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Posts Tagged ‘St. John of the Cross’

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)

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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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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.

birdflight

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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

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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)

psalm-119-10

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“The Lord has always revealed to mortals the treasures of his wisdom and his spirit, but now that the face of evil bares itself more and more, so does the Lord bare his treasures more.”

~ Sayings of Light and Love #1 (by St. John of the Cross)

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The Virgin, weighed

with the Word of God

comes down the road:

if only you’ll shelter her.

~St. John of the Cross

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