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Archive for the ‘attachments’ Category

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a little habit. It is the Blessed Mother’s habit. The Brown Scapular is an outward sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sister, mother and queen. It is a symbol of her protection given to the Carmelite Order which includes all its members and associates. Anyone who wears the scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order has an affiliation to the Carmelite family and shares in the graces traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular.

Wearing the scapular indicates that the wearer, devoted to Mary, will follow Mary by living a deep interior life. The Blessed Mother is our model for the contemplative life. She is the ideal of this life consecrated to seeking God and toward an intimate union with Him. Everyone who wishes to imitate Mary will soon realize that her soul was a beautiful garden of virtues. Silence and peace reigned in her soul even amidst the turmoil of the world around her. We too must strive for this interior peace and silence.

Silence and peace in the soul comes when the noise of our passions and attachments have ceased within us. This comes with a habit. St. Teresa of Jesus exhorts us in this truth when she wrote, “Remember the importance of habit and of starting to realize what a serious thing it is to offend God.”  She reminds us that God is within our soul, and we should take great care in avoiding all occasions of sin and anything else that might keep us from growing closer to Him.  Even with this determination we can fail from time to time due to weakness and not having confidence in God. However we should remember “the Lord will help us and the habits we have formed will be of assistance to us so that we shall not offend him; we shall be able to walk in holy freedom.” (Way of Perfection, ch 41)

Detachment and control of the passions can help our soul to be like Mary’s – silent and solitary- and filled with the presence of God.


“O, Mary, Beauty of Carmel, make me worthy of your protection, clothe me with your scapular, and be the teacher of my interior life.” (Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD)

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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.

Gnarled Tree Roots --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Gnarled Tree Roots — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

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.

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If our desires are centered on God then we will be moving our heart to purity. The deepest, most spiritual meaning of purity is to “be detached from all creatures, free of a fixation on oneself and on others.” (Edith Stein Collected Works: Woman, p. 203)

This purity is so necessary to attaining union with God. Purity is a matter of the heart. The heart must not be allowed to be captivated by creatures, no matter how fascinating they may be. The soul longing for union with God will live among creatures and be occupied with them with all charity, but will not allow the heart to become attached to them or seek gratification in them.

The most challenging part of this virtue is the detachment from ‘self’ which we carry around with us all the time and are never wholly free. This detachment requires us to renounce our preoccupation with ourselves: our way, our wants, our comfort, our rights -to name a few.

When we become attached to something it prohibits our ascent to God. It is the virtue of purity that will help us to take flight and reach God.

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Though the path is plain and smooth for people of goodwill, those who walk it will not travel far, and will do so only with difficulty if they do not have good feet, courage, and tenacity of spirit. (Sayings of Light and Love, 3)

A plain and smooth path still needs the effort, “fired with love’s urgent longings” and the determination to never give up but to stay on the course until reaching one’s purpose which, in the spiritual life, is holiness. This path to holiness requires some self denial and conquering of the appetites. St. John of the Cross guides us in conquering the appetites by pointing out that an intense love of God in needed which will give the courage and constancy to practice self denial.

The saint tells us that whenever some joy in some vain pleasure takes hold of the heart, one will need to have “good feet” and try to remove it at the very beginning and to take courage! With courageous effort uproot the attachment while it is small and at the beginning for it will be much harder to do later when it has become deeply rooted. (Ascent Bk III, 20:1)  When one loses courage, St. John says, “ they return to their search for worldly consolations”. (Dark Night Bk 1, 14.5) However St. Paul says we are to be “rooted and grounded in love” so that we may have the  “strength to comprehend” and “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and  “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19) Courage and strength go together, and strength is found in spiritual reading and in prayer.

However, when courage is “fired with love’s urgent longings” it will not prevent the soul from seeking Him. These urgent longings of love are strong and vehement, so strong that this courage makes “everything seem possible” (Dark Night Bk 2, 13.7) when seeking Him. This courage and strength can move one to suffer for His sake, but only if “vainglory, presumption and the practice of condemning others” (Dark Night Bk 2, 19.3&4) is removed.

In order to seek Him, the soul needs to be courageous and also persevere against the world, the devil and the flesh – all of which prevent one from staying on the path to God. Tenacity of spirit is fueled by a “living hope in God” which gives the courage to elevate one to eternal things. (Dark Night Bk 2, 21.6)

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 jesusinthehomeofzaccheus

Luke 19: 1-10

“Zacchaeus…was seeking to see who Jesus was; but could not see him because of the crowd.” (vs 3)

Obstacles get in the way; they crowd out Jesus in my life and prevent me from seeing him. I want to see him. I am always seeking him, but many things crowd him out of my time.

“So he ran ahead a climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” (vs 4) Like Zacchaeus, I need to move away from the crowds, the obstacles, and change my perspective. This move will help me to see Jesus better.

Just like with Zacchaeus, Jesus wants me to spend time with him. He wants to come to my house. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (vs 5)

Reflecting on these scripture passages about Zacchaeus made me think about the importance of mental prayer and its place in the life of a Secular Discalced Carmelite. Our Constitutions state: “Carmelite Seculars will commit themselves daily to spending a time in the practice of mental prayer. This is the time to be with God and to strengthen their relationship with Him so that they can be true witnesses to His presence in the world.” [Cons.Sec. III, no. 21]

St. Teresa of Jesus explains mental prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” (Way of Perfection) And there is the key to all this seeking and climbing trees! I need to be alone with him, taking time to meet with him, to invite him in to my house and to enjoy his presence while developing a relationship with him.

In order to do this I can again look to our Constitutions. “The Carmelite Secular will make sure to have special times set apart for prayer, as times of greater awareness of the Lord’s presence and an interior space for a personal and intimate meeting with Him.” [Cons. Sec. III, no. 20] I need to have a special time set aside. This is going to require me to give away “half of my possessions” (Lk 19:8), those attachments that occupy my time and space that leave no room for Jesus!

I have many distractions that keep me from setting aside time each day for mental prayer. Many of these distractions are really attachments. What are your attachments? What keeps you from devoting yourself to God and making time for mental prayer each day?

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“The soul that is attached to anything however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for, until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly.” ~ St. John of the Cross

Sr. Carmen has written a wonderful reflection posted here on ‘attachments’ and how they hinder the spiritual life.

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