ROME – Author and Crux columnist Father Jeffrey Kirby says reading a 17th century French Jesuit theologian has helped him not only to learn how to better surrender himself to God, but to understand value in the wisdom that spiritual lessons often take time to sink in.
Speaking to Crux, Kirby, whose new book, Be Not Troubled, is centered on the writings of Father Jean-Pierre De Caussade, said that when he first began reading De Caussade’s writings, he had difficulty understanding what the Jesuit theologian was trying to say, finding the message confusing.
It wasn’t until later, he said, when he was able to apply the writings to personal life circumstances, that De Caussade’s reflections began to sink in and become a helpful tool in his spiritual life.
“Oftentimes, spiritual lessons take time to gestate before they can give birth to wisdom,” he said, voicing his belief that this lesson can also be helpful to those who might find Pope Francis, the world’s first Jesuit pope, difficult to understand.
De Caussade “presents us with a type of methodology that can be used in dissecting and digesting the teachings of Pope Francis, or any of the writings of the spiritual masters in the Christian tradition,” he said, noting that there are similar tones to both Francis and De Caussade’s writings.
“Certainly, De Caussade was writing within the Jesuit tradition and Pope Francis is an heir of that patrimony,” Kirby said, noting that Francis in his homilies and writings frequently references themes that were also central to De Caussade’s works.
Francis, he said, has often either quoted or indirectly referenced a popular Jesuit Latin motto – age quod agis, roughly translated as “do what you are doing,” or more colloquially, “Live in the present moment” – a concept Kirby said “is right up De Caussade’s alley.”
According to Kirby, key themes in De Caussade’s writings include his development of God’s “permissive will” in relation to evil, as well as his concept of “the sacrament of the present moment,” which is also a central theme in Be Not Troubled.
“De Caussade’s teachings show us how to see the invisible God in very visible moments, even difficult ones,” Kirby said, adding that these moments in particular “teach us about God’s providence, namely, his presence with us and his care for us.”
“I think these are spiritual truths that are desperately needed in Western culture today,” he said, calling De Caussade a “trailblazer” who restored forgotten elements of the Catholic faith, such as the universal call to holiness; the conviction that every Christian has a vocation, rather than just a select few; living in the present moment; the understanding that holiness is found in simple, everyday things, and the role of redemptive suffering in the spiritual life.
Though De Caussade, who died in 1751, lived nearly 250 years ago, Kirby said he believes the topics the priest reflected on – namely, redemptive suffering and offering one’s burdens to God – are still relevant today, and have been taken up by several popes since the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council.
Illustrating the point, Kirby said his inspiration for the book came from his everyday experience as a priest.
The book is 88 pages and is designed to serve as a type of week-long spiritual retreat and is divided into six different reflections offering readers meditations and tips based on De Caussade’s writings for how to handle feeling anxious, burdened or in despair.
“I kept hearing people say that the Church didn’t have anything to help them in their spiritual lives,” Kirby said, adding that “people wanted to truly draw closer to God, but they didn’t know how to do it and they didn’t know of anything in the Church’s vast spiritual treasury.”
After hearing these observations, Kirby said he turned to the “spiritual masters” of Christian tradition who might have helpful reflections, and one of these was De Caussade, most known for his 1861 work, Abandonment to Divine Providence.
Despite the fact that key themes in De Caussade’s writings have been picked up by modern popes, these topics “just haven’t been getting to the people in the trenches,” Kirby said, adding that he wrote Be Not Troubled “to change this and hopefully get these truths out to every believer in a practical, digestible way.”
He voiced hope that the book “helps people to know of God’s presence in their lives and that they come to a deeper realization of how much God loves them and desires to accompany them through the joys and sorrows of life.”
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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