Their smug, nauseating contempt for the Faith is deeply off-putting, but it can be worth gritting the teeth through it to hear what they say, if only to know where we should be looking to educate ourselves in the real Catholic Faith. Since the election of Jorge Bergoglio they have been quite helpfully open in their attacks, providing a pretty good indication where God most wants us to direct our attention.
Do they undermine the truth of the Holy Eucharist? Do they attack the institution of marriage? Do they claim that a plethora of religions or “denominations” are willed by God? Do they say that Socialism is divinely ordered and Christ only “king of our hearts” in private? Let’s take this as a message from God and revisit those things and learn what the truth is.
In May, 2014, in an interview with Commonweal during his US publicity tour for the New Paradigm of the soon-to-be-released Amoris Laetitia, the wholesale re-writing of Catholic moral teaching, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that though the Church’s traditional teaching on adultery was high and noble, as an ideal for some, it was not for the common run of men. It was “heroic,” and they are few who are called to be heroes.
“To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”
For these, he had unveiled the “Kasper Proposal,” by which “average Christians” could be excused from observing the moral law. It was enough now merely to “enter into a process” by which one would slowly come to “discern” that the law of God was too harsh and couldn’t be applied to your own “concrete” circumstances, so you can just carry on sinning.
All this of course, meant that Cardinal Kasper was now denying the “universal call to holiness” of Vatican II, that was so prominent an aspect of the “hermeneutic of continuity” argument proposing that Council could be reconciled with traditional Catholic teaching. We must have “moved beyond” Lumen Gentium 39: “Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’.”
A useful rule of thumb does seem to be that whatever Walter Kasper says, the exact opposite is probably the truth. But we must be cautious not to throw out the baby with the bathwater: “Abusus non tollit usum,” the “abuse of a thing does not exclude its proper use.” Kasper’s distortion is of a real Catholic thing; there is a process, a path to holiness, and it does involve “discernment” and it does require the constant examination of conscience to root out evil habits. But the process doesn’t end with giving up sin; it starts there.
What’s the difference between Kasper’s “process of discernment” and the Way of the saints?
In the great Catholic tradition of spirituality, this process is called the “Way of Perfection,” a well-trodden path, mapped out by 2000 years of spiritual writing, in which the soul passes through purifying trials in her advancement in the life of grace. This is, in short, the way you become a saint. This is the great secret of the Faith; it is how the martyrs endured the lions and the fires and all the tortures, how the Desert Fathers reached their extraordinary heights, how the Doctors overcame the darkening of the intellect to bring forward the profound truths of the Catholic Faith.
And it is this high and difficult road, this way of purification and growth in supernatural graces, through prayer and penance, that the Kasper Proposal and the Bergoglian New Paradigm would see closed to everyone forever.
Broadly, the path is divided into three stages: the beginner’s Purgative Way, the proficient’s Illuminative Way and the Unitive Way for the “perfect” or advanced. It is the path to holiness that is the subject of one of the most neglected branches of theology of the modern Church; ascetic and mystical theology.
Kasper’s distortion is to suggest that the Purgative Way doesn’t lead to anything; that you can please God by merely entering into a “process of discernment” that would bring you in a circle right back to your state of sin. And you would remain there forever – or in fact you would start spiraling downward into greater and greater sins, since the soul can never be in a static condition in this life.
Hilary White has a regular byline in The Remnant Newspaper. Don't miss her excellent two-part treatise on prayer, Learning to Pray with Tears, in the March 15th and 31st issues!
But the reality is that a person who has determined to embark on the true process of purification will leave sin behind completely and instantly, and will begin the long and painful and glorious path to Christian perfection – Kasper’s scoffed-at “heroic virtue”. This means identifying faults and principal temptations, mental and moral habits that lead to sin and all venial sins, and rooting them out; subduing the passions through voluntary mortifications and corporal austerities and developing new habits of virtue.
Carrying on in a state of adultery while pretending to enter into a “process of discernment” would completely negate the possibility of such progress, and ultimately – quite the opposite of the advertising – would land the soul in hell. The soul would, indeed, become inured to the sin through the process itself, and ultimately become addicted to its own self-deception, locking itself into the spiral forever. A terrifying thought.
Happily opposed to this nightmarish idea is the true Way of Perfection that brings greater and greater self-awareness, mental and moral clarity, devotion to truth and increase in charity – the love primarily of God, and then of neighbour.
How to become a saint: starting the Purgative Way.
In the book, “The Spiritual Life and Prayer According to Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition,” Abbess Cecile Bruyere explains how this process of perfection can be pursued.
But first things first: we have to be prepared for the journey. In Chapter VII, she speaks of “the remote preparation for prayer,” meaning how one obtains a condition of soul that would allow the beginnings of advancement in Christian perfection.
“Not that we can create in ourselves that which only the Holy Spirit can give, but that we may prepare His way and strive to establish in our souls those dispositions which He ordinarily requires as conditions for attaining divine union.” It is, ultimately, this “divine union” for which we were created, to be enjoyed forever in the Beatific Vision, and to which our whole earthly life must be ordered, or it is wasted.
She quotes St. John Cassian saying that prayer cannot be separated from the practice of the virtues:
“Its highest perfection, consists in a constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer, and in preserving so far as human frailty will permit, peace of soul and purity of heart… The whole edifice of the virtues is only raised to attain the perfection of prayer, and if it is not crowned with prayer, which unites and binds all the parts together, it will neither be solid nor lasting.
Without the virtues, it is impossible to acquire this peaceful and continual prayer, and without this prayer, the virtues, which are its foundation, will not reach their perfection.”
Prayer, the abbess continues, is the “secret sanctuary in which God unites Himself to our souls. But prayer must be prepared for by purity of life.” And this is where the “Purgative Way” comes in. This is the place where the rooting out of faults and imperfections begins.
But we aren’t in it alone. The “hour of prayer” she says, is where the soul is more “fit to respond” to God’s actions of grace, so it is also during prayer that the soul “meets her habitual imperfections” since she is in the presence of the God who knows every hidden corner. All efforts to persevere in prayer would fail “were the soul not to reserve some moments each day for self-examination.” But this examination is “made before God, in the light of the graces received from His goodness, as on the threshold of eternity; it produces a complete surrender of ourselves into our Father’s hands, and fills the soul with humble confidence…”
In a comprehensive refutation of Kasper’s monstrous proposal, Abbess Cecilia offers true reconciliation: “When the soul judges herself before God without excuse, without exaggeration, and places herself in her Saviour’s hands, this act alone causes her to find grace and pity. Covered with her sins, the soul appears before Him like that poor woman whom the Pharisees brought before our Saviour and accused… Does it not seem that the Sovereign Holiness was disarmed before this sinner, who by her silence judges herself?”
“It is of utmost importance, therefore, for the sanctification of the soul,” that this self-examination be undertaken “at least once a day,” seeking out not only sins but “imperfections and secret tendencies.”
She adds a note that ought to be heard loudly and broadly in the current world of internet distractions. If we want to develop the true, grace-filled, supernatural spiritual life “and obtain the gift of prayer,” we must “banish vain preoccupations, repress the turmoil of our many idle thoughts, and all that savours of levity and instability of mind; we must mortify curiosity – that is the desire of knowing, seeing and hearing – all which things distract the soul by pouring it out upon external things, and causing it to lose all relish for what is spiritual.”
She adds that even the monastic rule of exterior silence would be of little use “if the soul did not labour to rule the imagination” interiorly, something the ancient fathers like Cassian, in their deserts, had little experience of but which “now-a-days… must be taken into serious account.”
“Many Christians, after devoting themselves with zeal to good works, are taken up with childish and frivolous amusements. Why should they be astonished that they are not at once set free from these useless dreams when they come to prayer, and that they cannot without pain and effort apply their minds to the mysteries of our holy faith? How can they expect that a recollected spirit will fall upon them unawares?”
To combat this, the abbess recommends not only the purging of mental and imaginative distractions, and doing “holy reading” of Scripture, but good old Benedictine work. “For manual labour, regulated by obedience, is like a firm and immovable anchor which steadies the levity of the mind, whilst leaving it free to soar up to God.”
This is not, however, to neglect study of Scripture and the commentaries of the saints. Far from it, since it is from Scripture that we receive knowledge of God. She quotes Cassian again, who recommended his monks “commit the holy Scriptures to memory.” Indeed, it was normal through all the ages of the monastic life for novices to begin their training by committing all 150 Psalms to memory… in Latin!
“First of all, when our minds are occupied with these holy readings, they will necessarily be freed from all bad thoughts, and secondly, if whilst labouring to learn the Scriptures off by heart we do not always understand them, later on, when disengaged from exterior things we meditate upon them in the silence of the night, we shall penetrate into them more deeply and discover hidden meanings that we had not been able to grasp during the day, and that God reveals sometimes even during sleep.
“When this study has renewed our heart, the holy Scripture will appear to us under quite new aspect, and its beauty will go on increasing in proportion as we make progress…”
Specifically, and especially as a Benedictine, the abbess recommends the Psalms for prayer, “which are the form and type of all prayer,” and of which the Divine Office – the eight-times-a-day formal prayer of all monks – mostly consists. It is meditation on the Psalms which re-forms the mind, recalibrates the soul from earthly concerns to the heavenly.
The pursuit of perfection is not for “superficial souls”
It is a truth of the Faith that all are called to these heights of spiritual perfection. All human beings are intended by God for this intimate and perfect union with Him; and it is equally a truth that at least a taste of this union can be had in this life – which is what “holiness” really is.
The Walter Kasper’s of the world, and those who would follow this wide and easy path, are deceiving themselves. These are the ones Abbess Cecilia refers to as “superficial souls” and “light minds taken up with worldly solicitudes” to whom her book is not addressed. It is these – the ones who refuse this Way of Perfection – of whom the Lord said, “They have their reward,” and woe to them, who have only this life and this world on their minds.
The saints teach us that the soul cannot remain in a static condition; it is always either advancing toward God or retreating away from Him. We are like people in boats on a strong-flowing river; stop rowing for a moment and the stream will carry us down toward eternal death.
To the ones who refuse to row against the stream of worldliness, Abbess Cecilia says, “prayer and contemplation seem, at best, nothing but pious dreaming, useless things…”
“The true children of the Catholic Church think differently; they know that man is made for union with God, that God is man’s end, and that his immortal soul has supernatural aspirations and aptitutdes which are the fruit of the grace of baptism and which cannot be violently restrained.
“They are well aware that, apart from a knowledge of extraordinary ways, man, by the very fact of his being Christian and a child of God, cannot, withot peril and fault, be indifferent to divine things or close his eyes to them.”
We must seek God, for He seeks us.
 NB: this book was first published in 1886. Only imagine what Abbess Cecile would have made of our nearly universal social media addiction and smart phones given even to children.