“You know that I have taught you statutes and justices, as the Lord my God hath commanded me: so shall you do them in the land which you shall possess: And you shall observe, and fulfill them in practice. For this is your wisdom, and understanding in the sight of nations, that hearing all these precepts, they may say: Behold a wise and understanding people, a great nation.” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6)
In one instant on July 17, 2006, my life changed unalterably, as if binding chains I could not see but knew were very real suddenly fell to the floor. Before this instant, I was near my end both spiritually and physically. For a quarter of a century or more, in fact, for my entire adult life to that point, I lived in spiritual, mental, and emotional chains. After this instant, I was free and had new life infused in my soul and body.
This instant set me on a new course, one of discovery whereby the search itself proved to be a regenerating force. Every new understanding built on the previous and increased my spiritual strength, which had dissipated to near death prior. With the help of Heaven, I began building a staircase out of the cold, dark cell wherein my soul had dwelled, and upward to something grand and life-affirming. It had life. It gave life as I climbed upward. I was not exactly sure where we were going, or toward what we were building. Something had happened; yet, I was not sure exactly what that Something was. What I did know at the time, however, was that I had to find out. The following day, I heard the phrase from scripture, “Seek first the Kingdom” (Matthew 6:33) and knew immediately that this was my course. This began my climb out of the cell.
Of course, I did know that it was the grace of God at work in me. I did know that this grace came through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I was praying to her before her statue when the instant occurred. It was she who spoke to my heart through scripture that following day. So, on her command, I set about to seek first this Kingdom; for, I had a great fear that not to do so would return my soul to its former state. I felt compelled both in wonder and by fear; however, I knew that on either account I had to seek this Kingdom.
Seeking was nothing new. During my entire sojourn in darkness prior to that instant, I sought answers. Strikingly, on the Feast Day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in 1984, THE answer had been given to me. It was another instant, one to which I refer as the Great Event. In that moment, I came to believe, fully and completely, in Our Lord’s Catholic Church and in His real and substantial Presence in the Eucharist. I knew that through this faith would be the fount of the answers I had been seeking. However, despite the certainty of my belief, I would struggle painfully still for decades. The Great Event gave me an assurance of a Truth outside myself. However, I failed to respond appropriately to it.
I do not mean that I did not respond sincerely. I do not mean that I did not try. I exerted my will but continued to fall into deep spiritual crevices. I accumulated all the knowledge I could get in my possession about this Kingdom. I studied it. I was erudite to some degree in it. Yet, I continued to fall into ever more frightening crevices. I failed to respond appropriately not as a matter of sincerity nor of lack of belief but due to a conditioned, backward methodology that I had been taught from my youth. I tried to affirm my faith through reason. I believed but needed to prove this belief to be reasonable using deductive logic based known premises.
Rather than climbing the staircase already built for us as a gift of grace on a-priori reason descending downward from the Kingdom, I tried to assemble the pieces first here below and build my own stairway of understanding upward based on a-posteriori reason. Philosophically speaking, rather than Plato’s Ultra-Realism, I relied first on Aristotle’s logic and rhetoric. In so doing, I failed to see that I had it backwards. I simply needed to turn around the philosophical lens though which I saw the world and follow the pathway of reason already opened for me through Jesus Christ from above by grace. From a natural reasoning point of view, Aristotle’s logic is useful but only if subjugated under Plato’s Universals which the Apostles and early Church Fathers themselves adapted to interpret God’s revelation. Aristotle’s syllogisms are essential to reasoning; however, the syllogism is only as good as are its premises. From Plato we get the framework for proper premises. From the Neoplatonist Christian Apostles and early Church Fathers we get the actual proper premises to set on the framework.
For example, using Aristotle’s own syllogistic technique to prove a Platonic point, if the Kingdom is Truth, and there is a path leading to that Kingdom, then that path leads to Truth. That takes faith in the Kingdom first, then reasoning and understanding will follow as you draw nearer to Truth and see how the trail is constructed. Faith, therefore, is the “Major Premise” of this Aristotelian syllogism. All logic is built on the premise of faith in the Kingdom, rather than faith in the Kingdom being built on the premise of human logic.
The stumbling stone all along was that I had the right belief in the Church but the wrong philosophical orientation to unlock and open the gateway of the Church leading to the Kingdom. I missed this point entirely for decades. Our philosophical orientation helps, or detracts from, our understanding of and ability to respond to God’s grace. The Kingdom I am seeking is conformed perfectly to a real universal Form in the mind of God. It went completely over my head all those years that I did not need to seek Truth. Truth had been given to me. What I needed was obediently to follow the trail leading to that Kingdom that is Truth. True reason would be revealed on the journey as we see how the trail is constructed. To know this and act on it is Wisdom.
Contrary to worldly philosophers, Jesus as true God and true man never told us to seek the Truth. He told us that He WAS the Truth. Rather than seeking Truth, Jesus told us to seek first His Kingdom that is the final form of Truth Himself. By doing what Jesus commanded, we would come to true reason as we came to know Him, not the other way around. We do not judge the Kingdom by what we discover here; we judge what we discover here by the Kingdom. Only in this way do we stay true to the trail leading upward to the Kingdom. If Truth is the logical end of authentic reasoning, and Jesus is Truth, then Jesus is the logical end of authentic reasoning, as a Christianized Plato might point out to a skeptical Aristotle.
The Great Event on the Feast Day of St. Thérèse in 1984 led to the Instant at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2006. Only two years later, in October of 2008, both would result in the Platonic philosophical re-orientation I needed to clear my vision and set out on the authentic trail of reason leading to the Kingdom. I call this the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed. Dogma represents the pillars for how reason is constructed. Dogma represents the boundaries of the trail, outside of which we risk falling into deep crevices.
While reading a poem by St. Thérèse on Joan of Arc, I was given the grace of the Breakthrough. God’s grace ran like a river through the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the hearts of St. Joan and St. Thérèse to my own. Thérèse passed on to me the great grace of devotion to Joan that was her own while she lived on this earth. Through this gift from Thérèse, St. Joan turned around my entire viewpoint.
Joan helped me see that what I needed was to let God explain His point of view. Through St. Joan of Arc, my philosophical orientation was radically altered. I turned to see the light of the Kingdom in the distance through the lens of Platonic Ultra-Realism, a gift of reasoning that I am convinced she herself obtained for me through her intercession. I abandoned the bottoms-up-first approach of Aristotelian reasoning and absorbed the top-down approach of Plato and the Christian Neoplatonists such as St. Augustine, not to mention most of the Church Fathers including the Apostles themselves. The rivers of grace flowed.
Now seeing the landscape through a new lens, I continued on the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed along and over those rivers of grace with St. Joan and St. Thérèse as my heavenly sisters and patronesses. I came to seek God’s point of view, to see the world through His eyes as given us through revelation and to let God develop my understanding through this revelation. In other words, I chose to act according to my faith following the example of St. Joan of Arc.
The March of Hope
The Freedom Dance continues merrily on…
Imagine my astonishment
When the Queen announced
Through my saintly sister Thérèse
That Joan of Arc was to the fore…
The Dance of Freedom was to continue on
The trail of the Dogmatic Creed
Faith had not yet animated me
Joan of Arc was the chosen guide
On the path of the Dogmatic Creed next
No one can see the Kingdom
Without Hope that forms our desire
“Joan of Arc will lead you”
Spoke my saintly sister Thérèse
“To a new world view”
“Your actions belie your words of faith!”
“Joan of Arc acts
According to her faith”
“She is no practical non-believer!”
Saintly Thérèse smiled with eyes dancing
“Unlike her, brother,
You honor God only with lips!”
“You hope in yourself” Thérèse continued
“While whispering faith in God”
“You cannot see the Kingdom
With your old point of view”
“Joan of Arc will show you
The glorious new world view
That will animate you with love
And create the appropriate desire in you”
We climbed a mountain with Joan of Arc
She pointed to a panorama below
I heard the thunder of God clapping
Bringing rhythm and reason to creation
Joan of Arc, to whom we are so devoted
Smiled at us, while singing
“God created heaven and earth
Clapping one day, two days, three and more”
“While God was clapping, music was heard!”
Cried our Maid, whom Thérèse and I so enjoy
“One day, two days, three and more
Logical beauty, reason, and rhythm!”
“God created both Reason and Rhythm!”
She cried, “It all has a purpose!”
“The order of nature is reason and beauty”
“The mystery of rhythm is the artwork of God!”
My heart was leaping!
A lesson in Hope!
That God’s first words convey the wisdom
Of purpose and unity both!
Hushing noisy philosophers aside
With Joan of Arc as my guide
I watched the beauty unfold
I let God explain his point of view
I have always wished
That beauty had meaning
I had always missed the point
Of the creation story
Joan of Arc!
With my saintly sister Thérèse
Had brought me to my first juncture in Hope
The meaning of creation – my world view is changing!
(The March of Hope is an excerpt from my book Seek First the Kingdom – The March of Hope)