Carmelite: February 2005 Archives

from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

Acquired knowledge is satisfying because it is our own, a possession. Inevitably it gives--albeit unconsciously-- a sense of power, control. We know where we are, what we are about; we have a sense of 'being able to do it'; in other words there is the implicit assumption that we can make our own way to God. It is only a case of going on like this, everything nicely under control, and we shall get more and more spiritual, know more and more about God, wax holy! This is illusion. Once again this cannot be appreciated no matter how much we may know it theoretically. Theoretical knowledge in its turn becomes just another piece of spiritual acumen until God 'touches' us; then our illusion begins painfully to crumble and we find ourselves with nothing. The new knowledge actuated in the depths of our being, uncurling as the tenderest of young plants, is not detected. This is not a possession, it cannot of its nature be appreciated or enjoyed as a personal attribute. Incipient though it be it has effects, and one of these is to take some of the gild off our 'God.' As the 'God' is really ourselves, our ego is wounded in its most vulnerable area. It is one thing to be asked to renounce our ego in dealing with other people and things, we come to appreciate that this is only commonsense; but surely our prayer, our pursuit of God, is unselfishness itself? Are we not trying to renounce ourselves, do good in order to please God? Well, we are about to be tested in that! Are our reactions prompted by the desire to please God or to have a spiritual life, become a spiritual person? In other words is our tenacious egotism operating in what is the most supremely satisfying sphere of all?

Wow! What a breathtaking indictment! And how true for many of us. Sometimes my desire for "secret knowledge" for "understanding the things of God" overwhelms any sense of why I would want to do this. Isn't the point of knowing God and sharing in His life supposed to be to please Him rather than to please myself? Gratifying this desire in one sense "undoes" the good of all the spiritual practices. And it will be ultimately unsatisfying. Our only goal in approaching God in any way is to be pleasing to Him. God is well pleased in those who approach Him in humble prayer and ask of Him the things needed in each day.

How poorly I do to take this finest gift and desire to make it my own for my own purposes. My purpose in approaching God must be His purpose for me. My goal must be His desire, not my own. Just as I delight in Samuel offering me some small card or written note that tells how much he loves and admires me, so God delights in a single Our Father said in complete love and desire to please. Let us take an example from our children and offer God our humblest but most sincere thanksgiving and praise. When I offer Him any thought out of sheer love of Him and desire to please Him, I am far better off than trying to scale mountains for the sake of gratifying my own curiousity and ego.

Our end--to please God in all that we do, to walk simply and to offer God our most truthful, most abiding, most loving, most sincere self. We offer to Him all that we are in the desire to please Him, not to get something from Him, but simply because our delight is in Him and living in harmony with Him. Forget the austerities, forget the forbidding language, forget all the contrivances that we formulate and that only get in the way. God wants us to want to please Him and to be with Him not for self-aggrandizement, but for Him alone.

In short, send your love letter today--delight and glory in pleasing the God who loves you "as the apple of His eye."

Bookmark and Share

St John of the Cross on Satan


from The Spiritual Canticle
John of the Cross

quoted in In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

No human power can be compared to his; only God's power can vanquish him and only God's light can unmask the snares that he lays. The soul that would overcome the ower of the devil will not be able to do so without prayer, nor will it recongise his deceitful traps without the aid of mortification and humility.

The traps of the devil cannot be seen by those who are looking in the mirror. A great many people walk around with a Rube Goldberg apparatus attached to them--a fishing pole at the seat of the pant that dangles a mirror in front of them. Walking about in this way will lead only to falling into a pit--and oh what pits there are to find.

The worst part of all of this is that there are certain kinds of people who, once they have fallen into a pit, choose to make it home, decorate it and invite others in, thinking there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they are living.

The season of Lent is a time to look at the minefield of pits we may have previously inhabited and to resolve, by the grace of God never to dwell there again. It is a time to realize that we cannot even tell the good from the bad, even though we know it for a certainty in our heads. It is a time for humble adoration and extended prayer to ask God to make right what we have made oh, so wrong. It is a time to break the mirror and to begin to move ahead fully aware of what lay in our path. And this may only be done with God's grace, His help, and our continued and grace-perfected obedience to His law.

Bookmark and Share

Knowing God


from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

The real point John is making is that at a certain point of growth a new form of knowledge is introduced that does not come through the normal channels of cognition. This is real knowledge of him who 'is night to the soul in this life', incomprehensible mystery. Thus in a practical existential way we are being asked to accept that 'nothing whatever that our imagination can conceive or our minds grasp in this life, can be God himself'; they are merely ideas about him no matter how spiritual they seem to be. Anything that we can actually regard and give an account of simply cannot be a direct experience of God.

Beginners for John are 'those who meditate on the spiritual road', which means they are those who are totally dependent on thoughts and ideas about God. Now for all of us, whatever state we are in, this is the only distinct knowledge we have; it is all we can know in the common acceptance of the term. When we write or talk it is always this kind of knowledge that is involved. But for beginners it is literally the sum total of their knowledge. It is not, as with advanced persons, merely that this is their conscious knowledge of God--it is, in objective reality, the sum of their knowledge. They are completely dependent on what their intelligence discovers of him and, as knowledge and love are closely intertwined, their love too is limited in this way.

This is so heartening--the thought that with enough progress I do not have to depend upon the nonsense that circulates in my head and calls itself "knowledge of God." My head so bulges and throbs with ideas about God that if my eventual success depended upon them, I would know for certain that there is no hope.

But my journey does begin with my thoughts and my ideas about God. In the light of transforming grace God gently moves me closer to Him by "perfecting" that knowledge in so far as I am capable of grasping it. The truth is that I am extraordinarily limited in this way. If two theologians were debating, I might be able to ask a couple of questions to fuel the fire, but I know so little that I would be persuaded first this way and then that way. The sum of my certain knowledge of theology is found in the revelation of the Scriptures, the defined doctrines and dogmas of the Church (in so far as I know and understand them), and most especially in the Creed. I understand at least the superficial meaning of every statement in the Creed, and I accept them unequivocally. This, at least is an organizing chain for thoughts.

But if we are living the life God has set out for us, thought will inevitably lead to deeper, inexpressible knowledge. This seems to be the message of all the great spiritual writers of the Church. At some point in prayer we move beyond meditation and thought about God into a deeper knowledge of Him that He Himself grants us. This is commonly called infused contemplation. However, that are a great many steps between these two ends, and I think all of us have experiences of the reality and the truth of God that extend beyond mere ideas. That transcendent and overwhelming feeling that has no reliable description in English when one first encounters a stunning landscape or work of art--that it seems to me is a small sense of what Sister Burrows means when she talks about "secret knowledge of God." It isn't a knowledge that sits outside of revelation, but rather a direct encounter.

I suppose one way of thinking about it is the translation from Divine Acquaintance (How do you do? So pleased to see you again.) to Divine Friendship (How can I help you deal with this difficult mater?) to Divine Intimacy (Oh let us be married, too long we have tarried, but what shall we do for a ring?). We all start at Divine Acquaintance. We seem to know something of God but are largely indifferent or only slightly warm to the matter we know. Most of us have probably moved beyond acquaintance to friendship, where we desire to spend more time and really get to know the Other. We go beyond the minimum requirements, but we still withdraw at times and move to be on our own. God stays in His place (figuratively speaking) and we go elsewhere. Finally, we know so much and understand enough, that we wish not to be merely friends that come and go, but we desire to become One Flesh, intimate family--we don't ever want to be parted from the presence or the security of our union. Most of us are like the proverbial bachelor--we want to keep our freedom, Divine Intimacy would really wreck our game plan for life. We need to be free to sample the pleasures of the world.

The reality is that it is only in the bonds of union that we become free enough to know what the pleasures of the world really are. And to get to union we must eventually go beyond our ideas and constructs and begin to trust God for who He is. We must experience the great I AM in the smallness of being "she who is not" (a quote from St. Catherine of Siena). This is the end goal--this is the Easter of our lives. Living the lives of good Christians and striving always to stay in a state of grace, we will find our way to this end eventually. But consider for a moment the profound triumph, beauty, passion, and ecstasy of finding ourselves there while still in the land of the living. Moving beyond merely knowing about into knowing while we still live. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, in fact every Saint who writes about the deep mystical life tells us that not only is it possible, it is what we are intended for. This is the "Mary" (as opposed to Martha) moment. This is the "one thing necessary." It is the end either here and now or in the life to come.

The good news is that this end is open to every one of us through the Grace of God. It is inconceivable that the God who said, "knock and it shall be opened, seek and ye shall find" would fail to live up to His word. Once again, it is merely a matter of making up our minds to do this. Choose Life. Choose intimacy. Love God now in the ideas and meditations, live the life partaking of sacramental grace, and pray that His will be done, and each one of us who does so can join those saints who achieved Divine Intimacy. It is not beyond us, it is within us, in the form of the Holy Spirit who constantly calls and urges us to move beyond our hesitant and sometimes cool friendship. The Holy Spirit calls us to ardor.

"Now is the acceptable time."

Bookmark and Share

I trouble you once again with insights from Sr. Ruth Burrows.

from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

We have one dynamism of choice. That dynamism must be controlled, concentrated, otherwise it ceases to be dynamic and is like a worn out battery driving nothing. If we do not know what we really want, if we vacillate, allowing ourselves to be drawn hither and thither, we become enfeebled and our faculty of choice is weakened. We must decide what we really want and concentrate on that. 'The soul whose will is torn between trifles is like water which n ever rises because it is running through an outlet down below.'

Taking a lesson from Aquinas--God is uniate, simple. There is no part of Him that is not integrated with all other parts (in as much as He can be said to have "parts"). This is a very hard lesson. We know the truth of the shema Y'israel--"Know O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One." We know this. But the doctrine of the trinity sometimes clouds our understanding no matter how clearly we state it. Nevertheless, we know it to be true--God is triUNE--three person in union--simple. God is one. Uniate. Simple.

Why make such a big deal about it? Well, if God is uniate, simple, one, then nothing that is not God can be part of Him. That is, until our complete purification either here or in purgatory, we cannot join the God who is One. There can be no union of like with unlike. There is no mystical marriage and the fullness of the beatific vision is impossible. God is One and immovable, we are duple (at least) and duplicitous and must become simple and one to move toward the One.

This is what Sr. Ruth is emphasizing here. Our desire must be one, our heart must be one, our minds must be one, our intent must be one, our actions must be one. We cannot look now at God and now at some created good. Our choice must be singly and wholeheartedly one.

Now, there is not a little fear in this choice. What will happen to my family if my whole attention is devoted to God, to my career, to my life, to my leisure? What will happen to me?

What ideally SHOULD happen if one makes this choice is that "me" drops out of the picture and our joy and delight ever increases in serving God. It is in selflessness that we find the truest definition of self. If all of our being is aligned in wanting the One thing that matters, then we will not be troubled by the old car in the driveway or by wanting filet and eating chicken. We will not be disturbed by the same currents that scatter the rest of the school. We will begin to see eternity and what is present will pass away in RELATIVE importance. That does not mean our family passes out of our mind, but rather in the selflessness we practice we more completely serve our families and those around us. Union with the One does not mean the abandonment of life on Earth, but complete joy in that life and complete service to His ends in it.

The reality is very simple--we can continue to live a life in tension--in a kind of dynamic opposition of created good and Creator. Or we can "Choose Life" as we are commanded:

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

"Cleave to Him." the ancient language used to describe the relationship of marriage where "the two become one." In fact, throughout the Bible we are called to this surrender of marriage, this abandonment of self and immersion in the self as defined by God's vision of us. Cleaving to God is a vision of divine union that promises "length of days." Not length of life, but the "length", if you will, of eternity.

So today and all the days I chance to think about it and particularly through this season of Lent, I must make a constant choice to "Choose life" so that I might begin to live rather than to walk through life. We have but one chance to get it right, but within that chance so many opportunities. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in Him!"

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from February 2005.

Carmelite: January 2005 is the previous archive.

Carmelite: March 2005 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll