Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty

One afternoon my family had the pleasure of serving dinner in our home to two friars from the Carmelite monastery of Mount Carmel in Wyoming. (Check out what they are doing over here at their website.) One of the things that still stays with me about the visit was the topic of the evangelical counsels. The evangelical counsels are vows that religious make in their desire to become “perfect”. The counsels are three: chastity, poverty, and obedience. These counsels are not binding upon all Christians, but are works that are more than what duty requires. Religious make a public profession of these counsels in the way of vows before the recognized authority in the Church which then recognizes them as members of the consecrated life. One of the Carmelite friars that afternoon referred to these counsels as: obedience, chastity and poverty. He said that obedience was most important, which is why he referred to them in that order listing obedience first. According to Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P.,  “Obedience is the highest of the three evangelical counsels, just as the pride of life is in itself a graver disorder than the concupiscence of the flesh.” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

For Secular Carmelites the desire for holiness brings us to make promises to tend toward evangelical perfection. The practice of the three evangelical counsels makes faith grow as well as hope and charity.  The promise of obedience, for Seculars, is an exercise of faith. To obey is to do what pleases God. Obedience frees one of all self will and of one’s own judgment. Obedience particularly applies to the duties of the present moment. As a lay person, Secular Carmelites “search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and in one’s own personal life”. In the context of the Secular Carmelite vocation, members cooperate with those leading the OCDS community and the Carmelite Order. 

The promise of obedience is a pledge to live open to the will of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:28) imitating Christ who accepted the Father’s will and was “obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Ph 2:8). The promise of obedience is an exercise of faith leading to the search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and our own personal life. For this reason the Secular Carmelite freely cooperates with those who have responsibility for guiding the community and the Order in discerning and accepting God’s ways: the community’s council, the Provincial and the General. [Const. #15]

To know God’s will begins by being open to it. God makes His will known in His revealed Word, through scripture, throughout the events of the day, and through those in authority. Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6) will then value any occasion that manifests in daily life to do the will of God even in the “little things” – which make up the majority of each day. Small acts of self-will are not acts of love for God; however, these do not break our friendship with God or separate us from His grace. The promise that Secular Carmelites make provides the grace – that is the state of mind and willingness – to obey. The more willingness there is the more grace is given.

Related to obedience is the virtue of justice. As an act of submission one submits to the will of another (a lawful superior) since they represent God. We must obey God through His the commandments. After all we are creatures. He is the creator and obviously superior! We have free will – a gift we have received from God. A good way to acknowledge this gift is by freely submitting our will to God, the Creator and giver of the gift. As His children we should obey just like Jesus did.  Imitating Christ’s obedience who “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2: 8) Obedience applies also to any promises made and especially to vows (like marriage vows).

Have the mind of Christ Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” (Ph 2: 5-7)

The will of God includes the Commandments, Church and civil law, as well as the natural law. We should also be willing to submit to the Precepts of the Church. We can show our obedience to Christ’s counsels by performance of good works according to our state in life. The performance of duties related to our state in life should take precedence. Obedience should also be given to the inspirations of grace – when clear and submitted to a spiritual director, least we be under illusion. Generally inspirations of grace will be customary things undertaken according to our state in life and that do not trouble the soul. If this is the case, then we may do them without hesitation or under the guidance of a spiritual director. When we discern God has spoken, sometimes we need confirmation and we should seek it. If we believe that we have had a communication from God, we need to have it confirmed through others in the Church. St. John of the Cross says that, “God is so pleased that the rule and direction of humans be through other humans and that a person be governed by natural reason that he definitely does not want us to restore entire credence on his supernatural communications, or be confirmed in their strength and security, until they pass through this human channel of the mouth of another human person.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2:22,9) Extraordinary undertakings need to be done with a spiritual director’s advising. If it is from God He will make it known and confirmed in His own way and time. With this confirmation one can be assured that there is not any danger of self deception or illusion. 

The Constitutions and Rules of Life (for religious) are also to be obeyed. In this case obedience is to be given to the superiors with and within the limits of the rule, obeying promptly and with generosity. St. John of the Cross in his Sayings of Light and Love (#13) explains that, “God desires the least degree of obedience and submissiveness more than all those services you think of rendering him.”(#13)

Obedience to those in authority can be challenging to our ego. Recalling that all authority comes from God, we should obey others over us out of reverence for God. Therefore, the wishes of those who govern us and make laws, police officers, teachers, and our bosses in our places of employment should be obeyed. Obeying them is obeying God. We should obey only those things that do not go contrary to the law of God. Additionally, we should obey not only when being watched, so as to get on the good side of the superior, but doing so willingly to serve Christ and from the heart.  

“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ” (Ep 6: 5-9).

The Church representatives guide us – this is how God wants things to be done. Direction from our priest and bishops—this is how God speaks to us through others for our Lord said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10:16) Sometimes “we cling greatly to our own will” and “hold to our own way of doing good more than to the good itself” (Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P. – The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

As a disciple we should be ready to listen for the Holy Spirit to prompt us and speak to us through others. God willed that we live in society because we are not self sufficient for all our needs. We need others. With our Secular Carmelite communities we are organized with leadership and the rules of our Constitutions and Statutes approved by the Church in order to come together for a common purpose. To carry this purpose out, we need rules and decisions in the various situations that the group meets. Our obedience only needs be in accordance with and within the limits of the present Rule (Constitutions). Someone needs to coordinate all those in the community towards the common good. Some command – some obey. Without obedience there would be chaos.

Even Jesus was subject to Mary and Joseph. “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2: 51)  Submitting our will even in things that are hard, difficult or go against our own preferences is not easy. Doing so wholeheartedly, not complaining, with joy and perseveringly will have its rewards.

Obedience challenges us to be of the same mind as that of the superior or the one in charge. To do so means to conform our judgement and understanding (as well as our will) to that of another. Thus obedience expresses humility and puts to death (or mortifies) the self will. We all have self love and our own opinions that can derail us from obedience. St. Teresa in The Way of Perfections counsels: “Strive to obey, even if this may be more painful for you, since the greatest perfection lies in obedience.” (Way 39:3) She also relates this wise consolation in the prologue of The Interior Castle“Obedience usually lessens the difficulty of things that seem impossible”.

The fruits of obedience will manifest in a correct way of behaving and thinking. It makes us wiser and, having the mind of God, we will think the way God does. Obedience also strengthens the will. However, God never commands the impossible, and He gives the strength to do what is difficult – like with the martyrs – He gives the grace needed. There comes a true freedom of spirit with obedience as St. Paul writes to the Romans – we will enjoy “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) God’s truth and wisdom frees us from error and doubt. Those who do the Father’s will, will enter heaven. And as scripture reveals the humble “will be exalted” (Lk 14:11) Most importantly obedience “prepares for the contemplation of divine things”. (Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P. – The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

The object of obedience is the will; be willing to want to even know the will of God. The precept is expressed by the will of another. The motive or intention of obedience is to please God. The more we become interiorly responsive to doing the will of God, the more obedient we are. God’s will is manifested in many ways and circumstances especially through those in authority over us. Since the word obey comes from the Latin root which means “to be open” “to hear” – we should strive to have the ear of a disciple so as to hear God’s voice – this is obedience.

Silence in the Darkness of Advent

What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.  –St John of the Cross, OCD

Advent is a time of waiting…waiting in the darkness where it is still and quiet. This season is also a time to establish the conditions I need to have in order to bring Christ into my life.

Night, these long winter nights, can be a time for prayer, waiting prayer. In this night of waiting prayer, I can remain before the Lord in silence and love. St. John of the Cross teaches that silence is the language God hears best.

As St. John of the Cross reminds me, I need to remain in silence with my desires and tongue silenced. Thoughts and words are limiting. They limit my time with the Lord; therefore, I need to be present before Him with these faculties silent and remain there in a state of interior quiet. It is in this silent waiting of my prayer through faith and love that will bring me to the God I am seeking.

In the darkness of Advent, I can then see and adjust my responses after this time in silence. My response can then be to bring Christ into the lives of others, but first I need to begin by bringing Him into my own interior life.

Today is the Feast of St. John of the Cross who was and still is a good guide through the darkness that is faith. With him and his writings, he will draw me to seek God in faith and love.

In Solitude

She lived in solitude,

and now in solitude has built her nest;

and in solitude he guides her,

he alone, who also bears 

in solitude the wound of love.

In stanza 35 of The Spiritual Canticle, St. John of the Cross describes the blessings of a soul that lives in the peace and quietude of a solitary “settled in God and God in her”. Like the bird that prepares her nest, which requires labor, the soul too needs to prepare for this receptivity.

The soul at this stage of contemplation lives in solitude, but this is not necessarily physical solitude. More importantly, this solitude is for the sake of the Beloved. The solitude St. John is mainly concerned with is in reference to detachment or poverty of spirit. The soul is not attached to any particular knowledge from the world or from heaven nor does the soul take any pleasure or derived any satisfaction from these. The heart is empty, like the nest, ready to receive the one she loves – God and Him alone. There is a receptivity of the heart that was not there before. 

St. John describes a characteristic of this contemplation when he describes the traits of a solitary sparrow in stanzas 14 and 15.  The solitary desires rest but not in anything or to have any other company or affections. This is the third trait of the solitary bird which “is usually alone and allows no other bird close to it; when another perches nearby, it flies away.” Thus in this contemplation the soul is “stripped of them all” it does not “allow within itself anything other than solitude in God.” God alone.

This solitude is a quietude of soul or the “quietude of solitary love”. (stanza 35, introduction). The soul withdrawals from other satisfactions, comforts, and the support of creatures. God alone guides the soul through the liberty of spirit. The soul has learned “to silence and quiet the faculties so that God may speak.” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 3, 4:4)

When two people are in love they prefer to be alone rather than being in the company of others. If these two lovers that we are speaking of meet while others are around, they are deprived of an intimate encounter. They may not even be engaged in conversation with others around them, but just the presence of others deprives the lovers of a delightful experience. When two people are in love, they will not disclose anything intimate with each other unless they are alone. It is the same with a soul in union with God. When God unites with the soul he does so to speak in solitude to the heart. He speaks by filling the soul with divine knowledge now, only because the soul is empty of other images and forms. 

God wants to exalt the soul “by making her equal to Himself” because “the property of love is to make the lover equal to the object loved” (stanza 28, introduction) Again this solitude is not implying isolation from others and being disconnected from creation and the beauty that surrounds us. This solitude bestows oneness. It is about sharing the solitude of God. Solitude makes sense when viewed this way – it is keeping company with the Beloved. 

In stanzas 34 and 35 of the poem, the Bridegroom “describes the soul’s purity” and “her riches and reward for laboring and preparing herself to come to him”. The soul prepares and labors, like the bird that prepares her nest. There is a peaceful solitude in the soul – a peace that was obtained in “her victory over self”. (stanza 34, 4) Liberty of spirit has been attained under the guidance of the Bridegroom. 

“The very pure spirit does not bother about the regard of others or human respect, but communes inwardly with God, alone and in solitude as to all forms, and with delightful tranquility, for the knowledge of God is received in divine silence.” John of the Cross (Sayings of Light and Love – 28) 

St. John of the Cross teaches that exterior solitude can assist in interior solitude enabling the spirit to soar up to God. This exterior solitude is in imitation of Jesus who often sought places of solitude to pray – to the mountain, the garden, a lonely place. Contemplation does bring forth an inclination to remain alone and in silence. Like the first trait of the solitary sparrow that, “perches on the highest things” which is contemplation.

In this solitude, the soul is truly led and moved by God. Like St. Paul in Romans (8:14) says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  Essential to reaching union with God is solitude and the desire to be deprived of all this world offers in exchange for the love of the Bridegroom. It is in solitude that God speaks to the heart as described by Hosea the Prophet (2:14), where God led her into the wilderness to “speak to her heart”.

As a solitary soul, and for the love of God, everything which is not God or does not lead directly to Him, is refused its entry. This solitude only has meaning if the soul is “alone in Him”. Solitude according to St. John of the Cross is not really a void rather it is concentrating all human faculties and resources for receiving the life of God within the soul like the nest that is empty and receptive to receive. It is not restrictive; it is remarkably deep and vast. A large unbounded wilderness that is deeper and more boundless the more solitary it is. 

The fruits of this solitude come from the relationship between this interior solitude and union with God. True liberty of spirit is a fruit of solitude. For solitude is the way to divine understanding. In this solitude and silence, the soul’s only activity is surrender, abiding in the beauty of God which is enjoyed and shared. 

St. Teresa of Jesus encouraged her nuns to cultivate the habit of solitude.  She longed for solitude for herself and it was solitude that consoled her. In a deep mystical experience, she experienced intense spiritual pain when God placed her in this expanse of solitude. St. Teresa described the experience this way,  “I am oblivious of everything in that anxious longing to see God; that desert and solitude seem to the soul better than all the companionship of the world”. (Book of Her Life 20:13) St. Teresa, seeing that to commune with God is a great grace, arranged for herself times of solitude where she would withdraw “into solitude to pray and read”. (Book of Her Life, 7:3) 

In a letter to Ana de San Alberto, St. John of Cross wrote that “Those who seek satisfaction in something no longer keep themselves empty that God might fill them with his ineffable delight. And thus just as they go to God so do they return, for their hands are encumbered and cannot receive what God is giving.” In prayer, we can ask God to help us and “deliver us from these evil obstacles that hinder such sweet and delightful freedom”. 

Only through purity of soul, simplicity and meekness can the soul enjoy the peace and quietude of being in God and God in her. The reward for all this labor is that God comes and speaks to the heart in this solitude where there is silence of the senses and spirit. Union with God is the goal of our journey – a union of likeness brought about through love.

We can imitate the saints in seeking solitude in order to enjoy God, to love Him, and be loved by Him. Can we make more efforts to include more solitude in our day? What activities could we eliminate in order to obtain more solitude?

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.)

The Marriage of Two Such as These

When the time had come

for him to be born,

he went forth like the

bridegroom

from his bridal chamber,

embracing his bride,

holding her in his arms,

whom the gracious Mother

laid in a manger

among some animals

that were there at that time.

Men sang songs

and angels melodies

celebrating the marriage

of Two such as these.

But God there in the manger

cried and moaned;

and these tears were jewels

the bride brought to the

wedding.

The Mother gazed in sheer wonder

on such an exchange:

in God, man’s weeping,

and in man, gladness,

to the one and the other

things usually so strange.

Romances by St. John of the Cross

With the Eyes of the Soul and Loving Attentiveness

How can one remain in the presence of God? For St. Teresa the Lord can and is to be seen, one just needs to attend to his presence. She would see him “with the eyes of the soul” (Life, Chap 7: 6) So should we since he really is present to us and sees everything and he “never takes his eyes off” of us. He truly is with us. Here is more of what St. Teresa has to say:

“I’m not asking you now that you think about Him, or that you draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect. I’m not asking you to do anything more than to look at Him. For who can keep you from turning the eyes of your soul toward this Lord, even if you do so just for a moment if you can’t do more? You can look at very ugly things; won’t you be able to look at the most beautiful thing imaginable? Well now, daughters, Your Spouse never takes His eyes off you. He has suffered your committing a thousand ugly offensives and abominations against Him, and this suffering wasn’t enough for Him to cease looking at you. Is it too much to ask you to turn your eyes from these exterior things in order to look at Him sometimes? Behold, He is not waiting for anything else, as He says to the bride, than that we look at Him. In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him. He so esteems our turning to look at Him that no diligence will be lacking on His part’” (Way of Perfection 26: 3)

During any time of prayer we often let that time pass or be lost instead of recollecting them on God, so ask Him to not abandon you during your time of prayer.

Additionally even while occupied physically with others and other occupations one can make brief pauses and interiorly keep recollected with the heart centered and attentive on God. When employed with things like our daily duties, not all our faculties and senses have to be taken up with the task at hand, so let the others be occupied with God. (The Sayings of Light and Love, #117) We can do our daily duties and tasks in such a way that we keep loving attentiveness towards God and His presence. For St. John of the Cross counsels us to “endeavor to remain always in the presence of God, either real, imaginative, or unitive insofar as is permitted by your works.” (Degrees of Perfection)

Fasting

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.

The Root of the Problem to Taking Flight

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.

relg0323-02

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.

birdflight

Beautiful Silence

Silence is the longest precept in the Rule of St. Albert. For Carmelites this precept of silence is seen as a means for recollection, not as penance. While it is a privative, it is a happy one because it is what makes possible union with God.

Prayer, silence, and solitude -these three things go together and complement each other.

By being silent one is able to stay away the evils that come about in the abuse of words. What do we have to talk about? What is it that we communicate when we speak? Ideas?

No. Actually, most of what we communicate are images and impressions – mostly foolishness and nonsense. But God gave us the gift of speech to communicate ideas. In reality the more we speak the more our interior recollection is clouded. Words which do not express ideas will only manifest matter. Matter just makes dust! While on the contrary, silence makes for recollection. Silence is difficult and poorly observed. This we can all agree. It costs.

For St. John of the Cross to be silent is to be seen in terms of contemplation.

“The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul,” (Sayings of Light and Love #100)

Today try to observe silence. During the day let’s wrap ourselves in silence:

speak little         think little

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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