Wednesday, July 1, 2009
"Asceticism is the effort put forth by the soul, under the action of grace, to overcome the unruly tendencies of human nature, to cleanse the soul of everything that can hinder the action of God in it, and to strive for union with God. Carmelite asceticism is definitely orientated towards contemplation. This is logical, since contemplation is the objective of Carmelite life. Carmelite asceticism has yet another characteristic: its center is love. There is nothing astonishing in this: love is the principal element of Carmelite spirituality; it is not merely its final goal, it is already there at its beginning and it is upon love that the soul relies all during its journey. Carmelite prayer is orientated towards contemplation, and while it does not undervalue reasoning, it 'consists much more in loving that in thinking.'
The efforts which the Carmelite will make to conquer his passions, his evil tendencies, and his defects, will therefore consist rather in acts of love for God than direct struggle against these unruly inclinations. At least this is the way recommended by St John of the Cross. He does not underestimate the efficacy of a direct struggle consisting in reflections on the ugliness and the malice of sin and the consequences it entails; or in acts of the virtue opposed to the defect or the temptation to be overcome. Instead, the manner of behavior recommended by him is to turn towards God and cling to Him by love. He considers this method easier, more fruitful, more perfect. In fact, not only does it free the soul from the attraction and attachment of created things, it raises the soul up to God and makes it grow in love.
As soon, therefore, as the soul experiences some disorderly attraction of the senses or a temptation of the spirit - an inclination to self-love, pride, or impurity, a movement of antipathy for someone, or a lack of charity - it turns immediately to God, and contemplates Him in His infinite beauty and admires His love. The Carmelite professes to God his complete and exclusive love, his desire to avoid all that can displease Him, and his wish to be united with Him. He asks God the Father, or the Sacred Humanity of Christ, to preserve him, telling Him that he relies on Him, and begging Him to draw him to Himself.
The Carmelite will renew these acts as long as may be necessary to establish himself peacefully in God. He will put into them all the fervor of which he is capable, taking care always to act calmly, for he will not be able to repose in God unless he avoids all excitement and fatigue of mind and heart.
St John of the Cross is consistent with himself in recommending this method, for he writes: 'In order to overcome the appetites and to mortify the attraction for created things towards which the will is naturally drawn with desire to enjoy them, there is need of a much deeper love which can only be the love of Christ.' However, this method presupposes that the soul is already experienced in love and has made progress in it, because it will succeed only if it is fervent. Hence the necessity of practising the love of God, loving Him for Himself and for what He has done for us; hence, the need of devoting oneself to contemplation and to the love of Christ.
It is certain that this intimate converse with God will develop in the soul a great facility for turning towards Him the moment an unruly tendency of nature or an attraction for creatures manifests itself. Accustomed to live in the company of God, and becoming captivated by Him, the soul will overcome temptations without great difficulty by rising above them, and will find itself united with God; recollected in Christ.
If, however, our love is not sufficiently lively to calm the temptation, the thoughts or the feelings which agitate us, St John of the Cross recommends that we have recourse to the ordinary manner of acting: rational reflection and making acts of the virtue opposed to the source of temptation. We should consider how vain and passing is the thought or idea which presented itself to us and the satisfaction which attracted us; how vile and despicable is the act suggested by passion. We will then conclude that it would be unreasonable to let ourselves be carried away by such things; this would be a debasing of human nature, a degradation from being a child of God and a consecrated person. Then on must consider the consequences which the fault could have: the loss of the divine life and eternal punishment.
On the other hand, one must consider how much more worthy it is to overcome one's passions and to be conscious of one's dignity as a Christian , living a life of detachment for God, and taking Christ as one's model. One can dwell on the advantages that will follow from this: growth in Christ, benefits accruing to His mystical body, and the eternal possession of God.
Yet, to remain true to the Carmelite spirit it would be preferable to make use of considerations inspired by love. Then every compromise of created things will appear as an infidelity to the love of God. Any satisfaction taken in created things will be an ingratitude towards Him who sacrificed Himself for us. From our meditation on what He has done for us, we can draw courage to bear up under our burdens, courage for the struggle facing us."
-- The Spirit and Prayer of Carmel by Fr François Jamart, ocd