Yet More on Attachment Below,


Yet More on Attachment

Below, in the comments, Tom asks if it is possible that an attachment to the Blessed Virgin can get in the way of spiritual progress. As with St. Thomas Aquinas, this is simply a matter of definitions, and I have written so much for so long that I take for granted that everyone knows the definition. While it is not formally and scholastically defined, it is generally understood to mean --"an inordinate desire for." Now, is it even possible to form an attachment to the Blessed Virgin? The answer is yes. The Blessed Virgin, as exalted as she is in Heaven, Mediatrix of Grace, Mother of God, is still a creature. If the attention that rightfully belongs to God is focused on the Blessed Virgin (if we choose saying the Rosary over going to Mass, for example) we have an inordinate desire for the Blessed Virgin, because she has superseded her creator.

Here's a way to think about attachment and to figure out if you are attached. Think of attachment as "addiction." For example, if someone passes around a box of chocolates and when it reaches you, you quietly slip it into your backpack, one might say you are attached to chocolate.

One way to evaluate attachment is to look at what you do in pursuit of an object or event. Do you neglect, reschedule, or reshuffle things that are part of your normal vocation and state in life in order to obtain these things? If yes, you are attached to them--they own a piece of you. If you "cannot live" without the object or event, you are attached. Start with something innocuous--if you postpone cooking dinner, lock the children in their rooms, and shuffle your spouse off to a different location so that you can watch Dharma and Greg (no animus) you are probably attached. If you feel that in the absence of something, you simply "cannot go on," you are attached. Attachment is always unhealthy, and detachment, the proper attitude to all created things and their products.

I have pondered the question of whether you can be attached to God. And my conclusion is, probably not in normal circumstances. Some may be able to think of ways that you are attached to certain things of God, but is it possible to have an inordinate desire for the creator of all.

Another way to think about attachment is that each thing to which you are attached owns a piece of you. That dress that you've had for the last five years but have never worn and never thrown away, probably represents an attachment.

The difficulty with attachments is their progressive subtlety. It's relatively easy to recognize material things to which we are attached (achieving detachment may not be easy, but as with any such situation, recognizing the attachment is the first step.) But things become more difficult in the realm of ideas and other intangibles. For example, it is possible to become to the idea of detachment--to look at detachment as an end in itself and the supreme goal. Obviously, that is not so. Detachment is only a means to an end--Union with God. We can become attached to the consolations associated with prayer. When we pray we may feel calm and at ease, the universe may open up for us. If we begin to pray in search of that feeling, we are attached.

On the other hand, detachment isn't mere rejection of these things. The rejection of things becomes an attachment in itself. Refusing certain foods or certain ideas becomes a form of attachment.

People can become attached to very, very good things indeed. For example, when the Holy Father suggested that we might add a new set of mysteries to the recitation of the Rosary, many were out lighting the bonfires to burn the heretic. Many were upset that anyone should suggest an alteration. These many were probably attached to the Rosary, they probably felt some personal "ownership" of the prayer, and how dare anyone change it. Many who are quite vocal in their denunciation of things that have received the approval of the church (I think here of the Novus Ordo) are probably attached to the other Mass.

The important thing to remember is that there is nothing wrong with most of the things to which we are attached (pornography and other damaging things are exceptions), they are not bad or evil. But with respect to God, they are lesser goods--things to relinquish as we head onward toward union. Material things are not evil (although sometimes mystical language would make you think so) and we should not hate them absolutely, but relatively. That is the explanation of the mysterious statement Jesus makes that unless a man hate mother and father he is not worthy to follow me. Jesus would not violate the ten commandments calling us to Honor Mother and Father. This hatred means only that when Mother and Father choose to interfere in the pursuit of God, they must be let go, and the pursuit of God must continue. This doesn't mean that you don't talk to them or love them, but you reject the impulse that would have them control you and you move on. This "hatred" mysteriously becomes an overpowering love that urges the person moving toward union to pull others into their torrent and riptide. (See chapter 10 or 11 of Story of a Soul for St. Thérèse's marvelous analogy).

So, mystical language is often overstated--hyperbole. It doesn't aim at precision but at exhortation. It is the language of the prophets, and sometimes of the Savior Himself. It seeks not to prove, but to point the way, and so must be read in a way similar to poetry. It is challenging and quite difficult and does not lend itself to fine parsing before it falls apart and blows away.

Hopefully some of these notes will better help those who are looking into detachment and seeking to understand what it is about. As with all these matters, imperfections in the explanation are due not to the subject, but to my feeble understanding.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 16, 2003 5:55 PM.

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