Being Who You Are in Christ

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Another insight into St. John of the Cross.

from Ascent to Love
Ruth Burrows

John is 'at home' in religious life. . . whereas when he attempts to carry his principles into secular life we feel he is floundering. As we read through his treatment of detachment from joy in the use of temporal, natural, sensible goods (his own categories) we cannot avoid the impression that he is a man ill-at-ease in the workaday world. For him it is infinitely preferable to get rid of all possessions, remain celibate, live in retirement and give oneself up to prayer; all else is second best. . . . The whole world is the Lord's, he is in all and not only in one tiny consecrated corner. All is sacred, the house of the Lord and the gate of heaven. John might prefer everyone to be within the cloister but God does not!

All John writes must therefore be interpreted using the insights of our own day, but his basic principles remain unchallenged--nothing and no one can be our ultimate joy or security. There has to be detachment coupled with great involvement and one does not rule out the other. Take John's rather down-graded view of marriage, for example, and put it against our own developing appreciation of just what marriage is meant to be. It is the way par excellance for the vast majority to grow into freedom and fulness of love, the vehicle of transcendence. What displine, sacrifice, asceticism, will be needed for it to reach this ideal! And when the partners have truly become two in one and then comes the separation of death--how incalcuable the wound! Yes, but the very fact that the marriage has reached fulfilment will mean that the other can stand alone, continuing to grow in freedom and love. All human situations are open to God. Prayer, constant reflection on the gospel, desire, vigiliance--these will reveal how, in the concrete, hour by hour, we find him in them, respond to him in them.

I especially liked the very logical, very practical insight that "ohn might prefer everyone to be within the cloister but God does not!" We have so high a regard for clergy and relgious (rightfully so) that we sometimes fail to see that the vast majority of us are not and never have been and as the Lord is doing the calling, either a great many of us are not listening too well or He calls most of us to sanctity outside the bounds of the cloister or clergy. This is simply a fact, not a statement as to who has "the better part."

But marriage is the perfect training ground for detachment, sacrifice, and love. Anyone who is or has been a parent recalls the sacrifices required when children are very young--sleepless nights, endless labor over a little one. And for a very long time, this effort may transmute but it never goes away. For example, how often does daddy's dinner (when eating out) look ever so much more appealing than what is on my own plate? Then add to that time that we'd rather be doing other things but must heed the necessity to play with, train up, advise, admonish, discipline, and just plain talk to our children.

And then there is the endless battle of wills that comprises a marriage--the misconmmunications, the hurt feelings, the endless unappreciatied labors. We bring forth each new, completed work and hold it out for an awed moment of silence, only to have it pushed away as our spouse bustles by with an armload of laundry. This isn't uncaring, this isn't unsupportive, this is merely the fullness of the day. And when we reach its end too often we are exhausted by all of its contingencies to properly express our appreciation of one another. And yet, the current flows through it and sustains it. We are servants to each other, we are Christ for each other, slowly dragging our partners toward salvation in a waltz that becomes a tango that becomes a wrestling match that feels like it will never end.

Oh yes, marriage is the perfect training ground for detachment, for giving up our need and desire to control another, for giving up our own way and going with the way of service. Every moment of every day opens up wide vistas of opportunity for service to one another. Detachment picks service rather than our own will in a given matter. Detachment always looks for the betterment of all and for God's will in a situation. Detachment means leaving the ego behind and not resenting giving half of one's dinner to an anxious, joyous, overwhelming six-year-old. Detachment means dropping our little golden crown and helping our spouses carry the laundry to the washing machine or the garbage to the road.

It is in marriage that most of us in St. Blogs are called to find Christ.The circumstances are such that we will be able to practice in all fullness the disciplines of detachment and selfless love, always keeping in mind that these are never our own, but graces given freely by God to strengthen us and our families. So the teachings of St. John of the Cross, rooted in the cloister and the convent, reach out and touch us in the apartment and the living room. We are not excused because we are not cloistered, but rather, we are called upon to an even more heroic exercise of selflessness because we do not have the moments of solitude that rebuild. While we are not called to the strictness of the cloister, neither do we have some of the advantages that accrue there. And yet our lives are graced by a sacrament that works to make us holy in the vocation to which we have been called.

So, while we may not be able to observe all the particulars of the specific discpline that St. John of the Cross calls for, the doctrine he teaches holds true. Emptying and selflessness make room for Him to come and dwell and when he is dwelling at the heart of the family there is no toil, no turmoil, no trouble so great that it does not make the family stronger and bring them closer to Him. This is part of the meaning of the sacrament of marriage. And within it we must find the balance between intimacy and true loving support and detachment from our own needs that will best move everyone toward Christ. As the chief officers on the ship we are responsible to see that she sails properly toward the Homeland.

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Thank you so much for introducing me to this book - "Ascent to Love" - and for your thoughtful and on-target commentary. I have ordered a copy of the book for myself based on your excerpts and comments.

Dear M Pratt,

And thank YOU for the encouraging note. I'm extremely pleased that someone else has been captivated by some of the understanding of Sr. Burrows. I don't believe that you will regret the purchase.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 18, 2005 8:48 AM.

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