Friday, January 20, 2006

Second week after Epiphany. Commentary on the first Stanza of Spiritual Canticle, Union with God, by Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD

Seeking the Hidden God
For the soul desirous of union it is not enough to know where one ought to go to seek God; it also wants to find Him. The soul responds to the Spirit with a new question:
"Granted that He whom I love is within me, why do I not feel Him and do not find Him?"
There is a great difference between having God and being introduced into His divine company, and thus living with Him.
"God is in me' the soul says, "why does He not reveal His presence to me?".
To this the Saint will reply by explaining to us a whole plan of conquest. Listen to why the soul enamored of God and in whom He dwells does not feel Him:
"The reason for this is that He is hidden, and you do not hide yourself as He does so that you may find Him and feel Him. He who is looking for a hidden things should secretly penetrate the hiding place, and when he finds it he too is hidden as it is."(Spiritual Canticle,I,9). Yes, it is true, God is within us, but He is hidden, concealed under the cumulation of our too human preoccupations, all the obstacles to the fulfillment of personal plans for our own profit and gain, plans that we want to carry out without taking sufficient account of the divine will and of the rights of others. In our interior there is too often a whole world of tendecies, of impulses, of very lively passions, that thrust us toward creatures and make us give them our heart. They make us place our hope in them and seek our comfort in the remembrance of them. So we live in this superficial world, which occupies us to such a point that it that it make us to forget that more profound life that we could live but do not live, that truly interior where the soul could be in relation with its God, and could end by finding Him. The Lord waits for us, so to speak, in the depth, taken up as we are by "our affairs" to which we give all our concern.
Now you see why we do not find Him!
To find Him we will have to go where He is and escape therefore from that immersion in creatures in which we live. Yes, we must "hide ourselves as He is hidden", and flee our superficial existence to enter a deep interior life, abandoning the more exterior sphere of our human interests, where everything moves around our little "ego", to descend into the deeper center of our soul, where it learns to live together with its God.
Listen to the instructions of the Saint:
"Since therefore thy beloved Spouse (God) is the treasure hidden in the vineyard of your is necessary that you too, forgetting everything and withdrawing from all creatures, hide yourself, until you find Him in the intimate seclusion of your spirit. Here, with the door shut behind you, namely the will closed to everything, pray in secret to your Father, and secret you will hear Him and love Him and enjoy Him...above all that tongue and sense can understand". (Spiritual Canticle I,9).
The Saint thus encourages us with the most beautiful promise; he assures as that we will find our God, but at the same time he insist upon and traces for us a plan of conquest that appears difficult. Let us examine it more closely.

In substance the Saint is asking two things of us, namely to make use of two instruments that we have often heard called the characteristics of the contemplative life; he invites us to renunciation and to earnest entreaties, to mortification and to prayer....But perhaps you will say: "The Saint asks us to do what we cannot do: forget all our concerns, our business, our duties of state and family. That is not lawful. And then 'withdraw from all creatures'. How is it possible for us who have to live at home, who have dear persons to whose care we have devoted our life? It would be absurd to want to separate from them! This cannot be the will of God."
And indeed, it is not! We gladly take this occasion to respond promptly to a difficulty that more than once has been held against the Saint's doctrine, alleging that it is inhuman, that it asks impossible sacrifices of us, and that therefore his teachings, at the most, can be followed only in solitary cloisters, be persons "buried alive."
He who speaks thus shows that he has not indeed understood the Saint's doctrine. He is more "spiritual" than many might think, even in his very doctrine of detachment. Several times in his writings he has expressly declared that, when he speaks of withdrawing from creatures, he does not mean material withdrawal, as if it were necessary to leave all and go to live as a hermit. But, as he specifies in this same strophe on which we are commenting, it is a question "of leaving all things according to the affection of the will," that is, of not being attached; and truly this is not the same as not loving it! Let us not forget: God wants us to love creatures, but He does not want us to be attached to them.
In reality there are some affections that are not only legitimate, but even holy and positively will by God. To give some examples of this, the mutual love of Christian spouses and the love of a mother for her children. Do you think it could be the will of God that a mother not love her children, and that she forget them? On the contrary, if she should do this, she would offend her God, she would commit a grave sin. Then what does he mean to say when he writes of "forgetting creatures" and of "leaving them according to the affection of the will?" He is only telling us to avoid every inordinate affection, every attachment. For the Saint, this is the meaning of the word "attachment:" love that binds the heart in a way that is not according to the will of God, or in an exaggerated manner. This can be found, and is often found, unfortunately, in the most legitimate affections.
Does it not happen at times that a Christian mother cannot resign herself when the Lord asks for her daughter in order that she may become His spouse in the religious life? I do not say that the good woman cannot test her daughter's vocation to see if it is genuine; but once they have all reasonable guarantees on this point, to continue to oppose it, and for fear of the inevitable separation, which doubtless will make the maternal heart bleed, then to insist on "no" is no longer to love according to God. Let us come down to more humble examples. Suppose there is someone who loves mountain with its courageous heights, with its bracing air, with its grandiose panorama: splendor of the world that speak with such eloquence of the beauty of the Creator and fill a believing soul with love for Him. Be it so; but he who cannot renounce such an enchanting trip when there is a duty of office or charity to fulfill, would show himself undoubtedly attached to it.
When Peter George Frassati, in the company of friends, showed he enjoyed a good dish of macaroni, or a savory dish or rice and meat a la Milanese, I could not accuse him of attachment because he could also fast generously when it was a fast day. But one who, to satisfy his taste and appetite would go beyond the allowed amounts at collation on a fast day, or would allow himself to go quite to the excess of gluttony, would evidently be "attached" to such vulgar satisfaction. Often each of us is attached, little or much, to so many things, and they are even attachments which, creating superfluous preoccupations, are not to God, and which we cannot take with us into His presence, preoccupations that draw us away from Him and shut us up in studied research of personal satisfactions: this is the superficial world that conceals and impedes the interior life and which anyone - secular or religious - who wishes to attain intimate union with God ought to endeavor to leave. St John therefore does not ask anything that cannot be done even by a lay person who has many duties of state and family; in reality it is not a matter of suppressing these, of forgetting them, quite otherwise. It is matter of suppressing all excessive and useless attachments, which are too exclusively human and therefore not according to God, and which often accompany the accomplishment of these duties and render their fulfillment less genuine, less sublime and less noble. In short, St John's teaches us freedom from all that is inferior, by establishing us in a limpid and clear life, lived entirely according to the will of God which is the golden rule of our spiritual perfection.
In the hour of prayer, concentrating our attention of God Himself with whom we wish to speak, we will be led spontaneously to turn away from creatures. One might then be able to see in prayer a fulfillment of the saints counsel, namely to forget creatures. But this too should be well understood, because we ought not to believe that in prayer one cannot speak to God of those who are the object of our legimitimate affection.
Certainly it would be wrong to ask Him to bless an affection not conformed to His will, or to satisfy a desire of ours that He does not approve; that would be to ridicule God. But to speak to Him of what we are obliged to do through duty, and hence according to the indications of His most holy will, which is manifested in the knowledge of what our duties are, is a thing not only legitimate and therefore not blameworthy, but rather quite opportune. This is to treat with our heavenly Father with all that pertains to our life, and to confide to Him all the thoughts of our heart.
So we hope, by the above explanation, to have made it understood that the renunciation required by the saint is feasible even by persons who live in the world, and that such renunciation can also be "spiritually" positive for them, because it is not a matter of material separation from things, but the renunciation of every attachments. There should not be attachments in anyone, not even in one on whom depend the most extensive social duties. A man can be detached from everything not only in the domestic life, and indeed everyone could be so. Perhaps in the depth of our heart we even think: "Would that there were at least some! Our political world would get along better!"