Spending 2.5 days in silence was certainly a new and enriching experience for me and my spiritual life. I wrote and read so much, it’s difficult to summarize all my thoughts succinctly.
What I would say though, is that there is true wisdom in Jesus’s advice to be still, find a quiet place, and pray. Time was tremendously slowed and I felt like I was Adam in the Garden of Eden (before the Fall) during the retreat.
The place was beautiful and the moment I stepped foot inside, I experienced peace and serenity. The retreat center sported a huge garden with birds, rabbits and flowers. A 15 minutes walk outside would take me to the Chiang Mai lake and waterfalls.
I felt like it was Heaven on Earth. In my experience, all Christians should find time to turn contemplative instead of consistently remaining active, especially in stressful Singapore. All should at least once in their life, be still and retreat to a lonely place.
It is easy to find God in Silence, and even easier to pray unceasingly. By silencing ourselves, we are forced to listen, to read, to reflect, to contemplate. Moreover, the beautiful nature there helped sharpen my focus. I’ll share a few scriptural verses that best describes my entire experience, in order:
Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. (Mk 6:31)
But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Lk 5:16)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body. (Prov 3:5,8)
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you would wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6:25-26)
Bless the Lord, O my Soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty. (Ps 104:1).
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit. (Eccl 7:8)
The Apostles heard Jesus preach about the kingdom many times and they believed this kingdom was to come before His death. It is in this context that James and John, two beloved Apostles in the inner circle of Jesus, asked to be seated at His left and right hand (Mk 10:37).
Jesus’s reply was not so much an answer but a statement that
“His kingdom will not be of this world, and that to sit by His side is something so great it surpasses the angelic orders — which they did not yet merit.” (St. Theophylact)
Influenced by human feelings, the remaining Apostles became ridden with envy and felt indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41). Jesus however, intervenes and ‘called them to Him’ (Mk 10:42), teaching that the greatest amongst them must be their servant (Mk 10:43). Jesus substantiates His statement with living proof of Himself, since He came down from Heaven to give His life for the world (Mk 10:45).
This consistent theme of the “Suffering Servant” throughout the entirety of Mark’s Gospel is something beautiful and rich with wisdom. Jesus, like Christianity today, continues to challenge worldly norms even though the Church has always been in the minority. Catholics have been the only ones consistently speaking out against the world on intrinsic evils like Abortion, Euthanasia and Contraception. An inevitable blooming Culture of Death.
Yet, while the Church continues to guard and promulgate the Truth, she will always do so from the perspective of a Suffering Servant, not a demanding tyrant. The world will always mock and hate us, but as a wise man once told me — being hated by the world is a sign that you’re in the right Church. As the Saints have echoed through the centuries, “The Truth which subsists in the Church will always be rejected by the world.”
If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh.
If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth.
Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God.
Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.
Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.”
As I looked upon the cross today, I asked myself: would I have stood at the foot of the cross?
A friend once asked me, if I could be anyone at the passion scene, who would I be?
In a heartbeat, I said I want to be like St. John.
He was at the cross, bound by a deep love for Christ. Even when the the world deserted him, even when all his disciples and supposed friends left him, he was there. He didn’t care that the world would think he was crazy for standing up for Christ.
He knew (and possessed a very deep understanding as to) who Christ was, and if we read the entire gospel of John, it is self-evident that John knew the divinity of Christ from the beginning.
I want to be like John, he saw the Truth of the Word, the Logos made flesh from the beginning.
He saw the Truth in everything Christ did. He saw everything (always) in relation to Christ, and therein lies true Wisdom: To love Christ and to order everything in your life in relation to Christ, our ultimate end.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
Two lines from this Gospel passage may seem contradictory at first glance:
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
First of all, Jesus tells us we are friends, not slaves—if we do what He commands us. Wait. Do friends normally take orders from one another? Then He says we are not slaves because we know what our Master is doing. But…do we really? At the time He spoke these words, his apostles had no idea that He was about to suffer and die (though, to be fair, it’s not like He didn’t warn them). The disciples seemed pretty clueless most of the time about what Jesus was really up to. Can we truly say that we know what our Master is doing? I think more often we feel we are flying blind, having to trust Him without really understanding what His plan is. After all, so much of our Catholic worldview is grounded in the concepts of mystery and faith.
What do we mean when we speak of the mysteries of God? Encountering mystery does not mean that we’ll never know the answers and should simply give up trying to understand. Rather, it means that no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn. Our human understanding is limited, but with God we can go deeper and deeper, until we are united fully with God in Heaven and can participate in His perfect understanding.
The more we plumb the depths of these mysteries, the more we grow in both understanding and wonder. But in order to get anywhere we must first have faith. We cannot grasp at this understanding for ourselves; we must draw closer to God so that He can help us see. We must trust Him. Our hearts must be open to soak in His wisdom, rather than trying to sharpen our own, which is a losing battle. Understanding the mysteries of God requires more than just intelligence; it requires divine relationship. It requires friendship with Jesus.
And Jesus offers us that friendship as a great, unmerited gift. We can begin to understand what He is doing—though it be far beyond our depth—through our love for Him. He says, “You are my friends if you trust me. And if you trust me, you will follow my commandments.” Our obedience springs from love and gratitude rather than fear and servitude. We can rest in the knowledge that we are loved and chosen, and we can return that love by recognizing Jesus in others and loving one another.
We are not mere servants; we are friends. And we are made to delight in a Love that is greater than we can comprehend. When we remain in Him, we can begin to bear the fruits of understanding, cultivated through love alone.
1. Andrea del Sarto, The Last Supper / PD-US
2. Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet / PD-US
The other day, I saw an article making rounds through my facebook’s news feed about a brilliant young woman whom “Harvard believes is the next Einstein.” Having nothing better to do—I was recovering from a minor surgery—and since I generally enjoy topics of interest to the world of physics, I read the article. The young lady described therein, Ms. Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, is certainly a brilliant and hard-working, motivated individual with a very impressive resume to her name. I was particularly taken aback by her sole quote, placed at the end of the article: “Physics itself is exciting enough. It’s not like a 9-to-5 thing. When you’re tired you sleep, and when you’re not, you do physics.”
This comment may be innocuous enough-certainly it has been given no context by the peope who pulled this quote from an interview. Taken alone, there is no inflection, no hint as to how we should interpret it. It could express joy in the wonders discovered through the pursuit of physics (or of the science in general); this is how I take it to mean as expressed by Ms. Pasterski. I have, however, also seen similar words used to cover for a deeper sadness or resignation, or worse to insist that we should cease to turn our eyes innward towards our own moral state or upward towards God. A senior member of the tenure and promotion comittee of my university has certainly said as much to me, and on more than one occasion.
I have been told by this person that a successful scientist should “get off [of his] knees” and focus more on getting work done. In this view, a laboratory is a place of labor, that is, of work and even toil, the rewards of which might be some advancement of one or another field of knowledge, and (perhaps more importantly to the untenured) a publication .
Such a view of things overlooks the purpose of science, and for that matter of the labors invoved in our scientific laboratories. There is, after all, a second definition of labor, one which comes more naturally to the female half of humanity, and also to those men who are married and preparing to welcome children into their homes. I mean here that to labor is the process of giving birth the old-fashioned way, and indeed all of our other labors become a fainter echo of this when they bear us fruit.
To labor in life is to give birth, and in the laboratory it is to give birth to new knowledge. This is, however, actualy the lesser function of the laboratory. There is a second word and a second meaning hidden in the word “laboratory,” and it remains all the more hidden because of the obvious placement of “labor” at the front. The second purpose—which is the more important—is hidden at the back of the word, and is thus obscured by the labor, both within the word and within life. The word “laboratory” could be thought almost to be a contraction of the words “labor” and “oratory,” the latter being a place where we pray.
For what should we pray while laboring in the laboratory? In one sense, it is the same thing we ought to pray for when pursuing any other form of knowledge, whether in the classroom or in the library or study or where-have-you. We pray there for knowledge, since this is what we are usually seeking directly: the conformity of our thoughts with reality. But there is something better than knowledge, which can build on knowledge: wisdom, another gift of the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom enables us to see the ordering of the world, and ultimately to desire the greatest good first and the lesser goods in relation to this. Wisdom causes us to desire heaven above earth, God above nature. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that
“Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: ‘You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight.’ The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the ‘image of the invisible God’, is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the ‘image of God’ and called to a personal relationship with God. Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work. Because creation comes forth from God’s goodness, it shares in that goodness – ‘And God saw that it was good. . . very good’- for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him. On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world” (CCC 299).
The verse quoted by the Catechism, “You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight” (Wisdom 11:21), was indeed one of the most popular verses during the time of the scientific revolution in Europe. It is also pertinent to role which wisdom should play in the scientist’s studies: namely, that the ordered-ness of the universe is something which can be studied only because there is a God Who creates, and moreover that this God desires us to know Him and to love Him. The order in the universe is thus built in part to point back to its Creator. Then again, there may be more than one sense in which nature might be read—underlying the physical order of nature is a moral order. Wisdom, in other words, does these three things for us as regards science:
We should have—and most scientists do have—a sense of wonder concerning nature and its beauty and underlying order. Wisdom points to us that this wonder should be transformed into awe for the Creator of nature. We can appreciate nature, which is the art, but this should make us love God, Who is the Artist.
Wisdom lets us see that the orderedness of nature points to our own internal orderedness. This is true on the individual scale and on the social scale. Everything in nature has its place and purpose: we too have both, and every integral part of us has its place and purpose as well. This is true not only physically, but spiritually.
Wisdom transforms the laboratory from a place of only labor and toil, albeit labor after knowledge, into a place of prayer, an oratory. Note that I began by saying that we should pray for wisdom: one effect of wisdom is that we therefore are more inclined to prayer, both in praise and in gratitude.
There is another insight which is granted with wisdom, and it is an old insight indeed. It was anticipated by Plato, who writes that while God is serious, man and human affairs are not: the whole world is “the plaything of God, and that is really the best this about it.” Therefore, “One should live out one’s days playing at certain games—sacrificing, singing, and dancing.”
Commenting on this, Fr. James Schall says that
“This passage is the great prelude to the Christian notion that the world God made is not necessary to Him, that what goes on in it is not analogous to work or duty or determinism, bu to freedom, delight, and play, to things that are beautiful but not necessary, in the freedom of what need not exist but yet, when it does exist, is joyful and delightful….
[There is] in reality [a] profound connection between th highest thing and play, between the seriousness of God Whom we must approach in silent holiness and the fact that God’s holiness is our delight, to which we respond freely, happily, as Plato said, in ‘singing, sacrificing, and dancing,’ in liturgy, in praise. The real end and final holiday of human souls is to spend out lives at the most serious things; the blessed seriousness of God is worthy [of] the singing, the dancing, the sacrificing” (Schall on Chesterton).
This is also a challenge to those of us who have made or professions the study of nature—that is, the study of “the plaything of God.” There is order and beauty in nature, and some of the discoveries we make in studying this order may be useful to us. This is good—but it should not be the final nor greatest end of said studies. Rather, we should bear always in mind that we are studying a creation which exists above all to delight, to give joy and to evoke wonder. In this sense, “physics is not a 9-to-5 thing.” It ceases to be just work, and takes on some aspects of holy play: but exciting as physics is, it is also most certainly not “enough.” Rather, when rightly pursued, it has in fact the opposite effect of getting us “of our knees.”
 To be fair, “laboratory” is etymologically related to labor, as Stanley Jaki notes: in this case a very particular labor, that of making measurements (The Limits of a Limitless Science).
In a short but provocative reflection, Prof. J. Budziszewski calls curiosity the enemy of wonder. In so doing, he is drawing a distinction between the desire for knowledge—itself a good thing—and the elevation of that desire to the highest good, one which can then seek fulfillment at all costs:
The problem is that the curiosity-as-holiness line is carelessly undiscriminating, and at best half-true.
Here is the true half: In itself, the knowledge of truth is good. Aristotle says philosophy begins in wonder. John Paul II says everyone wonders, and in that sense everyone is a philosopher. Thomas Aquinas says it is man’s natural vocation to seek truth, especially the truth about God. We are made, among other things, to know, as no other animal is made to know.
But the way one goes about pursuing knowledge may be right or wrong….
Mere curiosity is to the tender love of truth as voyeurism is to marital love. That is why the ancients made distinctions. They accounted wonder a natural inclination, and the humble pursuit of knowledge to be a high virtue. But they reserved the word curiositas for seeking knowledge in ways it never should be sought.
At most universities—and especially in most science departments—the party line is that education should be about awakening a person’s natural curiosity, that is, their desire for knowledge . There is not, in principle, anything wrong with awakening a desire to know in a person, and indeed, the actual desire to know itself is a good thing. Indeed, knowing may be counted among the highest human goods (along with loving).
However, although knowing itself is among the highest goods of man, it cannot be the final end of education. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of knowledge, one which is theoretical and one which is practical. The former should lead to understanding and then to contemplation and at last to loving; the latter should lead to right action. Therefore, inculcation of virtue is an important part of a true education, yet this is at best ignored entirely, but more often outright contradicted (as being old fashioned, or as forcing morality on others) or otherwise undermined (e.g. by being replaced with some other moral system) in many of the hallowed halls of education.
Curiosity itself cannot therefore form a sound basis for education, since it elevates the search for knowledge above the actual ends of knowledge. Worse still, knowledge can be sought licitly or illicitly, morally or immorally: it may be sought through good means or evil.
A few extreme examples should suffice. The experiments of the Nazis on their prisoners are fairly well known and documented. Closer to home, it is well known that there are “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) which have been in use by the US against Islamic militants as an attempt to gain knowledge about possible future terrorist attacks (or even to attempt to find other militants); if this is not sufficient as an example of “badly gained” knowledge, then one could easily imagine such techniques being used by a more corrupt regime to obtain less vital information, that is, to gain knowledge which is frivolous as a military matter: torturing men to learn answers to less pressing questions . Finally, there are the various nuclear bomb tests which were conducted during the Cold War without concern as to the . All of this is to show that there is, in other words, such a thing as “morbid curiosity” in a very literal sense.
What, then, is the cure to curiosity, that is, the antidote to the desire to seek knowledge at all costs? Professor Budziszewski calls curiosity the enemy of wonder, and states that wonder—which leads to “the humble pursuit of knowledge”—is a high virtue. In his discussion of wonder as the basis for philosophy , Josef Pieper wrote that
In wonder, there is something negative and something positive. The negative aspect is that the person who feels wonder does not know something, does not grasp something–he does not know, “What is behind it all”; as Thomas puts it, “The cause of our wonder is hidden to us.” He who feels wonder does not know, or does not know completely, does not comprehend. He who knows does not feel wonder. It could not be said that God experiences wonder, for God knows in the most absolute and perfect way. And, further: the one who wonders not only does not know, he is intimately sure that he does not know, and he understands himself as being in a position of not-knowing. But this un-knowing is not the kind that brings resignation. The one who wonders is one who sets out on a journey, and this journey goes along with the wonder: not only that he stops short for a moment, and is silent, but also that he persists in searching. Wonder is defined by Thomas in the Summa Theologiae, as the desiderium sciendi, the desire for knowledge, active longing to know.
But along with not-knowing, and not-giving-up, wonder is also… joy, as Aristotle said, and the Middle Ages agreed with him: omnia admirabilia sunt delectabilia–the source of joy and the source of wonder are the same thing. One might even venture to say that wherever spiritual joy is to be met with, the wonderful is also there, and where there is a capacity to feel joy, there is also a capacity to feel wonder. The joy of one who is astounded is the joy of a soul that is beginning something, of a soul that is always ready and alert for something new, for something unheard of.
Pieper continues by noting that the one who wonders and does philosophy has hope and so is superior the the one who doubts all knowledge, but yet he is inferior to the one who finally knows (or “understands”). Wonder is thus a counter to both curiosity—the insatiable desire for knowledge at all costs—and to doubt of all knowledge, which the epistemological despair which likewise ruins philosophy .
So far, I have limited my discussion to the merely secular considerations of wonder or curiosity as opposing bases for the pursuit of knowledge. By this I mean that everything which has been said so far can be accessed by the light of human reasoning alone. However, as Catholics we can go a step further and look to the light of revelation. A good Catholic education will include a beginning with wonder, just as a good secular education would—but we must go beyond only wonder at not knowing. The end of a good secular education must be increase in knowledge and understanding, and hopefully the development of virtue. A good Catholic education also means a growth in wisdom with the hope of developing saintliness.
Therefore, a good Catholic education has an additional basis, a theological basis which aims it towards wisdom. Wisdom is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit (as are knowledge and understanding in the theological sense), and means desiring heaven and heavenly things above earth and earthly things. We are told, moreover, that the beginning of wisdom is another of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; we read in Sirach  that
“All wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever….The fear of the Lord delights the heart, and gives gladness and joy and long life. With him who fears the Lord it will go well at the end; on the day of his death he will be blessed. To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…To fear the Lord is wisdom’s full measure…The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom” (Sirach 1:1, 12-14, 16, 18).
This, then, is a basis for the specifically Christian mode of education. If it is the more difficult basis, it is also the more important. Curiosity might be excited and wonder inspired, but fear of the Lord is a gift which can only be inculcated with the help of grace. Still, we must try and we must pray, and in the meantime we might wait in wonder.
 Prof. Budziszewski has apparently observed this “curiosity as the highest aim of education” in the liberal arts (he is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin). I have likewise noticed its prevalence in the various physics departments of which I have been a member as student, instructor, or guest, and have heard it in conversations with other instructors.
 Perhaps this latter scenario is not too far-fetched, as it is debatable whether “enhanced interrogation” has been used with much success. On the other hand, one could easily imagine a criminal torturing an innocent person to gain access to something of value.
 From Leisure: The Basis of Culture, pp. 106-107, translated by Gerald Malsbary. Italics and ellipsis both appear in the original.
 The main discussion of wonder is in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, pp. 100-110, but he follows this up with a brief discussion of the specifically Christian mode (or modes) of philosophy as opposed to non-Christian philosophy. He counters the claim that Christian philosophy is content with simple (and therefore implicitly dismissable) answers to philosophical questions. He notes that good Christian philosophy possesses mysteries, which are in turn both true and yet not fully knowable by man, and which are hence a uniquely Christian source of wonder.
 We read something similar in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction….The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10).
This article is written for rebellious teens and young girls going into that phase. If you are not a rebellious teen, please let your son or daughter read this, or some young person you know at least.
Dear Rebellious Teen,
Now, you might think this is just another Catholic article your parents want you to read, but this time it’s different. This is coming from a sixteen year old who understands what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, and why you’re rebellious. But before you make stupid teenage decisions that you will regret for the rest of your life, please hear me out on these few points:
Your parents are actually right! When they talk about the dumb things they did when they were teenagers and that they now try to stop you from making the same mistakes, actually listen to them! Wouldn’t it be amazing to live a good Catholic life while learning from others’ mistakes without doing them? Unfortunately you don’t know everything, but you can learn from people’s experiences and mistakes and grow in wisdom! I bet this is sounding ‘uncool,’ isn’t it? But in the end, do you want to regret your teenage years living in sin? By all means, enjoy life! But follow the advice of others, through them you can avoid plenty of mistakes.
Don’t listen to your rebellious peers! Once you start listening to your parents and following God’s law, your peers will probably think you’ve lost a few brain cells. But in listening to your parents and following God’s law, you will save your soul! “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?” You have to decide now whether you want to be everlastingly happy with Our Lord, or be somewhat happy for a few moments then suffer eternal pain in hell. Our Lord was alone on the Cross to give you an example. Follow Him and Him alone. People’s opinions and comments about you don’t matter; they don’t decide your eternity.
If you start sanctifying your soul at this young age, you have so much time to become a great saint! God isn’t trying to wake you up right now for no reason. He wants you to be holy! Maybe it isn’t fun or pleasurable like – as you might think – Justin Bieber, but what really matters? You’re meant to have a life full of true happiness, and this is only found when the soul finds God, “A soul is restless until it rests in Thee.” The Source of happiness is God, and the only way to be happy is to live for Him, by Him, and in Him.
“It’s too hard…there are too many rules…” I thought so too, but what’s really hard is having to constantly deal with our vices, human respect, and being controlled by the media. That is what I call slavery to the world. But isn’t a person more free when he gives his life to Christ, abandoning all vices and replacing them with virtue? Aren’t we free when we set aside all human respect and live for the goodness of God, and serve our one true Father in heaven? Don’t let the world tell you otherwise, freedom lies in the straight and narrow path, go find it.
So please, listen to the advice given to you, give your life to God, and find true happiness. Although there might be pleasures in the world, it never lasts. There is a choice between eternal happiness and eternal pain, which will you choose? The Truth will set you free, embrace It. God bless you all!
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