Sunday, January 24, 2010

Exercise care: do not become attached to temporal goods

“Spiritual persons must exercise care that in their heart and joy they do not become attached to temporal goods. They must fear lest, through a gradual increase, their small attachments become great… what is small in the beginning can be immense in the end… And they should never assure themselves that, since their attachment is small, they will break away from it in the future even if they do not do so immediately. If they do not have the courage to uproot it when it is small and in its first stage, how do they think and presume they will have the ability to do so when it becomes greater and more deeply rooted?”

-- The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St John of the Cross


"Love is at the heart of the spirituality of St. John of the Cross. Oftentimes, however, peo ple read his writings and become frightened by the absolute, stark, and radical language he uses, such as: all or nothing, self-denial, mortification, emptiness, renunciation, nakedness, contempt for self and creatures, and detachment. All these terms form a rich vocabulary to express the theme of negation and can appear repellent and inhuman if not understood correctly. They recur throughout John's works and are often the source of misinterpretation and fear that have distorted the beauty, depth, and humanness of his person and doctrine."

"To begin with, the starting point for approaching John's negation spirituality is the expe rience of being loved by God a God who desires to enter into a personal relationship of love with human beings and our response to that love. Any notion of self-denial, detach ment, renunciation, or emptiness that is not born of an experience of God's personal love makes no sense to John of the Cross. God always takes the initiative. "We love because he first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19). In the beginning of the Spiritual Canticle , which sings of and recounts the Christian journey toward union with God in terms of love, John writes that the soul is only able to begin the journey of love in search for union with God because she first had an experience of God's love, and as a fruit of that experience, came to an aware ness that love is the purpose of existence (C, 1, 1). It is this experience of God's love that ignites the fire of love within a person so that one can begin the journey towards union with God through love."

"The final element of negation as a form of love and union with God is that the more one's love grows the more one's heart becomes concentrated on the Beloved, and as a natural corollary, whatever impedes the growth of love or attention to the Beloved, or whatever is superfluous to this love, simply falls away. In this sense, detachment in St. John of the Cross is a natural outcome of an ever deepening and concentrated love of God. Negation has nothing to do with a depreciation of material or spiritual goods, other relationships, having fun, or created reality. It is about a relationship of love, of making an option for Jesus Christ the Beloved. John of the Cross was an ardent lover of God and his whole message is to make God the love and the center of our lives because we exist for Love, for God, who is the fulfillment of all human existence and who offers us the fullness of life, love, and happiness. He maintains that the more we are "won over to love," the more we concentrate our love and attention on God and God's reign, the more our attachments, selfishness, useless desires, and even very good but superfluous things, will fall away as a result. This is the mystery of Love that by its very nature transforms and frees us."

-- Free to love: Negation in the doctrine of John of the Cross by Daniel Chowning, ocd

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