More from Sr. Burrows

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I was very excited to read these two passages:

from Ascent to Love
Ruth Burrows

Everything we perceive that does not help us to grow in love of God and others must be denied at whatever cost. 'If your eye is a cause of stumbling to you,' says Jesus, 'put it out.' A highly charged metaphor to impress on us the unutterable importance of pleasing God, living as he would have us live. Nothing counts beside this, not our pleasure and satisfaction, not an easy comfortable life, not wide experience of sense, not 'happiness'--nothing. All occasions of sin must be avoided absolutely in so far as depends on us. When they cannot be avoided and we find ourselves caught up in pleasures that do not help us to God then we must detach ourselves from them, refuse to savour them. But the pleasure that attends all innocent use of created things is to be enjoyed reverently and gratefully. There is no question of denying ourselves just for the sake of doing so, as though this is what God wants. . . .

We need pleasure, but it may be that earnest love sees that we cannot hope to deny ourselves wrong pleasures unless we have undergone a prepartory discipline and learned to say no to perfectly innocent ones. This renunciation is for a purpose; one might say it is a temporary expediency. Our use of creatures, whether we forgo this or that, will be a very personal matter. Nobody can make rules for another. . . . But when all is said and done it is we who must make the decision, and never are we more lonely than when we do so in moral areas. Each has his or her own vocation in life with its own specific demands. No one can live out the full range of human/christian values. We have to choose, and the choice depends on the vocation to which God has called us.

To reply to a previous commenter--how often do you hear this on Oprah or from Pollyanna? Deny yourself--reject legitimate pleasures? More often we hear "Seize the day." Sr. Ruth is not offering us a way of lollipops and roses, nor is a way for perfect people. Sr. Ruth is pointing our the path clearly marked by St. John of the Cross. This is reality, hard and fast reality. Admittedly it is reality of a higher order than many of us ever experience, but it is not of a higher order than what God offers for us to experience.

But what I liked here is the notion that sometimes denial of innocent pleasures is a kind of training for denial of those not-so-innocent. So, in a sense, we give up those things we crave the most as a mortification. We give up beer or wine or chocolate so that we are better equipped to give up taking lustful pleasure in looking at a woman (or man) etc. I will have to weigh this all out, but it is commensurate with John's actual life as reported by others. He loved the countryside and often spent time wandering there. If these created things gave him pleasure and the point of detachment was simply to remove everything that gives pleasure, then we would not have wandered in the fields or spent time in nature in prayer. So this interpretation of Sr. Burrows rings true both with the magnificent poetry and with the life of St. John of the Cross. Now, the danger lies in being too lenient with ourselves as well. How much enjoyment is innocent. How do I stop at the chocolate before gluttony? As Sr. Burrows points out, the choices and the use of created things is something that must be decided by the individual in council with a wise advisor.

So detachment is not about denial for the sake of denial, but carefully considered and discerned denial in service of growing in love of God. We rely upon grace for all of this, we cannot do it unaided, but we must also rely upon carefully considered human reason, to help us make our choices and to discern properly. If we must give up something, if me must deny ourselves, that too should be in pursuit of the ultimate goal--not denial for its own sake, but denial to help foster deeper love of God.

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More often we hear "Seize the day."

"Seize the day" was the first of ten steps to becoming a saint, according to a Carmelite preacher I once knew.

I can't remember the other steps -- though, frankly, I'm still working on this one.

Dear Tom,

Ah, the infamous 10 step program. Beware a Carmelite of many steps--it's like a Jesuit with too few.

(and there is a way in which "seize the moment" is a very holy practice--at least according to Jean Pierre de Caussade [who was, I think, a Jesuit]. However, not usually in the way Oprah and her ilk suggest.)





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 11, 2005 10:41 AM.

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