Parsing the Counsels of St. John of the Cross


Not that which is most delectable, but that which is most unpleasing;

I'm starting with the second of the several counsels I posted yesterday. I'm starting with this because it is in many ways one of the easier ones to discuss both in terms of requirements and results.

Here St. John of the Cross advises us to cultivate an attitude of mind that allows us to make small mortifications of the flesh in order to discipline our wills not to seek out sensory delights. This is one of the most obvious because it is one in which most of us indulge ourselves. Let us start at the most basic level--when we are presented with choices, in food, for example, we are not to choose that which most pleases us and which delights the taste buds, but that which we would prefer not to eat. Now, first, reiterate the reasons for this choosing. Food that is well-prepared and that tastes good is NOT sinful, nor is it wrong to delight in such food. And if our host should place such food before us, we should in good fellowship and with a sense of Christian Harmony partake of it to some extent less than gluttony. However, when we are presented with a choice, it is better to choose the thing we less like to eat and to offer that choice to God as a small sacrifice, and to ourselves as a small advance on where we were. That is, by depriving ourselves of, say, Beef Wellington, and eating instead say lima beans and corn bread we perform a small mortification that actually helps others indirectly and that tries to rein in the rampaging horses that are appetite and desire.

What John seems to emphasize is that each choice can be made to discipline desire and to offer glory to God. The Buddhists call a similar approach to things "mindfulness." Father de Mello referred to it as Awareness. We need to be aware of our choices and to take control of them--not merely to be disciplined, but as a voluntary offering to the Lord who offered everything to us. We must gratefully accept all things from His hands, and to the extent possible, offer them back to Him. We do this in the small things. St Thérèse is often misunderstood when she speaks of "small things with great devotion and love," but this is exactly what she refers to. Every day we have innumerable choices, and each choice should be made in such a way as to direct our attention to God. Everything we eat, everything we do, even everything we choose to look at. It is an austere way and a way of much discipline and small sacrifice, and yet, I cannot but think that it is a way arrayed in costliest finery--more splendid than gold and jewels, more marvelous than the most beautiful orchids, because it is a way paved with the Blood of Christ Himself and with the Blood of all the Martyrs in Flesh or of the Spirit who followed Him. It is a "little way" of Martyrdom to the enticements of the world, that robes us in the richest raiment possible.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 10, 2003 8:29 AM.

A Prayer of Carmelite Saints was the previous entry in this blog.

Ways of Holiness In response is the next entry in this blog.

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