Spiritual Dryness

Dryness, or aridity, is when satisfaction and delight, that was once enjoyed during prayer and devotion, has dried up. It can have several causes. One reason for dryness is that the soul has neglected or set aside the practice of prayer. St. John of the Cross sums this cause up succinctly in The Sayings of Light and Love no. 39, “My spirit has become dry because it forgets to fed on you.” When we strive after various forms of recreation and the gratification of our senses, we will “find spiritual dryness and distraction”. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 3, Chap 42,1). The devil can cause dryness too. He can do so through visions and locutions, but the effects “are unlike those produced by the divine”. “The devil’s visions produce spiritual dryness in one’s communion with God and an inclination to self-esteem” and the pride of thinking one is important for receiving these. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 24)  When the origin is from the devil there is never a good effect. St. John of the Cross emphatically counsels in regard to locutions and visions, in order to avoid “delusion or hindrance”  that,  We should pay no heed to them, but be only interested in directing the will, with fortitude, toward God; we should carry out his law and holy councils with perfection.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 29, 12) Dryness can also be caused by God as a way to purify the soul. When God is the cause it is usually in those souls who are already quite solicitous in their love for Him and have already moved from the practice of discursive meditation to the state of contemplation. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 13) 

Two things one can do when experiencing dryness according to St. John of the Cross in The Spiritual Canticle are to first continue praying with love and devotion; second to ask the Holy Spirit for His assistance. The Holy Spirit “will dispel this dryness and sustain and increase” love. (Stanza 17, 2). Another thing the Holy Spirit does is to move the “soul to the interior exercise of the virtues” of faith, hope, and love. 

The Bride in the poem The Spiritual Canticle invokes the Holy Spirit in this way:

“breathe through my garden”

The Holy Spirit “awakens love” in the soul, which is the “garden”. Upon one of these visits of the Holy Spirit, the soul is refreshed, the will is awakened, and the “appetites that were asleep” are now filled with “the love of God”. (Stanza 17, 3-4) When the Holy Spirit breathes through the soul, He touches and puts “in motion the virtues and perfections already given”, and when this happens, “the Bridegroom, the Son of God, is himself sublimely communicated” evident by the beautiful fragrances that are released. (Stanza 17, 8) 

Dryness in prayer is an interior trial. Although interior trials involve much more than just a lack of devotion, dryness (or aridity), is a common phenomenon among those souls who have taken up prayer.To make an issue of dryness, according to St. Teresa of Jesus, shows a lack of humility.

St. Teresa exhorts beginners to begin with determination and to persevere in prayer. Dryness and difficulty at prayer will come and we are to not let this cause us to give up prayer. She advises us to not become “distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distressing thoughts. . .  For, clearly, if the well is dry, we cannot put water into it. True, we must not become neglectful; when there is water we should draw it out because then the Lord desires to multiply the virtues by this means.” (from The Book of her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)

During periods of aridity and excessive activity of the imagination, the soul can turn to meditative reading. When the soul is unable to meditate it can turn to a book to help collect the wandering thoughts and bring its soul in touch with God. St. Teresa confesses to not being able to meditate without a book for many years and recommends this practice.

The choice of a book should be one that is devout and will help in the time of prayer. The Gospels are always a good choice and are of great assistance in this matter. The book can also be one of the writings of the saints. It should be one that is practical and affective, not too speculative or intellectual. This is to foster love, a work of the heart, rather than that of the mind.

The purpose of reading is to put the soul in a proper disposition for a conversation with God. Read until enough has been read to arouse good and holy thoughts. Then when devote affections occupy the mind, stop reading and with the attention directed to God, meditate on the thoughts that have been read; speaking to Him or silently savoring the sentiments inspired by what was read.

“Like birds, who, when they drink, bend their heads toward the water, take a few drops, and raising their beaks toward the sky, swallow gradually, and then begin again, let us also bend our heads toward the devout book to gather a few drops of devotion, and then let us raise them to God, so that our minds may be fully impregnated with these thoughts. In this way, it will not be difficult to finish the prayer which we have begun by reading in an intimate colloquy with God.” (Divine Intimacy, #149 by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.)

Good Feet, Courage and Tenacity of Spirit

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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Three Christmas Masses

The Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve tells about how the birth of Jesus came about. The Gospel of Matthew 1:18-23 is read at this Mass. During the Christmas Eve Vigil we hear that, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” and that “God is with us.” No one could know God is charity, except through this most important event in all of history – the Incarnation.

On Christmas Day the Church celebrates three Masses. The first Mass is the Mass at Midnight. This is also known as the Angel’s Mass since the scripture passages are highlighted with the visit of angels. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord’. . . And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God. . .” The Gospel reading is taken from Luke 2:1-14 which describes how the birth of Jesus took place.

Traditionally it is believed that Christ was born at midnight. Midnight is when it is darkest and this can be seen to represent spiritual darkness that is in the world. Only Christ, the Light of the world, can dispel this darkness. The birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh, has shown us the love of God. With allusions to Christ’s birth in our souls by grace – through the Word, God’s love is manifested and now tangible in this little baby who holds out his arms to us.

The Shepherd’s Mass or Mass at Dawn is celebrated early Christmas morning. Continuing with the theme of light, this Mass takes place at dawn when the natural light is increasing. The shepherds go to the crib to see the Christ child – a light in the darkness. In our consideration of these three Masses it would be incomplete without a visit to the creche, to see and worship the Infant Jesus.

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The third Mass of the day is known as the Mass of the Divine Word. The Word is a light that shines in the darkness. The Word is life. The Word became flesh. The Word is God. The Word enlightens and dwells among us. (Jn 1:1-14) And the Word ushers in a new law.

This is how St. John of the Cross speaks of the new law of grace now that it has entered into time, explaining how we do not need to question God and have him reply as it was necessary in the Old Testament because:

 “in this era of grace, now that the faith is established through Christ and the Gospel law made manifest, there is no reason for inquiring of him in this way, or expecting him to answer as before. In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, 22. 3)

God has spoken through his Son. The Son speaks the Divine Word. We are to listen to that Word and carry the love that God has revealed into the dark places of our world.

If possible make plans to attend all three of these Christmas Masses. Reflect on these themes: angels, shepherds and the Divine Word. Worship the Infant Jesus, let his Word enter your heart and bring the law of light and love to our dark world.

Praying at Night

“In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer –  to God.”

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In Luke 6:12 we see Jesus praying in the night.  Sometimes He would spend the entire night in prayer. It is highly unlikely that the Lord did this every night, but it was a common practice of His. This is something that we can do too, not in a legalistic way which would not be profitable, but also not to neglect this practice completely. An easy way to do this would be to pray whenever we awaken in the middle of the night.

We could pray to repair the damage that is often done at night in the cover of darkness.

 “the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy.” Romans 13: 12-13

We could also pray for those in need: those suffering some sickness or who are enduring some incredible pain or those who are lonely, lost and downtrodden.

“the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up.”                                                                               James 5 :15

Whenever we awaken in the night, we can start praying for anyone who comes to mind or perhaps pick up the rosary meditating on the mysteries of our Lord and His mother. We should not pray with anxiety about all this that goes on in the world but with great calm, trusting that the prayers are doing good in the world. And if we should happen to drift off back to sleep before completing the prayers, this too should not disturb our peace and calm.

We should pray even before going to sleep, spending at least 15 minutes in prayer before drifting off to sleep.  Then when some time in the night we awaken, we can begin prayer again. Praying at night, however, should always be in God’s control. 

Praying in our beds when we awaken in the middle of the night is an ideal place to pray. It is a place that is solitary, quiet and undistracting for the senses, since it is dark. (cf. Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 3, ch 39) These night hours or minutes when the world is hushed in slumber are precious alone moments with God in undisturbed communion with Him and is a way to pray always.

His Gentle Rule

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“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 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.” ~ Matthew 11: 28-30

Christ is calling us to live in docile submission to His gentle rule. He is asking us to take on His yoke. His yoke is sweet, with the sweetness of love, and His burden is light. He calls us to come to Him, all of us who are burdened with the sins of this world, and this burden of sin is heavy.

Therefore, all of us who are in trouble, in sorrow, or in sin should come to Him; not so that He can exact punishment, but so that He may remit our sins. He will remit our sins and “refresh” by setting in us all quietness.

“All you going about tormented, afflicted, and weighted down by your cares and appetites, depart from them, come to me  and I will refresh you; and you will find the rest for your souls that the desires take away from you (Mt. 11:28-29). They are indeed a heavy burden, because David says of them: “For my iniquities are gone over my head; and as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me.” (Ps 37:5)  [St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book I:7,4]

The yoke is the Gospel of Christ. We need to be so familiar with the Gospel so that we can learn from Christ. Learn from Him to be meek in temper, lowly in mind, not going about hurting others or despising anyone. In addition, make sure that the virtues we show in our deeds are also retained in our heart.

“My yoke is sweet and my burden light (Mt. 11:30), the burden being the cross. If individuals resolutely submit to the carrying of the cross, if they decidedly want to find and endure trial in all things for God, they will discover in all of them great relief and sweetness. This will be so because they will be traveling the road denuded of all and with no desire for anything. If they aim after the possession of something, from God or elsewhere, their journey will not be one of nakedness and detachment form all things, and consequently there will be no room for them on this narrow path nor will they be able to climb.”  [St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II: 7,7]

St. John of the Cross in his Counsels to Religious concerning the practice of virtue says to “undertake all things, agreeable or disagreeable, for the sole purpose of pleasing God through them. To do this with fortitude and constancy and acquire the virtues quickly, you should take care always to be inclined to the difficult more than to the easy, to the rugged more than to the soft, to the hard and distasteful in a work more than to its delightful and pleasant aspects; and do not go about choosing what is less a cross, for the cross is a light burden (Mt. 11:30) The heavier a burden is, the lighter it becomes when borne for Christ.”  [St. John of the Cross, Counsels to Religious no. 5 & 6]

The reward Christ promises for bearing this yoke is rest in our soul. This will make us useful to others and we will also have peace. However, even while submitting to this yoke of Christ we may have to endure some hardships. The Lord says the way is narrow. Indeed the way of virtue is difficult, especially so for the slothful. It may seem that because of these hardships that we are not being called from labor to rest, but from rest to labor. Nevertheless, we are being renewed inwardly and are given a foretaste of rest in God and in the hope of future blessedness with Him in heaven. All things done with love, no matter how hard, are not really hardships because love makes doing the good easy.

The yoke is heavy because of our weak nature, but it becomes light and easy with God’s grace. Christ helps us to bear the yoke. A yoke always joins two. Walk with Him beside you as a friend and all will be sweet and light.

Attachments Hinder the Spiritual Life

“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.

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.

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