Hearth and Home
After a brief sojourn in the spirited company of Mr. da Fiesole and St. Thomas at Disputations, I am glad to come home to St. John of the Cross--the familiar, the comfortable, and the comprehensible. I am in considerable awe of those who can derive more than intellectual stamina from the careful perusal of St. Thomas--it requires a makeup far different from mine. A sign of the great Grace of our Lord is the many mentors He has sent to us to serve the many different kinds of people that we are. St. Thomas, St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. John of the Cross, St. Gaspar, and countless others all help those who seek God.
One of the reasons I am a Carmelite is that I have always enjoyed the gentle warmth and convivial company of St. John of the Cross, even when I don't completely understand all he is trying to tell me. Still, he always strikes me as a gentle father, ever patient but ever firm, allowing no deviation along the difficult road--a good and faithful aspect when you are ascending mountain paths without guardrails.
Returning to his company last evening, I took particular consolation (I know, I know, we're not be looking for consolations--but when they come, we can accept them) in this second paragraph of the Prologue.
from "Prologue" to The Ascent of Mount Carmel St. John of the Cross 2. Therefore, in order to say a little about this dark night, I shall trust neither to experience nor to knowledge, since both may fail and deceive; but, while not omitting to make such use as I can of these two things, I shall avail myself, in all that, with the Divine favour, I have to say, or at the least, in that which is most important and dark to the understanding, of Divine Scripture; for, if we guide ourselves by this, we shall be unable to stray, since He Who speaks therein is the Holy Spirit. And if aught I stray, whether through my imperfect understanding of that which is said in it or of matters uncollected with it, it is not my intention to depart from the sound sense and doctrine of our Holy Mother the Catholic Church; for in such a case I submit and resign myself wholly, not only to her command, but to whatever better judgment she may pronounce concerning it.
There is so much in this brief paragraph it is difficult to articulate it all. But ultimately what appeals to me here is the understanding of the limitations of human reason and experience in dealing with the things of God. While both are necessary and useful in their proper place, they are insufficient to give rise to the quality necessary for union with God. In fact, they become an obstacle to that Union if they are attachments. (Of this, I may speak from personal experience--how weak I am when I rely solely upon my intellect and experience.)
Any attachment, no matter how truly good the object, no matter how worthy the activity--this can mean an attachment to saying the Rosary, for example, or an attachment to praying before the blessed Sacrament--impede the progress of the soul in prayer. They do this because they are instances of disobedience, in a sense. God draws us on or in different directions, but we stubbornly adhere to our habits and our patterns.
Also here I see the great humility of a truly great mind that bows before the correction and teaching of Holy Mother Church, as indeed all the great Saints did and all the great heretics refused to do. It is wrong to insist upon your own way in any aspect of church life. For example, it is wrong to insist that one form of Mass is necessarily more holy and more complete than another. While our subjective experience may be better at one Mass than another, and while we may "feel" better, or recognize greater artistry and aesthetic appeal, if the form of Mass has been duly instituted by the Church and duly administered by the pastor, then we are in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Word and in the Eucharist. One Mass may seem to better honor Him, but He comes to us regardless of honor, still the Lamb of God, still the servant/master, still our Brother and our Lord.
Also, I see here the reliance on Holy Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit and duly interpreted and understood in the context of the teaching of the Church, as a wonderful, salutary habit. Too often we rely upon our own resources. Even if we do not fully understand scripture (and there is no one on Earth who encompasses all the meanings and all the variations of scripture in their person) we can ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and read in His presence--all redounding to our benefit--so much so, in fact, that in the general grants of plenary indulgences, the active reading of scripture for at least one-half hour is one of three activities that can merit such an indulgence. More, the Church is so certain of the value of reading scripture that such a indulgence may be received once a day.
St. John of the Cross teaches us even when the intent is not so much to teach but explain. His Prologue, intending merely to outline the path up the slopes of Mount Carmel, actually sets the stage for much of what is to come. It encourages the habits necessary for the ascent, and it begins to instill in us the real desire to make the whole trek.