of glory. Adam was made in paradise, but made for heaven. God wanted Adam to share the inner life of the Trinity, which is complete self-giving: The Father pours Himself out in love for the Son; the Son returns that love completely with the gift of His own life; and that love shared by the Father and the Son is itself a divine person, the Holy Spirit. In order for Adam to share that life, he would have to begin living it on earth, in paradise. He would have to offer himself completely in sacrifice.
And that is what he failed to do. Adam was unwilling to lay down his life for the sake of his love for God, or to save the life of his beloved. That refusal to sacrifice was Adam’s original sin.”
“When people choose a forbidden pleasure, the punishment for sin becomes the pleasure they experience illicitly, because once they experience it, they want it more. If God abandons us to our illicit pleasures, we find we can no longer resist them at all…
Once we’re hooked on sin, our values are turned upside down . . . At that point, repentance becomes almost impossible, because repentance is, by definition, a turning away from evil and toward the good; but, by now, the sinner has thoroughly redefined both good and evil. Isaiah said of such sinners: ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil’ (Is 5:20).
. . . We render ourselves almost incapable of repenting, apart from some divine intervention–a car wreck, abandonment by our family, eviction from our home, the loss of a job. When disaster strikes, the sinner usually thinks God is finally waking up and beginning to punish him. But that is not divine wrath; it’s divine mercy, saving the sinner from a worse and everlasting fate.
What we see . . . are really the flashes of sudden, brilliant light that God sends to illumine a soul darkened by concupiscence and sin.”
“… His punishments are never vindictive . . . they are the inevitable consequences of our free choices . . . If we did not have the option of choosing sin and hell, we could not have the freedom of truly choosing and loving God. If God did not permit us to say no to Him, our yes would be worthless, the programmed response of a machine.”
“We can begin to overcome concupiscence through self-mastery and self-denial . . . but even that is not enough. We need the help that only God can give: the grace He dispenses freely in the sacrament of penance. That grace . . . creates anew the heart that sin has disordered, disfigured, and disgraced.”
“… [Jesus says] ‘Blessed are you poor . . . Blessed are you that hunger . . . Blessed are you that weep . . . Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil’ (Lk 6:20-23). All of these calamities, He said, are cause for rejoicing . . . the Beatitudes represent a ‘normative inversion’; they turn our expectations upside down . . . Suffering teaches us detachment from the goods of this world, and it so frees us to attach ourselves to the goods of heaven.”
“Jesus said… ‘Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple’ (Lk 14:27). Self-denial, clearly, is not optional…”
“Christians sacrifice the best things not because they think the world is evil… but because they know the world is very good–so good that it can distract us from what’s far better, thus detouring us on our way home to the Father . . . Love requires that we make sacrifices for the sake of our beloved . . . A man in love will redouble his heroic efforts if he has somehow offended his beloved.”
“Acts of self-denial… heal us by offsetting our many acts of self-indulgence.”
“We must offer our efforts not only for our own sake, but for the sake of others, our friends, neighbors, family members, and even people we don’t know, because they are our cocombatants… Saint Paul said: ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church’ (Col 1:24).”
“Whenever we choose to do good, we build up our fellow fighters, because there is a mystical solidarity that unites us . . . when we choose to do evil, we do not sin in isolation, but we weaken our side in the battle . . . Every time we sin, we diminish not only ourselves, but also the Church. That is one reason why Christ has us confess our sins to the Church.”
The following excerpts are from Part Four: The Foundation: Real Presence out of a MUST-read book called Jesus Shock by Peter Kreeft. It’s a tiny book of 161 pages, and a very quick and easy read. I have never read a book like this, where I want to underline almost every sentence. I swear each paragraph is like being slapped in the face by Truth, in a most enjoyable way!
“The center of all Christian worship until the Reformation was always the Eucharist, not the sermon, as it is for Protestants . . . Any pre-Reformation Christian would see a church service without the Eucharist as something like a marriage without sex.”
“. . . but we do not see Him in the Eucharist, and we usually do not feel His presence there. It is sheer faith, not sense or feeling, which accepts Him there. . . We are more privileged than Christ’s Apostles. He says that Himself to us when he says to Doubting Thomas, ‘You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.’ (Jn. 20:29) . . . It doesn’t feel more blessed to believe without seeing. If we saw him now . . . it would certainly feel more blessed . . . But He tells us that this appearance deceives us.”
“We are all self-centered experience-addicts. We are so addicted to our own positive experiences of joy and happiness that if we experienced Christ more joyfully than we do, we would almost inevitably come to love our experience of Christ more than Christ Himself . . . He knows exactly what He is doing . . . training us to rely on faith, not feeling. For that means training us to rely on His word, not ours. . . He is not a means, and our joy is not the end. That is idolatry. He is the end.”
“He has to wean us from our experience-addiction and direct all our faith and love to Him, not to ourselves. Christ is our joy, and we have Him, really present, always (Matthew 28:20); and therefore we have joy, even when we do not feel it. We need nothing more than Christ. We do not need Christ plus joy, or Christ plus experience; we only need Christ. But we also need one more thing: we need to know that we need only Christ.”
“He is training us in faith, taking his fatherly hand off our two-wheeler bike so that we can learn to move ahead on the wheels of faith rather than on the helping hand of feelings . . . He knows our addiction to feelings, and mercifully refuses to satisfy it. He will not give us a spiritual sweet tooth.”
“The difference between a parish’s faith in, and focus on, the Real Presence of Christ Himself, and its focus on themselves, or on ‘community’ instead–that is, on our presence instead of His–is the explanation of the difference between the parish that is alive and the parish that is half-dead . . .
That’s why Modernists don’t build Cathedrals to worship in, but buildings that look like schools or offices . . . Only faith in the Real Presence in the Eucharist built those cathedrals. They were not built for man but for God, to give God Incarnate a fitting reception, to undo the scandal of ‘no room in the inn’ as extravagantly as possible . . . They were the woman’s alabaster box broken over Christ’s feet. (Mt. 26:7; Lk. 7:37)
Cathedrals are boudoirs for trysts with God, passion palaces where two passions meet, love responding to Love, man’s astonished love of Christ responding to Christ’s astonishing love of man. He came all the way down from Heaven to the cross just to love and save us; so we went up into the heavens as much as medieval technology allowed (and more!) in building cathedrals to show to the world the incomparable beauty of His divinity which he concealed under the appearance of a crucified criminal, and then the incomparable beauty of his humanity which He concealed under the appearances of a humble circle of unleavened bread . . .
Now comes the final shock: you are the cathedral.
Man is a cathedral, and God is its builder. You are even more miraculously beautiful than the cathedrals. You are supernaturally beautiful, and for the same reason cathedrals are: because you are designed to house the holy God in the body, in matter, time, and space. ‘Do you not know? Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit!’ (I Cor. 6:19)”
“Christ’s Incarnation was an act of war. . . He came to divide the world, not unite it. (Mt. 10:34) . . . The war is not with flesh and blood. It is worse than that. It is with demons. (Eph 6:12) . . . the Eucharist is not safe. It is dangerous. It can kill you. Cf. I Corinthians 11:27-30 . . . the Eucharist is Christ, and Christ is the Word of God, and the Word of God is a sword. (Hebrews 4:12)
Christ’s ‘This is My Body, given up for you’ is one side of the war. The other side . . . also says ‘This is my body,’ but means exactly the opposite thing by it: not the self-sacrifice of the martyr but the arrogant pride of the egoist. The spirit of the Antichrist says, through his deluded slaves who think they are asserting their freedom, ‘This is my body, not Yours. You did not create me. You have no rights over me. I am the master of my fate . . . therefore I will fornicate, contracept, sodomize, or commit suicide as I choose . . . I will do whatever I please with my body because it’s mine, not Yours. In fact, the tiny child I carry in my womb is also mine, not Yours. She is not even her own. She is mine. She is my body. Therefore I will kill her, because I am her God, and You are not.’ You see, abortion is the Antichrist’s demonic parody of the Eucharist. That is why it uses the same holy words, ‘This is my body,’ with the blasphemously opposite meaning.”