St. John of the Cross instructs souls that want to become more recollected, to practice more silence and to be more “poor in spirit” in his work titled, The Precautions. In it he says that in order to enjoy the peaceful comfort of the Holy Spirit and reach union with God (and who wouldn’t want that!), souls must be freed of obstacles that come from the world, defended from the deceits and cunning of the devil and liberated from ‘self’.
In other words, the battle we are all faced with each and everyday takes place on three fronts: the world, the devil and the flesh.
St. John of the Cross tells us that “the world is the enemy least difficult to conquer; the devil is the hardest to understand; but the flesh is the most tenacious, and its attacks continue as long as the old self lasts.”
To overcome these enemies of the soul one has to vanquish all three of them. When one enemy is weakened the other two are weakened as well. Once all three enemies have been overpowered then there is no war in the soul.
All of what our saint advises in The Precautions require our active efforts and, of course, recourse to grace.
Against the World
First of all we should love everyone and love them all equally. “Do not love one person more than another, for you will err; the person who loves God more is the one more worthy of love, and you do not know who this is.” Loving one person more and another one less doesn’t help in holy recollection. We need to keep our affections, our hearts, directed towards God.
“Do not think about others, neither good things nor bad.” Thinking about others, their good or bad qualities, will keep us from recollection and opens us up to a number of imperfections. The devil is a nasty meddler in this area and can harm our souls by deceiving. We should always guard our thoughts, for thought is power, the beginning of action.
Secondly, souls should free themselves from worldly goods. We shouldn’t desire them or worry about them. This includes food, clothing, possessions, status, positions, and honor.
“Direct this care to something higher – to seeking the kingdom of God (seeking not to fail God); and the rest, as His Majesty says, will be added unto us (Mt. 6:33).” St. John of the Cross promises silence and peace in the senses by this practice of seeking the kingdom of God.
The last advice he gives to fight against the world is on how to guard ourselves in the community in which we live, be it a religious community, social community, workplace or family. “Carefully guard yourself against thinking about what happens in the community, and even more against speaking of it, of anything in the past or present concerning a particular religious (or person): nothing about his or her character or conduct or deeds no matter how serious any of this seems.”
We are to never be astonished or scandalized by anything we may see or hear of, but rather, preserve our peace of soul and forget what we may have learned of or seen. He doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t correct someone. We should do so ,but only at the proper time and to the person who should know of it.
“Forget these things entirely and strive to keep your soul occupied purely and entirely in God, and not let the thought of this thing or that hinder you from so doing.” Failing to do all this will result in a loss of peace in the soul and a fall into many sins and imperfections. Our tongue is a great disturber of peace; ours and that of others. St. John of the Cross reminds us of this fact and counsels us to quiet the tongue, interiorly and exteriorly. For more counsel on the tongue, read the Epistle of James in the New Testament.
(The Precautions, ICS Publications, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross)