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Archive for the ‘The Dark Night’ Category

Fasting is one of the principle means of making satisfaction for sins. By abstaining from eating all that is available to eat, one can do penance for sins, making reparation for them. Also one can gain strength against future sins by this self-imposed penance. Fasting is a way to chastise the body for the sins the body has committed. Additionally denying oneself the pleasure of eating helps to bring the body into control and subject to the soul.

St. John of the Cross tells us to keep in mind the value of our good works, fasts, alms and penances. Firstly the value of these is “not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them”. (Ascent Book 3 Chap. 27) So our good works, fasts, almsgiving and penances should be done for the love of God, and we “should not set (our) heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor and other elements of self-interest (like trying to lose weight) these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect (our) joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.”

As always regarding fasting we have Christ for our example. He is perfect, so we do not see any extremes to the virtue he models for us. He did practice fasting and abstinence, though he did not need to do this. He had perfect control over his desires and the appetites. In gaining control over the sense appetites prudent discretion is in order. We are not to “kill (ourselves) with penances” and “weaken (ourselves) by fasts”. (Dark Night, Book 1, Chap 6) The idea is virtue, which is the mean between extremes. We should be doing our fasting with the proper motivation which is to repair the damage done by our sinfulness and to gain strength for future temptations to sin.

Fasting is also good because the mind is dulled when the body overeats. When one indulges in  too much, the mind becomes sleepy and unable to meditate or pray with attentiveness.

The Church has us fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are the days Catholics usually associate with fasting. Fasting during these penitential days of Lent is defined as one normal meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal. Snacking in between meals would also be excluded as part of the fast. The Church additionally ask us to fast before receiving Holy Communion. We are to fast from food and drink, with the exception of water, for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. It is good to be reminded as to why we are obliged to do this. We do the Eucharistic fast out of respect for the sacrament. We are about to received Jesus, and therefore it is fitting that we should not eat or drink other substances prior to receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood.

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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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The greatest obstacles to contemplation is not disposing yourself for it. When we remain dissipated and attached we block the reception of this most sublime gift.

St. John of the Cross in his work  The Dark Night speaks of this desire for contemplation when he writes, “For God does not bring to contemplation all those who purposely exercise themselves in the way of the spirit, nor even half. Why? He best knows.” (Book I, Chap 9) However, in his commentary on The Rule of Carmel, Jerome of the Mother of God, OCD,  says that the saying “He best knows” is a Spanish saying which means: the whole world knows it. Because precisely when one does not do what one ought- then it is clear as day!

How can we excite in ourselves the desire to attain the gift of contemplation?

We often fail to dispose ourselves for contemplation either because we give in to too much activity or because we do not produce enough acts of love. By offering to God a  holy heart, one free from all actual stain of sin, we can at least do our part and strive for perfection.

St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection chapter 17 says, “I don’t say that we shouldn’t try; on the contrary, we should try everything. What I am saying is that this is not a matter of your choosing but of the Lord’s….Be sure that if you do what lies in your power, preparing yourselves for contemplation with the perfection mentioned, and that if He doesn’t give it to you (and I believe He will give if detachment and humility are truly present), He will save this gift for you so as to grant it to you all at once in heaven.”

May all our efforts cooperate with the grace God gives in each moment to prepare a heart, pure and receptive, to receive so great a gift.

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“I was doing a lot of spiritual reading – Lives of the Saints – Joan of Arc, St. John Bosco, St. Benedict, I was going through St. John of the Cross’ Ascent of Mount Carmel and the first parts of the Dark Night for the second time in fact, but for the first time with understanding.

The big present that was given to me, that October, in the order of grace, was the discovery that the Little Flower really was a saint, and not just a mute pious little doll in the imaginations of a lot of sentimental old women. And not only was she a saint, but a great saint, one of the greatest: tremendous! I owe her all kinds of public apologies and reparation for having ignored her greatness for so long, but to do that would take a whole book, and here I have only a few lines to give away.

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… However, no sooner had I got a faint glimpse of the real character and the real spirituality of St. Therese, than I was immediately and strongly attracted to her – an attraction that was the work of grace since, as I say, it took me, in one jump, clean through a thousands psychological obstacles and repugnances.

And here is what strikes me as the most phenomenal thing about her. She became a saint, not by running away from the middle class, not by abjuring and despising and cursing the middle class, or the environment in which she had grown up; on the contrary, she clung to it in to as far as one could cling to such a thing and be a good Carmelite. She kept everything that was bourgeois about her and was still not incompatible with her vocation: her nostalgic affection for a funny villa called “Les Buissonnets,” her taste for utterly oversweet art, and for the little candy angels and pastel saints playing with lambs so soft and fuzzy that they literally give people like me the creeps. She wrote a lot of poems which, no matter how admirable their sentiments, were certainly based on the most mediocre of popular models.

To her, it would have been incomprehensible that anyone should think these things ugly or strange, and it never even occurred to her that she might be expected to give them up, or hate them, or curse them, or bury them under a pile of anathemas. And she not only became a saint, but the greatest saint there has been in the Church for three hundred years – even greater than the two tremendous reformers of her Order, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.

….What can such a one do with his new idol? Stare at her picture until it makes him dizzy. That is all. But the saints are not mere inanimate objects of contemplation. They become our friends, and they share our friendship and reciprocate it and give us unmistakable tokens of their love for us by the graces that we receive through them. And so, now that I had this great new friend in heaven, it was inevitable that the friendship should begin to have its influence on my life.”

(Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain)

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marriage kiss

Marriage, is a communion of love between a man and a woman. It is also the image of the love and communion that exists between the three divine persons. Marriage is, therefore, not only a human institution but, more importantly, a sacred institution because it is made in the image of God Himself.

Think about the community of persons that is formed by this sacrament. It is meant to a reflection of the community of persons that is the Most Holy Trinity!

From the beginning man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God. The book of Genesis states: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).  This should lead us to see every individual person as possessing an infinite dignity. Additionally, male and female are in the image and likeness of God not only in their individual existence, but also as they exist together.

Much of the poetry of Saint John of the Cross is centered on the theme of the bridal relationship. He uses nuptial language in his poems referring to the bride and bridegroom. His poetry could guide us back to a much needed correct understanding of human love and marriage.

While the The Spiritual Canticle, The Dark Night and The Living Flame, speak this bridal language, there is another one of St. John’s poems that develops this view of human love as also being an image of God’s love. The poem is titled Romance on the Gospel Text In Principio Erat Verbum regarding the Blessed Trinity In it St. John of the Cross is speaking of the love that exists between the persons of the Trinity.

Thus it is a boundless

Love that unites them,

for the three have one love

and the more love is one

the more it is love.

His poem, The Dark Night, is the expression of the soul that rejoices in having reached the high state of perfection – that is, union with God. If we unknowingly ran into this poem, we would hardly think of it as a religious poem. The title is most certainly misleading. At first glance it is a love poem, like the many other love poems that have been written. Yet, St. John of the Cross, states that it is a description of the union of the soul with God. This union that he is describing is a mystical experience.  Why does he use sexual images to describe such a spiritual matter? How then can poetry, especially poetry about the mystical union of the soul with God, be related to the love of a man and a woman?

O night more lovely than the dawn!

O night that has united 

the Lover with his beloved.

transforming the beloved in her Lover.

Perhaps Saint John of the Cross uses these images to describe divine love because human love is meant to be an image of divine love. Human love is analogous to divine love. Therefore, Divine love is, the model which human love must imitate.

The image of human love and marriage has been so distorted. St. John of the Cross could help to restore that image. In addition, his poetry could provide us with a better knowledge of God.

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We are approaching the end of the Christmas Season, which ends this coming Sunday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We have all been given a clear and intimate inspiration in our souls by God at His coming to us as the babe in a manger. This inspiration has urged us to greater generosity and a closer union with Him. Promptly and generously we will follow this inspiration, this star, with the faith of the Magi. Faith will allow this inspiration to guide us on our journey and it will lead us to the One we too are seeking.

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On this journey to find the One they were seeking, the Magi did not give up even when the star, this inspiration, had disappeared from sight. “We should follow their example and their perseverance, even when we are in interior darkness. This is a trial of faith which is overcome only by the exercise  of pure, naked faith.” (Divine Intimacy, #41, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD)

 “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1: 6-7)

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Each temptation by the devil took him up higher. Satan meets Jesus on the ground in the desert, then this tempter takes him to the parapet of the temple, finally he takes him to a very high mountain. Each time the temptations take him further from the manna. The manna being to live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Our cravings for other foods diminishes our ability to recognized that the manna has everything!

“Those whom God begins to lead into these desert solitudes are like the children of Israel. When God began giving them the heavenly food, which contained in itself all savors and changed to whatever taste each one hungered after [Wis. 16:20-21], as is there mentioned, they nonetheless felt a craving for the tastes of the fleshmeats and onions they had eaten in Egypt, for their palate was accustomed and attracted to them more than to the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna. And in the midst of heavenly food, they wept and sighed for fleshmeat [Num 11:4-6]. The baseness of our appetite is such that it makes us long for our own miserable goods and feel aversion for the incommunicable heavenly good.” (The Dark Night, Bk 1: 9,5)

When St. John of the Cross speaks of ‘our appetite’ he is referring to our desires. Yet it is God alone can satisfy all our desires. What is needed is to direct all desires, our cravings for other foods, to his Word and Love. Desires for people, places and things will not satisfy, they will only leave one wanting. Fulfillment can only be found in God.

When things are done for our own satisfaction, God is pushed out. Remembering that the time of Lent is a time to push out everything in our life that is unlike God, or that is not conformed to God, we can focus our desires on God being attentive to “the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna” – the heavenly food that is in our midst.

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