Precautions and Counsels Yes, I'm


Precautions and Counsels

Yes, I'm afraid it's true. I'm back to stun you all into silence (although it was very quiet yesterday) with St. John of the Cross. I know many saints have said much the same thing as St. John. I know that his spirituality is rooted in the Bible. But sometimes his phrases have such a profound and ringing clarity that he deserves special notice.

from "Precautions" St. John of the Cross

9. For, should you desire to pay heed to things, many will seem wrong, even were you to live among angels, because of your not understanding the substance of them. Take Lot's wife as an example: Because she was troubled at the destruction of the Sodomites and turned her head to watch what was happening, God punished her by converting her into a pillar of salt [Gn. 19:26]. You are thus to understand God's will: that even were you to live among devils you should not turn the head of your thoughts to their affairs, but forget these things entirely and strive to keep your soul occupied purely and entirely in God, and not let the thought of this thing or that hinder you from so doing.

From Special Counsels
St. John of the Cross

2. In order to practice the first counsel, concerning resignation, you should live in the monastery as though no one else were in it. And thus you should never, by word or by thought, meddle in things that happen in the community, nor with individuals in it, desiring not to notice their good or bad qualities or their conduct. And in order to preserve your tranquility of soul, even if the whole world crumbles you should not desire to advert to these things or interfere, remembering Lot's wife who was changed into hard stone because she turned her head to look at those who in the midst of much clamor and noise were perishing [Gn. 19:26]. You should practice this with great fortitude, for you will thereby free yourself from many sins and imperfections and guard the tranquility and quietude of your soul with much profit before God and others. Ponder this often, because it is so important that, for not observing it, many religious not only failed to improve through their other works of virtue and religious observance, but ever slipped back from bad to worse.

While the "Precautions" and "Special Counsels" were written specifically to cloistered Religious, they have much to say to us today. This is an age in which information can quickly make the rounds--there are good and bad points to that. While we learn much quickly, we rarely know whether what we have learned bears the stamp of reality. A case in point, and I don't desire to be a controversialist, is the question of Iraq. We "know" that they have or have had and may be developing weapons of mass destruction. But do we "know" this because it is true or do we "know" it because it is convenient to the present agenda? I do not know, but I also do not worry too much about it because the entire situation is in the hands of a God who loves us and whatever happens will happen in His will--if not in His ordained will, at least within His permissive will, and whatever comes from His hands I will accept with joy because of who He is.

Things that travel quickly, news that flashes by us, are like riptides. They unbalance us, drag us off course, and ultimately lead us to our own destruction if we follow them too closely. St. John rightly points out that the better part of valor is not to meddle in these things, not to comment on them, not to think about them, not to notice them, if it were possible. Our assigned task in the world is to love God as completely as He may be loved, with "all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength," and to make this love manifest by "loving our neighbor as ourselves." Leaving aside the question of how little we love ourselves and whether that gives us permission to be less loving to others (an argument weirdly compelling in its ultimate perversity), we are called to love our neighbors in a way that we would want to be loved, and that, in fact we are loved. As we grow in closeness to God, we can see that while we are unlovable much of the time (like a three-year old in a constant screaming, whining, tantrum) there are times (mostly when we are "asleep" in God) when we are truly adorable, and truly reflective of the image of the God who created us. So let us endeavor not to be wrapped up in the disconcerting news of the day but to find rest and sleep in prayer. Let us leave off our day to day tantrums and turn with loving hearts to the God who makes us worthy of His love, and then to beam that love outward to all in what we do and what we say and how we behave ourselves in ordinary things.

Shalom to all.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 27, 2002 8:06 AM.

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