Many Deaths

Choose what bears close resemblances to the cross.

Lent is a time to practice self-denial. I think that the term ‘self-denial’ should really be changed to ‘deaths’.

Death can occur on many different levels. One can die on the natural level, that is death of the body, where there is no longer any breath left, no pulse or heart beat, no life. There can also be death in the events in one’s life, that is, in the temporal and material things that one has: loss of material goods and property, jobs, support from others and things like that.

Deaths in the will– this is where the death really occurs. This is what self-denial really means, to die in the will. Yet, I am so attached to my will, to the things I want, the way I want them, when I want them.

But I am a follower of Christ. As His follower I am to pick up my cross and follow Him. How? He tells me to follow him. Follow his ‘deaths’, his ‘many deaths’.

The chalice – “can you drink?” – the chalice means death to one’s natural self. This occurs through denudation (being stripped of everything: possessions, status, assets and even clothes); and annihilation: reduced to nothing. Christ certainly did this in His sacrifice on the cross.

On the narrow road – there is only room for self-denial and the cross on this road.    Christ certainly walked and lived this path of the narrow road. He invites me to walk this narrow road. “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:14)

The cross is a supporting staff and it greatly lightens and eases the journey.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matt 11:29-30)

 

“The journey then… is in the living death of the cross.”

 

“The more completely he is annihilated for God’s sake, according to these two parts, the sensual and the spiritual, the more completely is he united to God and the greater is the work which he accomplishes. And when at last he is reduced to nothing, which will be the greatest extreme of humility, spiritual union will be wrought between the soul and God, which in this life is the greatest and the highest state attainable. This consists not, then, in refreshment and in consolations and spiritual feelings, but in a living death of the Cross, both as to sense and as to spirit — that is, both inwardly and outwardly.”

(Ascent of Mount Carmel Book II, 7, 11)

With More Love

During Lent we are to focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These were the focus of Matthew’s Gospel which were read on Ash Wednesday. (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18)

We can do these for the wrong reasons, wanting to be seen or praised by others who observe us carrying these actions out in practice. A form of pride can set in. We can do these because of the publicity or praise that we may receive.  Complacency can also creep in to these activities. Our motives can be all wrong.

A secret kind of peace and tranquility can come from the performance of these things as well. We begin to feel good about ourselves for having done something charitable or difficult or because reason has told us these are good and noble things in themselves.

St. John of the Cross reminds us that we should do these things with a totally different attitude:

“For the sake of directing their joy in moral goods to God, Christians should keep in mind that the value of their good works, fasts, alms, penances, and so on, is not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them; and consequently that these works are of greater excellence in the measure both that the love of God by which they are performed is more pure and entire and that self-interest diminishes with respect to pleasure, comfort, praise and earthly or heavenly joy. They should not set their heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor, and other elements of self-interest these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect their joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk III, 27,5)

Therefore, we should do all our Lenten fasts, prayers, penances, and alms with more love and to do them for God, remembering that only God needs to be pleased and joyful over the works we do.  Also, we should remember that our saint also pointed out that the quantity and quality are not that important. Any little thing done with love and for God is what is most important. May our Lenten practices be carried out with more love.

The Fruit of Righteousness

Contained in the Rite of Making the Promise or Vows in the OCDS Ritual, those who ask to be admitted to make their promise before the priest are exhorted with:

“This Community accepts your petition and it accompanies you with it prayers. May the Holy Spirit confirm in you the work which he has begun.”

This statement is in reference to Philippians 1: 6:

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, is instructing the community there about the importance of unity and humility in a Christian community. This Scripture instruction is particularly important to Secular Carmelites, which is why it was inferred to in the Ritual.

As a community, all striving for holiness, that is, for each member to be ‘filled with the fruit of righteousness’ (Phil 1: 11), there should be no rivalries, competition, agendas or popularity contests. Rather, all should think of each other as partners in grace and for the gospel.

“because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (Phil 1:7)

In addition, all should pray for each other with the affection of brothers and sisters.

 “And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more” (Phil 1:9)

All of our striving is not for our own glory. St. Paul continues:

 “that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1: 10-11)

St. John of the Cross confirms this further in his sketch of the Ascent of Mount Carmel – the Mount of Perfection – which shows that at the top of the Mount there is nothing, nothing – Only the honor and glory of God. The holiness that Carmelites are seeking is not for themselves; it is to honor and glorify God. The honor and glory of God is what should unite members in the community. This takes a great amount of humility.

Mount Carmel

Christ’s death on the Cross

Moses and the Brazen Serpent by Anthony Van Dyck
“And by it he accomplished the most marvelous work of his whole life, surpassing all the works and deeds and miracles that he had ever performed on earth or in heaven. That is, be brought about the reconciliation and union of the human race with God through grace.” (Ascent of Mount Carmel Bk II, chap 7, 11) 

Advertencia amorosa

~ simple regard ~

Contact with God, this is what is meant by prayer. From prayer we draw strength and supernatural energy so that we may not fall into sin. We pray in order to raise ourselves above all to Beauty, Goodness, Truth and Love of God.

The most important thing is that prayer is, above everything else, an act of love. While at prayer we give God loving attention.

Contemplation, which characterizes Carmelite prayer, is different from methods. Methods are distinct, particular and material. Pure contemplation, however, is a general knowledge- purely intellectual. Therefore, it is obscure and confused. In contemplation the soul rises above itself. It passes by all images and all distinct and particular ideas. In this way it attains God and is even lost in Him.

Carmelites apply the principle of the Ascent of Mount Carmel to prayer. They pass by all imagination, because contemplation is not the work of the imagination. They pass by all distinct knowledge and, therefore, all method.

What faithfully characterizes Carmelite prayer is to be disposed and attentive to following the breath of the Holy Spirit and to approach prayer with a simple regardadvertencia amorosa.

Loving attention.

The Root

We all have this tendency to enjoy (or seek satisfaction) in ourselves, in our pride or in other people and things. St. John of the Cross teaches that these tendencies are the root of our attachments. Attachments are those “inordinate appetites”. Basically, they are those desires we have for things that are not rightly ordered in our lives and lead us into sin, mortal and venial, and imperfections. It is important to get to the root of these inordinate desires if one desires union with God. To get to the root of these, which are the inclinations of our nature, we must oppose them and make ourselves do what is repugnant to our nature. This would mean ‘going against the current’ and requires strength of will. St. John of the Cross, in the Ascent to Mount Carmel, gives us “rules” for detachment. He tells us the soul must always be inclined:

not to the easiest thing ~ but to the hardest
not to the tastiest ~ but to the most insipid
not to things that give greatest pleasure ~ but to those that give the least
not to the restful things ~ but to painful ones
not to consolation ~ but to desolation
not to more ~ but to less
not to the highest and dearest ~ but to the lowest and most despised
not to the desire for something ~ but to having no desires.

So all that is difficult, disagreeable or wearisome to us needs to have our attention. These are the things to work on! These reveal to us our desires. Our saint says we are to oppose these inclinations with order and discretion. In other words, we need to train ourselves to not shrink back from something we find disagreeable or that requires effort or that we find difficult or challenging. In order to strengthen the will we can put into practice the above rules starting with little things in order to gain strength of will and then be strong enough to tackle the bigger attachments. For instance, being inclined to “restful things” like not getting out of bed when the alarm clock first goes off. The tendency is to hit the snooze and rest ten more minutes! It is a bit painful to jump right out of bed at the first call; it will require strength of will. “I will!” “I will get up right away when the alarm sounds off.” Or how about the inclination to the highest and dearest . . . a promotion, recognition, a word of praise? Can we train the will to not desire these and rather hope to be despised, past over and unnoticed? All this may sound harsh, but there is a purpose to this and it is to bring us to union with God. As we practice detachment from our desires this end is always to be kept in mind. Our desires should always be for God.

It has no definite color.

The fourth trait of this solitary bird is that it has no definite color. It desires to do nothing definite other that the will of God. The Holy Spirit gives the soul what is lacking in it by strengthening it to love as he loves. The soul’s will is not destroyed it is united firmly with God’s will and with his love “so that there is only one will and love, which is God’s “(Spiritual Canticle 38:3). The Blessed Virgin Mary was raised from the beginning to this high state of contemplation. “She never had the form of any creature impressed in her soul, nor was she moved by any, for she was always moved by the Holy Spirit.” (Ascent 3:2,10)