Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fourth Week after Epiphany.
'Prayer' - part 2 of the chapter form the book by Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD, "Unity with God according to St John of the Cross".

St John of the Cross wants us to pray, uniting faith and love. For him, faith is the obscure but secure adhesion to the divine word, which particularly reveals to us the divine transcendence, the supreme grandeur of our God, who is so sublime, and so good, so omnipotent, but also so merciful. Faith places us in the presence of God as He is; not that it makes us see Him, but it makes us believe, and so places our intellect in contact with Him. Faith is then followed by charity, understanding by love. The soul that believes intensely that God is truly God, that He is the supreme Being to whom we all belong and who merits all our love, will love Him vehemently, and then will be fulfilled in him that which the Saint promised here: "The soul will merit that love will reveal what faith contains in itself" (Canticle I,II); thus faith speaks to us of the divine transcendence above all creatures. Love will make us delight in it and almost experience it; love will do this in contemplative prayer. The love of charity however is pure benevolence toward God; its purity is the condition of its perfection and its intensity. Thus this love ought to consist in one sole desire, that of pleasing God, without seeking self-satisfaction. It will not be directed to God in view of His gifts, but only for Him, meriting to be loved in the highest degree for His infinite lovableness. Our prayer perhaps is not yet so disinterested, so theocentric so purely directed toward the divine interests, interests that Jesus in the Pater Noster teaches us to put always in the first place: Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. - We will sometimes be tempted to put in the first place: give us this day our daily bread, including in this bread all our interest, all our satisfaction. Although God wishes to grant us all we need from Him (He makes us ask for this precisely), He wishes however that we subordinate our satisfaction to His will, and to the fulfillment of the divine plans which, besides, aim only at procuring man's supernatural happiness. If we do not as yet find ourselves at this moral and spiritual height, nothing on that account hinders us from tending to it. As we possess divine grace, we can legitimately hope that, by maturing this grace within us, and together with its tendencies to raise us to God and to unite us to Him, we will at last arrive there. Hence there is also hope for us that prayer may one day become that intense exercise of faith and charity in which "love reveals what faith contains in itself", in which, namely, love lets us enjoy what faith simply teaches, and so communicates the "sense of God": of His uniqueness, of His grandeur, of His transcendence.
If this initial and quasi experimental perception of God then increases in our soul, why should not the Saint's promise regarding contact with God present in the soul also be accomplished in us?"... Then in the secret place you will feel Him and you will love Him and will enjoy Him... above all that language and sense can attain." (Canticle I,9)
The Spiritual Canticle which from its first lines places before our eyes a vision so enchanting, prospects so immense, and a doctrinal synthesis so rich and well-balanced, seems therefore the book most suitable for fully understanding our Saint.
From the beginning of the meditation on the first strophe, we already know where the Saint wants to lead us; to the summit of contemplative union with God, where the soul, still on earth, attains a certain possession of Him by feeling Him and enjoying Him. Not only that, but the Saint has put it, I would say, almost under our eyes, so close is the union to us, since that God with whom we are to be united already present in the soul, or rather, dwelling in it, He offers Himself to it to be known and loved. With knowledge and love, then, we will come near to God. However, this knowledge and this love are exercised especially in prayer, will not develop and will not attain the necessary intensity unless they are nourished in the climate of abnegation and renunciation of the creatures. There are two wings with which the soul rises to divine union: mortification and prayer, that is, spoliation and recollection, or in other words, detachment and prayer. We have already learned their necessity, and we have also understood that these means, indicated by the Saint, are within reach of all Christian souls, not only of religious, but also of persons in the world: to these latter also are possible therefore the beautiful achievement described by the Saint. For that reason we will gladly follow the Saint now in his lesson of total detachment; we will no longer fear his demands. It is with the pain of imposing on ourselves a little effort to reach so sublime a goal, to embrace a little suffering in order to attain even on this earth, so serene a joy. Let us conclude with St John:
"Arise, then beautiful soul; since you know that your so-desired Beloved dwells in your heart, endeavor to be well hidden with Him, and in your breast embrace Him and you will feel Him with tenderness of love." (Canticle I,10)
Next: Stanza II of Spiritual Canticle