Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Feast of St. John of the Cross - Prayer and Spiritual Gluttony

It's a special day for Carmelites.  It is the feast of St. John of the Cross

It is such a common thing when people begin to take their prayer life seriously, that they become confused when the sweetness of it all is lost, and they give up thinking it is not doing them any good, or that they are doing something wrong.  St. John of the Cross speaks about those pleasures in prayer and how we ought to treat them.

From the Dark Night of the Soul, Book 1
Chapter VI: Of imperfections with respect to spiritual gluttony

6. These persons have the same defect as regards the practice of prayer, for they think that all the business of prayer consists in experiencing sensible pleasure and devotion and they strive to obtain this by great effort wearying and fatiguing their faculties and their heads; and when they have not found this pleasure they become greatly discouraged, thinking that they have accomplished nothing. Through these efforts they lose true devotion and spirituality, which consist in perseverance, together with patience and humility and mistrust of themselves, that they may please God alone. For this reason, when they have once failed to find pleasure in this or some other exercise, they have great disinclination and repugnance to return to it, and at times they abandon it. They are, in fact, as we have said, like children, who are not influenced by reason, and who act, not from rational motives, but from inclination. Such persons expend all their effort in seeking spiritual pleasure and consolation; they never tire therefore, of reading books; and they begin, now one meditation, now another, in their pursuit of this pleasure which they desire to experience in the things of God. But God, very justly, wisely and lovingly, denies it to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony and inordinate appetite would breed innumerable evils. It is, therefore, very fitting that they should enter into the dark night, whereof we shall speak, that they may be purged from this childishness.

7. These persons who are thus inclined to such pleasures have another very great imperfection, which is that they are very weak and remiss in journeying upon the hard road of the Cross; for the soul that is given to sweetness naturally has its face set against all self-denial, which is devoid of sweetness

I have likened that sweetness to training wheels on a bike.  It makes sense that to get our attention, God would make prayer pleasurable.  However, more often than not, and for some sooner than others, God pulls the training wheels off.  Then, it becomes a test:  Do you remain in prayer for what you get out of it (the sweetness and pleasure), or do you follow through with your prayer out of love for God?

The above quote was taken from the online Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL).  However, I recommend that if you are going to study any of the major works of the Carmelite saints, to obtain and read first books involving Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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