True Life: A Hecker Reflection
This is the forty-third in a series of previously unpublished reflections from the 1854 spiritual notebook of Paulist Founder, Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker. The reflection series is being made public in conjunction with Father Hecker's cause for canonization.
True Life: A Hecker Reflection
The life of every true person is a special revelation of some unknown or some necessary truth, but one despised in one’s own time. Such was St. Francis’ life in regard to his time and the greatness of poverty. Until his time, no one had so evidently demonstrated the truth of our Lord in regard to the paternal care of God and the blessings of poverty. It was St. Alphonsus (Liguori) who called the lives of the saints “living gospels.”
Life is an earnest, great and momentous business. Its secrets we shall not clearly understand until after death. Every action tends to transform us into angels or demonize our immortal souls. The angel lies buried within us like the butterfly in the worm. The angel sleeps but is only awakened into life by the pure excitement of divine grace.
A true Christian life is the beginning of our true and complete consciousness. The saints alone have regained, more or less, their original position and the possession of their dormant powers. Their life in relation to ours is what ours is to ordinary sleep. There is no truth in life except in living for eternity. The saints became saints because eternity and death were ever-present realities to their minds. They were awake while most of us are in a deep sleep and the best of us still slumber.
Response: Father Paul Robichaud, CSP
The hymn in Ephesians (5:14): “Awake O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” summarizes Servant of God Isaac Hecker’s reflection this week. As Father Hecker writes, “most of us are in a deep sleep and the best of us still slumber. Falling asleep is a form of spiritual death in the New Testament. In the Gospel (Mark 13:35), Jesus warns his disciples against falling asleep. Jesus also tells the story of the foolish bridesmaids (Matthew 25:5) who fall asleep before the bridegroom arrives and are consequently locked out of the wedding banquet. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples keep falling asleep as Jesus struggles in prayer to the Father (Matthew 26:40-45). How appropriate as we begin this season of Lent, that Hecker invites us to wake up.
Underlying the “earnest and momentous business” of life itself is a continuing choice that each of us make to choose for the good. Deep within our being is our soul; that eternal part of us which is evolving and growing. Like a fetus in the process of birth, it is being nurtured by grace or sadly, being misshaped by sin. The problem is that most of us are not very conscious of this momentous business going on within us. Unlike the saints who live with an awareness of things eternal and things deadly, this same awareness is often dormant within us as Christians. Most of us, according to Hecker, find it difficult to stay awake – to live with this consciousness of good and evil – and even the best of us doze off. True life has consequences while we slumber, because our souls are in the process of transformation towards God or away from God, based on our response to grace. The season of Lent provides an opportunity to open our eyes and choose light rather than darkness.
Hecker’s 1854 Spiritual Notebook:
Servant of God, Isaac Hecker wrote these spiritual notes as a young Redemptorist priest about 1854 and they have never been published. Hecker was 34 years old at the time and had been ordained a priest for five years. He loved his work as a Catholic evangelist. The Redemptorist mission band had expanded out of the New York state, and the missionaries’ national reputation continued to grow. Hecker had begun to focus his attention on Protestants who came out to the missions. To this purpose Hecker began to write in 1854 his invitation to Protestant America to consider the Catholic Church, “Questions of the Soul” which would make him a national figure in the American church.
Hecker collected and organized these notes that include writings and stories from Saint Alphonsus Liguori, the Jesuit spiritual writer Louis Lallemant and his disciple Jean Surin, the German mystic John Tauler, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Theresa of Avila and Saint Jane de Chantal among others. These notes were a resource for his retreat work and spiritual direction. These short thematic reflections demonstrate Hecker’s growing proficiency in traditional Catholic spirituality some ten years after his conversion to the Catholic faith.
Publishing and disseminating the writing of Servant of God Isaac Hecker is the work of the Office for Hecker’s Cause.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.
If you have asked Father Hecker to pray for you or another person who is ill and you believe something miraculous has happened, please phone Father Robichaud at 202-269-2519 and tell him your story.