Monday, January 30, 2006

Fourth Week after Epiphany.
'Prayer' chapter from the book "Union with God according to St. John of the Cross" by Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD 1990 reprint of 1961 edition. Part I

...After having invited us, by the renunciation of excessive preoccupations regarding created things, to descent into the inmost seclusion of our spirit where we are in the presence of God, the Saint continues:"Here, with the door closed behind you, that is with the will closed to everything, pray to your Father in secret."
These words of the Saint recall the teaching of Jesus with respect to the conditions for good prayer: "When you wish to pray, enter into your room, close the door, and pray there to your heavenly Father; and your heavenly Father, who sees what is done in secret, will repay you. "(Matt.6,6)
Jesus, to teach us to pray well, begins by making us withdraw from creatures. St. John of the Cross has only expounded the teachings of Jesus; we see here why his doctrine has the universal character of the gospel doctrine. Let us pay attention therefore with faith to what he teaches us regarding prayer. The search for God comprises a double movement, the first of separation from creatures, the second of approach to God. In what way, then, do we approach Him? Listen to the Saint's instructions: "You hear a word full of substance and of inaccessible truth: seek it in faith and in love, without wishing to derive satisfaction from anything, neither enjoying it, nor understanding it, any more than one is obliged to do. (Canticle 1,11).
The Saint is teaching us pure prayer, prayer in which the soul seeks God and not itself, in that it does not wish to find its own satisfaction, but to give satisfaction to God. How mean are the concepts we often have of our relations with God! It seems that certain persons pray only to achieve their particular ends, or rather only to succeed with the help of the Lord, in obtaining what they cannot procure through their own efforts. Then if they do not quickly obtain what they desire they become impatient, and are almost offended, as if God ought to be benevolently at the service of their human interests. How shallow is our sense of the divine transcedence! We are not the masters but He. He has created and prepared us for His glory, so that we will be able to procure the accomplishment of His most holy will in everything. That is the reality of things that we sometimes turn upside down, carried away by the impetuousity of our desires.
In St John of the Cross we find instead a most profound sense of the divine supereminence. God is, and we, of ourselves, we are nothing; we exist only through God. God is the center of the universe, not we. Our perfection and holiness consist in being united to Him, not in becoming persons who have "brought their talent of humanity to the greatest and most harmonious development", as a recent "formula of sanctity" would have us believe. To speak in this way one must have lost the sense of supernatural realities which, strictly speaking, are "super human" and with which alone man may attain holiness.
It is divine grace that makes us live in God and God in us. This will certainly bring about the harmony of all our faculties which will all apply themselves in concert, each according to its own mode, to procure with their operations "the honour and glory of God". This is simply an effect of holiness which, as Pope Pius XI of venerated memory one day admirably defined it, is none other than "the Christian life carried out according to the thought and desire of the divine Inventor". Holiness is not anthropocentric, it is theocentric! Holiness is not simply human life, it is Christian life, and that signifies the supernaturalization of human life, through the working of divine grace. In our days, one needs to insist on the divine transcendence, on its absolute elevation above all creatures, even above us human creatures, made by Him and for Him. We ourselves are not to dictate laws of to God, but He imposes them on us, and imposing them, He indicates to us the way of true happiness , the way that leads to union with Him in which our beatitude consists. We cannot be truly and entirely happy unless we are united to our Principle. True happiness of the present life consists in being united with God even on earth. We will procure this happiness for ourselves by seeking to please our God, entering into His divine plan, through which we are prepared to render Him honour and glory. The surest way to become happy is to seek to serve God in everything, forgetting ourselves.
It is exactly this disinterested search for God that our Saint recommends when he teaches: "Seek Him in faith and in love, without wishing to draw satisfaction from anything". Oh, how pleasing to the Lord is the prayer of a heart detached from itself that seeks only to please Him, who truly merits this sincere and total homage from His creature!