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!