What Does It Take?

Someone complained to Meister Eckhart that no one could understand his sermons.  He said, To understand my sermons a man requires three things:

  • He must have conquered strife and be in contemplation of his highest good and be satisfied to do God’s bidding, and
  • be a beginner with beginners and naught himself, and
  • be so master of himself as to be incapable of anger.”

I’ve been mulling these points over – taking stock, so to speak.  I do believe that I am in contemplation of my highest good (and others’ highest good), and strive to bring that contemplation into action in my day-to-day life.  My life’s purpose now is to do God’s bidding, and I pray for and accept the graces He gives me every day to hear what He is telling me and to follow through on it to the best of my ability. 

Regarding being a “beginner with beginners” but not a beginner oneself, I’m not sure if I’m correctly understanding the point Meister Eckhart is making, but this is the way I’m interpreting it:  I pray that the Holy Spirit always fills me and guides me when someone who is a beginner in the spiritual life approaches me for help.  I hope I can imitate Jesus in this, in that Jesus always meets us exactly where we are.  I desire to always have the positive aspects of a beginner in anything – openmindedness, enthusiasm, and a willingness to be taught. 

Now, if I say that I am not a beginner in the spiritual life myself, is this a sign of pride?  I don’t think so.  I think if I were to say I was a beginner, it would be like denying everything the Lord has given me, and all the years He’s worked with me and everything He’s taught me:  directly, through the Church, and through my brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are supposed to be growing steadily in holiness.  If I were at the same level of holiness as I was ten years ago, or even last year, that would mean there was something dreadfully wrong with my relationship with God – something drastically wrong in the love department. 

I have certainly not “conquered strife”.  I do my best to create a tranquil environment at home and at the office, but I am thwarted at every turn.  🙂  Seriously though, it is my own reaction to strife that is the real problem – fear/anxiety, rebelliousness, impatience – any reactions like these need to


be transformed into peaceful ones.  A scented candle just won’t do the trick. 

But I do see some progress along these lines; I either realize immediately afterwards that I have failed, or sometimes even as I am in the midst of a reaction, instead of much later as it used to be.  Conversely, when I do succeed in meeting a stressful situation with a sense of peace and calm, and am also sometimes able to transmit that peace and calm to others, I am immediately aware that this is what Jesus is aiming at for me.  So I’m praying that it won’t be much longer before this becomes natural (supernatural?) and consistent.  But I am definitely not “incapable of anger”, much to my chagrin.  I take this one to confession with me all the time.  But I’m trying, and as I pray for seven virtues everyday (faith, hope, charity, humility, patience, perseverence and obedience), I always remind the Holy Spirit that I need extra for charity and patience.  I am confident He will not let me down, if I do my part.

Quote taken from the beginning of:  The Sermons and Collations of Meister Eckhart.


10 thoughts on “What Does It Take?

  1. for me, you have been very clear. And I, too, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. I think that is way I am so compelled you your openness and instruction in this post. You always give such valuable instruction and I am grateful for each of your orderings. Have a GRAND day and now I am off to prayer with a renewed sense of the Spirit!

  2. It seems one of the attributes we most appreciate and respond to in the Blessed Virgin, in St. Joseph, St. Francis, Bro. Juniper, St. Elizabeth of Thuringen, Fr. Louis (and even in the Beatles!) is a lack of anger. Usually anger comes from pride or fear or their by-products, so outside of the Bible, I think we’ve encountered righteous anger (the sole acceptable kind) only in a Pope. Anger is not just a defeat of love, it is a failure so ex-clusive (a sin), it is a wound that becomes another’s wounding and another’s and another’s, unless it is stopped within and asks for transformation. What was tremendous food for thought for me was when a man who in rage had once beheaded another (who had beheaded this man’s fellow soldiers) told me to calm down and that I must understand that everyone goes at their own rate, spiritually — he was able to meet everyone where they were at. He hasn’t conquered his anger, but avoids occasions of it, and has learned as have I that there’s no anger in Heaven.

    A (relatively) few decades after tragedies and illess, raising kids, aging, and seeing others age, sicken, suffer and die sometimes with few to care for and bury them, strife has come to hold as little threat as thrill. The Lord is here, very actively so, and indeed desires our highest good. He does indeed want us to know Him even now, but although I am in a state of “Aha!” presently, I know it can shift to that of “Huh?” any day — one such as I has little choice but to be a humble beginner with others.

  3. to be a beginner, with beginners…to me is like Jesus telling His disciples to be like “the little children”….always aware of their place of readiness to be taught (even if they are the “teachers”)….which requires a genuine humility & openness of spirit. The question of “anger” is related, in certain ways…but separate also. And one that I will have to come back to later, as I am squeezed for time at this moment.

    I have missed you and your readers/participants…I apologize for my absence. I have had many “frying pans” in quite a few “fires”….but I still try to “drop by” for a quick visit, even if I dont’ make my presence known.

    There’s a genuine “connection” here, that I hope will always be so…


  4. Exactly, K –like little children, “ready to be taught even if a teach-er.” I found that embarrassing in my self, until 3 or 4 folks I sponsored in RCIA said, “I’m so glad they gave me you.” (Then, so was I!) And being ready to be taught even if a teacher of the faith is how we know that the Church is to be humble, for not only must superiors in Orders also be ready to learn, but even the Popes have a household preacher. Bottomline, tho’, the Lord is full of surprises–one can only think He loves it when He finds joyfully-anticipating and thankful (fertile!) ground for them.

    It’s good to see you, John T, and Kristin.

  5. Hi Carol, hope you have a blessed holy Lent.

    “We are supposed to be growing steadily in holiness. If I were at the same level of holiness as I was ten years ago, or even last year. . .”

    Gab, this is absolutely NOT a criticism of you or your writing. We all have the same problem and it’s the language. Look at the words, “growing”, “level”, “ten years ago”, “last year”. All of those words describe measurement over time. It implies expansion and hierarchy. I think they are true descriptions, but are they appropriately used when applied to the spiritual life? I am not so sure.

    It causes us to think in terms of achievement and work. It opens the possibility for jealousy when we share about our spiritual life. Then their is the self-incrimination about spiritual pride. When the reality may be that their is no work involved, and one’s spiritual life reflects one’s openness to receive God’s grace.

    I see the measurement language as really problematic. I think the worst part is that it might cause people to suppress their gift, for fear of being accused of spiritual pride.

    But what language do we use? Is this more about awareness than change? For example, suddenly today, I am aware of the Holy Spirit. Tomorrow, I choose not pray, and have no awareness of the Holy Spirit. I pray sparsely, and am aware sparsely. I realize the linkage between active prayer and the level of awareness of His presence. Then one day I pray, and I have awareness, but His presence cannot be felt. But I persist in my prayer, and my awareness grows, but I only experience His absence. But I am sustained by awareness of the absence of His presence.

    Perhaps this is heresy, I apologize if it is. But I really struggle with the language. Again, no criticism of the writing, it was hard work to suppress the growth language writing this.

  6. Well, as I re-read Meister Eckhart’s statement, I couldn’t help thinking that St. Paul probably heard the same lament from those to whom he preached, and that he himself had to learn those three requirements.

    And John, just as I needed to see the results of a battery of tests that told me I was college material before I myself believed it and went ahead (albeit late), even moreso did I need to be told to open up more to the Lord–that He truly and personally desires this (from me, too)–and not to hold the status quo of not going deep, thinking it’s not for me. The Lord wants a Personal relationship with each of us, not just for us to uphold the faith. Our heaven begins here. Without Gab telling me to be more open, and introducing Fr. Dube into my life, etc, I don’t think I would’ve. We’ve all had experiences that are truly supernatural, but we don’t dwell on them when perhaps we should.

    As for steady growth, those who have spiritual directors expect steady growth in holiness, albeit without presumption –that’s what I meant by mentioning being fertile ground (child-like) — a creature open to love from her Personal Lord.

    I was just telling Abbot Joseph that I’m re-reading The Reed of God, and it’s like seeing it for the first time –and how often that happens to us, right? We might not understand this or that at first, but meanwhile, something is flowering. 15 years ago, I didn’t believe in God’s unconditional love. 35 years ago, I didn’t understand Christ’s sacrifice as being personal as well as collective. You couldn’t have convinced me my sins had anything to do with His Passion. Even a year ago, I thought it possible to remain of the world and of Heaven, too. I thought maybe I’d get away with that.

  7. Hi everyone; thank you all for the wonderful input and comments, and yes, great to hear from JT and Kristin!

    I’m aware that many people shy away from discussing holiness, but I think we need more people in the world today who are not afraid to talk about it, demonstrate their desire for it, and help others to see that it’s what God desires for all of us.

    I used the word level, but it could just as easily have been degree, as many of our Catholic saints and contemplatives have written about thoroughly. What is holiness if not union with God? Holiness is not a competition; it’s not about measurement between oneself and another, except if one wishes to imitate or emulate a very holy person in order to grow in holiness oneself.

    When we stand before God we will be standing in Truth, not in pride nor false humility. In simple/profound absolute Truth. I have no problem with speaking in terms of levels, degrees, time measurement, etc., because that is what the Lord has given us to work with here in this three-dimensional world.

    Any “measurements” or time-lines are strictly between one’s own soul and God, not in relation to anyone else’s holiness. The Lord is in charge of our spiritual progress, but of course there’s also real work involved, and openness to receiving His graces. The Catholic Church teaches of three stages: purgative, illuminative and unitive. St. Teresa of Avila, as we saw when we went through the seven mansions in 2006, used that means of describing the stages of growth and union. Father Dubay writes of deepening conversion. So many of the saints write of degrees of holiness, which again, is an ever-deepening degree of union with God, and that is why I spoke of love, because it all comes from a deepening love. We are taught to strive and pray for growth in the virtues as well, and we have to be able to judge our own progress in this area. So no, I really don’t have any problem in using this language. I think it’s important and necessary; if I look at the state of my own soul, and cannot say, in Truth, that I am progressing on the path of holiness, then there is clearly something wrong. As St. Teresa said, if one is not progressing, one is going backwards. There’s no standing still.

  8. I have some funny inner dialogue with the Lord, which does show I’ve broken or gone beyond some mindsets..greater holiness certainly doesn’t happen without our hands-on efforts (as well as our asking for it and/or our “yes”). In the past few years whenever I’ve prayed, “Please don’t let so and so or this or that bother me, or bother me beyond a certain point,” or “Oh, God, not today, I’m so tired..” or “Not that!” etc., my soul has begun to smack its forehead and say things like, “O well, yes, Lord, protect me from all unpleasantness, put me in a bubble so that I don’t have to grow by stumbles and crashes of so many failures and so few victories over myself, nor be challenged to love more.” Or, “Please find me a job, You know, the perfect job without my having to tweak my resume and search for one –You know I am made of pink crystal.” Or, “Why yes, Lord, give so and so a sudden desire to visit Timbuktu,” or “Please, Lord, disappear this snow and no more storms.. You could make it Spring right this second..” I have indeed begun to change it to, “Please give me the strength (/charity/compassion/patience, etc) needed in this moment/today,” and “Thy will, not mine. Not mine –Thine.”

    (Pardon me for misspelling Fr. Dubay’s name! I actually knew how it is spelled, but I was tired, there’s too much snow, my pink crystal back hurt, and so-and-so didn’t go to Timbuktu! The funny thing is, it’s because I saw Mr. Dube recently, a soup kitchen buddy who always says, “Geez, I never see your husband until Lent!” –we saw him at Ash Wed. Mass passing the collection basket, and he’ll tease me about seeing husband, “See?? I told ya!” The worst part is, I just found out “Dube” isn’t his name, either, lol. It’s Dubois! I’m gonna go read your Fr. Dubay post, now.

  9. Yes, I agree that it’s really important to pray for the graces necessary in the moment (so we’ll basically be praying all day, right?) 😉 but over the last few months I’ve also found myself changing, in that I’m asking for more (for myself and others) in terms of the positive, healing and good things He desires us to have, out of His abundance. I’ve always been drawn to intercessory prayer, but it seems different now – more affirmative, more aware somehow of it being God’s pleasure to give His faithful the good things they ask of Him.

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