Sunday, June 26, 2016

Spiritual Direction with St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Photo: (C) R. Massaro St. Peter Church North Ridgeville, Ohio

In the life of St. Therese, we learn about the ways in which she overcame herself by practicing virtue. She did this in a very ordinary way by accepting life as it was presented to her each day. As she matured in the spiritual life, her sister, Celine, noticed her virtue and said to her "Oh, when I think of how much I have to acquire." Therese responded, "Rather, how much you have to lose." Therese's few words of wisdom gets right to the heart of the call in Carmel and to all Christians who are seeking perfection: one must be detached from sin and from worldly pleasures and from one's own will, and from one's own desires... We could go on an on identifying and describing detachment.

Therese's deep detachment was a gradual process and the fruition of her cooperation with God's grace to give herself totally to God's merciful love. This desire of detachment so inflamed her that in her written prayer "Act of Oblation to the Merciful Love of God," she writes:

In the evening of life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works...

What an amazing, bold, and spiritually detached statement from this little Doctor!  By this statement we can read between the lines, if you will, and see that her motives must have been totally purified by the Holy Spirit, for she did not do works to be justified before God. She continues in her prayer:

All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

St. Therese is a true daughter of the Church, a true daughter of Carmel. She took to heart and let blossom the spiritual direction of her Father in Carmel, St. John of the Cross, who's teaching on detachment is a light and guide to those who wish to ascend the holy mountain and reach spiritual perfection.  St. John of the Cross uses the symbolism of a bird to explain detachment:

A bird caught in a birdlime has a twofold task: It must free itself and cleanse itself. And by satisfying their appetites, people suffer in a twofold way: They must detach themselves and, after being detached, clean themselves of what has clung to them
The Sayings of Light and Love #22

Sometimes, I think we forget the second part of detachment, the purifying of the effects of our attachments. We must let the Holy Spirit purify and cleanse us from our attachments and the effects. St. John of the Cross is simply describing Purgatory. Those seeking spiritual perfection have a desire to be purified beginning in this life. 

In this Year of Mercy, the Church offers a plenary indulgence to the faithful. One of the requirements to gain the indulgence is to be detached from sin, even venial sin. When we think of detachments, we usually think of something related to the senses. However, we must also consider what the Church requires, detachment from even venial sins. We must ask ourselves if we take pleasure in certain sins. For example, impatience. Perhaps we are attached to being impatient. If we are confessing the same sins over and over in confession, this may be a time to ask ourselves if we are seriously attached to a particular sin.  

St. John of the Cross also teaches that we can become attached to the manner of our prayer. He teaches us that we must be open to the Holy Spirit who may wish to speak to us and give us self-knowledge, perhaps about our attachments. We cannot hear the Lord speaking if we never listen in prayer. Perhaps we are attached to talking in prayer and not giving the Lord an opportunity to speak to us.

In our technologically advanced society, we can certainly be attached to many things and devices. How many of us can disconnect from our computers and cell phones?  It's not easy. 

My prayer is for the Lord to raise up more spiritual ascetics in the church. We need prophets! We need prayerful witnesses. We need to spend time with our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration! We need to go out into the desert for a half-hour or an hour, with no phone or headphones and be totally present to the Lord-standing at attention before him proclaiming: Here I am Lord, I come to do your will!

A person who practices severe self-discipline and abstention.

Photo: R. Massaro   The Prophet Elijah

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, OCDS

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