Fr. Denis Lemieux on Poustinia

The Madonna House priest is blogging on the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the pure of heart. But our hearts are wayward, obstinate, changeable, fickle. Mine is, anyhow. Nor has it been my experience, 47 years into the experiment of human life, that I can simply make my heart be otherwise by a sheer act of will. ‘The heart wants what it wants’, wrote Emily Dickinson—and most of us, almost all of us, find within our hearts a welter of wants, a tangled profusion of contradictory desires and muddled up longings.
We hunger and thirst for righteousness… and for other things, too. And that’s the fact of our fallen, fragmented humanity, and never more so in this age of distraction, diversion, culture-wide attention deficit disorder, of serial monogamy of the mind. I want what I want… now. Ten minutes later, it will be something else.
Blessed are the pure of heart. So are we to despair, then? Is God the ‘beatitude Nazi’, like the soup Nazi on Seinfeld, demanding an impossible standard of performance and exactitude before doling out his blessing? ‘No beatitude for you!’ if we don’t do it just so?
It is, perhaps, in this beatitude that we are forcibly impressed with the fact that all the beatitudes, and holiness itself, resides first and always not in the frail human heart with its adulteries and idolatries and compromises, but in the Heart of Christ which is given over to us to be our first and greatest treasure.
Christ is the pure one, as he is the merciful, the meek, the mourning, the poor, the one hungry for righteousness. It is Christ and Christ alone who is our beatitude, and who draws us along on the path of the beatitudes. There is no holiness but Jesus, no virtue but Jesus, no love but Jesus. This is, fundamentally, our Christian faith.
I think here of the Madonna House practice of poustinia. Catherine Doherty brought this from her native Russia to us, and brought it forth as a spiritual practice for the community in the turbulent 1960s when so many things in our world were tossed up in the air like wheat and chaff. To sort it all out, to allow the winds of God to winnow our hearts and purify them in truth, she knew it would take radical prayer and silence.


I am reading Catherine Doherty’s Poustinia now, along with other things.   It, like Fr. Denis’ blog posts are sweetness for my soul.

As I have shared here previously, since Holy  Week I have been trying to pray three sets of mysteries of the Rosary a day.  Sometimes I get both daily offices in, but more often I’ll do Mattins plus the readings for the night before.   But my spiritual director, knowing I am trying to do all these (which is time-consuming!  how can I get any work done?), told me he would like me to add at least a half hour of quiet, listening prayer in the morning.

Of course, after Confession, there are always new graces to be able to live up to the commitments.  But several days afterwards, I began to feel the strain of all this prayer.  That “I don’t want to” from the old man began to resound and I found myself feeling a strange kind of sadness or desolation.

What’s so good about books like Poustinia is the encouragement they give to keep pressing on, not to let up when it gets difficult or dry or desolate,  not to think, ah, my prayers are not working I might as well give up and have glass of wine and make some popcorn.

Ah, the fruits of pressing in, of keeping going even when you have to keep checking the clock to make sure you have done your disturbingly boring half hour in the Lord’s presence.

The sweetness, the consolation often comes after “paying the price” of that stillness.

Ah, the Psalms today were so, so exactly what my soul wanted to express!

My spiritual director had been suggesting for quite some time that I add the silent prayer, but it was not until Fr. Scott McCaig came a couple of weeks ago to preach while Fr. Carl Reid was away.  Fr. Scott spoke about prayer and said that if we loved someone we would not blow off appointments with that person, that we would keep them, make time for being with him.   That homily convicted me, so I’ve been trying to do it.

For years and years, I had a contemplative prayer discipline that was extremely fruitful and it’s good to be incorporating that into my prayer life again.


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1 Response to Fr. Denis Lemieux on Poustinia

  1. Pingback: Fr. Denis Lemieux on Poustinia | Catholic Canada

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