I believe in miracles…I am sure you do to! It is amazing how we can be so blind to all the miracles that happen around us! I was talking to a Sister recently from another community about baking. She told me that she was making cheese bread (you know bread with cheese in it!) and she said that she did not really measure the ingredients…but it came out like a 5 star cheese bread! She was amazed! Then she said a statement that really caught my attention: “It was miraculous perfection!” I then pondered on this and thought to myself how becoming a saint is really a miracle of grace… we cannot do it by ourselves. God gives us all the ingredients, everything we need to become saints: redemptive love of Jesus, the love of Mary, our guardian angels, the Church, the sacraments, prayer, good works, challenges that help us to grow. We might wish sometimes that being a saint was as easy as snapping our fingers, however, if it were that easy, would we really know how to love?
We have been talking about the need of purification and how God allows the purifying fire for our sanctification. Today, we are going to focus on one particular aspect of the purifying fire… the need to break free of attachments. Jesus often speaks about detachment in the Gospels: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). St. Paul talks about this when he says “put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness…” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Jesus and St. Paul are not saying that things in the world are bad…but they are saying that our love must be properly ordered…God must be first! Denying ourselves means the cross, but we should not fear becoming disciples of the Lord. If we detach ourselves from the world, we do not lose anything…but we gain everything…union with God and we become saints…yes we will become saints faster!!!!!
So, let us first understand what an attachment is not. St. John of the Cross spoke a lot about this in his various writings which we will summarize here. An attachment is not merely a pleasure we find in something, for pleasure is meant to draw us to what is good. Our pleasures can incite gratitude to God and help us have a deeper joy in the Lord. Attachments are not about possessing or using things we like, for we need things in this life in order to live. Nor is an attachment an attraction to something because our attraction to beautiful things or people remind us of the beauty of God. The holiness of the saints made them so attractive to people, that those who saw them wanted to love God just like that saint did. So, what is an attachment?
An attachment is an inordinate (obsessive) desire where we become so fixated on something or someone to the point that our souls are constantly attentive to that particular thing or person. So, when does desire become inordinate, an attachment? When it becomes excessive and we begin to make that particular thing or person our everything. I once heard a priest explain it in this way, “Remember that man is destined to a union of likeness with God, but that can only happen when what is unlike God or not conformed to Him is cast out!” Attachments can deprive us of the Spirit of God. Any attachment we have impedes the Holy Spirit from directing the soul.
So, what is the prescription to being healed of attachments for the sake of Divine Union? First, we need to cultivate a desire to imitate Christ by studying the Scriptures and cultivating a great love for Him in the Liturgy. It is a profound fact that we imitate those we love. When we seek to imitate Jesus, we will not allow our hearts to become attached to anything or anyone else. Secondly, in mental prayer, we can contemplate the life of Christ, especially His life of self-denial and voluntary mortification. In seeing how much Christ has loved you and me by contemplating his sacrifices for us, it grows in us as reciprocal love that also chooses to suffer rather than to have pleasure, as a means of imitating His love for each of us. St. John of the Cross points out, if we wish to be more like Our Lord, we should be more inclined not to what is easiest, but to the most difficult…in this way we learn to deny ourselves and cultivate a love for the crucified Christ. St John of the Cross says,
“As regards the sense, if anything pleasant comes your way which is not purely for the glory of God, put it away immediately for the love of Jesus Christ. For instance, if you feel the urge to see or hear something which will not of itself lead you closer to God do less of it. As for appetites, prefer always what is worse, more unpleasant, or poorer…”
Attachment and love are two different things. Attachments are sought out for one’s own pleasure and to obtain a sense of worthiness but in a selfish way. Love is not self-seeking rather it is self-sacrificing. Attachments make us more corrupt and diminish us as people…love transforms us and elevates us to an intimacy with God. St. Catherine of Sienna once said: “A soul cannot live without loving. It must have something to love, for it was created to love.” If our love is God-centered, it is a healthy love. Enjoying persons and things (cheese bread!) in God without trying to be totally consumed by them is key…in that way there can be an inflow of God in our soul and then we are on our way to becoming saints…in the fast lane!