In the Center of Your Heart…

woman caught in adultery

She is full of pain and regret…  They found her, they know what she did…what she has been doing for a long time.  They think they know her…but they don’t.  They blow her with accusations and condemnations…she is alone…  They drag her through the streets…a monster…a wretched woman… “a terrible woman this is!…”  They drag her…drag her through the sand and dust…she is full of scratches and bruises…her mind goes to thoughts of her childhood…whatever happened to that innocent child?  Where did she go?   She is now on her way to death…bleeding…embarrassed…condemned.  “I was only looking for someone to love me,” cries that inner child within her… “I just wanted someone to love me!”  She hears the jeering crowd…”Stone her!  Stone the adulteress!”  Her heart beating…sweat pouring down her face…struggles for breath…and then the question: “Master…this woman was caught in adultery…she ought to be stoned according to the law!”  This woman…this woman…they don’t even know her name…a sinner…nameless.

Then, she turns her head to get a glimpse of the man…this man they call “Master”…he bends down…he is writing something…what is he writing?  She listens through her tears and guilt…”will he also condemn me?”  With a voice too beautiful for words…but at the same time with authority, she hears “He who is without sin, cast the first stone!”  “What?  What did He just say?  Is he trying to help me?”  All of a sudden, with thuds almost like thunder, the stones hit the ground…she feels faint…her body is shaking now…she hears the footsteps of the men moving further away…she hears the man walk step by step toward her…tears fall down her face…”why did he help me?  Why didn’t he condemn me, like all the others?”  Then He spoke…and his words were like a sword to her heart: “Where are your accusers?  Has anyone condemned you?”  With tears running down her cheeks…she knew they had all gone…she finds her courage turns her head to look at this man’s face…through a parched throat and barely being able to bring the words to her lips: “No, no one…” then, all at once, she sees her life flash before her eyes…she thought of all her sins, imperfections, mistakes…and she felt the guilt…the shame.  Then, almost as if to stop her from her running thoughts, the man says, “Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more…”  His words cut her to the heart…inside the core of her being…like a gentle breeze she hears…”Daughter.”

Jesus…He knows us through and through.  We have all at some point felt like this woman: condemned, abandoned and alone.  We have all at some point given in to temptation of some kind…have we allowed ourselves to look into the eyes of the Saviour and hear the words: “Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more?”

I am always fascinated by the fact that Jesus was able to see into the hearts of all people…He knew the weakness there…He knew their goodness.  He saw the desires of those he met: the desire for knowledge and understanding in Nicodemus, the desire for consolation in Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the desire for companionship in His Apostles.  But there is one character in the Gospels that I would like to focus on and that is the woman caught in adultery.  What was her desire?  What was she looking for when she looked into the eyes of the Saviour?  She was looking for love.  Sometimes we look for love in the wrong places…in the wrong ways.  But God in his mercy knows our weakness and our needs and offers us the love that we are looking for…but we need to have the courage to turn our head and look into the eyes of the Saviour… just like the woman caught in adultery did.

Now…we have been talking about the seven deadly sins and how they can appear in our spiritual life.  We have talked about spiritual pride, and spiritual avarice so far…now we are going to take the very delicate topic of spiritual lust.  Keep in mind that we are going through the passive purgations…basically God is taking our weakness at the root…and so he is allowing a purgation to happen…painful but necessary.

When we think of lust…we often think of a person trying to gratify, or satisfy their sexual desires and drives but in a way that goes totally against God’s will and God’s purposes.  St. John of the Cross points out that it is possible for people growing in the spiritual life to experience a type of spiritual lust in the midst of prayer because “there is a close link between the spiritual and the sensory, joy and delight in the spiritual can trigger sensory activity.” (The Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin pg. 340).

St. John of the Cross says, “It happens frequently that in a person’s spiritual exercises themselves, without the person being able to avoid it, impure movements will be experienced in the sensory part of the soul, and even sometimes when the spirit is deep in prayer, or when receiving the sacraments of Penance or the Eucharist…while in deep prayer, it will conversely passively experience sensual rebellions, movements and acts in the senses, not without its own great displeasure…Once the sensory part is reformed through the purgation of the dark night, it no longer has these infirmities…” (St. John of the Cross. Dark Night bk 1. Chapter 4 no.1 pg 367).

Basically, St. John of the Cross is saying that it is possible for someone to experience a physical arousal in the midst of spiritual activity.  This is a very painful and difficult purgation which can have three causes:

  • The body and soul has a unity that is so complete that the spirit is delighted and overflows into the sensory part of the soul and thus the individual experiences sexual arousal.
  • The devil puts impure images in the person’s mind in order to arouse the passions in order to disturb the soul and draw them away from prayer…this is when we need to pray that Our Lady steps on the evil serpent! Remember the evil one wants you to stop praying…Don’t stop praying…this is a time for battle!
  • Fear of such temptations can often stir them up due to a repressed sexuality. Someone can actually fear union with another person…or even fear temptations to impurity.

When going through temptations, it is easy to blame ourselves and condemn ourselves and maybe even feel condemned by others just like the woman caught in adultery.  Throw yourself into the arms of the merciful Saviour who loves you more then you know.  When this temptation of spiritual lust happens, God is wanting to elevate the virtue of chastity in the person.  Once the person experiencing these temptations takes the necessary steps toward healing, there will be major transformation in their life!  Relationships and friendships will be more generous and self-giving rather than selfish and greedy.

St. John of the Cross also points out that when people are going through the purgation of spiritual lust, “attractions” to other people, may be a form of lust, not necessarily romantic, or sexual…but “possessive” in nature.  He says, “This lustful origin will be recognized if, on recalling that affection, there is remorse of conscience, not an increase in the remembrance and love of God…The affection is purely spiritual if the love of God grows, when it grows, or if the love of God is remembered as often as the affection is remembered…” St. John of the Cross. Dark night. bk 1. ch. 4 no. 7 pg 369.

It is good to have relationships and friendships.  Some of the greatest saints of all time had great friendships: Francis and Clare, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila…their friendships brought them closer to Christ.  They wanted each other to attain heaven!  And so they helped each other on the way to heaven…that is a good friendship when we can help each other get to heaven.  We must turn to the saints in simplicity and ask for their help.

Sexual temptations and trials such as Spiritual lust are not uncommon in the lives of the saints.  For example, St. Catherine of Sienna comes to mind, who experienced extreme lustful temptations.  She asked our Lord: “Lord where were you when my heart was so tormented?”  He responded: “I was in the center of your heart.”  All people who suffer from lustful temptations, remember that Jesus is in your heart fighting the battle.  He is right there!  Don’t lose heart!  Just keep turning to Jesus and everything will be okay.  I also think of the great St. Augustine who struggled a long time with temptations against purity and chastity.

What can be done if someone finds themselves struggling with spiritual lust:

  • Keep praying! DO NOT stop praying, especially to Mary, St. Joseph and the Saints.
  • Stay close to the Sacraments…bring this temptation to Confession as painful and embarrassing as it feels. It is good to have a frequent Confessor who knows the pain that you are undergoing…and who can provide some wise counsel and advice.
  • Having good and frequent Spiritual Direction can also help assist you through this. Keep in mind that you are worth the time to heal!
  • The worse thing to do is to be afraid. Keep your focus on Jesus in prayer and ignore the arousal.
  • Prayer and fasting go together! With the help of your spiritual director/confessor you can come up with a plan for fasting (what is possible for you keeping in mind your physical, emotional and mental health) from things you desire and crave.  Fasting is an excellent way to let go of the instant desire to satisfy our senses and embrace sacrifice.  Fasting will make you stronger in times of temptation.

There is so much that can be said about living a chaste life that I am really only scratching the surface.  I really hope to have posts in the future taking this topic further.  Expert, I am not (wow I sound like Yoda) but I would like to address topics in the future related to chastity that hopefully will help you in your journey!  Just let me know what you think in the comments box!

So overall…we turn to Mary, the chaste, pure Mother of God and St. Joseph who is the guardian of virgins and guardian of those who are chaste to pray for all people that we will keep our bodies and souls pure as temples of the Holy Spirit.

God bless you for reading such a long post!

 

Blessed are the Pure in Heart…and Mind…and Body

twinhug

“God who created man out of love, also calls him to love-the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.  For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1604).

Love.  Jesus is love….Jesus is mercy.  One of the most beautiful lines in the prophet Isaiah is: “Thus says the Lord, he who created you…he who formed you…Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isaiah 43: 1).  The love we are seeking is in God.  The fulfillment and unity we are seeking is in God.  We belong to God.

If we look around us, there is always signs of God’s love for us.  As I was sorting through our holy cards, I found the above picture in our holy cards bin.  I wondered what their story was.  I learned that the above photo taken is of Kyrie and Brielle Jackson who are twins and were born on October 17th, 1995, a full 12 weeks ahead of their due date.  Kyrie weighed about 2lbs 3 oz and was doing well, while her tiny sister Brielle had breathing and heart rate problems, little weight gain and her oxygen level was low.  In order to reduce the risk of infection, the babies were placed in separate incubators.  A nurse decided to try a new approach!  She put Kyrie in the same incubator as Brielle!  Kyrie put her left arm around her little sister which medical professionals call the “Rescue Hug” and within minutes Brielle’s condition improved drastically!  Her blood oxygen levels improved, her heart rate stabilized, and her temperature rose to normal!  What a miracle!  I read the full article on the Life Institute website:

https://thelifeinstitute.net/learning-centre/life/premature-birth/brielle-kyrie#

This true story reminds me that God is embracing us with His love.  When we allow the Lord to embrace us and love us, we are healed!

There is also the embrace that occurs in the Sacrament of Matrimony.  When man and woman come together in Marriage they “become on flesh” and the result of that loving embrace is a great gift… another human being with a soul, body and purpose.  The result of the love is another human being, known and loved by God from all eternity!  This is indeed a great gift, that man and woman when they cooperate with the grace of God in love are able to bring life into the world.

The life of chastity is a call to great intimacy and union.  You may ask, how?  When people hear the word “chastity” they think “no intimacy.”  This mindset is not true.  Chastity is intimacy to a very high degree, for it is an embrace that surpasses a physical relationship.  A life of chastity is a life of universal love.  It is a love like the love of Jesus which is warm, intense and universal.  It is a love that embraces all people.  A chaste person has such a big heart which needs to pour itself out in self-less love for God and for others.  Please note that chastity is not a call of a few people…it is the call of all people proper to whatever vocation we are called to.  Since we are temples of the Holy Spirit and God dwells within us, God desires us to have purity and innocence of life.  St. Paul tells us: “Know that you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?  But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy.  For the temple of God is holy, which you are.” (1 Cor 3:16, 17).  So we are temples of God…and God’s Spirit dwells within us.  We want our bodies and our souls to be beautiful for God to dwell in.

The world speaks the false lie that a life of chastity is a horrible life.  The world says, “How can you live your life without having sex?  That must be a horrible life!”  As a woman who has made the vow of chastity, I know that this is indeed a sacrifice.  What a beautiful gift it is to be married and have children!  What a beautiful gift for a woman to have a life inside of her!  In making this sacrifice, in choosing to live a life of chastity, it strengthens our love all the more.  Love is not a feeling…it is not a physical pleasure…Love is more than words.  Pope Benedict XVI says in His encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Love becomes concern and care for the other…it seeks the good of the beloved.” Deus Caritas Est 6.  What is the ultimate good that we want for the other?  Heaven.

Adam and Eve were so pure in the beginning.  Yet because of original sin, man and woman suffer temptations of all kinds.  Jesus said, “The things that come forth from the heart…defile a man.  From the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, and adulteries.” (Matthew 15, 18:19)  Jesus further says, “The light of the body is the eye.  If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness…”(Matthew 6:22-23).  What is Jesus challenging us too?  He is challenging us to be prudent and virtuous when it comes to the use of our senses so that we will be chaste in mind, heart, and body.

So basically…we are in a battle.  Our senses are all over the place.  Our passions are at times raging like a storm on the sea…but guess what…we are ALL in a battle!  It is very hard sometimes to keep the senses pure.  Due to fallen human nature, it is easy to fall into sin by looking at images, watching movies, or listening to music that leads soul far away from God!  What do people need to do in order to be pure?  A few things to keep in mind in order to live a chaste life no matter what vocation you are called too:

  • Pray the Rosary everyday!
  • Pray to St. Joseph, who is most chaste! He will protect you and shield you!
  • Pray to your Guardian Angel to defend you when the temptations are strong!
  • Be careful not to look at images that are impure. Ask yourself, “is this bringing me closer to God or further away?”
  • Find relationships that are God-centered, pure and modest.
  • Dress modestly! Cover up!  Remember you are a temple of the Holy Spirit!
  • Peacefully and patiently turn away from impure images in your mind. You cannot stop birds from flying over, but you can stop them from building a nest!  Thoughts are just thoughts.  If you fight them, they might get more intense and severe.  Let them pass, even say a prayer calmly: “Jesus have mercy, Mary help!”
  • Treat each other with respect and honor, for we are all images of God. Ladies, ask yourself, “How would the Blessed Virgin Mary treat this man?”  Or if you are a man ask yourself, “How would St. Joseph treat this woman?”  Keeping this in mind will help you make good decisions on how to act and what to say.

Now…we have been talking about the seven deadly sins and how they can appear in our spiritual life.  We have talked about spiritual pride, and spiritual avarice so far…now we are going to take the very delicate topic of spiritual lust…next week…

I Need…

gift cover

If you go back in the days of your childhood, I am sure you can think of a gift that you received that made you so happy and so full of life!  Maybe it was a doll, a toy train, a book that you really wanted to read.  Perhaps it was a person in your life.  Maybe it was that newborn baby that you and your husband have been praying to have for a long time.  Your husband, wife, children, family are gifts that you have received in your life and I know are very important to you.  Perhaps you have received the gift of Faith, friendship, laughter.  How do we show gratitude for all that we have received?

God gave everything when He gave His Son Jesus.  “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.  Jesus is the greatest gift that we can ever receive.  Jesus in the Eucharist is the greatest gift that we receive today!

You are a gift!  God created you out of love!  He chose you…from all eternity to be His entirely!  He wanted you to have life…He saw you in His plan…and He made you very good.  You are an important piece in this life.  God made you as you are for a reason…your life is a gift!  YOU are a gift!

Because of our wounded state, we forget “gift.”  We sense that there is a void in our heart…an empty space.  We feel the need to have many things, even at times things that are not ours to have, because things make us happy…but only for a time.  Too much of a good thing (money, food, pleasure, social media) is not always a good thing, because it hinders us from seeing everything as a gift and it hinders us from loving the God who has made this world. For example, ice cream is good…but if I want more and more and more ice cream all at once, I am going to get sick and need to go to the hospital!  Having too much of something hinders us from seeing and loving the Giver of every good gift, God Himself.    Sometimes we want things that are not ours to have, (covetousness) in order to satisfy our own selfish desires.  This we can call avarice (greed/covetousness).

Don’t get me wrong!  It is good to want things!  I sincerely believe when we have desires, God is just reminding us of our great desire for heaven!  The problem comes when we want things in a disordered way, when we want what we want for selfish reasons (example: so that we look good in the eyes of others).  The problem also comes with what we desire…sometimes the things we desire are not ours to have.  An attitude of greed says, “It’s all mine!,” when in reality whatever good we have received comes from God and belongs to God.  Also, the problem comes when we are not happy and thankful for what God has given to us.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that you would do anything to get it?  Did you get it?  Did it make you a better person?  Did you grow closer to the Lord in getting that thing?

What are you wanting right now?  Do you know, inside of yourself that getting what you want right now is good for you? 

Have I ever thanked God for what I have been given? 

The interesting thing is that we can oftentimes go through avarice when it comes to spiritual things.  St. John of the Cross points out that some people can never get enough of hearing spiritual talks, seeking advice, reading books and as a result are very unhappy if they do not find consolation in these things.  (The Fulfillment of all Desire: Ralph Martin 339).  Wanting to possess spiritual things, simply because they are attractive, beautiful and fashionable to the eyes, does not help in gaining poverty of spirit.  The question is, are they helping us grow in our relationship with God…or are they just pleasing to our senses?  For example, sometimes we get all caught up about possessing spiritual objects such as rosaries, and medals only because they are attractive and pleasing to the eyes. St. John of the Cross says it himself that people weigh themselves down with over decorated images, and rosaries….preferring one cross to another because of elaborateness.  In the case of spiritual talks, or seeking advice, sometimes individuals will find themselves emotionally lifted up…and they want that all the time…the more they go to, the more they will have this emotional happiness, and it is an escape from facing the Crosses that are necessary for our sanctification.  St. John of the Cross makes the point that true devotedness comes from the heart.  However, it is very important to understand that we should want things to be beautiful in order to bring glory to God.  We should want to attend conferences and spiritual talks that lift our minds to God.  That is good!  However avarice takes it to a whole different level because there are times when we use things in order to fill a void in our heart!  Perhaps, we are trying to fill the emptiness that is inside with external things, because it is an escape to what is really going on in the inside.  St. John discourages individuals from having “possessiveness.”  St. John of the Cross explains that possessiveness only brings about loss in the end.  There is a difference between possessiveness and freedom.  Possessiveness says, “Mine!”  Freedom says, “Thank you!”  The Scripture says, “Anything I do not possess before God, I have lost.” (Romans 4:2).  If we have things, but do not wish to give God glory, then we are lost.  Anyone or anything who is outside the presence of God is lost.

What is the cure of this avarice?  Simply, learning to be grateful for the gifts we have received and placing our eyes on Christ.  Be grateful for what has been given whether it is a retreat talk, a good book, a nice rosary.  Perhaps try sharing what you have received with a friend.  Look at how these spiritual things can help us grow in our relationship with God, to true love of God.  Place your eyes on Christ and everything will become rightly ordered!  I once heard a very good priest say, “how long do we spend asking God for things…do we spend the same amount of time thanking God for what He has given and granted to us?”

He Humbles Himself…So Should I…

Christ washing his disciples feet icon (2)

There is something special about teaching kindergarten children.  There is a spark in them of wonder and excitement at the beauty of life!  They always have something to say…and what they have to say is very important!  I remember hearing a talk by a friend of mine Deacon Bob McDonald on one of those Lighthouse Catholic Media Cd’s and he once asked a class of young children a curious question just to see what they would say.  He asked: “How does Jesus get inside the bread?”  One little girl put up her hand and said, “He loves His way in.”

Indeed, Jesus loves His way in.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…He humbled Himself, accepting even death, death on a Cross…” (Philippians 2:7-9)  Jesus’ obedience and humility brought our salvation.  Through His humility, we gain eternal life.  Adam disobeyed God, but Jesus in humility empties Himself…for you…and for me.  Jesus is so humble that He, the Son of God washed the feet of His disciples!  Imagine!  The Son of God going down on His knees and washing the stinky, dirty feet of His Apostles!  I love this image at the top of Jesus washing the feet…Peter looks as though He is saying, “Awkward!”  How does Jesus respond?  “You also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14).  Jesus teaches us that humility means being a servant to all.

Jesus gives Himself entirely…and He still gives Himself entirely through the Holy Eucharist!  Jesus, the Son of God, King of the Universe, became one of us and now humbles Himself again so that we can actually receive His Body and Blood everyday in the Holy Eucharist!  In the Eucharist we receive grace, and a heart that is more ready to give love and receive love.  Through receiving the Holy Eucharist with the right dispositions, our hearts are transformed through the Holy Eucharist and we receive grace which is God’s very own life poured into us!  Why is this important?  Simply this…we are made for union with God…and as we grow in the life of grace, we grow closer in union with God.  Grace helps us to live in light, truth, beauty and goodness.  Grace helps us to have the strength to heal, to forgive others and ourselves, and to see the goodness in everyone…including ourselves.

Life is hard.  Humility is hard!  We want to grow in union with God.  We want to live in the light.  We want to be who God is calling us to be…but we struggle…oftentimes struggle can come because of our pride.

Often when we think of pride, we think of someone who is thinking “high and mighty of themselves.”  We might think of someone who only thinks of themselves.  St. John of the Cross points out that even people who have a desire for perfection can have a deep pride that needs to be rooted out.  He claims that sometimes we minimize our faults, and become discouraged because we are not perfect yet.  They become impatient and angry saying: “Oh no!  I am not a saint yet…poor me.”  Sometimes people who are on this path of holiness are very anxious because they want God to immediately remove certain imperfections they have because they just want to be at peace.

As mentioned in earlier posts, there is a time in the dark night of the senses where God can be purging the soul of certain vices in a passive way.  Remember that the passive night of the senses means that God needs to act directly in the soul in order to “burn away” the filthy vice.  Spiritual pride is when there is an excessive obsession with self in accomplishing spiritual tasks such as prayer, penances and good works.

What are some signs of spiritual pride?  St. John of the Cross makes the point that someone with spiritual pride prefers to instruct rather than be instructed.  He has a tendency to want to be heard, especially when it comes to speaking about certain spiritual graces that were received, and they are happy when others notice their spirituality.  They are upset and angry with people who do not approve of their spirit and tend to judge people in a harsh way.  They are easily discouraged when they fall, and approach Confession only to excuse themselves.

Now after hearing this…I know what it rolling in your head because it is also running in my head: “Oh No!  I am proud!”  Calm down.  Recognizing it is already a grace from God!  In order to combat spiritual pride, we need to know the characteristics of a humble person.

A humble person is someone who thinks about themselves less.  They would prefer to learn from others rather than be the teacher themselves.  They want to do their good works in hiding so that the praise will go to God and not themselves.  They are eager to manifest their faults…especially in Confession.  They think that others are better than they are, while not losing sight of the fact that they are a child of God who has value, dignity and worth.

So to be a humble person is hard.  Humility means becoming a person of service, but it also means being a person of silence, both on the interior and exterior.  I sincerely believe as we learn how to pray in sincerity and truth, we will think of ourselves less because our eyes are on Jesus.  We read a really good book for table reading during meal times called the Power of Silence by Cardinal Robert Sarah.  It is a fantastic read!  I really hope that I can have a few blog posts in the future to talk about silence and how essential and crucial that is in growth of the spiritual life…but I am going to use Cardinal Sarah’s Book on the Power of Silence.  Another really good book that we are reading now is called: The Day is Now Far Spent by Cardinal Robert Sarah.  That is another fantastic read…you will find it very fruitful!

On that note…I will be quiet now.

Lean On Me…When You’re Not Strong

Healing blind man

I like music!  There are some songs that just stick in your head.  Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi, Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams, Everything is Awesome by those guys in the Lego Movie, The Song That Never Ends by those kids in the commercial riding in the back of their parents car…are just a few examples of songs that come into your head when your washing dishes, doing the laundry.  It is fun in the convent!  Sometimes you sing one line of a song and all the other Sisters start singing with you!  That’s pretty awesome!  I know that you have heard the famous song “Lean on me.”  It is one of those songs that sticks in your head forever…sorry about that!  I like the lyrics of that song: “lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend…I’ll help you carry on…”

To have a good friend is a special gift…someone that you can share your likes, dislikes, what you hope for, what you are upset about.  I have always found it a comfort to say to people, “can you please pray for this situation or this person.”  When the Cross is heavy, somehow God gives tremendous strength to carry it, provided we cooperate with His grace.  Sometimes that strength comes from sending a friend.  By having that friend, God is revealing to us more of His mercy…that He is with us through that person.  There is something special about sharing a burden with someone…it helps us grow in trust.  There is something special when that friend takes your hand, or puts their hand on your shoulder making sure that you know they are there for you through it all.  Treasure the people that come into your life!  Thank God for them everyday.  How do you know when you have found a good friend?  When they challenge you to be a better you!  When they challenge you to grow in holiness both by their words and actions.  When they look at you and you know that no matter what you have done or said in your life, they love you, because you are you.  Then you know you have found a treasure!

God permitted our Lord to be helped by Simon when Jesus carried His Cross.  We all need Simon in our life…and we need to be Simon to others as well.  By now in our journey of the spiritual life, I think we are beginning to see that we desperately need to rely on the grace of God.    I heard one priest say over and over in his homilies: “We need God’s help!”  That is a good ejaculatory prayer: “Lord help me” or “Jesus have Mercy, Mary help!”  Don’t be afraid to make “help” prayers to the Lord.  Remember in the Gospel when the blind man cried out to Jesus.  He cried, “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38).  What did Jesus do?  He asked the blind man: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)  After asking Jesus that he may see, Jesus responds, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 18:42).  With prayer like that, God always sends help!  Going into the dark night does not mean that we are losing our sight, rather it means that Jesus is helping us to come out of the darkness and to be able to see.  When we are experiencing a dark night, it is actually the Lord saying to us, “Receive your sight!”  Let’s not let the dark night make us afraid, but let us see it as a healing from darkness to light.

In order for us to heal and to be who God is calling us to be, God needs to correct things in a passive manner.  This is a point in our spiritual journey when we really need to lean on the Lord when we are not strong.  In the active night, we strive to do our part in being purified, but “despite all our efforts, which are only possible through God’s grace, we will fall short unless the Lord Himself acts deeply within us” (The Fulfillment of all Desire Ralph Martin pg. 337).  Passive purgations go to the depths of our body, soul and spirit.  Our spirit is perfected, and so is our senses.  We desperately need to lean on the Lord!

There are two phases of the passive dark night.  The night of the senses where God heals the disorders which are still present in the senses which we may not even be conscious of.  The night of the spirit is when God reaches into our intellect, memory and will and purifies them in order to come closer to that full and complete union with God.  We will begin with the passive dark night of the senses.

Basically the dark night of the senses is a time where there is aridity (dryness) that puts the soul in a painful state with severe tests of perseverance on the journey towards sanctity.  Many people stop advancing at this point unfortunately because souls are afraid.  In one’s prayer life during this period, God is weaning the soul away from milk, and beginning to give solid food. This means that God is instructing the soul to pray in a new way.  The dark night of the senses is caused by infused contemplation where God is communicating his grace directly to it by passing the sense faculties.

St. John of the Cross points out in his writings that a soul who has entered the dark night is usually someone who is detached or detaching from venial sin, has built up a life of virtue, and is also practiced in meditation and affective prayer.  This is a person who is striving to control their imagination, who practices penances and is striving to overcome self-love.

The soul enters this dark night because there is a need to purge unconscious attachments, even the delights that come from one’s spiritual life.  St. John of the Cross also explains that God is granting infused prayer and the soul is not accustomed to it, so the person experiences a dark night.  In other words, if a soul is attached to consolations in prayer, underneath this practice of prayer is a hidden self-love and this needs to be purged!  God is bringing light into darkness, and the soul realizes that it cannot rely on the things of this world.  The soul knows that only God is their salvation through this time of darkness.  God is communicating to the soul but in a different way…he is giving great spiritual grace that the soul is not accustomed to.  This is the point where the capital sins resurge!  We will begin going through these in the next few posts.

So this is a point where we really need to lean on the Lord because we are not strong…the song is still in my head!!

 

Step By Step…

jesus taking steps

 

First Steps of Our Saviour

Watching a baby learn how to walk is one of the most beautiful and funny things I have ever seen!  The parents are standing behind the child holding their hands guiding them one step at a time.  The child’s legs feel like jelly…this is something new…they seem to be getting the hang of it!!  Then…the moment happens!  Mom and Dad let go of the child’s hands.  The child lets out a high-pitched cry of distress and if they could talk it would be something like this: “Mom and Dad!  Come back!”  Mom and Dad move to the other side of the room… the child sees this and again if they could talk they would say: “I’m here!  I’m coming!”  The child musters all the strength that they have…they rise… and step by step they go, with legs that move like jelly and big eyes…they continue forward.  Mission baby: fall into the arms of Mom and Dad.  Mom and Dad are saying with the most beautiful high-pitched tone of voice: “Come on honey!  Come to Mom and Dad!”   Mom and Dad catch their little one with great joy! They finally made their first steps!!

I sometimes wonder what it was like for the Mother of God and St. Joseph to see the Son of God take His first steps on earth.  I am sure that it was a moment fixated in the mind of Mary in which she pondered often.  The feet that he took His first steps with would be the feet kissed by the sinful woman in whom our Lord would forgive.  Those were the same feet which would travel miles and miles in order to do the will of the Father.  Those were the same feet which would travel up to Calvary, and the same feet which would be nailed to the Cross for our salvation.  And those are the same feet that we all fall down before in our brokenness and weakness and in a spirit of contrition.

Taking those first few steps is one example of “letting go.”  It was a moment in which we needed to let go of the hands of our parents.  However, there are moments in life where letting go is very hard to do.  When someone we love dies, or is separated from us for long periods of time, we experience grief and struggle.  When someone does something to us that hurts us, it makes it very difficult to move on because of the pain, we have a hard time forgiving and letting go.  Jesus tells us “Come to me…and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Letting go takes time, patience, faith and great love.  We cannot do it on our own, especially if it is a matter of love. Letting go does not mean that we stop loving, but it means that we love in a deeper way.  When we are attached to creatures, it means that our love is disordered in some way.  Attachment is not love.  Attachments do not bring us closer to God.  Love brings us closer to God.  The dark night is meant to help us break the attachments so that we can really love.  This means maintaining healthy boundaries with those we love and care for, and have everything in our lives properly ordered. God must help us and by His grace we are able to do it!  Letting go involves making sacrifices and knowing that God is in control.  Letting go means giving God control, surrendering to Him and His plan, and then cooperating with His grace.  It calls to mind the story of Abraham when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac…this was a test of his faith.  God gave this painful task to Abraham; however (spoiler alert!) God was only testing Abraham and so Abraham did not kill His son!  Abraham’s story can teach us so many lessons, but one big lesson that it teaches me is learning to let go of my own will in order to follow God’s will.  Other saints had to experience this process of “letting go.”  St. Maximilian Kolbe comes to mind because he was willing to sacrifice his own life so another man would live.  St. Augustine had to let go of his life of impurity in order say “yes” to God.  St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi chose to let go of their lives of luxury in order to follow the Gospel.  Sacrifice is hard.  Letting go is hard, but if we see with the eyes of faith…once we let go we know through faith that we receive everything in return…because God is everything.

How do the things I love in this world bring me closer to God?

Are the relationships that I am in currently helping me to grow closer to God or further away?

What or who am I attached to?  How can I maintain healthy boundaries?

Is there a little sacrifice that I can make today out of love for God?

Going through the dark night means being ready to let go!  I already spoke about attachments in a previous blog post, however, more can be said in this regard.  God is outside of creation…yet He became one of us in order to love us and save us.  He transcends everything.  All wisdom and power is contained in God. God shares His goodness through creation and He calls man to be holy.  We realize through Jesus that holiness is a supernatural gift.  Man cannot be holy on his own; God is holy, therefore it is by God’s grace and our cooperation with Him that we become holy too.

St. John of the Cross tells us that God is All and creatures are nothing (nada).  Creatures are something in so far as they are made by God, but in the light of eternity, how do creatures compare to almighty God?  The creatures of the world are things that we need to detach ourselves from.  In order to ascend to God, we must be detached.  This does not mean that we cannot enjoy God’s creation.  God made creatures out of His great love, and He wants us to enjoy them and give thanks to God for them.  However, creatures are finite which means they are not everlasting.  What are finite things compared to the infinite God?

So overall, two contrary points cannot exist in one person.  St. John of the Cross points out that to live in the darkness means to be attached to creatures.  To live in the light means to be attached to God.  If you have a love for higher things, you enhance your dignity and you become more of who God is calling you to be.  If we are attached to creatures, we become slaves of the world, carrying within ourselves a heart of a slave rather than a heart of a son or a daughter of God.  When we are in union with the Lord we lose nothing, but gain everything!

Have you ever been hungry?  Like really hungry?  They say never go shopping when you are hungry!!  I know from experience that this is very wise advice.  Our appetites can sometimes be intense!  What we crave can take hold of us!  In the dark night, God wants to purify our desires for things.  He wants to help us order our passions and appetites so that they will give glory to God and not to ourselves.  St. John of the Cross makes a good point: behind every appetite there is a desire for God.  We might have appetites for friendship, union with a spouse, food, sports, etc…  If we take our appetite for friendship as an example, behind that desire for friendship is a desire for union with God.  My professor of the course that I took on Christian Asceticism of St. John of the Cross told us that “creatures are meant to wet our appetite for God.”  He told us that creatures are meant to awaken our desire to see that which is to be revealed.  Appetites are not bad things…but too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.  Our appetites need to be mortified and disciplined, since their purpose is only to draw us closer to God.  If our appetites are ordered and detached, the proper object that we attain is union with God who is our infinite good.  However, if our appetites are not properly ordered, we attain a vicious cycle of disobedience and discontentment and so the object we attain is self.  Happiness is a state of being where we are in communion with God.  Our appetites need to be ordered upward to God through Faith, and so we must put them under the rule of Faith and thus we will be happy.

So you see now the necessity of the dark night.  Creatures cannot totally satisfy us.  Our selfishness cannot satisfy us.  Power, success, money, and pleasure cannot fully satisfy us.  Thus God needs to purify and strengthen us to see that all our desires point to the fact that we are thirsting for God, and in order to be in union with God which is our ultimate purpose, that means we need to learn how to let go of all our attachments.

The next post we will begin to discuss the dark night of the senses, specifically the passive purgations and what that means.  We have already spoken a lot about the active night, but we are now going to discuss the passive night.  We will go through each of the seven deadly sins in detail such as spiritual pride, spiritual avarice, spiritual lust, spiritual anger, spiritual gluttony, spiritual envy, spiritual sloth.  Then we will discuss signs of discerning the dark night which will hopefully be very beneficial to all of you as it has been for me!

 

 

Climbing the Ladder of Sanctity…Entering the Dark Night!

Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

So here we have come at last!  After spending time looking at the purgative and illuminative ways, we have come to see how the Lord is forming us to grow more in union with Himself.  We spoke in our last blog about the development and growth in our prayer life…now we are entering into the topic of the Dark Night.

Now when I say Dark Night…I do not want you to think of Halloween, or monsters in the closet, or even Batman!  I want you to look at the Dark Night as a necessary step on the ladder of sanctity.  It is not something to be afraid of, or even to despair about, rather the Dark Night is something to really be grateful for!  In a sense, Jesus also underwent His dark night when He went through His Passion and Death.  We read in the Scriptures how our Lord suffered: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)   Jesus knows suffering!  He knows the Dark Night…but Jesus also gives the example of how one is to go through it: with surrender and trust in the help of God.

I was taking a course a few summers ago on Christian Asceticism in St. John of the Cross.  Most of the information that I will be giving you is from my notes of the course, and it has helped me so much, so I want to share it with all of you!  The professor there gave probably one of the most heart-moving definitions of the Dark Night that I have ever heard.  He said, “The Dark Night is an inflow of God into the soul who teaches the soul secretly and instructs it in perfection of love…it is a moving towards greater and greater love.”

So we begin in the soul.  The soul has certain faculties and powers…the ultimate object being God Himself.  When we deny ourselves and offer ourselves, our prayers, works, actions etc…it is possible at times, to experience a sort of darkness.  We can think of St. Mother Teresa who completely poured herself out for other especially the poor, but she herself was living in what she describes as a type of darkness.  Yet, she continued to pour herself out, no matter how she felt.

The path of faith is the road which the soul travels to God.  Faith is a dark night!  If we take a certain dogmatic teaching such as the Holy Trinity (one God, three persons) it is not possible to fully understand that teaching…we can say that our intellect is in darkness.  The Goal of the Dark Night is to put us in union with God who is, as St. John of the Cross puts it, an “unapproachable light.”  Love is what leads us…it draws us like a magnet to the object, and you become what you love.  As our love grows, our intellect becomes swept by our intimate union with God.  Our intellect may be in darkness, but our love for God confirms that the dogmatic truths professed by the Church are true…because God is truth.

There are different levels of purgation which we will take some time to go through in detail in the upcoming weeks.  But today, we will go through the ways in which the purgation comes which we call modalities and the levels of purgation briefly.  The first modality is an active purgation: what the soul can do by working on itself with God’s grace.  For example, someone can work on having more self-control…God supports the person in this resolution, but the person is very much involved in cutting away certain attachments that they have had before whether it be people, addictions and obsessions. In this type of purgation, the soul can also strive to root out certain vices that have been holding them imprisoned, for example making acts of courage when they feel fear…trying to be more patient when they are tempted to impatience and the list can go on.

There is also the passive purgation which involves God’s work…what God does to the soul through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This can be done through mystical activity where God is working directly on the soul.  God is cleaning the house, purging it out, and taking the roots of our faults and purging it out of us!  I don’t know if you have ever done spring cleaning…I have… and sometimes you find things hiding around the house that you did not even know were there!  That is what is happening in a sense with the passive purgation…God is removing those hidden attachments that are in us.  This can be painful…but necessary for our union with God.

My professor also said, again using the Dark Night by St. John of the Cross, that there are certain phases or levels that the soul can go through when experiencing the dark night.  There is the sense level which involves a purification of the senses through the internal senses and the appetites.  Then you have the phase of the spirit where intellect, memory and will are all purified.

There are four divisions of the purgation:

Active night of the senses: We are at work with God, cooperating with Him.  This is the stage where we are attentive to His Word, and where we are captivated by His Beauty and Majesty.  We are learning to mortify our passions, emotions, memory in order to be more conformed to God.  We are trying to root out vices and start practicing virtues such as self-control and patience as described earlier…

Active night of the spirit:  We are at work with God through mortification of our intellect and will.  We strive to mortify ourselves, with the help of God through curbing our curiosity and by learning to submit to the will of another person.  Hard to do!!

Passive night of the senses: God is very much at work…and now He must complete the good work that has begun!  Wishing you to move forward and in a more intense love for Him, you do not feel with your senses the presence of God.  This is to ensure that your relationship with God is centered on God and not on yourself.  You may begin to lose the capability to meditate, aridity in prayer becomes a norm.  You may lose the wish to work in service to others, but you do it anyway for the sake of loving God.

Passive night of the spirit: Again, God is very much involved!  As a lover who is in pursuit of the one He loves, God is like a mad lover looking for union with us.  He is so close to us at this stage!  This is the stage where God is strengthening us, and so he permits us to have doubts against faith, feeling abandoned by Him.  At this stage most especially, receiving the Sacraments frequently is so important as well as finding a good and wise spiritual director.  This is the time to strengthen our love for God!  God is permitting it to strengthen our love for Him, and to allow us to enter the transforming union with Him!

Okay talk about brain overload!!  I hope this is making sense.  We are next going to go through why the dark night is necessary, what are some signs that you could be going through the dark night, and then we will discuss some other key important factors in the dark night such as the purgation of the seven deadly sins!

 

Surge of the Heart…

airplane picture

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of sky-diving.  If you have God bless you!!  If not…  neither have I…but I think that would be a really extraordinary experience…to have the experience of flying!  There is something really thrilling about seeing the world from above!  I remember going on an airplane for the first time not too long ago.  I am a small town country girl and so growing up, I hardly ever saw an airplane up close before!  I was heading to university…and I was so thrilled that I would be travelling on a plane!!  I wanted the window seat for sure!  It was amazing to see the world from above!

I suppose growing in our prayer life feels something like sky-diving, or even flying in an airplane.  We are beginning to believe that with God all things are possible, and we are beginning to see that no matter what we have done, or what we have failed to do, we are infinitely loved by God!  God begins to take over our prayer life as we enter more deeply into contemplation with Him.  We just need to throw ourselves into the arms of God, like a little child.  I am sure our ancestors years and years ago would not have even dreamed that one day, there would be airplanes that could take people all over the world.  For sure our ancestors would have never thought that we would have a chance to sky-dive!  We are beginning to see the world with new eyes…in a sense we are being transformed into Christ.  In our prayer, we are able to trust that with God all things are possible!

Do I have trust that with God all things are possible?  Is there someone in my life who really needs my prayers?  Do I really believe that God is going to help them?

Are there areas of my life that I need conversion and healing?  Do I believe that God is going to supply me with everything I need to help me in the healing process?

Do I trust in the power of the Sacraments?  How much do I trust the Sacraments to bring about healing in my life?

St Teresa of Avila is awesome!  If you ever get a chance to read what she has written, you will not be disappointed!  In her discussions on the various mansions in the spiritual life, she speaks about how in the beginning of our spiritual lives, it feels as though we are doing most of the work in our prayer life; however, as we grow, we will begin to see that it is God working in us.  St. Teresa of Avila also speaks about the quieting of the soul in prayer, where we can be totally absorbed in God.     

Prayer is very special.  St. Therese says, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”  There is so much to be said about prayer, and eventually we will have more blog posts on prayer.  But here we will indicate some very simple thoughts on what growth in prayer looks like.

In order for us to obtain the true conversion of heart that we are all seeking after, we must pray!  It is important to allow ourselves to become recollected.  In his book, The Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin explains that there are two types of recollection: acquired and contemplative.  Acquired recollection involves our own effort to still our souls through Scripture, music, spiritual reading etc…  Contemplation on the other hand, he describes as the “touch of God” in the soul.  It is like a spiritual communication that manifests truth as St. Bernard says, “When the Word therefore tells the soul, “You are beautiful,” and calls it friend, he infuses into it the power to love, and to know it is loved in return…the soul’s response is wonder and thanksgiving.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines contemplation as follows: “A form of wordless prayer in which the mind and heart focus on God’s greatness and goodness in affective, loving adoration; to look on Jesus and the mysteries of his life with faith and love” (CCC 2626, 2715).

As we dive more into the spiritual life, we begin to desire periods of silence and recollection more and more.  I don’t know if you have ever seen the movie “Up” where you see glimpses of the life of Mr. Fredrickson and his wife.  You see that they do not even have to say anything to each other…they are just happy to be together.  I believe that the prayer of quiet is very similar to this.  Teresa of Avila explains that this is a “foretaste of what will be given to those He brings to His Kingdom.”  The soul is just happy and content to be in the presence of God.

The prayer of union is being “captured” by the Lord in deep absorption and prayer.  Ralph Martin says in his book that the memory, imagination and intellect are totally absorbed in God.  It can be so intense that the person is not even aware of his surroundings!  They are just aware of the Lord’s presence and are completely absorbed in Him!  St. Teresa of Avila says, “God so places Himself in the interior of the soul that when it returns to itself it can in no way doubt that it was in God and God was in it.”

So what is the point of growing in these different stages?  The point is simply, to help us be more united to the Lord which is what we are called to do, and to do His will.  Prayer is not about having certain experiences, rather it is about growing in a relationship with Christ and learning to soar with Him.  St Bernard as well as St. Teresa of Avila and even St. Therese of Lisieux all speak about the importance of opening ourselves to the mercy of God in our prayer life.  Confidence in the infinite mercy of God will help us soar and fly in the spiritual life!

However, we must keep in mind that in order to grow in love for someone sometimes entails suffering.  Suffering can be a real test of love…and a growth in love.  God will permit us, at some point in our lives to pass through a dark night.  This will look different for all of us, but the dark night is necessary and essential for our growth in holiness…this is something we will speak about in our next post!

 

 

My Love…His Love

magdalen2

Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross

I once learned in a Human Embryology class all about the heart!  It is amazing that the job of the heart is to pump blood and distribute oxygen throughout the whole body!  To me that is so amazing, that one organ the size of a fist has such an important job!  When we think of hearts we think of love.  How many songs talk about broken hearts, mending hearts, or capturing hearts.  Even the Scriptures speak about the heart in the context of love: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36: 26)  To St. Margaret Mary, Jesus revealed His heart and said, “Behold this heart which has so loved men and is so unloved in return.”

So at this stage of our spiritual journey we are hoping and praying that God will expand our hearts to a greater love.  Of course Jesus challenges us in the Gospels: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13-15).  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 43).  Jesus produces for us a challenge: to have a love that goes beyond the natural human love.  Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical entitled: “Deus Caritas Est” says “Love looks to the eternal…[it] is an ongoing exodus out of the closed, inward-looking self toward its liberation through self-giving, and thus toward authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.” (Deus Caritas Est par.6)

Pope Benedict XVI is basically saying that if love is to be real and true, it must look beyond the natural, then we will really come to know ourselves and are able to give ourselves.  We have a tendency to only love others if we get something from them, or if they love us in return.  However, Jesus challenges us to a new type of love…a love that can only deepen with the help of grace.

In his book entitled: “The Fulfillment of all Desire,” Ralph Martin indicates the three stages of growth in love spoken about by St. Catharine of Sienna.  Using imagery of Jesus on the Cross, St. Catherine is able to draw out some observations.  The first stage, which is the purgative stage, we can picture ourselves hanging onto the feet of Jesus.  This is where our love may still be quite self-centered.  Our love may be based on a fear of not going to hell, and of trying to avoid the pain in this life of committing sin (Martin, 253).  This is a good place to start…of course we want to be brought to eternal life!  Yet there is still room for growth!

The second stage that St. Catharine speaks about can be identified with the wound of Christ.  This is where we grasp more of Christ’s love and are more open to hearing the truths about Christ.  At this stage, we are like servants for we love Christ, and are willing to serve Him, but we expect something in return.  St. Bernard says, “Fear is the lot of a slave, unless he is freed by love” (Martin, 254).  We are trying to reach the third stage of union, symbolized by a “kiss of the mouth” as St. Bernard puts it.  This is the stage where abiding union with Christ occurs just like when two spouses kiss as an expression of their union.  Love has grown, been purified and no longer looks at what we are receiving in the relationship, but on what we can give, by way of love.

Do you ever become distressed when it seems as though those you really love are not returning love to you?  Do you love them anyways?  Do you pray for them?

Does it distress you never to hear the words I love you?  Do you realize how much God loves you?

Do you pray to have a greater love for others, even if they do not return love to you?

Indeed, we must not let ourselves be overwhelmed if someone does not express love in the way that we wish them too.  Sometimes people really do love…deeply…but they do not know how to express it.  Many times they want to say “I love you” and they want to show it, but they are not sure how.  This is a wonderful thing to bring to prayer: “Lord, I am glad that you have brought this person in my life.  Thank you!  They are a wonderful gift to me!  Even though I may never hear the words, I am so happy that they are in my life.  May they learn to love you Lord, that is what matters the most to me.  Help them to grow in love for you Lord…that is what matters the most to me!”  Making a prayer like this is bringing your relationship with this person to a different level then just the natural. You are beginning to want the good for the other person, without needing anything in return.  This is a special love!

I am learning more as time goes on that love knows how to suffer and maintain peace in the Cross.  The more attuned we are to the gaze of the face of Christ, the more aware we are that we are loved beyond imagining.  Then the Fruits of the Spirit are more active in us: we have more joy which proceeds from love, peace where we rest in our Beloved, patient endurance especially at the end of our lives, generosity where we give more without measuring, kindness which allows us to image Christ and His Blessed Mother, faith where our love grows until the end, self-control and chastity where we can love appropriately with our bodies seeing ourselves as true Temples of the Holy Spirit.

Overall, to learn how to love takes conversion on our part.  We need to pray that God will break our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.  True Love became man…He gave everything for us.  I once heard a wise priest say, “We mean everything to God, even the Blood of His own Son.”

When I made final vows, not too long ago, I chose to put on the back of my Final Vows card the passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and 13.  It is to remind me of what love is, and the type of love that I desire to have as a Bride of Christ.  I will leave it with you now:

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…So faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

 

Messy…But Priceless

glowing-sunset-over-water

You are irreplaceable!  No one can take your place.  God made us unique…there is no one exactly like you.  God loves us…even when we get into messes… God loves us!  I really love going through old photo albums and I remember seeing so many pictures of babies with chocolate cake all over their faces…painting all over the kitchen floor and walls…playing in the sandbox!  Messy…but priceless!

When we were kids, we got into many messes!  At the time, we needed help cleaning ourselves up!  God, like a loving Father wants to help us clean our spiritual messes (sins, imperfections, temptations etc…).  He gives us everything we need, especially the love of His own Son!

So, we have already talked about the purgative way which is basically the stage of cleaning house and looking at those areas of our lives that need to change.  St. John of the Cross speaks about the next stage of the spiritual journey called the illuminative way.  We will continue looking at this spiritual journey by sharing some thoughts of St. John of the Cross, a little more from Ralph Martin’s book The Fulfillment of All Desire, and some reflections of the saints to help us out!

So the illuminative way…just saying “illuminative” makes me think of light.  We have come to this awareness of ourselves and we are working with the help of grace on resisting temptations, enduring trials, and centering our life on prayer.  This means we are developing a greater self-knowledge.  This means that there are certain parts of us that need healing and purification that perhaps we have not seen before.  Picture this: when you walk into a dark room, you might conclude that the room looks very clean.  However, when you open the curtains you are now able to see the dust and cobwebs in the room.  It is only when light enters the room are you able to see the dirt and dust.  The illuminative way simply means that God’s light shines through, brighter then it ever has, and we are able to see ourselves and others more as God sees.

I once took a course on John of the Cross and there are a few key aspects that the professor drew when considering the illuminative stage.  He said that this is a stage where prayer and contemplation help us to rest in God’s love and truth.  This is also a stage where virtues become stronger and where God strengthens these virtues through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  He also indicated that this is the stage where there is a deepening of love of neighbour.  This is the stage where we can see Christ in others more beautifully.  There is also a greater moral stability in individuals who are in the illuminative way.  Since souls are striving to gain more self-control over their passions, they are more attune to obeying the laws of God.  This means that their souls are strengthened by the power of the Cross.  They are able to see that in carrying the Cross there are tremendous graces, and through it all they are able to surrender themselves completely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  In this stage, the professor said that there is a greater detachment from all that is not sin.  This means becoming detached from creatures and transformed so that there is a greater desire for union with God.

Having more self-knowledge also helps us to have a greater stability and a greater freedom.  St. John of the Cross says that at this stage, someone is able to occupy themselves with thoughts of God and their joy is more interior and more abundant then before.  Even though the purification of the senses is not yet complete, St. John of the Cross says there will be temptations against the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.  He warns that there will be times where God will permit natural causes to afflict the soul such as the persecutions of men and the ingratitude of friends.  What is called for in this state is what St. John of the Cross calls “patient suffering.”  Don’t let these things worry you!  These trials are really meant to help us grow.  If we did not have trials and struggles, would we grow in our love for God?  If the road was not difficult sometimes, would we see our need for God?  God permits these things to help us become more whole, and even though they are hard at the time, the end result is worth it!  We become transformed into Christ who was also persecuted, betrayed, abandoned, yet HE LOVES!!!

We know that God is love and mercy.  St. Bernard explains what true self-knowledge should look like:

“As for me, as long as I look at myself, my eye is filled with bitterness (Job 17:2).  But if I look up and fix my eyes on the aid of the divine mercy, this happy vision of God soon tempers the bitter vision of myself.”

In saying this, Bernard is expressing that the more we acknowledge the mercy of God, the more we look at ourselves with more mercy.  His mercy takes away some of the heartache that we have for ourselves of our own misery and messiness.  It is easy to be really down on ourselves, but when we consider the mercy of God we have hope that even in our sinful, messy state, God loves us unconditionally.

As we make our way throughout the illuminative way we discover that in this stage, there is growth in self-knowledge and there is a deeper awareness of the mercy and love God.  We know that God loves us in our messiness.  We are priceless…messy but priceless!

I mentioned earlier about sense purifications.  These we will speak about in the weeks to come….