Saints have a knack for navigating the swirling sheerness of being. Part of their secret is asking the right questions in the right way. That start with reality that presents itself through the senses and go from there. We seldom get insight from a World of Ideas. There is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses. Then they ask the right questions in the right way, not expecting instant results. The saiuts are okay with struggle and not knowing. Because they know who they are (God loving them), and where they are going (to the God of this love), the question of how they are going to get somewhere falls into place with a minimum of drama. Either a solution is found or the paradox is lived with love. They can live with uncertainty, doubt, and mystery for as long as it takes.
Another word for this kind of navigation is discernment. We suss-out the movements of consolation and desolation and try to follow the good spirit of consolation. We all do this. The saints do it with a ballet-like skill and grace. Here is a concrete example: St. Thomas More used every legal trick he knew to save his life after refusing King Henry VIII’s demand that he give the monarch supreme religious authority so he could change wives. He discerned and refused enticements that would have spared him beheading. Movements of consolation are not what make us feel good. Prudence required that he lay down his life, which he did with fortitude and pinache. “Help me up if you please”, he said to his executioners, “coming down I can shift for myself”. The path of desolarion and imprudence was the easiest, riskiest path in his case.
Few of us are ballet masters. Prudence, the ability to make right decisions, is more like hesitant walking and sometimes tripping. It is a ponderous weighing of pros and cons. While wanting to follow Thomas More’s maxim “we serve got wittily in the tangle of our minds”, we find ourselves tangled-up in our minds. Still, like poet John Donne, I find that reason is God’s viceroy in me. I disagree with the poet that it often proves untrue. It is not reason that fails. We might limit reason to mere propositions and exclude contemplative, intuitive realities. We might give too much weight to bad advice or emotions, our own or others. With all of the limitation, the waves of thought at times crystallize into clarity, resolve, and swift action after the slow deliberation.
A contemporary example of great discernment is Pope Francis. He was a very strong candidate at the conclave that elected his predecessor Josef Ratzinger. He saw the movements of desolation, “the tail of the snake” as his biographer Austin Ivereigh put it, and asked his supporters to support the man who became Benedict. Given his age at the time, it meant Jorge Bergoglio has to be perfectly detached from any personal ambitions. He is a ballet-like discerner, and is doing more to clean-up the Vatican than any recent predecessor. He lives his own teaching that “reality is more important than ideas” and teaches us to navigate reality prudently.
— Br. Thomas Crutcher, CCAH
Brother Thomas lives and works in most of the jobs needed to run Holy Hill Hermitage in Skreen, Co. Sligo, Republic of Ireland.