All rind, no meat

The Holy Spirit teaches us to love even our enemies. When you will love your enemies, know that a great divine grace will be living in you. When you love this way, your prayer has born its sweetest fruit. — St. Silouan

I was talking with someone at a retreat I gave a little while ago. He shared a really great insight:

About ten years ago I had a crusty old Jesuit as a spiritual director. He’s now deceased. I loved him because he was merciless on my erroneous zones, and he kept me honest.

Once I was sharing with him some lofty experiences I had had in prayer, and some of the deep insights I had received. He listened in his usual dispassionate way. After I finished he said, “How are you doing with your sister?” My sister and I had a falling out months prior, and he knew she was a thorn in my side and we didn’t ever get along well. Thinking his attention must have wandered as I spoke, I said “Excuse me, Father?” He repeated his question again. I said, “Well, as I told you last time, I’m not ready to re-connect with her yet. Still too raw. But with all due respect, what does that have to do with what I’m sharing with you, Father?” He said, “Well, when you’re ready to forgive her and reach out again for the umpteenth time and face the unpleasantness of love, then I’ll be impressed with your experiences in prayer. Until then, it’s all rind, no meat.

Next time you get filled up by your prayer, be sure to spend it on your sister.”

The man said to me, “What was THAT?” We laughed.

My first spiritual director, a Trappist monk, was of the same mind as that crusty old Jesuit priest. He was a St. John of the Cross devotee, and told me once to

remember that the lofty spiritual poetry and mystical union John describes happened while he was imprisoned in a smelly latrine, with no change of clothing for 6 months and a weekly lashing. The way John saw it, both the beautiful poetry and the mystical union with Jesus were gifts granted to him precisely because his awful predicament afforded him the chance to spend all the good things God gave him on his ungrateful, hateful, envious brethren. Which makes sense of the prison guard’s testimony years later that, as the months progressed, John became more gentle and joyful, bringing a number of his enemies in the Carmelite Order to their knees.

That’s why you can’t properly understand the saints’ spiritual classics apart from the context of their lives. All of those spiritual authors who wrote such lofty thoughts about prayer were, in reality, mired in the mess of human dysfunction. But that’s the point, as it was there, in the crucible, they discovered greatness. Without the unavoidable inconvenient neighbor, Christian mysticism quickly devolves into a Gnostic narcissism. We become spiritual gluttons who, unlike the widow who deposited all her livelihood in the Temple treasury (for others), store up our surplus grain to feed ourselves. The core heresy of Gnosticism is, you might say, being spiritual but not religious by making the claim that salvation consists in my personally delightful, antiseptic, autonomous and enlightening experience of God and not in dirty charity that binds me in solidarity to a real (and so, organized) human community.

St. James (1:27; 2:15-17) shows us the meaning of such a spiritual-religion:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress … If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

After my time of prayer I feel peace, so I give peace; I receive forgiveness, so I give forgiveness; I am loved, so I love; I have been nourished, so I nourish; I experience enlightenment, so I illumine; I feel encouraged, so I encourage; I hear His call, so I go.

Let me allow nature to have the final word on this iron law of the gift (which even includes taking crap from others!):

15 comments on “All rind, no meat

  1. AMDG says:



  2. Jennifer says:

    Oh my goondess, that video almost made me vomit -ew. I have to reconsider my identity as a nature lover after this. Just kidding.

    Moving right along… thank you so much for this post! I needed this reminder this week. After Sunday’s homily about loving our enemy I was blindsided by someone’s sweet “may I ask you something…” that turned into what I felt was an attack on my family. So somehow by the grace of God I managed to control my mouth and leave the conversation without a retort. Oh boy I was shaken. Did I ever have one of those ‘Papa, what are you trying to tell me here?’ prayers after that. Apparently so much. Yikes, thanks Jesus for illuminating how much anger, pride, and vanity is alive and at work puffing me up… thanks, Jesus for using her words to deflate me and for giving me a soft landing from that nose dive. Thank you, TN, for your gentle, truthful advice here!

    I forgive you for the bird thing. 😉 Love you, brother!

  3. I would very much like a way to print off this post, take it back in time to my 20 yr old self and staple it to his forehead. Let me know if you can make that happen.

    • Closest I can come is: warn your contemporaries not to do likewise! 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      Austin, fear not, staple it to your head now…. God has a way of working outside of space and time and filing in the cracks marvelously. #firsthandexperience #storyofmylife #offeringupstaplewoundpainmakesforgreatmortification

      • Katy says:

        Yes to ‘filling in the cracks marvelously’! It’s amazing how, for instance, a grace from prayer can seem like ‘it was there all along’; memories are truly changed, the past is seen differently, and healing comes as the Father reveals His love. Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer.

  4. top 5 post Tneal post for milennials

  5. tmm says:

    The post comes on the right day at the right time for me. It seems that recent events are serving as stepping stones to serious growth. Went to confession today, the goal is to frequent the Sacrament weekly, so praise God for the blessing to get cleansed today and have an opportunity to receive graces to make progress in the spiritual life. The priest spoke about the need to work on concrete changes. He said that we can ask God to change us, but we have work to do. We must do our part. Thankful to God for graces to at least make step one, moving in the right direction, by asking Him to help me change. How this can be accomplished, and what is the fuel that will keep the fire burning is on a slow simmer, but the post came in handy to jump start the journey.

    The portion of the post most touching was when you said you shared some lofty experiences and deep insights with your spiritual director, and he responded: “How are you doing with your sister?”, that was like a gentle breeze to my soul. Then when you said the question was repeated and your response was: “Well, as I told you last time, I’m not ready to re-connect with her yet. Still too raw. But with all due respect, what does that have to do with what I’m sharing with you, Father?”, that served as a light touch of a feather to my soul. Now when the priest said: “Well, when you’re ready to forgive her and reach out again for the umpteenth time and face the unpleasantness of love, then I’ll be impressed with your experiences in prayer. Until then, it’s all rind, no meat. Next time you get filled up by your prayer, be sure to spend it on your sister”, that was the two by four coming down upon my head real hard and heavy.

    So very glad for the insight, which to me is far superior to hindsight. It became very clear to me that what is working well in our spiritual lives, the delectable spiritual morsels, should not be our main focus of delight. To become perfect as Heavenly Father is perfect and to continue to operate in His most Holy Will at every present moment should be the delight that one thirsts for. Watching the YouTube video of opening night celebration of the 50th year anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal Movement a few days ago, was right on time and necessary to get me to now be able to reflect on the word “thirst”. The reason being, the word “thirst” would have an important role to play in today’s Holy Spirit inspired insight.

    If we thirst to change our behavior, we will then be open to drink. For people who are not thirsty, there is no need for them to drink. When we truly thirst, our desire is great and it will be strong enough to motivate us to do whatever is necessary to quench that thirst. We do not change, it’s me O Lord not changing, because of a lack of thirst. We may be satiated on wonderful prayer experiences, on our own will, on obstinacy, on stubbornness, etc, etc. Listening to another YouTube video, think it was by Friar Antonio (Poor Friars and Poor Nuns), the connection was made how salt can make us thirsty. So for me that is to let my desire become as salt, then there will be operating at present this thirst to provoke change, change working to transform errant ways that are displeasing to God.

    Your post makes it’s debut to illustrate to me how the grand and glorious experiences that grants us graces and strength, are to serve as fuel to help one labor at the task at hand. It’s hard labor to bend a stubborn will to cooperate with grace in order to make the necessary changes that will allow Jesus to live and abide in us to the extent where He can do the work of perfection within.
    📖 Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”

    For as much real estate as Jesus gets to buy up in our soul, as the owner, He will be able to do as He pleases. And what pleases Him?
    📖 John 4:34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work”

    What is the great command?
    📖Luke 10:27 “He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

    Regarding that quote by St. Silouan, it’s a “rock my world” quote, setting the bar real high so we can go for the gold and win !!! Thank you for the post, an unconventional response, but that’s the way the Holy Spirit was “workin it” for me.
    📖 John 3:8 “The Spirit breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, and whither he goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit”

    When we tumble down or fall flat on our ƒДℂe
    It’s to persevere & take heart in running the spiritual RДℂE
    True repentance helps us 2recover, much is availeth by God’s ᎶRДℂE
    Without a doubt U can count on Divine Mercy 2validate UR ℂДƧe
    \ 😇/
    / \ tmm/PTL

    • Astonishing.
      I run out of superlatives with you, tmm.
      I pray your comments through.
      So honest, real, passionate, rhythmic.
      Please remain here as you can and share when you feel so moved.
      May all your aspirations and divine face-slams bear fruit in your life!
      Peace and all good,

  6. Katy says:

    Thanks for writing, Tom. Something in this reminds me of Chesterton’s opening chapter of Orthodoxy…”what the madman needed (to break him of his circular but errant reasoning) was not another argument, but a breath of fresh air”.

    My neighbor, my work, my tasks at home, my friends, my students, my family, etc; these are ‘the breath of fresh air’ that God breathes to keep me sane and attentive to His love for me.

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