Sunday, December 13, 2015

Spiritual Direction With St. John of the Cross


Photo: R. Massaro Lourdes, France

Today's teaching comes from St. John's classic, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel. In this excerpt, St. John makes a seven-fold list of souls who take pleasure in their good works. 

First: Vanity and Pride.
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These people brag about themselves and their accomplishments. Perhaps you have heard this type of soul in your parish community. They may go on and on about how they formed a prayer group, initiated an adoration program, started a soup kitchen, organized the choir, and on and on.  There is no humility in their good works. They boast for all the world to see. They love praise!

Second: Comparing people and their actions
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These people love to judge and speculate on the motives of others who perform good works.  They infer that the work of another is not as perfect as their own. They do not esteem others or respect them, for they themselves are on the pedestal to which only they can ascend. They become angry when others are noticed and praised. This type of thinking can lead to the sin of detraction.

Third: Only perform good works if praise will be given
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St. John teaches that these people resemble the Pharisees that Jesus spoke about. They only perform good works in order to be noticed. Their motive is not the love of God but the praise of men.

Fourth: They do not find their joy in God
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These souls are an unhappy and confused people.  Since they perform works for human praise, they are confused, upset and angry when they do not receive it.  Since their motives are not pure, they find no pleasure in pleasing God alone and finding in Him the only reward necessary. These people are hard to work with, they complain constantly about the amount of work, their schedule, the management, etc.

Listen to this powerful statement of St. John regarding these souls: "There is so much misery among human beings as regards this kind of harm that I believe most of the works publicly achieved are either faulty, worthless, or imperfect in God's sight." He goes on to say, "It can be said that in these works some adore themselves more than God."




St. Therese desired to keep
her acts of charity hidden.

St. John teaches that a lack of detachment is at the heart of this illness. That is why he recommends that in order to avoid this spiritual illness we must strive to hide our good works, even from ourselves! We know from the life of St. Therese and her way of hidden love that she was a master at hiding her good works. Let us learn from her example. 

Fifth: Failure to advance in the way of perfection
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Since these souls are attached to the consolations received by performing good deeds, they lack perseverance in actually carrying out these good works. When God tries them by removing the sweetness attached to the good works.  These souls are spiritually immature, and, in a way, they refuse to "grow up." They prefer  "infants milk" instead of the "bread of the perfect" as St. John puts it.

Sixth: They are under the illusion that works that bring satisfaction are better than those that do not
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These souls cannot see that God esteems more the deed that requires self-denial than a deed that is easily done because of the consolation one receives. St. John states: "This evil arises when they seek to please themselves in their works and not God alone."

Seventh: Incapable of taking counsel and unable to be formed in the way of perfection
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Because of this weakness and imperfection in the soul and of the pride involved, they refuse to believe that anyone can counsel them. St. John says these souls become slack in charity toward God and neighbor. Self-love makes the soul grow cold in charity.

Let us pray for each other, that we always strive to please God and not men when we are performing acts of charity. If we struggle with this, turn to God, who is able to give us the grace needed to purify our motives.

Excerpt from The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book III, Chap. 28 No. 1-9, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, ocds
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