Monday, October 19, 2020

A Light for Revelation to the Gentiles

 

The context of Simeon's "sign of contradiction" is the Presentation of Jesus, when the "ark of the covenant" (Mary, the Mother of God, the platytera, the one who is more spacious than the Heavens) carries the Shekinah, the glory of God, into the Temple to satisfy the purification laws.  The presence of God had not been in the temple for centuries, having left the Temple (as seen by Ezekiel) after it became unclean.  This was the point of the purity laws--protecting the temple of God from impurity and death so as to not drive away the Glory of God.  The purity of Mary is the vessel by which God comes into the Temple, the Messiah who drives away death and impurity by the power of his very Holiness.  He is the Sign of Contradiction for his Glory "speaks" against the impurity and sin of Israel.

Thus, as the Sign of Contradiction, Jesus brings the Glory of God into my life, exposing the darkness in my own heart.  He "speaks against" this darkness, not so much with words as with His Presence.  This leaves me dazzled with the choice that comes from seeing the Light, from knowing the Glory of God, the choice of opening myself to the life of the Trinity, to the Gift.  I am left with clarity: "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel".  I cannot pretend that I am "on the way", keeping myself together by self-approval and by avoiding conflict and suffering.  The Way is clear--I empty myself to receive the Gift and then empty myself to give the Gift.  This contradicts my life of mediocrity and exposes the pain that I have sought to obscure from myself, the longsuffering of my own emptiness and isolation.  This sign of contradiction is the Light that leaves me with a clear choice of completing the suffering of kenosis, a suffering which I fear and want to avoid and which leads me to hate the one who brings the pain of the Light unless, unless, I choose to embrace Him and His Cross.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

As if saving my soul were nothing more than learning how to live with myself in peace

" The disastrous misunderstanding: When a Christian imagines that “saving his soul” consists simply in getting himself together, avoiding those sins which disrupt his inner unity by shame, and keeping himself in one piece by self-approval. As if saving my soul were nothing more than learning how to live with myself in peace! Why is this disastrous? Because the worst evils may well have no disruptive effect on one’s psyche. One may be able to commit them and live in perfect peace. Society can offer plenty of help, in quieting one’s conscience, in providing full protection against interior disruption! A great deal of psychotherapy consists precisely in this, and nothing more."  Thomas Merton,  Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander.

 

In our time, faith is under attack not so much by militant atheism as by the belief that it is possible to live out a mediocre and decent life without too much effort or very many tensions”. Rocco Buttiglione, page 242 in “Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II

 

Two quotes on the same subject--living as a Christian brooks no mediocrity.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

To Thomas Through John

 

It is a way of thinking and dialogue with the concrete, founded upon the great tradition, but always in search confirmation and present reality. It is a form of thought that springs from an artist gaze and, at the same time, is guided by a pastor's care." (Ratzinger, Joseph. John Paul II: my beloved predecessor, page 8).

I resonate more with this quote from Father Ratzinger just a few pages later: "In the same way that his philosophy was made more concrete and lively through phenomenology--or through gazing at reality as it appears--so also the pope's relationship with Christ does not remain in the abstract of the great dogmatic truths, but becomes a concrete, human encounter with the Lord in all his reality." (Ratzinger, Joseph. John Paul II: my beloved predecessor, page 14).   I do so because I believe the life of Carol Wojtyla and of John Paul II was a life built on mystical experience. 

I think that Carol Wojtyla survived the horrors of Nazi occupation through a mystical encounter with Christ in those very sorrow-filled days as he was "guided" and "nurtured" interiorly through his reading of Saint John of the Cross--especially his mystical poetry--while still immersed in drama and the Theater of the Word at the Rhapsodic Theater. I think that Wojtyla in these years discovered that "[mysticism] is central to knowing the human person, and the tensions built into the human encounter with the infinite are the key to the drama of human life" (Witness to Hope, page 86).

As Father David Bird, OSB, so succinctly proclaims: "No one can become a saint without solving the problem of suffering. . . .Sanctity can never abide a merely speculative solution to the problem of suffering. Sanctity solves the problem not by analyzing but by suffering. It is a living solution, burned in the flesh and spirit of the saint by fire. . . . Sanctity itself is a living solution of the problem of suffering. For the saint, suffering continues to be suffering, but it ceases to be an obstacle to his mission, or to his happiness, both of which are found positively and concretely in the will of God." (Monks and Mermaids (A Benedictine Blog), 12 October 2013).  I think Saint John of the Cross helped Carol Wojtyla solve the problem of suffering in his own life and this solution, "burned in the flesh and the spirit", allowed Wojtyla to stay committed to the concrete "present reality" and "reality as it appears", to the pastoral rather than escaping into the more abstract ghettos of philosophy and drama.

This emphasis on experience, especially his loyalty to the experiences and lives of those suffering around him, was what eventually drew him to phenomenolgy while anchored to the rigors of Thomism through Saint John of the Cross.  As Michael Waldstein says so eloquently, "So Saint John of the Cross had Saint Thomas intus, within him.  By encountering John of the Cross as a young man, Carol Wojtyla encountered Saint Thomas in a particular form, namely, immediately, with a sense of the whole . . . with a vision of the whole provided by Saint John of the Cross that gave him, in some ways perhaps, a more connatural contact with Saint Thomas as a saint, within which, then, his Thomistic training took root." (Waldstein, Michael. On St. Thomas, Phenomenology, and John Paul II, Lecture at the University of Saint Thomas, June 15, 2011). 



Thursday, September 17, 2020

Part of the Mystery of the Redemption

Clearly Father Carol Wojtyla understood priesthood as something more than a life behind the altar rail and the rectory door.  Certainly part of his desire for "accompanying" others in their growth in holiness was his enjoyment of social relationships, of being with people, and, especially, "young" people, of wanting to help them love as Christ loves.  

This was not the foundation of his call, though.  Just as he had risked all as an actor in the Rhapsodic Theater to help others escape fear and isolation during the Nazi occupation , he entered the priesthood understanding his vocation as sacrificial, as giving up his life for and with Christ to become a "steward of the mysteries of God":  "As Christ's instrument, the priest must be, like Him, a [sacrificial] victim (sarcedos et victima)." (Dulles, Avery.  The Splendor of Faith, page 110.)

As Weigel points out, for Father Wojtyla ". . . [accompaniment] was the way a priest lived out his vocation to be an alter Christus, "another Christ."  It was also another expression of his commitment to the spirituality of the Cross.  God himself had accompanied human beings into the most extreme situation resulting from bad human choices--death--through his own divine choice to be redeemer as well as creator.  That is what happened on the cross of Christ.  The cross was the final justification for a pastoral strategy of accompaniment." (Witness To Hope, page 106.).  And the purpose of accompaniment is to lead the other to the freedom that comes from them receiving redemption through Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross.  As Pope John Paul II wrote, "Christ is a priest because he is the Redeemer of the world.  The priesthood of all presbyters is part of the mystery of of the Redemption.  This truth about Redemption and the Redeemer has been central to me; it has been with me all these years, it has permeated all my pastoral experiences. . ." (Gift and Mystery, page 82).  The priest becomes the "steward of the greatest treasure of the Redemption, for he gives people the Redeemer in person." (Gift and Mystery, page 85) as alter Christus.

I propose that Father Wojtyla accompanied others paradoxically out of his rich and deep interior life, formed first by Polish romanticism and then forged in the suffering of the German occupation combined by his plumbing the Carmelite depths of Saint John of the Cross.  It was in this mystical depth that he found the thirst for prayer and holiness that provided the foundation for accompaniment as a priest: "priestly holiness alone is the soil which can nourish an effective pastoral activity, a true 'cura animarum'.(Gift and Mystery, page 89).  

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity

 

In Act III of In Front of the Jeweler's Shop, Wojtyla addresses a major theme in marital and family systems:  sin patterns passed down through generations.  The most widely known of such studies is with "Alcoholic Family Systems", in which patterns of addiction replicate down the generations.  Wojtyla addresses the dilemma in attempting to heal such patterns with Teresa saying: "Monica soon mentioned her parents.  They were absent in spirit.  Monica's love grew outside of them, or in spite of them--that is what she thought.  I, however, knew that she grew out of that base which they had left in her."  This is the classic desire of the new couple, to heal by pretending that they are separate from the iniquity of their parents and Wojtyla makes this hope of escape explicit through Monica: "Ah, when are we going to begin to live our lives at last!  When will you be only Christopher, free from those associations?  I want so much to be yours, and there is only one thing constantly in my way--that I am myself."--if only I could leave myself behind when I marry, then I would be free of their iniquity!

Teresa addresses this dilemma from the parent's perspective:  "That evening I could not help realizing, Andrew, how heavily we all weigh upon their fate.  Take Monica's heritage:  the rift of that love is so deeply embedded in her that her own love stems from a rift too.  Christopher tries to heal it. . . . We live in them for a very long time.  When they grow up under our eyes, they seem to become inaccessible, like impermeable soil, but they have already absorbed us.  And though outwardly they shut themselves off, inwardly we remain in them, and--a frightful thought--their lives somehow test our own creation, our own suffering".  She accepts the humility of the iniquity that she has passed on to the next generation.  And she addresses the desire to pretend that one can escape the need for healing: "I must go up to them and say this:  My children, nothing has ceased to be; man must return to the place from which his existence grows--and how strongly he desires it to grow through love."

Wojtyla establishes the necessary process of healing through the new marriage and denies the pretense of leaving the iniquity behind: "Monica, what do you know about your mother's depths and your father's--Stefan's?  When the day of our wedding comes, you will emerge from between them. . . . So when the day of our wedding comes, I will come and take you away from them, a human being ripe for pain--for the new pain of love, for the pain of a new birth...".  Yes, she will emerge from her family of origin and join with Andrew and they will begin the new pain of love, the suffering that offers them the possibility of healing from their parents' iniquity, the optimistic frame of suffering redemptively that is a major part of Wojtyla's life and thought as gleaned from his own experience of suffering: yes to the hope of healing, the hope of loving as God loves, and to the pain of healing that has already been redeemed by Christ in his passion and crucifixion, and through which we can join Him in theosis.

One of the Greatest Dramas of Human Existence

Act I of In Front of the Jeweler's Shop shows human love that persists past death; Act II shows human love that fades in the midst of life. Act II is a study of the contrast of yearning for eternal Love and searching for human love, as Anna says "I don't know how it was that I felt ready to try and make every man notice me.  It might have been just a simple reflection of that longing, but I was convinced that no one could take that right from me."  Anna demands the right to make men notice her, to take and not to receive, to pursue the road of emptiness in search of fullness. 

Adam responds to her futility: "This is what compels me to think about human love.  There is no other matter embedded more strongly in the surface of human life, and there is no matter more unknown and more mysterious.  The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama.  It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence.  The surface of love has its current--swift, flickering, changeable.  A kaleidoscope of waves and situations full of attraction.  This current is sometimes so stunning that it carries people away--women and men.  They get carried away by the thought the they have absorbed the whole secret of love, but in fact they have not even touch it.  They are happy for a while, thinking they have reached the limits of existence and wrested all its secrets from it, so that nothing remains.  That's how it is: on the other side of that rapture nothing remains, there is nothing left behind it.  But there can't be nothing; there can't!  Listen to me, there can't.  Man is a continuum, a totality and a continuity--so it cannot be that nothing remains!" The divergence is the problem as man cannot find a way to be free enough to search for the deep mystery of eternal Love, to swim free of the currents of the surface of love, for "deep to call to deep in the roar of His waterfalls" (Psalm 42:7).

Anna is lost in the currents of the surface of love, seeking to quench her loneliness.   How can she find her way to the everlasting water? Adam has the answer: the Bridegroom. He exhorts her to be His bride: "Ah, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves that fill our lives there is Love!  The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street!  How am I to prove to you that you are the bride?  One would now have to pierce a layer of your soul as one pierces the layer of brushwood and soil when looking for a source of water in the green of a wood. You would then hear him speak: Beloved you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love and my suffering--because love means to give life through death; to love means to let gush a spring of the water of life into the depths of the soul, which burns or smolders and cannot burn out.  Ah, the flame and the spring.  You don't feel the spring but are consumed by the flame.  Is that not so?".  Anna knows in her soul that the way leads through the physicality of her body and the prospect of suffering, the way is to participate in His suffering so that she can also participate in His love.

In the end the way is through her husband, through his face. The way to receive eternal Love, for her is through "the face of the one she hates and ought to love".  This is the path of the bride, through her husband in his physicality, in the reality of human relationship.  Is this just? Is there not an easier way, a more solitary way that she can contro, a way that she can avoid the risk of suffering?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Do You Believe in Signals

 

From In Front of the Jeweler's Shop, Act I, by Carol Wojtyla

"Teresa asked me today, 'Andrew do you believe in signals?'" I found this theme of "signals" difficult and continue to wrestle with it. Obviously it refers to the narrative about the "Biesczady night" when they were descending from the mountains, with Andrew "interested in Christine" and with Teresa reflecting "this did not spoil the pleasure of the ramble for me For I was always as hard as a tree that would rather rot than topple."  Thus Wojtyla sets the scene of distance between them, their impenetrability of boundaries.  He introduces the "call" and the attempt to respond by the boys in the group "Through the quiet, sleeping woods, through the mountain night went a signal".

Teresa's thought of that signal returns in the moment of Andrew's proposal: "That thought [about signals] returned to me today between Andrew's profile and the tower of the old town hall in our city--today between five and six in the afternoon, when Andrew asked me for my hand--then I was thinking about signals that could not connect.  It was a thought about Andrew and myself.  And I felt how difficult it is to live."  Wojtyla is clearly connecting the two moments together, joining them with the question "do you believe in signals?".  Earlier in the play and in their lives, Andrew was not open to her, he was " ...ready to follow sensation, strong, forceful sensation.  I wanted to regard love as passion, as an emotion to surpass all—I believed in the absolute of emotion." and Teresa was hard and unbending "hard as a tree that would rather rot than topple".  Yet, there was a signal that night on the mountain, a call that could not be ignored or missed despite their avoidance of relationship.  Both had heard it and yet they could not respond to it as they did not know what it meant, from whom or what it had come.

Is the signal a call from God to open oneself to the giving and receiving the gift of another?  Andrew admits that he had been seeking sensation rather than truth, rather than relationship "I went quite a long way before reaching Teresa, I did not find her at once.".  By the time of the "signal", he had matured and begun to seek truth: "gradually I learned to value beauty accesible to the mind" and became open to her.  Teresa, too, had matured and opened "I felt that somehow I was the right one for him, and that I supposed I could love him.  Being aware of that, I must already have loved him. But that was all. I never allowed myself to nurse a feeling that remained unanswered. Today [at the time of the proposal], however, I can admit to myself that I did not find it easy.".  Teresa thought of that signal at the time and place of their engagement "I was thinking about signals that could not connect  .It was a thought about Andrew and myself. And I felt how difficult it is to live." and it reminded her of how "hard" she had found the Biesczady night, of her suffering in the midst of the harmony of the night when "only man was off balance and lost", how off balance and lost she was.

I think that Wojtyla is proposing that despite the opportunities for relationship at the level of gift, of seeing and receiving the "other" as gift, that present themselves throughout life, that one must respond to God's "signal", His call to "radical gift".  That is, to respond to the signal communicating "an act of receiving in which the gift comes into being precisely from nothing" (TOB 13.3).  And Wojtyla recognizes that this response to the "signal", to the "call", is a "fiat", a "yes", rather than a forced choice.  And he emphasizes the reality of choice, of the possibility of missing the "signal": "For several years she had been walking by me and I did not know that it was she who was walking and maturing.  I recoiled from accepting what today is for me a most magnificent gift. Several years later I see it clearly that roads which should have diverged have brought us closer together. Those years have been invaluable, giving us time to get our bearings on the complicated map of signs and signals. It must be so. ... after all, I dreamed of throwing a bridge".

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Concrete Mission

 

    "In order to ensure that the new millennium now approaching witness a new flourishing of the human spirit, mediated through an authentic culture of freedom, men and women must learn to conquer fear.  We must learn not to be afraid, we must rediscover a spirit of hope and a spirit of trust.  Hope is not empty optimism springing from a naive confidence that the future will necessarily be better than the past.  Hope and trust are the premise of responsible activity and are nurtured in that inner sanctuary of conscience where "man is alone with God" and thus perceives that he is not alone amid the enigmas of existence, for he is surrounded by the love of the Creator" (Address to the Fiftieth General Assembly of the United Nations Organization as quoted on page 14 of Witness To Hope).

Of all the reading for the first week of my class on John Paul II, this is the section that most impressed me.  Not with its loftiness but with its concreteness.  True, "freedom" and "hope" and "trust" are abstract concepts, perhaps transcendentals.  Nonetheless, this short section epitomizes the mission of John Paul II.  Overstated?  I think of Cardinal Ratzinger's statement "Karol Wojtyla's vocation matured while he was working in a chemical factory, during the horrors of the war and the occupation.  He himself described this period of four years in the world of labor as the most decisive period in his life" (Ratzinger, Joseph.  John Paul II: My Beloved Predecessor, pages 7-8.).  In this workplace, in a life surrounded by extreme fear and despair, I propose that Carol Wojtyla came to hope and trust and freedom in Jesus through the concreteness of his ora et labora in the midst of horrors to which our world has grown numb and blind and deaf. 

I have read that there were more martyrs in the twentieth century than all of the preceding combined--perhaps so.  However, it is those of us who live through and in the horror of great evil who must decide:  is there any substance in the suffering, is there any bottom to the endless falling?  The young Carol Wojtyla literally worked through the grieving of the evil around him and found freedom in obeying Jesus, found hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus, found trust that Jesus was in the midst of the suffering around him.  From this came his mission: to display the face of Christ, crucified and risen; "... the great aspirations of modernity to freedom and dignity could be realized and lived nobly if men and women rediscovered Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life--if the men and women of the third millennium could see in the face of Christ, crucified and risen, the deepest truth of their humanity." (WTH, p. xxiii). 

In his interior life, nourished by his physical work and his studies, he came to know the truth of Christ: "Be not afraid" (Matthew 14:24).  And with that realization he was free to show Jesus to others, to demonstrate "Here, in the death and resurrection of Christ, the deepest truths about human destiny were and are revealed .  Here, in the embrace of obedience to God's will, human beings are truly liberated.  Here, in the demonstration that death does not have the final word in either our individual stories or in the story of humanity, is the source of a courage that can overcome fear and match, even conquer, worldly power." (WTH, page xx.)  He carried out that joyful mission as a priest,  a bishop, and a pope, and drew out the heroic life from so many.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Angelic Singing

 

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together and learn to say,
(refrain)

‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.
(refrain)

 As I was waking up this morning after a troubled night, a woman's voice was singing the first two lines of this old Shaker hymn in my head.  Finishing therapy has been good and extra sad after all these years of horror and pain.  I like the "simple" and "free" and I really like the "to come down where we ought to be".  The refrain is about humility, so they all go togetherSuch a gift, the singing and the hymn.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Cassian and Merton Part III: Desolation in the Spiritual Life

One of the least advertised parts of the spiritual journey is desolation or spiritual "dryness".  Most people want to sell the consolation at the beginning of the trip or the mystical union down the road yet I think, for most of us, it is 90% desolation and 10% other.  So why bother?  Why not avoid it all, have a party at the beginning and then spend the rest of our lives trying to recreate the "dawn" by staying out of the desert through simulating the "ardent desire for things of the spirit" that seems so real at the start?  Merton speaks to the positive side of desolation, implicitly acknowledging the redemptive option in suffering that Cassian discusses here in Conference IV, the path of freedom to love as God loves, a path that is made clear only in the suffering that comes in desolation.

Desolation in the spiritual life.  And God gives us this desolation, God sends us desolation for a purpose.  What causes desolation in our life in the way he just explained it?  Why does this question of being dragged in both directions cause us desolation?  Well, it's because we want to be carried away in the spiritual direction, we want to be going up to these beautiful things and we feel ourselves dragged down.  Now in the world, with all due respect, with the world being taken out in sort of a bad sense, is the people outside [the monastery] it's not necessarily desolation for them if they are dragged towards pleasures and things like that.  On the contrary, that's consolation to them.  If a person has no particular desire to be dragged in the direction of divine things, he doesn't mind being dragged in the other direction.  But it causes desolation to us because we want to go to God and we find ourselves being dragged in the other direction.  Well, you can work that both ways.  The desolation is lessened, and in a legitimate way, if you have a more realistic conception of your desire of divine things.  I would say this is a basic truth of the spiritual life for everybody here [in the monastery] is that, be careful, of intense desires for divine things, which come especially to novices and not so often to the professed but which are familiar to the novitiate.  That's alright, it's good to have those, but don't think that that is beginning and the end of everything.  These intense desires have their purpose but they're not spiritual perfection and the thing you have to be a little careful of, is don't let yourself because carried away by those and don't push yourself too hard.  The devil can pull you in that direction.  This is one of the points that Cassian makes, that if the devil doesn't get you by giving you an ardent desire for the things of the flesh, he can get you with an excessive desire for the things of the spirit.  And the thing we have to desire is neither one nor the other but the disposition of freedom and enlightenment in the middle, which God gives us.  That's the one thing that the Devil won't give us because that's where we ought to be; he'll give us everything else but that.  If the Devil were to give us the desire for this middle position, there is no point in him doing that, and if he does, accept it, he's giving you something good.  I assure that he won't, according to tradition.

Why does God allow us to suffer this desolation?  Why does he allow us to have a great desire to have spiritual things and to feel ourselves pulled in the other direction?  What good does that do us?  What does that teach us? . . . It gives us purity of intention, and it gives us humility, and it gives us self-knowledge.  The purpose of trial, definitely, is giving us self-knowledge, trust in God, understanding of God's way with us, self-distrust, realization of our total dependence on grace, all those things.  So, if you happen to get into some kind of a trial, remember what it's supposed to do for you.  And, start working on these things a little bit, work in the direction of self-knowledge and self-distrust and trust in God and reliance on grace and total dependence on God.  And, then, the other things that these trials do . . . is to test our perseverance and to test how serious we are about the spiritual life, to test the seriousness of our will, the seriousness of our desire to serve God.  And, especially, not the seriousness of our desire for these concupiscentias spiritus , but it's the seriousness of our desire to stand in the middle and to exercise our freedom for the love of God.  That's what we have to be serious about, that is the thing that we have to be most serious about, because that is the talent that God has given us to develop.  He doesn't ask us to develop concupiscentias spiritus, that's what we think he asks us but it isn't.  He doesn't ask us to develop all kinds of ardor and fire and sensible fervor and that sort of thing.  One has no obligation whatever in the spiritual life to have or develop sensible fervor.  Sensible fervor is there if it comes and you use it if you got it and so forth.  You have no obligation to have it and you are not supposed necessarily to have it.  What you are supposed to have is good will and a certain amount of intelligence and a certain amount of an enlightened of your freedom which makes use of both these things. (24:36)
Transcript from "Ways of Prayer: A Desert Father's Wisdom", lectures by Thomas Merton, Chapter 2.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Cassian and Merton Part II: Dispensation Domini

Let's get back to the beginning of the conference [Chapter Two].  So then they ask this question:
"So then we asked this Blessed Daniel, why it was that as we sat in the cells we were sometimes filled with the utmost gladness of heart together with inexpressible delight and abundance of the holiest feelings so that I will not say speech but even feeling could not follow. See, that is the concupiscentias spiritus, this is what we all desire and this is what we assume, this is the way it ought to be:  this is it!  And Cassian would that say that as well.  "And pure prayers were readily breathed, and the mind being filled with spiritual fruits, praying to God even in sleep could feel that its petitions rose lightly and powerfully to God."  See, that's the way we all want to be.  "and again, why is it that for no reason we were suddenly filled with the utmost grief, and weighed down with unreasonable depression, so that we not only felt as if we ourselves were overcome with such feelings, but also our cell grew dreadful, reading palled upon us, aye and our very prayers were offered up unsteadily and vaguely, and almost as if we were intoxicated".  Do you recognize the symptoms?  "so that while we were groaning and endeavouring to restore ourselves to our former disposition, our mind was unable to do this, and the more earnestly it sought to fix again its gaze upon God, so was it the more vehemently carried away to wandering thoughts by shifting aberrations and so utterly deprived of all spiritual fruits, as not to be capable of being roused from this deadly slumber even by the desire of the kingdom of heaven, or by the fear of hell".  So, in other words, they had their troubles.

So, there's the problem.  Well, now, the way Cassian treats this, or the way Abbot Daniel treats it, he tells them first the causes of this, the immediate causes, what promotes this sort of thing, and, then, by showing what this is for, he leads into this thing that we were just talking about, this concept of a balance, of a purity of heart, of a freedom, an enlightened freedom that stands in between these two things [carnal desires and spiritual desires].  The thing that he says, the thing that he makes clear, is that it is through suffering these things, through this question of being pulled this way and that you learn, by the grace of God, that you learn to maintain the balance in the middle.  So, therefore, what he is saying is that the purpose of trial is to purify our hearts and bring us to this balanced and enlightened condition.  I think this is very practical.

Then he goes into the three causes, these are these immediate causes, and one of them is negligence.  Obviously if my mind is slack I am going to be pulled in all directions.  Another is impunatio diaboli, an attack, . . . he pushes you in all directions.  Then, finally, dispensatio Domini, . . .the way God disposes, the way God provides.  Which of these is the most important?  The third one, so that's the one Cassian is going to study.  So the next time you find yourself dragged in all directions by concupiscentias carnes et spiritus  and so forth, realize that this is something that is part of God's plan for your purification.  That's what we were saying yesterday,  you have to take a constructive view of this, you have to work with this.  So God causes us to be tried, or God allows us to be tried.  This is a very good thing and we should be glad that God allows us to be tried because it has a very good purpose.  He causes, as they say, desolation in the spiritual life.  Everybody seems to recognize this phenomenon, everybody knows exactly what we are talking about. 
(This is from Conference IV of Saint John Cassian, Chapters 2 through 3)
 
It really is great to sit in one's cell and bliss out.  Been there, done that, but, then, all dries up.  Every time.  I like what Cassian says at the end of Chapter 4:  "For men are generally more careless about keeping whatever they think can be easily replaced."  I never thought I was careless yet it is a helpful way of looking at it because when the bliss comes I forget the source and that it is a gift.

Yes, the consolation of bliss once the spiritual journey is underway is rare.  Instead, we get "trials", day after day after day.  These trials "purify us" by helping us build up our "balance muscles".  Our temptations are to look for consolation rather than do the work of learning to balance our desires.

I think the path is through the Cross, the path of trials, because then as I follow that path I am purified.  I don't attempt to appease my appetite for spiritual fervor, I practice the charismatic and the contemplative in an integrated way because all the time that I am on that path I am suffering redemptively rather than straying into bondage.  JPII talks about "freeing freedom" and I think this is it, to stay on the path of the Cross, regardless of the source of the trials, as it frees me ("redeems me") to maintain this balance.  That's really what the covenant promises (and vows) help us to do, to practice suffering redemptively through voluntary trials.  We can then more and more integrate the apparent opposites and avoid the temptations to the fervor that tempts us to allow ourselves to get dragged off the path, and, thus we are ever more free to love.

Cassian and Merton Part 1: The Balance of Carnal and Spiritual Desires

Why are our thoughts so mobile?  Why can't we control them? . . . Well, yeah, it takes strength that we don't possess, [you] put it that way.  That is a tendency, there, to look at it as a strength that we do not have.  We don't have the power to control it [the distractions of our carnal desires].  I think Cassian looks at it in a slightly different way, though.  See, we think in terms of power, have I got the power to control these things?  Cassian looks at it, rather, from the point of view of balance.  He doesn't so much say that we don't have the power,  it's that we're not in the right "spot".   If we were balanced, properly, that is to say if our nature were not unbalanced, see that's the thing that we're human but we've got an unbalanced human nature.  If our nature were perfectly balanced, we would be able to control our thoughts with much less difficulty.  There would be much less distraction, there would always be some distraction but there would much less.  The explanation of that is this:  see, we say the desires of the flesh and the desires of the spirit, normally you would say that it is good to follow one of those sets of desires and bad to follow the other set of desires, what you have to do is follow the good ones and avoid the bad ones.  Which ones are the goods one and which ones are the bad ones?  . . . You shouldn't necessarily follow either, you should follow both in the proper degree.  What Cassian considers is not so much that here we are, completely passive, dragged in the direction of the "flesh" and hoping to be dragged in the direction of the spirit, it's kind of dependent on which way we get dragged.  On the contrary, in between, in the middle between flesh and spirit, see both of these are ardent natural desires.  We've got natural fleshly desires which are perfectly alright, they are good, except that they are a little bit disordered and we've got natural spiritual desires, which are also good.  In the middle, in between these two is placed our freedom and our intelligence.  What Cassian considers is that the important thing is to develop a balance and a stability of the freedom and the intelligence.  One is place in the middle and is able to choose.  Now this is pretty much the concept that the Greek Fathers have of human nature and the human struggle.  They consider the spiritual part of man, they call it the hegemonikum, that is to say the "driver", the controller, the one who is in command, the pilot.  In the depths of one's being there is this illuminated intelligence and freedom which is supposed to make choices and to choose wisely between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the spirit.  One chooses enough of the desires of the flesh to maintain the natural, for example you have to eat, but you don't eat too much, you eat enough, so forth, to keep life going. . . . At the same time, one must also not go overboard in the desires of the spirit, either.  The great thing is to preserve the balance so that one is in command of both and uses both.

Salvation does not consist simply in being carried away by desires of the spirit--that's a very important point. We'll get back to that in a minute. What the implication of this is why are our thoughts so mobile and unstable?  The answer to that is not that we are constantly giving in to the desires of the flesh when we should give in to desires of the spirit but that we are sometimes pulled in the direction of the flesh and sometimes pulled in the direction of the spirit, so that we're swinging like a pendulum from one extreme to the other and, then, therefore, we're in perpetual motion.  Now, this is a very smart way of looking at this and it is the ancient, traditional way of looking at man in the monastic setting and it is the way monks ought to look at things.  It is completely impractical to go through life imagining that we are going to be constantly having spiritual desires whipped up to a white heat and that we are constantly going to be filled with intense conceptions of divine realities.  These come occasionally but that's not what perfection consists in.  Perfection consists in this enlightened freedom which maintains balance in the middle of the two and goes in the direction of God and goes in the direction of truth and love, by means of these things, which are given to us as mean[s].

Each time that I listen to Merton saying the above I think about how one can be monastic and "Charismatic" (in the practice of the Charismatic Renewal).  I find a conflict because I have so much experience of the Charismatic Renewal as very much focused on both "spiritual desires" and on the grace of the Holy Spirit to the exclusion of what I do in the spiritual journey.  I don't think, necessarily, that the monastic is opposed to "life in the Spirit".  I do think that one of the reasons that the renewal faded in the West is that it was focused on fervor, way too much on feelings, which led people away from the Spirit--they were dragged toward "carnal desires" through their emotionalism and "feel-good"ism.

This is why I like the written basis for BSC, which includes the integration of the charismatic and the contemplative through the Cross.  Unless we pass through the suffering (the "Passion") of the Cross of Jesus, through the doorway into the "kingdom of God", we get dragged one way or another.  In the case of the Charismatic Renewal, I think the active decadence of the "West" combined with the practical emphasis on arousing "feelings" left people drifting toward the corrupted appetites of the flesh, like eating one piece of a chocolate bar for the anti-oxidative effect but then wanting and eating another and another and, then, here is gluttony in full bloom.  On the other hand, the desire for spiritual fervor also left people out of balance and, thus, more susceptible to the eight demons.

So, I think the path is through the Cross, because then as I practice the charismatic and the contemplative on that path I stay balanced, I don't attempt to appease my appetite for fervor, as all the time that I am on that path I am suffering redemptively.  JPII talks about "freeing freedom" and I think this is it, to stay on the path of the Cross as it frees me ("redeems me") to maintain this balance.  That's really what the covenant promises (and vows) help us to do, to suffer redemptively so that we can stay balanced, that we can integrate the apparent opposites, and avoid the temptation to the fervor that unbalances us and, thus in the end, enslaves us.


Sunday, July 05, 2020

Fiat voluntas tua

I have been listening to Thomas Merton's lectures, Ways of Prayer: A Desert Father's Wisdom, on the Conferences of Saint John Cassian.  Good stuff and lots of humor.  I had heard these cassettes forty years ago at Osage Monastery; their quality was poor and I found it hard to listen for long although I enjoyed them.  This new remastered version is much better!  The sound levels are much improved.

One thing that caught my ear was Merton's second lecture on Saint John Cassian's writing on how to pray, focusing on the Pater Nostra.  Then, of course, what is the next petition?  "Fiat voluntas tua".  Well that calls for a whole--incidentally, where is this in Tertullian? There it is, he's got it back here.  For some reason Tertullian has "Fiat voluntas tua" in front of "Adveniat regnum tuum".  He's just being original, or what?  Actually, he's got some very good things on this "Fiat voluntas tua".  And, what he gets down to is, obviously, what we all get down to sooner or later with "Fiat" is the question of accepting suffering.  But Tertullian says, the word of God is done praedicando, operando, sustinendo--by preaching, by working, by suffering.  So, praedicando, you can change that for confitendo confessio, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, which we do where--in choir, at least, and we do a chapter, occasionally, and we do it there.  Operando--by our works and virtue and so forth.  And then sustinendo, which is a significant word, it isn't just patienendo but sustinendo.  What's the difference between patienendo and sustinedo, Brother Basil? . . .  Persevering and bearing it, you see, accepting it.  You can suffer without accepting it. Sometimes we suffer and we don't want to suffer and we have to suffer anyway and there is nothing we can do about it.  But sustinendo means accepting it and bearing with it; courage, bravery, and so forth.  And so, he says, when we say "Fiat voluntas tua", he is saying we have to think this may mean the acceptance of suffering and we should accept suffering and we should accept, well, the frustration of our desires and of all these things which are implied in the idea of suffering.  And we have to accept that, to realize, of course, what goes with that, is the realization that whatever God wills for us is best, even though at the moment it may contradict our desires, nevertheless in the long run it is best, in the long run it does lead to salvation although it may take us off the road for the moment.

Kinda reminds me of the "Fiat" in the Annunciation, "The word “fiat” means an official decree or to give sanction to something. In Latin it means “let there be” or “let it happen/exist."  I never connected the "fiat" of the "Our Father" with the "Fiat" of Mary or, even, the "Fiat" of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemene ("non mea voluntas sed tua fiat" Luke 22:42).  I believe this is one of the distinctive aspects of Christianity, that when we pray "thy will be done", when we are praying the "Fiat", we are accepting the suffering that comes from doing God's will.  This contrasts Christianity significantly with the Stoics and the Epicureans in regard to suffering, that we embrace the suffering that is part of the package deal of "thy will be done".

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Asking for Love, Light, and, Knowledge of the Truth

How very pleasing to God is the willing desire to suffer for Him
"Very pleasing to Me, dearest daughter, is the willing desire to bear every pain and fatigue, even unto death, for the salvation of souls, for the more the soul endures,the more she [the soul] shows that she loves Me; loving Me she comes to know more of My truth, and the more she knows, the more pain and intolerable grief she feels at the offenses committed against Me. You asked Me to sustain you, and to punish the faults of others in you, and you did not remark that you were really asking for love, light, and knowledge of the truth, since I have already told you that, by the increase of love, grows grief and pain, wherefore he that grows in love grows in grief.  Therefore, I say to you all, that you should ask, and it will be given you, for I deny nothing to him who asks of Me in truth. Consider that the love of divine charity is so closely joined in the soul with perfect patience, that neither can leave the soul without the other.  For this reason (if the soul elect to love Me) she should elect to endure pains for Me in whatever mode or circumstance I may send them to her.  Patience cannot be proved in any other way than by suffering, and patience is united with love as has been said. Therefore bear yourselves with manly courage, for, unless you do so, you will not prove yourselves to be spouses of My Truth, and faithful children, nor of the company of those who relish the taste of My honor, and the salvation of souls.
The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena, Section 5, 1370 (translated by Algar Thorold, 1907)

Saint Catherine was born one year before the Black Death struck Siena in 1347 (on the feast of the Annuciation!).  She had a twin who died at birth; half of her 22 siblings died as children.  It is estimated that between 30 to 50 percent of the population died between 1348 to 1350.  The city had been as prosperous before the plague as Milan and Florence and never recovered from its effects.  She grew up in a world so different from mine that her life seems incomprehensible.

I've posted this section of her Dialogue because it relates to suffering redemptively.  So, was she masochistic, was she looking for pain to punish herself for whatever?  It is easy through post-Freudian eyes to view her that way, as compensating for the great pain in her family.  A close reading of her writings does not show a desire for pain but a desire for Love.  She lived intensely and attracted many "followers" and yet she spoke often of suffering as well.  Why?  Yes, fundamentally, coming to know the "truth" of Jesus is painful since the fire of Love burns.

I think there is more to her life, though.  Jesus tells her that while she is asking to suffer for the "salvation of others", she did not "remark" that she is really asking for "love, light, and knowledge of the truth".  This is her true desire and it is a desire for good, not for punishment.  I think, rather, that she is seeking to love others by suffering a grief that will help their receiving salvation.  I think this exposes a common misapprehension, that "offering up" my suffering and pain for others somehow magically fixes them. I think that such egocentric suffering is masochistic, in the end, because my suffering does nothing for them if I am not growing in Love and Patience ("a virtue which helps us, for the love of God, to calmly bear our tribulations and preserve serenity amid the sufferings of life. Patience tempers sorrow and staves off excessive anger and complaining"). 

I think hers is the larger frame of suffering with Jesus in the groaning of the birth pangs of the new creation, the kaine ktisis.  It is in my relationship with Jesus, with His Body, the Church, and with Him mystically, that my suffering affects others, that my suffering is redemptive.  The increase in love, light, and knowledge of the truth also brings grieving and sorrowing, not unexpectedly, as I perceive how my and others' acting without love hurts and causes suffering and pain.  So much grieving, so much sorrowing, not as ends in themself, just companions on the way to the new creation.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Resurrection of the Body (Part 2)

Paul writes about the resurrection in a number of places yet in 1 Corinthians 15 he does so in detail.

    It is the same with the resurrection of the dead:  the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.
    If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment.  The first man, Adam, as scripture says, "became a living soul" [Gen 2:7]; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit.  That is, first the one with the soul, not the spirit, and after that, the one with the spirit.  The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven.  As this earthly man was, so are we on earth; and as the heavenly man is, so are we in heaven.  And we, who have been modeled on the earthly man, will be modeled on the heavenly man. 
Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, Verses 42-29. Jerusalem Bible

    It is especially in Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of the body (in the context of his assessment of the weakness, suffering and perishability of human existence) that Paul’s holistic conception of the human being becomes most apparent. Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of the body makes it most clearly evident that Paul considers the sōma to belong constitutively and inseparably to human being-and-living, both now and in the telos (goal, end).
    In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul identifies human being-living as experienced through a “psychic body” (sōma psychikon) or a “spiritual body” (sōma pneumatikon; 1 Cor. 15:44–45). English translations have consistently mistranslated 1 Cor. 15:44, making a contrast between a “physical” body and a “spiritual” body, importing a physical-spiritual dualism that is not Paul’s. In this text Paul contrasts two forms of bodily animation, one “psychic” (psychikon) and the other “pneumatic” (pneumatikon), as a way to strike a midpoint between the Hellenistic body-soul dualism of his audience (which rejected bodily resurrection, period) and a naïve physical resuscitation model of resurrection. The bottom line for Paul is that human existence in either condition—whether in the present age or the age to come—must be bodily (“embodied” sounds too dualistic), whatever the precise animation and whatever the precise “physical” character. That psychikon here does not refer especially to the “physical” feature of the current body is indicated by Paul’s supportive scriptural citation of Genesis 2:7 in 15:45, which draws attention to the first human as being made bodily into a psychē zōsa, translating the Hebrew, nephesh chayyah, “living being.” Even the subsequent distinction between the “earthly” body and the “heavenly” body (vv 47–49) is not one of physical versus spiritual (or material versus immaterial), since for Paul the heavenly is a kind of substance or form (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:39–41). Both kinds of bodily material require animation—and vice versa, both animations require bodily form—for there to be life. The only mode or form of human existence that there is, in either dimension, is bodily existence. 
    Paul’s exposition of the character of and transition between these two modes is also instructive. The two modes are characterized elsewhere as “body of humiliation” as opposed to a “body co-formed to the body of [Christ’s] glory” (Phil. 3:21), or as “bearing the image of the human of dust” compared to “bearing the image of the human of heaven” (the second Adam, 1 Cor. 15:47–49). The most crucial language of resurrection, then, is transformational language, emphasizing continuing within discontinuity. Paul says “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51, 52) and that our body will be “transformed” (metaschēmatizō; Phil. 3:21), such that it will be “co-formed” to that of the “image of God’s son” (symphytos, Rom. 6:5; symmorphos, Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:21). Further, this is described as the “redemption of our body,” linked inseparably with the liberation of all creation (Rom. 8:18–25; Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:24–28). And so Paul can speak of this as a “glorification” (Rom. 8:17, 30; cf. 2 Cor. 4:17). Just as Paul does not speak of the replacement of all creation but of its transformation, Paul also speaks not of an exchange of bodies, even less an escape from bodies, but of the transformation of bodily life. And in continuity with Jewish resurrection hope, Paul understood resurrection not just as bodily but also as involving the restoration of a people within a transformed creation.  Paul on the Human Being as a “Psychic Body”: Neither Dualist nor Monist, Gordon Zerbe, 2008

    As Christians for whom Jesus is Lord and Savior, when we die do we go to that place, Heaven, and sit on clouds and praise God? Do we get a new body when we get to that place, one that is perfectly formed and without blemish?
    Paul doesn't seem to think so or say so.  Zerbe's article, which seems scholarly, makes the point that it is not the body which changes but what animates the body (soma)--the natural (sarx) or the spiritual (pneuma) in 1 Corinthians 15.  This is what happens when we are born {again, from above), we receive God's Holy Spirit into our self, our body and soul.  Now it is Christ who lives in me, the same body with the same soul.  The psyche does not go away, the body does not change:  the spirit gains supremacy.



John Paul II thinks of it this way

According to the words of 1 Corinthians, the man in whom concupiscence prevails over spirituality, that is, the "natural body" (1 Cor 15:44), is condemned to death; instead, he should rise as a "spiritual body," as the man in whom the spirit will gain a just supremacy over the body, spirituality over sensuality.  It is easy to understand that what Paul has in mind here is sensuality as the sum of the factors that constitute the limitation of human spirituality, that is, as a power that "binds" the spirit (not necessarily in the Platonic sense) by hindering its own power of knowing (seeing) the truth and also the power to will freely and to love in the truth.  However, what cannot be at issue here is the fundamental function of the senses that serves to liberate spirituality, namely, the simple power of know and loving that belongs to the psychosomatic compositum of the human subject.  Since the subject of discussion is the resurrection of the body, that is, of man in his authentic bodiliness, "spiritual body" should signify precisely the perfect sensitivity of the senses, their perfect harmonization with the activity of the human spirit in truth and in freedom.  The "natural body" which is the earthly antitheses of the "spiritual body," by contrast indicates sensuality as a force that often undermines man inasmuch as, by living "in the knowledge of good and evil," he is often urged or pushed, as it were, toward evil.
 
Man and Woman He Created Them, Audience 72, Section 4, February 10, 1982  John Paul II








The Resurrection of My Body (Part 1)

We were moving through our Bible study of 1 Corinthians 15 the other week and I was preparing I found the notorious verses forty-two through forty-nine. Here is the Jerusalem Bible translation:
    It is the same with the resurrection of the dead: the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.
    If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment. The first man, Adam, as scripture says, "became a living soul" [Gen 2:7]; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit. That is, first the one with the soul, not the spirit, and after that, the one with the spirit. The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven. As this earthly man was, so are we on earth; and as the heavenly man is, so are we in heaven. And we, who have been modeled on the earthly man, will be modeled on the heavenly man.
Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, Verses 42-49. Jerusalem Bible.

I haven't thought much about the resurrection of my body.  Sure, it's one of those things we chant in the Nicene Creed that we believe as Christians.  And there's Pascha.  It's just that I don't think at all much about my body.  True, we are more seasoned now and the end is closer and I can rationalize about meteorites coming down any moment, so who knows when?  But reading this passage just confuses everything for me.  This translation is not common nowadays.  For example, the NRSVCE translation gives:
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is[a] from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will[b] also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Here verse forty-four contrasts a "physical body" with a "spiritual body" rather than an "embodiment" of the "soul"  with an "embodiment"of the "spirit".  Obviously, there is something obtuse here.  After all, we believe in the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming of Jesus, the parousia.  How do I find a way to understand what he is writing about?


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Are We One or Two

    It is the same with the resurrection of the dead:  the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit   

    If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment.  The first man, Adam, as scripture says, "became a living soul" [Gen 2:7]; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit.  That is, first the one with the soul, not the spirit, and after that, the one with the spirit.  The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven.  As this earthly man was, so are we on earth; and as the heavenly man is, so are we in heaven.  And we, who have been modeled on the earthly man, will be modeled on the heavenly man.

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, Verses 42-29. Jerusalem Bible

    It is especially in Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of the body (in the context of his assessment of the weakness, suffering and perishability of human existence) that Paul’s holistic conception of the human being becomes most apparent. Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of the body makes it most clearly evident that Paul considers the sōma to belong constitutively and inseparably to human being-and-living, both now and in the telos (goal, end).
     In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul identifies human being-living as experienced through a “psychic body” (sōma psychikon) or a “spiritual body” (sōma pneumatikon; 1 Cor. 15:44–45). English translations have consistently mistranslated 1 Cor. 15:44, making a contrast between a “physical” body and a “spiritual” body, importing a physical-spiritual dualism that is not Paul’s. In this text Paul contrasts two forms of bodily animation, one “psychic” (psychikon) and the other “pneumatic” (pneumatikon), as a way to strike a midpoint between the Hellenistic body-soul dualism of his audience (which rejected bodily resurrection, period) and a naïve physical resuscitation model of resurrection. The bottom line for Paul is that human existence in either condition—whether in the present age or the age to come—must be bodily (“embodied” sounds too dualistic), whatever the precise animation and whatever the precise “physical” character. That psychikon here does not refer especially to the “physical” feature of the current body is indicated by Paul’s supportive scriptural citation of Genesis 2:7 in 15:45, which draws attention to the first human as being made bodily into a psychē zōsa, translating the Hebrew, nephesh chayyah, “living being.” Even the subsequent distinction between the “earthly” body and the “heavenly” body (vv 47–49) is not one of physical versus spiritual (or material versus immaterial), since for Paul the heavenly is a kind of substance or form (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:39–41). 31 Both kinds of bodily material require animation—and vice versa, both animations require bodily form—for there to be life. The only mode or form of human existence that there is, in either dimension, is bodily existence.
    Paul’s exposition of the character of and transition between these two modes is also instructive. The two modes are characterized elsewhere as “body of humiliation” as opposed to a “body co-formed to the body of [Christ’s] glory” (Phil. 3:21), or as “bearing the image of the human of dust” compared to “bearing the image of the human of heaven” (the second Adam, 1 Cor. 15:47–49). The most crucial language of resurrection, then, is transformational language, emphasizing continuing within discontinuity. Paul says “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51, 52) and that our body will be “transformed” (metaschēmatizō; Phil. 3:21), such that it will be “co-formed” to that of the “image of God’s son” (symphytos, Rom. 6:5; symmorphos, Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:21). Further, this is described as the “redemption of our body,” linked inseparably with the liberation of all creation (Rom. 8:18–25; Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:24–28). And so Paul can speak of this as a “glorification” (Rom. 8:17, 30; cf. 2 Cor. 4:17). Just as Paul does not speak of the replacement of all creation but of its transformation, Paul also speaks not of an exchange of bodies, even less an escape from bodies, but of the transformation of bodily life. And in continuity with Jewish resurrection hope, Paul understood resurrection not just as bodily but also as involving the restoration of a people within a transformed creationPaul on the Human Being as a “Psychic Body”: Neither Dualist nor Monist, Gordon Zerbe, 2008

As Christians for whom Jesus is Lord and Savior, when we die do we go to that place, Heaven, and sit on clouds and praise God? Do we get a new body when we get to that place, one that is perfectly formed and without blemish?

Paul doesn't seem to think so or say so.  Zerbe's article, which seems scholarly, makes the point that it is not the body which changes but what animates the body (soma)--the natural (sarx) or the spiritual (pneuma) in 1 Corinthians 15.  This is what happens when we are born {again, from above), we receive God's Holy Spirit into our self, our body and soul.  Now it is Christ who lives in me, the same body with the same soul.  The psyche does not go away, the body does not change:  the spirit gains supremacy.

John Paul II thinks of it this way
According to the words of 1 Corinthians, the man in whom concupiscence prevails over spirituality, that is, the "natural body" (1 Cor 15:44), is condemned to death; instead, he should rise as a "spiritual body," as the man in whom the spirit will gain a just supremacy over the body, spirituality over sensuality.  It is easy to understand that what Paul has in mind here is sensuality as the sum of the factors that constitute the limitation of human spirituality, that is, as a power that "binds" the spirit (not necessarily in the Platonic sense) by hindering its own power of knowing (seeing) the truth and also the power to will freely and to love in the truth.  However, what cannot be at issue here is the fundamental function of the senses that serves to liberate spirituality, namely, the simple power of know and loving that belongs to the psychosomatic compositum of the human subject.  Since the subject of discussion is the resurrection of the body, that is, of man in his authentic bodiliness, "spiritual body" should signify precisely the perfect sensitivity of the senses, their perfect harmonization with the activity of the human spirit in truth and in freedom.  The "natural body" which is the earthly antitheses of the "spiritual body," by contrast indicates sensuality as a force that often undermines man inasmuch as, by living "in the knowledge of good and evil," he is often urged or pushed, as it were, toward evil.
Man and Woman He Created Them, Audience 72, Section 4, February 10, 1982