Saturday, December 14, 2013

St. John of the Cross: Reaching union with God is not about understanding, experience, or imagination

On this great Carmelite feast of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of Mystical Theology, I would like to share something from The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book Two.  This is paragraph 4.

4. St. Paul also meant this in his assertion: Accedentem ad Deum oportet credere quod est (Whoever would approach union with God should believe in His existence) [Heb. 11:6]. This is like saying: Those who want to reach union with God should advance neither by understanding, nor by the support of their own experience, nor by feeling or imagination, but by belief in God's being. For God's being cannot be grasped by the intellect, appetite, imagination, or any other sense; nor can it be known in this life. The most that can be felt and tasted of God in this life is infinitely distant from God and the pure possession of him. Isaiah and St. Paul affirm: Nec oculus videt, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascendit quae praeparavit Deus iis qui diligunt illum (No eye has ever seen, nor ear heard, nor has the human heart or thought ever grasped what God has prepared for those who love him) [Is. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9]. 
Now souls in this life may be seeking to unite themselves perfectly through grace with what they will be united to in the next through glory (with what St. Paul says eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the human, fleshly heart grasped). But, manifestly, the perfect union in this life through grace and love demands that they live in darkness to all the objects of sight, hearing, and imagination, and to everything comprehensible to the heart, which signifies the soul. 
Those are decidedly hindered, then, from attainment of this high state of union with God who are attached to any understanding, feeling, imagining, opinion, desire, or way of their own, or to any other of their works or affairs, and know not how to detach and denude themselves of these impediments. Their goal, as we said, transcends all of this, even the loftiest object that can be known or experienced. Consequently they must pass beyond everything to unknowing. 
St. John of the Cross (1991-12-14). The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross (Kindle Locations 2971-2984). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition. 

Understanding everything there is to understand, experiencing everything there is to experience, and imagining everything there is to imagine, doesn't lead us to union with God.  Rather, it is pure faith in God that leads to union.

Faith shouldn't be put on hold until understanding comes because faith seeks understanding, and doesn't require it in order to continue in faith.

Sometimes we equate experience with faith - something we have to feel.  This is a very big misunderstanding and one that can lead us to use God for our own consolations.  Consolations are not an ends, but a means to encourage a soul that is weak or in need.  This is nothing to be ashamed of as even Jesus was consoled and strengthened by the angel in the Garden of Gethsemane.  However, we must prepare for those times when God will not send consolations to see if we will respond out of pure love, rather than for what we can get out of Him.

We sometimes make the mistake of responding to God out of what we feel.  We might limit going to Mass or Confession when it feels good to go; we may limit spiritual reading and reading of Scripture to when it feels good.  We may only help others when there is nothing else in the way for us to sacrifice at that time.

Love God for His sake, not for anything He can give you in return.

I wish all of my brothers and sisters in Carmel a very blessed feast day.

I have mentioned this before, but would like to draw attention again, to a book written by the president of our Carmelite community, Tom Reid, OCDS.  I wrote about St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross on the Beatitudes in this post.

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