Carmelite: December 2002 Archives

More on Spiritual Reading

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More on Spiritual Reading

I really like much that is said at The 7 Habitus, for example:

In any case, at various times, I have tried to read both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, without much success. I have to admit I canít make heads or tails out of St. John and reading St. Teresa brings itís own problems for me. First, there is the guilt that I feel for being such a spiritual slug in the face of such holiness. Then, there is the heightened tendency to selfish introspection (ďLetís see, am I in the first mansion or can I claim to have progressed to the second mansion?Ē And ďWill I ever be able to make it to the third mansion?Ē) that is not at all healthy. I view this inability to read these two great saints as a grave personal shortcoming, but there it is.

It so amply demonstrates my point re: St. Thomas Aquinas. I, for one, do not see this a grave shortcoming--I see it as a manifestation of God's grace. Jesus told us "My Father's house has many mentions." God doesn't want to put us all into a cookie press and squeeze out identical cookies--rather, we are gingerbread people, each exactly equal in His eyes, but carefully, deliberately decorated with grace--some of us like chocolate, others (yes, I gasped when I discovered this reality) do not.

I do believe that St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila present insuperable difficulties to a great many people, even to Carmelites. That is why my Carmelite group is reading St. John of the Cross together. Forty minds puzzling away with guidance and help are far more likely to come to some comprehension of the work than a single mind on its own. But, being confused and led astray by entry into these wilds is not a personal shortcoming--it is rather a sign of God's particular will for us. For example, I have a personal distaste for many of the legends that surround St. Francis of Assisi. I can't tell where the truth is in that bramble, and so, rather than denigrate the Saint and many of his followers, I conclude that I have absolutely no inclination toward Franciscan Spirituality--it is confusing to me. This isn't a shortcoming, but a clear signpost that God has granted that says simply--don't go here--it is not, for whatever reason, for you.

That is why I don't see that my impression of St. Thomas Aquinas is particularly deleterious. There are those who are called to him, and others who are warned away.

And here is another important point, which if I read correctly, confirms and supports all that is said above:

So there are saints that we might have great difficulty reading or might never be able to read and appreciate, depending on our spirituality. But you see, we donít have to read St. Teresa, we donít have to read St. Thomas, and we donít have to read St. Francis to be good and faithful Catholics and Christians. We can understand that they all have something to teach us about the truth of our faith, and they have given the Church the great legacy of their individual wisdom, but not all of us will be able to read all of them with the same benefit. Each of us is different and drawn to God in a certain way and it is important for each of us to try to discover that way and do our best to grow within it.

Absolutely true! In fact, for some of us, as I said, we may be warned away from some of these. And it may be that with time we grow into approaching them. For the longest time, the prose of St. Louis De Montfort, the seeming excesses he describes, and just his mode of expression was so utterly aliment to me that I couldn't read more than a sentence or two without revulsion--yes, very strong reaction, but remember I had a long road to walk from being a Baptist to acknowledging any sort of Marian Devotion. However, with time, God led me to a place where I not only see the value of St. Louis, but I recommend him highly to those trying to learn more about devotion to Mary.

So--spiritual reading, as with all things in the spiritual life, is a matter of careful discernment. One does not plunge willy-nilly into anything and everything. In fact, often reading can be used as a substitute for the more important matter of prayer. We become attached (to use St. John's terminology) to spiritual reading, and thus what can be a very good thing becomes a barrier in the way of God's grace for us. Anything to which we become attached--blogdom, books, a certain kind and place of devotion, a certain church--literally anything that we are not willing to let go with joy, becomes a roadblock on the way to God. These seemingly minor things serve as well as great sins to keep us from approaching God. After all God is the All in All, to want anything less is to completely miss the point. Spiritual Reading should not become a way to sidestep correct prayer and contemplation of God. Spiritual Reading should always lead us TO Christ, not just BY Him.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from December 2002.

Carmelite: November 2002 is the previous archive.

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