On the very first page of his mammoth, magisterial two-volume tome, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Père Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964), states a fundamental truth concerning man’s inner life as it is constituted by nature. Then, as one would expect from a Domincan theologian worthy of the name, he elevates that truth into the supernatural:
As everyone can easily understand, the interior life is an elevated form of intimate conversation which everyone has with himself as soon as he is alone, even in the tumult of a great city. From the moment he ceases to converse with his fellow men, man converses interiorly with himself about what preoccupies him most. This conversation varies greatly according to the different ages of life; that of an old man is not that of a youth. It also varies greatly according as a man is good or bad.
As soon as a man seriously seeks truth and goodness, this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God. Little by little, instead of seeking himself in everything, instead of tending more or less consciously to make himself a center, man tends to seek God in everything, and to substitute for egoism love of God and of souls in Him. This constitutes the interior life. No sincere man will have any difficulty in recognizing it. The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary [Luke 10:42] consists in hearing the word of God and living by it.
Since the time those words were written, men have devised various technological means to obstruct, pervert, or even replace this intimate internal conversation with artificial nonsense. Whether these manufactured distractions are toxic or merely inane, they tend to truncate that natural process of reflection that leads both to genuine cultural achievement and — when elevated by supernatural habits and gifts — to intimate communing with the Trinity in the depths of one’s soul.
By design, there currently exists a pandemic and obsessive preoccupation with what Frank Wright artfully calls “the Current Thing.” This preoccupation is induced by those technological means referenced above, which have become very effective tools of oligarchic control of the masses. (It is a slight tangent, but Frank’s succinct The Great Replacement is highly recommended reading. I was considering writing a column about the media called, “They Lie, They Lie, They Lie,” which might be too subtle to convey the full force of my meaning, but having read Frank’s piece, I decided not to try it; he wrote what I would have said, only he said it better. His piece might be profitably read in tandem with The Great Stereopticon, an excerpt from Richard Weaver’s classic, Ideas Have Consequences, whose 1948 copyright reveals that media manipulation is nothing new!)
The alternative to preoccupation with the Current Thing is a wholesome occupation with what T.S. Elliot called “the permanent things,” or, better still, with what the Church would call “heavenly things” (caelestia, in the liturgical Latin). To be sure, as fidelity to the duties of our state in life are part and parcel of our pursuit of those higher things, humble faithfulness to the daily grind in its myriad details is essential to a life of Christian virtue. Some internal conversation about things less than entirely profound is certainly permitted. (The saints could not justly be denounced by Johnny Cash for being “so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.”) In fact, even in mental prayer, Saint Alphonsus advises us that we can discuss with Our Lord whatever it is that concerns us, however mundane that thing might be. To give his exact words, from The Way of Salvation and Perfection:
There is no barrier at the door against any who desire to speak with Him; nay, God delights that you should treat with Him confidently. Treat with Him of your business, your plans, your griefs, your fears, — of all that concerns you… He would have us often speak with Him familiarly and without restraint.
If the mundane details of life might legitimately find a place in the time we set aside especially for prayer, then, a fortiori, they have a fitting place in our ongoing internal conversation.
Regarding that conversation — which we might call our “inner dialogue” — let me come to the main point of these lines: If our Catholic metanarrative (about which I have written a couple of times) is that big story in which our complete world view is embedded, then this ongoing inner dialogue in our minds might be conceived as a “micronarrative” that is situated at the very small end of our narrative spectrum. Let me put it another way: If the story of our life is so good as to be a biography based upon the Gospel — which would literally be a hagiography, the life of a saint — then our internal conversation supplies that biography with its most consequential dialogue. If, on the other hand, our lives are not so good, then our internal conversation will have the same place of prominence, ultimately revealing how it is we arrived where we did, even if this be, God forbid, Hell.
We are in Passiontide, the last fortnight of our Lenten journey towards the glorious Pasch. The sorrowful mysteries, especially as portrayed by the Church’s liturgical texts for this season, should suffuse our internal dialogue. The Just One, so hated and pursued by His enemies whose salvation He made possible, ought to come into that “intimate conversation which everyone has with himself as soon as he is alone,” to return to the words of Garrigou-Lagrange. Because, after all, “From the moment he ceases to converse with his fellow men, man converses interiorly with himself about what preoccupies him most.” Mindful of what I have already said about our quotidian affairs having a legitimate place in this inner dialogue, if what preoccupies us most is Jesus Christ and the eternal verities that He has so generously taught us by word, example, and interior grace, then should not He, with His Father and Their Holy Ghost, have some place in our most intimate thoughts throughout the day?
As I write these words, they smite my own conscience. By the routine that surrounds my chosen state of life, I am surrounded with occasions to foster the sanctity and fruitfulness of this internal dialogue, yet the temple of my mind has beasts and money-changers in it still, stinking it up and obscuring its sacred purpose. I have not yet permitted Jesus in His just wrath and merciful love to cast them all out. Simply because I write of this lofty thing so enthusiastically does not mean I have achieved it. “Easier said than done” applies to so much in the spiritual life!
There are good reasons that the Church supplies us with such a beautiful language of contrition in the Seven Penitential Psalms. None of us has occasion for discouragement, though. Nunc coepi, sang the Royal Psalmist: Now have I begun! This is something we can repeat daily to renew our fervor.
Our besetting sins, our favorite vices, our pettiness and hardheartedness: now, in a most special and solemn way, is the time for us to dash them all against the Rock of Christ, like the wicked children of Babylon they are. And if we find it hard to do this, then we should frankly acknowledge such as part of our ongoing conversation with our divine Physician. He knows the cure, but as with all physicians, in order to benefit from His treatments maximally, we need to tell Him about our ailments and take His curatives.
Among the most powerful of these curatives are the Sacrament of Penance and the sublime liturgical texts and ceremonies of the coming days. Meditation on these, and on the Seven Last Words of Jesus, might inform our Passiontide Micronarrative.