Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sexagesima Week. The meditation themes for improvement of the "requisite qualities" of Christian heart, to make it worthy to receive the seeds of Divine Sower, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Fragments taken from "Divine Intimacy" by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD.

"The essence of detachment"
PRESENCE OF GOD - Help me, O Lord, to understand the meaning of that total detachment which is the indispensable condition for perfect union with You.
1. "The soul has only one will, and if it occupies itself or encumbers itself with anything, it will not remain free, solitary, and pure, as is required for divine transformation" (J.C. AS I, 11,6). This teaching of St John of the Cross is in perfect harmony with the fundamental precept of Jesus:"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind" (Lk 10,27). If the heart is occupied with inordinate attachments to self or creatures, it is clear that it cannot love God with all its strength, which is divided between God and self, between God and creatures. The precept of charity proposed to all Christian requires the radical renunciation of every attachment which is not conformable to the will of God, or which is not consistent with the love of God. Total detachment is the logical result of Jesus' commandment and the indispensable means of perfectly fulfilling it. This is why St. John of the Cross insists that if the soul wishes to possess God, it must strip itself of all that is not God. This is why it must give up every satisfaction or attachment which does not lead to God. This is the meaning of his statements:"In order to enjoy everything [that is, to enjoy God, who is everything], do not seek to enjoy anything [do not seek any inordinate pleasure]. In order to possess everything, do not desire to possess anything. When you stop at anything, you do not reach the all" (AS I, 13,11.12). When the soul, through some disordered attachment, stops at any creature, it interrupts its progress toward God: the nothingness of the creature prevents it from reaching the all of God.
2. The essence of the total detachment does not consist in effective material separation from creatures, a thing which, in its absolute form, would be impossible on this earth. Those who are cloistered, and even hermits, cannot escape certain dealings with their neighbours, nor get along without the necessities of life. Besides, wherever one is he carries with him his own person, his 'self'; nevertheless, detachment from self is always the point of departure. It is clear, however, that it can never be a question of complete material detachment, but only of effective, spiritual detachment.
The doctrine of total detachment does not require that everyone abandon all things materially, but that each one, in whatever surroundings he finds himself, know how to keep his heart free from all attachment. In order to enter into this divine union, all the affections living in the soul must die, whether they are many or few, large or small; and the soul must remain free from them, and as detached as if it were not made for them, nor they for it" (J.C. AS I, 11,8). However, it will be impossible to attain this affective detachment, that is, the death of all inordinate affection for self and creatures if, at least to a certain degree, we do not practice effective or material detachment. If we cannot give up all useless preoccupations with creatures, we shall never reach interior detachment. Likewise, the soul who, by consecrating itself to God, has separated itself materially from people dear to it or has already given up so many things, must not think that all is accomplished. It will always have to be vigilant in order to keep itself free from all attachments. Whether we live in the world or in solitude, whether we possess much or little, we must always strive for the essence of detachment, which is detachment of heart and mind. This it the teaching of St Paul:"Let those who have wives be as if they had none....those who buy, as though they possessed not, and those who use this world, as if they used it not" (1Cor 7, 29-31).
O Lord, why should the idea of total detachment frighten me since it is the means of finally arriving at loving You with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my strength, since it is the path which leads me to union with You, infinite beauty and charity, Triune God, the beginning and end of all things?.....O Lord, with your help I wish to set to work immediately to refuse no sacrifice, to spare no fiber of my heart in order to detach myself completely from everything that might tie me to earth. These sacrifices and detachments will pain my weak human nature, but You will enable me to see that, even though they make my heart bleed, it is nothing in comparison with the immense treasure which they purchase for me, which is the attainment of You, my God, You who are All....

"Rules for detachment"
PRESENCE OF GOD - O Lord, my blindness and weakness have further need of Your light and strength, in order that I may follow generously the way of "nothing".
1. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls, who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Mt 13, 45.46). The pearl of great price is union with God; if we wish to acquire it, we must sell all that we possess; that is, we must detach ourselves from every inordinate appetite. Hence St Teresa of Avila, in speaking of detachment, says that "when it is practiced perfectly, it is everything" (Way, 8). Of course, the spiritual life is not simply detachment, nor does it end there; but detachment practiced with perfection leads effectively to its goal: union with God. God alone can bring us to this union, but He will not do so unless, like the merchant in the Gospel, we sell everything, that is, unless we renounce even the smallest attachment to self or to creatures. These are the golden rules proposed by St. John of the Cross for total detachment: The soul must always be INCLINED "not to easiest thing, but to the hardest; not to the tastiest, but to the most insipid; not to things that give greater pleasures, but to those that give the least; not to restful things, but to painful ones; not to consolation, but to desolation; not to more but to less; not to the highest and dearest, but to the lowest and more despised; not to the desire for something, but to having no desires" (AS I, 13,6). In this way we shall gradually become accustomed to subduing this inordinate desire for pleasure, which is at the base of all attachments. It is like going against a current; hence it is a hard, tiring task which can be accomplished only by strength of will. We must oppose the inclinations of nature and make ourselves do what is repugnant to nature. This is, however, a sweet task for a soul in love with God; it knows that everything it refuses to self is given to God and that, when it has reached the point of renouncing self in everything - of SELLING everything - God Himself will give it the precious pearl of divine union.
2. "The soul must EMBRACE these acts wholeheartedly and strive to subject its will thereto. For if it undertakes them wholeheartedly, in a short time it will find great delight and consolation in them, working with order and discretion (ibid., 13,7). St. John of the Cross asks two things of the soul that desires to enter upon the way of the "nothing". First of all, he demands decision and generosity; for anyone who has not the courage to renounce himself in everything will never reach total detachment and union with God. At the same time, he also demands "order and discretion". The Saint does not expect us always and in everything to choose what is most difficult, painful, or tiring - which would be impossible, both because of our physical constitution, which always needs a certain amount of relaxation - but he does ask that we be disposed to this choice, that is, we must cultivate a desire for it. He wants us to develop within ourselves the inclination and habit of doing what is opposed to our own tendencies, so that when the opportunity occurs, we can do so without being hindered by our natural repugnance. At the beginning of the spiritual life it is especially necessary to proceed with discretion and to act according to the advice of the confessor and superior, particularly with regard to corporal mortification. It is most important that we make a firm decision to bend our will by this practice of renunciation, that we never give up on account of cowardice, and that, when we have to allow ourselves a little relaxation, because of expediency or duty, we do so with detachment, that is, with a will detached from the pleasure we may find in it.
It is clear that we shall never attain the goal if we do not gain mastery over our attachments and resolve, once and for all, to put them all to death. It means real death to selfish and worldly satisfactions, but this death will give birth to life.. Jesus said, "unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit....He that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal" (Jn 12, 24.25).
O Lord, in the light of Your teachings even the hard and bitter way of total detachment becomes desirable, and everything invites me to undertake it courageously. You know, however, that I am weak and that my nature rebels at everything that is difficult, wearisome, or disagreeable...But your love is all powerful, O Lord, and You, who through love made me out of nothing, can once again by the same love change my tastes and inclinations. I well know that nothing but your love can inspire me to enter upon this road and give me the courage to undertake this fundamental reform to myself. ......You died for me, O Lord. For love of You make me die to myself, to my desires, to my satisfactions. I shall die to myself in order to live for You, to attain to union with You.