John of the Cross: March 2004 Archives

"Deliver us from evil,
--and from slavery to the senses, which blinds us to goodness."
(from the intercessions of Morning Prayer--Wednesday 5th Week of Lent)

How providential that our subject from St. Teresa Benedicta this morning is presaged by the intercession from morning prayer.

We don't like to face the truth of Jesusí dictum, but it is important for us to do so. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it " (Matthew 16:25). In short, we can't do it ourselves. Moreover, we should not expect it to be either easy or without unpleasantness--dying isn't a particularly easy process. But dying to self is critically necessary for advancing in real life.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (and St. John of the Cross)

To take up battle against it [the animal spirit] , or to take one's cross upon oneself, means entering into the dark night actively. The saint [John of the Cross] gives several concise directions of which he himself says: "A person who sincerely wants to practice them will need no others since all the others are include in these." These directions are:

"1) Sustain always the desire to imitate Christ in all things and to bring your life into conformity with his. You must therefore study his life in order to imitate it and behave always as he would.

"2) In order to do this well, you must deny yourself every pleasure that presents itself to your senses, keep it far from you if it is not solely directed to the honor and glory of God.

"And in fact you should do this out of love for Jesus who knew no other joy and had no desire in his life other than to fulfill the will of his Father. He called this his food and nourishment [Jn 4:34]. If, for instance, some amusement offers itself to you in hearing of things that do not contribute to the service of God, then you should neither have pleasure in them nor wish to hear them. . . . Likewise, practice renunciation in regard to all your sense for as much as you are able to refuse their impressions readily. Insofar as you are unable to ward them off, it is sufficient that you take no enjoyment when these things approach you. Take care how you mortify your senses and preserve them from being touched by any inordinate desire. Then they will remain alike in darkness and in short time you will make great progress."

"The follow maxims will serve as a thoroughly effective means of mortification and harmoniously ordering the four natural passions: joy, hope, fear, and sorrow. . . . Take care that your inclination is ever directed:

not toward the easier, but toward the more difficult;
not toward the pleasant, but toward the unpleasant;
not toward the restful, but toward the troublesome;
not toward the more, but toward the less;
not toward what brings you more joy, but what brings displeasure;
not toward what prepares consolation for you, but toward what makes you disconsolate;
not toward the higher and more valuable, but toward the lowly and insignificant;
not toward what wants to be something, but toward what wants to be nothing."

. . . No further explanation is necessary to see that this active entry into the dark night of the sense is synonymous with ready willingness to take up the cross, and with persistence in carrying the cross. But one does not die from carrying the cross. And in order to pass completely through the night, a person must die to sin. One can deliver oneself up to crucifixion, but one cannot crucify oneself. Therefore that which the active night has begun must be completed by the passive night, that is, through God himself.

Always remembering that passing through either night is only possible with the generous assistance of Grace.

We don't like to think about these things. We would prefer to squeak into heaven, on a technicality if necessary. Who really wants to die to self--to give up the pleasures of the world, to not find joy in the little things that are around us? But I look at the lives of the Saints who chose to do this and fact of the matter is, their lives were filled constantly with a far greater joy than I can summon up from any created thing (except, perhaps, Samuel--but that's another matter.)

We don't want to do the work of sacrifice. We'll give money, we'll look to buy our way out of real self-giving, but it isn't sufficient. To truly serve God and to claim His greatest gifts for us we must die to self. There is no compromise. If we are to live the life God has for us we must abandon the one by which we protect ourselves from God's agency. We must shed the self-created life and assume the one that God has had for us from the beginning. It will either happen here on Earth or in the life to come. But it will happen. It seems to me that I would rather choose the joys the Saints partook of than the ones that I have daily, the ones that more and more taste of dust and ashes. The joys of eternity are available to us but we must be open to receive them and to receive them, we must love God more than we love ourselves. Loving God is the only thing that makes entry into the active dark night possible. We cannot do it by will, though we might start. We cannot do it by our own power, though we must contribute to it. We cannot do it without grace. And even with grace, if we do not allow grace to feed and fan the fires of love we cannot do it. Only love can draw one through the dark night. God's intense love for us is the magnet and our love for Him must transcend all earthly loves (even while it incorporates a great many of them). If we do not love God most of all, we cannot enter into the night, our strength and our courage will fail. And God wants us to enter this night so He can share how much, how intensely, how completely He Loves us. We cannot know this while senses are dulled by all the glittering attractions of the world. We must abandon our love of it (even as we continue to live in it) and direct all of our devotion and attention to God. In this we purify the senses, and like John of the Cross we will begin to truly love the vistas of creation, not for creation itself but for and by intense love of our creator. Our eyes begin to see what is really there, our ears to hear, our sense to actually touch. The weariness of the world washes away from them and we, like Lazarus are called out of the tomb into the real world--the world "charged with the Glory of God." That is our goal, that is ultimately our destiny. Why would we want to put it off until later? Why would we choose a lesser love over a greater?

But if we would choose this greater way, it will be hard to walk because of our fallen nature. Nevertheless, I, for one, want to open myself to God's call and to find Him here and now. I want to walk in the Garden in the evening and to be reborn into His image of me. He dreamed me into existence from the beginning of time, I want to fulfill His dream. I want to realize His dream for me.

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Hard Words for Hard Times

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Oh, you didn't think you got away from St. Teresa Benedicta so easily did you? Thanks to the resounding silence (perhaps the highest of compliments, considering the material) I have determined to post more, as she must be making an impact. In this passage she refers to the beginning of the Dark Night of the Senses and why one embarks upon it, indeed, why it is truly necessary to embark upon it.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

On the other hand, something entirely new is begun when the Dark Night starts. The entirely comfortable being-at-home in the world, the satiety of pleasures that it offers, the demand for these pleasures and the matter-of-course consent to these demands--all of this that human nature considers bright daily life--all of this is darkness in God's eyes and incompatible with the divine light. It has to be totally uprooted if room for God is to be made in the soul. Meeting this demand means engaging in battle with one's own nature all along the line, taking up one's cross and delivering oneself up to be crucified. Holy Father St. John here invokes the Lord's saying in this connection: "Whoever does not renounce all that the will possesses cannot be my disciple" [Lk. 14:33].

And it is in this last line that the true hardship of the word comes. It isn't that we can't be saved or we can't enter into heaven, but at times that seems like so small a goal compared with that of serving the Lord as Disciple. And discipleship is costly. I would recommend Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship were it not so virulently anti-Catholic. But he points out in the course of the work that many of us want a costless or cheap discipleship. Such a discipleship is inauthentic--and that makes sense. How can carrying a cross be cheap or costless? If we wish to serve Christ in this world and in the world to come, it will only be at great cost. Consider the very short parable of the man who found a pearl of great price and sold all that he owned to purchase it. That is the cost--all that we think we own, all that we think is ours, all that the senses "possess," these must be completely surrendered to God as the "cost" of serving Him. And the cost yields a valuable rebate. No matter how much we give up and give to Him, He returns countless amounts more in the freedom, peace, and serenity of serving Him.

The gradual shedding of the world's hold on us is a necessary prerequisite to focusing our attention completely upon the Crucified One. And what other meaning in life is there? If Jesus is not the complete focus then we are not seeing anyway--so what loss is our sight of this world?

(Tomorrow, perhaps, I will include the précis of what is required to enter the dark night of the senses--other than the call by grace, of course.)

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Ascent of Mount Carmel X

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The Ascent of Mount Carmel X--Book II, Chapters 9-12

Read pages177-189 in The Ascent of Mount Carmel

Chapter 9
1-5 Pick one of the "proofs" John has suggested for faith being the proximate and proportionate means for the intellect to approach divine union and read it carefully. Listen to what John says about it. Come ready to share what you have heard in prayer.

Chapter 10

2. In what ways can the intellect get ideas? How do these two differ?

3. Into what categories is supernatural knowledge divided? How do they differ?

4. What are the five types of spiritual knowledge? (Two major subdivisions, one with four means of revelation, the other with only one.)

Chapter 11

1. What does John say the first book of the Ascent of Mount Carmel is about? How is supernatural knowledge delivered to the exterior senses?

2. What important warning does John give about these apprehensions?

3. What is the main danger of cherishing and thinking about these apprehensions?

4. As these apprehensions become more exterior what happens to their utility for the soul?

5. What happens to the person who esteems these apprehensions? Read and note the last sentence of this section very carefully. It is one of the most important points St. John and St. Teresa have to make about supernatural visitations.

6. If we are to ignore them, why does God give visions and locutions? What happens to the person who receives them upon receiving them?

7. What are six possible negative effects of desiring further visions and locutions?

8. What is one danger of not rejecting these apprehensions?

9. What will happen to the person who deals with these apprehensions as St. John suggests?

10. John uses the image of the Beast of the Apocalypse with seven heads and ten horns. Look at the scripture reference and see how John uses it to describe what happens in the mansions.

11-13 These sections are a recap and a summary of what went before. What is St. John's continually repeated strong advice for us in the face of supernatural apprehensions?

Chapter 12

1. What apprehensions are imparted to the interior senses?

2. What must we do to the interior senses once we have become sufficiently advanced in the prayer life? (Please note that imaginative apprehensions are often useful in the early stages of prayer, so one must carefully gauge where one is (preferably with the help of a spiritual director) before one makes the decision to abandon these.)

3-4 What are imagination and phantasy? Why is it necessary at some point to abandon them?

5. How can these apprehensions get in the way of union with God?

6-8 What is the best advice for one looking to advance in the spiritual life? Why is this so important? What might happen if the advice is ignored? What might happen if the advice is employed too early in one's prayer life?

Please feel free to use these notes as a study guide or to lead others in reading The Ascent of Mount Carmel. I don't pretend that they are any more than one person's imperfect reflections on a great work, but they at least give a starting point for reflection. They just skim the surface, but, properly employed, I pray they might lead on to greater understanding.

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This page is a archive of entries in the John of the Cross category from March 2004.

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