Category Archives: John of the Cross

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, OCD (1541-1591) – a suffering saint’s sense of humor & hope


-by Shaun McAfee, was raised Protestant, Southern Baptist/Non-denominational, but at 24, he experienced a profound conversion to the Catholic Church with the writings of James Cardinal Gibbons and modern apologists. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology. As a profession, Shaun is a veteran and warranted Contracting Officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has served in Afghanistan and other overseas locations.

“What if you joined a religious order only to find that the religious lifestyle that once existed in it was now almost unrecognizable? Abuses are everywhere, laxity is the norm, nobody enforces the rules, and anyone who challenges the new status quo is met with cruelty.

You consider leaving, but one special leader within the order tells you that she has big plans and a good friend who will help out, and that she needs your help to do it all. So, you stay—only to be thrown in jail.

What do you do? You love the Church and your order, but your confreres all hate you, and they want you dead. Not just silenced­—dead!

That’s where we find the famous Carmelite and Counter-Reformer, St. John of the Cross, whose feast we commemorate today. December 14 is the day he died, but he didn’t die in that prison. He escaped, and where most of us might run away as far as possible or seek vengeance, and certainly leave that religious order, John was stubborn in his commitment to improving anything worth improving, loving anyone worth loving, and telling the world about his Dark Night. After suffering so much, nothing was going to stop him.

But John was not stubborn to the point where he let it affect his ability to work with and respect the opinions of others, nor did he let his stubbornness make him pigheaded; his was a determination, a resolve to do what he knew was right for the glory and love of God, even if it meant he would be hunted, imprisoned, and despised. We can learn from his life to reform correctly, which begins with reforming ourselves.

For John and his Carmelite friend, St. Teresa of Avila, reforming an order was as much a legal, political, and administrative process as it was a spiritual one. There is not a formula to be learned from them for reforming each and every problem in the Church today, but there are lessons about the character and virtue required for those who wish to make better of themselves first and their communities second.

First, if we wish to really help the Church, we must learn detachment. We must become unattached to worldly things. John consistently stressed that “individuals must deprive themselves of their appetites for worldly possessions.”

There is a difference, of course, between owning something for utility or proper entertainment and being attached to something for possession’s sake. The issue with attachment is when we base our happiness on the accumulation of stuff and the hoarding of things that have no eternal value. John explains: “It ought to be kept in mind that an attachment to a creature makes a person equal to that creature; the stronger the attachment, the closer is the likeness to the creature and the greater the equality.”

Next, we must hold strong to the virtue of hope. Hope is an absolute necessity if we are to commit our lives to a constant conversion, and it’s indispensable as well for those hoping to reform the Church in any measure: be it the culture in their parish, the focus of a small group, the consistency of a local chapter of a third order, or just the domestic church of their own family.

Hope is necessary because we’re human and will feel tempted at times to give up or to slacken our efforts. Through hope we can resist and focus on what we know to be true. In moments when we are filled with hope and holy ambitions, John tells us, “As often as distinct ideas, forms, and images occur to them, they should immediately, without resisting them, turn to God with loving affection, in emptiness of everything rememberable.”

The third thing we need to have is what John of the Cross calls “the first passion of the soul and emotion of the will.” He’s referring to joy, one of the fruits of the Spirit. What is joy, though? Our saint tells us:

“Joy is nothing else than a satisfaction of the will with an object that is considered fitting and an esteem for it . . . Active joy which occurs when people understand distinctly and clearly the object of their joy and have the power either to rejoice or not. . . . In this [passive] joy, the will finds itself rejoicing without any clear and distinct understanding of the object of its joy.”

John, though an austere and serious person, knew how to have fun and laugh. Once he escaped from prison, his first stories to his friends were about the funnier things that happened there, and his first homilies made audiences hysterical with his observations of the humorous moments in life.

There’s much more to be studied about St. John of the Cross’s reforming style and accomplishments, but detachment, hope, and joy are the top three we can learn from him to enable our resilience in times of change and performance in times of reform—especially our self-reform. Christian reform is not about novelties and progress but is a return to the soul’s conversion to Christ. True interior reform will keep the whole Church in a constant state of conversion.”

Love & the JOY of the Resurrection,
Matthew

Dec 14 – “Thy dear Love can slay”


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“There is a story about how St. John of the Cross celebrated Christmas: “On Christmas day . . . St. John of the Cross, while at ease with his brethren at recreation, took the image of the Holy Infant from the Crib and danced round the room, singing all the while: “Mi dulce y tierno Jesús/‘My sweet and tender Jesus,/ If Thy dear love can slay,/ It is today’”. The austere Carmelite mystic of the sixteenth century, known for his spiritual writings and his reform of the Carmelite Order, burst out in song and dance like David before the Ark of the Covenant. God’s presence sometimes makes great men childlike, even giddy.

Saint John of the Cross, however, as his name suggests, knew something of the brutality of life as well. Some of his Carmelite brethren went so far as to imprison him and publicly punish him out of opposition to his reforms. And through the sufferings, St. John held fast to Christ. As he exclaims in Counsels of Light and Love, “Thou wilt not take from me, my God, that which once thou gavest me in Thine only Son Jesus Christ, in Whom Thou gavest me all that I desire; wherefore I shall rejoice that Thou wilt not tarry if I wait for Thee” (71–2). The Incarnation fulfills all our desires—if only we will ponder the manger in wonder. The baby Jesus is God’s perfect gift to us—if only we will wait patiently for His greatness to be manifest in our lives.

In watching and waiting in Advent, we wonder at how small the beginnings of our redemption seem. Even now redemption can seem far from our world: “O sweetest love of God that art so little known” (Counsels, 68). The reign of God burst into the world in the meekest of ways: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” Now we prepare to see the babe in the manger, the silent work of God. We know that the Incarnation happened, that our “redemption is drawing near” -Lk 21:28

In the sure promise of redemption, the austerity and the name of St. John of the Cross begins to make sense. In the quiet of Bethlehem, God prepares for the crowds of Jerusalem. We begin with Him at the manger in Bethlehem and follow Him to the hill of Golgotha. God purifies our worldly desires as we take up the cross and follow Him. What begins in love, remains in love, and ends in love: ‘My sweet and tender Jesus,/ If Thy dear love can slay,/ It is today.'”

Love, and the victory of Love,
Matthew

Gender?

“Before retiring to bed on a Tuesday night in the Vatican, Saint John Paul II prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the following words from Saint Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1

Long after others in the papal apartment were asleep, a noise awoke his secretary, Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, who left his room to investigate. His room was adjacent to the Holy Father’s, but he noticed that the sounds were not coming from the Pope’s room, but from his chapel. Although late-night prayer was not uncommon for John Paul, Dziwisz peered in to be certain that everything was all right.

The sight was typical: John Paul immersed in contemplation alone before the tabernacle. The Pope usually spoke to God with very simple words, and often prayed during adoration like Jesus did in Gethsemane, talking with his Father. 2 This night, Dziwisz noticed that John Paul indeed seemed troubled. The disturbance he overheard was the Pope speaking aloud to God, asking repeatedly, “Dlaczego? Dlaczego?” (“ Why? Why?”). Out of reverence, the monsignor backed away from the chapel and returned to his room for the night.

John Paul celebrated Mass the next morning, but was unusually reserved during breakfast afterward. The Pope’s typical jovial and engaging demeanor toward the sisters and guests was subdued. Instead of asking questions and conversing about an endless variety of topics, he was recollected and withdrawn. He ate no breakfast, and drank a cup of tea. 3

That afternoon would be an important one: During his Wednesday audience, John Paul was preparing to announce the establishment of two ministries in the Church that would address the problems facing families in the modern world. 4 One of these, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, would become the main teaching arm of the Theology of the Body. 5

On his way to deliver his message, the Holy Father rode in the Popemobile across Saint Peter’s Square. As he was blessing children and greeting the crowds, gunshots from a Turkish assassin rang out. An ambulance rushed the Pope in his bloodstained cassock to the hospital, where he narrowly escaped death.

Had God given him a premonition of his suffering the night before? The answer to that question will likely remain a mystery known only to John Paul.

Was there a link between his suffering and his efforts to build up marriage and the family? This he affirmed, saying, “Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in Saint Peter’s Square.” 6 He added, “Precisely because the family is threatened, the family is being attacked. So the Pope must be attacked. The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared, the third millennium of families. . . .” 7

…While camping at the World Youth Day vigil in Kraków, I spoke with a young woman who was preparing to enter her first year of college at a prestigious university in California. She pulled her phone out of her backpack and showed me where her online college application required her to check the appropriate box to indicate her gender.

There were eighteen boxes to choose from.

I read through the litany of genders, and noticed that two were missing: male and female. (Facebook— which invites its users to identify as one of more than fifty genders— at least offers them the possibility of choosing to be male or female.) The university application, however, did allow the incoming students to choose “cis-male” or “cis-female,” which means that the biological sex one was “assigned” at birth aligns with the gender one chooses for one’s identity.

While some seek to expand upon the number of genders and create a spectrum of options, the ultimate goal of gender theory is not diversity. After all, diversity requires objective differences. The goal is to erase the sexual difference, and thus to eliminate the meaning of the body.

Where is this coming from? The Second Vatican Council prophesied our culture’s sexual identity crisis by stating, “When God is forgotten . . . the creature itself grows unintelligible.” 8 Although the Theology of the Body was written before many of the modern ideas of gender theory became popular, it was ahead of its time in offering a clear answer for them— and for many other key issues about sexuality and the body.

What is the Theology of the Body?

The Theology of the Body is the popular title given to 135 reflections written by Saint John Paul II. As a cardinal in Poland, he (Karol Wojtyła) planned to publish them as a book titled Man and Woman He Created Them. 9 Before this could happen, he was elected pope, and instead delivered the content in 129 Wednesday Audiences during the first five years of his pontificate.

The thousands of vacationers and pilgrims who gathered to see the Holy Father at these audiences had no idea that the Pope’s biographer would later describe the Theology of the Body as a “theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” 10

What could be so explosive about a Polish bishop’s theological reflections on the body? To answer this, consider how the human body has been viewed throughout history. Thousands of years ago, Gnostics and Platonists believed that a person’s true self was different from his or her body. One Gnostic sect, the Manicheans, believed that man’s destiny was to set his spiritual essence free from the pollution of matter. Because the body was material, it was not only inferior, but evil. In fact, it was considered a sin for a woman to give birth because she was bringing more matter into existence! Centuries later, puritanism considered the body to be a threat to one’s soul. Meanwhile, the philosopher René Descartes proposed that the soul is like a ghost trapped in a machine.

All these views about the body have one element of truth in common: Our bodies and souls aren’t in harmony. However, the body is not unimportant compared to the soul. Nor is the body something we “have,” or something that encumbers our soul. We are our bodies, and our bodies reveal us. However, our current state is not the way God created us in the beginning. The discord that exists within man is the result of original sin. 11

While some individuals devalued the body and cared only for the soul, others fell into the opposite mistake. Atheists and materialist philosophers argued that the human person is nothing more than his or her body: There is no soul, and the body has no meaning.

Although these ideas might seem like debates reserved for philosophers and theologians, consider what happens when entire cultures accept these misguided notions of what it means to be human. If man has a body but no spiritual dimension, what distinguishes him from other animals? Why should he act differently or be treated differently? On the other hand, if a person’s true identity is found in his spirit alone, then man’s view of himself becomes uprooted from any objective reality. Truth would then be defined by a person’s feelings. As a result, masculinity and femininity would be viewed as social constructs, not realities created by God. But if masculinity and femininity don’t exist, then what becomes of marriage and the family?

Because there has been so much confusion about the meaning of the human body, John Paul set out to present a total vision of man that would include man’s origin, history, and destiny. Instead of arguing from the outside in, offering people a litany of rules, he invited them to seek the truth about reality by reflecting on their own human experience. The writings of Saint John of the Cross played a key role in shaping John Paul’s style of thinking. His philosophical studies on of Max Scheler and other phenomenologists further sharpened his ability to observe human experience. John Paul doesn’t begin by explaining what man ought to do, but by explaining who man is. In the Pope’s mind, people will know how to live if they know who they are.

It has been said that rules without a relationship creates rebellion. This is true with parents and children, and it’s especially true with the relationship between God and humanity. John Paul knew that laws don’t change hearts. When people view morality as a rigid list of imposed regulations, they might temporarily behave themselves out of guilt or fear, but they often abandon the faith. The Pope understood the futility of this approach, and knew that a fresh re-presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics was overdue.

What the modern world needed was not just a defense of the Church’s teachings, but rather an unveiling of God’s original plan for the beauty of human love. Culture needed something that wasn’t simply intellectually convincing or morally upright, but rather something that corresponded to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Unfortunately, many have grown deaf to these yearnings and hear only the urges of the body. But no matter how numb one might be to the deepest aspirations of the soul, everyone can relate to the ache of solitude, the experience of shame, and the desire for communion. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul explored these experiences and more, to reveal how God’s plan for humanity is stamped not only into our hearts, but also into our bodies.

When people discover the Theology of the Body, they often exclaim that they’ve never heard anything like it before. This is because many people learned about sexuality in a religious framework that focused only on what is forbidden and permitted. Others learned about it through the lens of modern sex education, which reduces one’s sexuality to biology and sensuality. This might count as “sex ed,” but it’s not a true education in human sexuality. 12

Properly speaking, “sex” is not something people do. Sex is who we are as male and female persons. The Theology of the Body reminds us of this broader meaning and offers compelling answers to questions such as: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? How should I live? It delves into delicate questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics, but does so while inviting people to rediscover the meaning of life. Through it, one realizes that modern man’s sexual confusion is not caused because the world glorifies sexuality, but because the world fails to see its glory.

For those who have disregarded the Church’s teaching on human sexuality because it seems out of touch with the modern world, the Theology of the Body offers a fresh perspective. Its insights are not pious reflections offered by a theologian who was isolated from the daily struggles of married life. On the contrary, they are the result of decades of personal interactions between a remarkable saint and the countless young adults and married couples that he accompanied through their vocations. These couples attest that although John Paul had a great ability to preach, he had an even greater ability to listen.

The Theology of the Body comes from the heart of a saint who listened intently not only to others but also to the God Who could provide meaning to their lives. He was no stranger to suffering, living under Nazi and Communist regimes and having lost his family by the age of twenty. While such trials might lead some to abandon their faith, John Paul’s was forged by them, as he sought answers to the deepest questions about life’s meaning.

John Paul also possessed a staggering intellect, and according to his secretary, spent three hours each day reading. 13 Although he was dedicated to the intellectual life, John Paul’s prayer life took priority. His colleagues attest that he seemed to be continually absorbed in prayer, as can be seen from the fact that he considered the busy Paris Metro to be “a superb place for contemplation.” 14

His greatest devotion, however, was to the Blessed Sacrament. He never omitted his Holy Hour on Thursdays, even while traveling internationally. If the organizers of his trips didn’t make room for it in his schedule, he would make time and simply arrive an hour late to their program. When his assistants attempted to convince him to decrease the amount of time spent in this devotion, he refused, saying, “No, it keeps me.” 15 He knew that apostolic mission derives its strength from life in God. 16 It is from this man’s heart, mind, and soul that the Church has been given a tremendous gift: the Theology of the Body.

Structure

The Theology of the Body is comprised of two parts. The first focuses on three passages from Scripture, or “words” of Christ. In it, John Paul examined the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. 17 Then he reflects upon the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount, in particular those concerning committing adultery in one’s heart. 18 Finally, he turns to Christ’s words regarding the resurrection of the body. 19 By means of these reflections, he explains the redemption of the body. If fact, in his final catechesis, he describes the content of the whole work as “the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.” 20

The Theology of the Body is thoroughly biblical— as can be seen by the fact that the Pope draws from forty-six books and more than a thousand Scripture citations. However, among all of the passages he quotes, the three mentioned above are his focus. He compares them to the panels of a triptych, which is a work of sacred art consisting of three panels, or parts. When the three images are displayed together, they present a fuller understanding of a topic of theology (in this case, the human person).

The three parts of John Paul’s triptych are original, historical, and eschatological man. Original man is who God created man to be in the beginning, before the dawn of sin. Historical man refers to the current state of humanity, burdened by original sin but redeemed by Christ. “Eschatological” has its roots in the Greek word for “end,” eschaton, and refers to the glorified state of man in heaven. Together, these three epochs of human history form what John Paul called an “adequate anthropology”— an understanding of what it means to be a human person.

In the first part of the Theology of the Body, John Paul used the above three “words” of Christ to explain man’s call to live out “the spousal meaning of the body.” This phrase is the heart of the Theology of the Body. It means that the human body has “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and— through this gift— fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” 21 (This gift of self can be expressed not only through marriage, but also through celibacy for the kingdom of God.)

In the second part of the Theology of the Body, the Pope analyzed “The Sacrament” which is the “great sign” of Christ’s love for the Church and the love between a husband and wife. He explained what the gift of self means in terms of the “language of the body,” and how men and women are called to live it out, especially as it relates to building their families.”

-Evert, Jason (2017-12-06). Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 63-102, 109-239). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Catechism of the Catholic Church
Sexual Identity

(CCC 2333) “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”

(CCC 2393) “By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.”

Body and Soul

(CCC 364) “The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.”

Pope Francis

Encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (2015)

(# 155) “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an ‘ecology of man’, based on the fact that ‘man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will’. It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

(# 56) “Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.’ It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’ …It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to Updated August 7, 2019 3 replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.”

(# 285) “Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for ‘thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.’ Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centeredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension ‘to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it.’

(# 286) “Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations. It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy ‘exchanges’ which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an over accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership. This, thank God, has changed, but in some places deficient notions still condition the legitimate freedom and hamper the authentic development of children’s specific identity and potential.”

Address to Priests, Religious, Seminarians and Pastoral Workers during the Apostolic Journey to Georgia and Azerbaijan (October 1, 2016)

“You mentioned a great enemy to marriage today: the theory of gender. Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonizations which destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas. Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonizations.”

Address to the Polish Bishops during the Apostolic Journey to Poland (July 27, 2016)

“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender’. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this terrible! “In a conversation with Pope Benedict, who is in good health and very perceptive, he said to me: ‘Holiness, this is the age of sin against God the Creator’. He is very perceptive. God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way… and we are doing the exact opposite. God gave us things in a ‘raw’ state, so that we could shape a culture; and then with this culture, we are shaping things that bring us back to the ‘raw’ state! Pope Benedict’s observation should make us think. ‘This is the age of sin against God the Creator’. That will help us.”

Address to Équipes de Notre Dame (September 10, 2015)

“This mission which is entrusted to them, is all the more important inasmuch as the image of the family — as God wills it, composed of one man and one woman in view of the good of the spouses and also of the procreation and upbringing of children — is deformed through powerful adverse projects supported by ideological trends.”

Address to the Bishops of Puerto Rico (June 8, 2015)

“The complementarity of man and woman, the pinnacle of divine creation, is being questioned by the so-called gender ideology, in the name of a more free and just society. The differences between man and woman are not for opposition or subordination, but for communion and generation, always in the ‘image and likeness’ of God.” Full text General Audience on Man and Woman (April 15, 2015) “For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”

Address in Naples (March 23, 2015)

“The crisis of the family is a societal fact. There are also ideological colonializations of the family, different paths and proposals in Europe and also coming from overseas. Then, there is the mistake of the human mind — gender theory — creating so much confusion.”

Meeting with Families in Manila (January 16, 2015)

“Let us be on guard against colonization by new ideologies. There are forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family.”

Pope Benedict XVI


Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (2005)

(# 5) “Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex’, has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great ‘yes’ to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.”

(# 11) “While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete’… Eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who ‘abandons his mother and father’ in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become ‘one flesh’. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage.”

Address to the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” (January 19, 2013)

“The Christian vision of man is, in fact, a great ‘yes’ to the dignity of persons called to an intimate filial communion of humility and faithfulness. The human being is not a self-sufficient individual nor an anonymous element in the group. Rather he is a unique and unrepeatable person, intrinsically ordered to relationships and sociability. Thus the Church reaffirms her great ‘yes’ to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of the faithful and generous bond between man and woman, and her no to ‘gender’ philosophies, because the reciprocity between male and female is an expression of the beauty of nature willed by the Creator.”

Address to the Roman Curia (December 21, 2012)

“These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”

Address to the German Bundestag (September 22, 2011)

“…There is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.”

Pope St. John Paul II

Letter to Families (1994)

(# 6) “Man is created ‘from the very beginning’ as male and female: the light of all humanity… is marked by this primordial duality. From it there derive the ‘masculinity’ and the ‘femininity’ of individuals, just as from it every community draws its own unique richness in the mutual fulfillment of persons… Hence one can discover, at the very origins of human society, the qualities of communion and of complementarity.”

(# 19) “…the human family is facing the challenge of a new Manichaeanism, in which body and spirit are put in radical opposition; the body does not receive life from the spirit, and the spirit does not give life to the body. Man thus ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object. This neo-Manichaean culture has led, for example, to human sexuality being regarded more as an area for manipulation and exploitation than as the basis of that primordial wonder which led Adam on the morning of creation to exclaim before Eve: ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ (Gen 2:23).”

Theology of the Body

Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006)

(# 9:3) “The account of the creation of man in Genesis 1 affirms from the beginning and directly that man was created in the image of God inasmuch as he is male and female… man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning.”

(# 9:5) “Masculinity and femininity express the twofold aspect of man’s somatic constitution… and indicate, in addition… the new consciousness of the meaning of one’s body. This meaning, one can say, consists in reciprocal enrichment.”

(# 10:1) “Femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity. Precisely the function of sex [that is, being male or female], which in some way is ‘constitutive for the person’ (not only ‘an attribute of the person’), shows how deeply man, with all his spiritual solitude, with the uniqueness and unrepeatability proper to the person, is constituted by the body as ‘he’ or ‘she’.”

(# 14:4) “The body, which expresses femininity ‘for’ masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity ‘for’ femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons.”

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World (2004)

(# 2) “In this perspective [i.e., that of gender ideology], physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.”

(# 12) “Male and female are thus revealed as belonging ontologically to creation and destined therefore to outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form.”

Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (1975)

(III) “… There can be no true promotion of man’s dignity unless the essential order of his nature is respected.”

Congregation for Catholic Education

“Male and Female He Created Them”: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education (2019)

(# 1) “It is becoming increasingly clear that we are now facing with what might accurately be called an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality. In many places, curricula are being planned and implemented which “allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason”. The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilize the family as an institution, bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.” ** This entire document deals with gender theory and education. The above is the first paragraph.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

(# 224) “Faced with theories that consider gender identity as merely the cultural and social product of the interaction between the community and the individual, independent of personal sexual identity without any reference to the true meaning of sexuality, the Church does not tire of repeating her teaching: ‘Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarities are oriented towards the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. . . .’ According to this perspective, it is obligatory that positive law be conformed to the natural law, according to which sexual identity is indispensable, because it is the objective condition for forming a couple in marriage” (emphasis in original, internal citation omitted).

Pontifical Council for the Family

Family, Marriage and “De Facto” Unions (2000)

(# 8) “In the process that could be described as the gradual cultural and human de-structuring of the institution of marriage, the spread of a certain ideology of ‘gender’ should not be underestimated. According to this ideology, being a man or a woman is not determined Updated August 7, 2019 8 fundamentally by sex but by culture. Therefore, the very bases of the family and inter-personal relationships are attacked.”

(# 8) “Starting from the decade between 1960-1970, some theories… hold not only that generic sexual identity (‘gender’) is the product of an interaction between the community and the individual, but that this generic identity is independent from personal sexual identity: i.e., that masculine and feminine genders in society are the exclusive product of social factors, with no relation to any truth about the sexual dimension of the person. In this way, any sexual attitude can be justified, including homosexuality, and it is society that ought to change in order to include other genders, together with male and female, in its way of shaping social life.”

USCCB: Various Documents

Chairmen Letter to U.S. Senators regarding ENDA Legislation (2013)

“ENDA’s definition of ‘gender identity’ lends force of law to a tendency to view ‘gender as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality, which a person may choose at variance from his or her biological sex.”

ENDA Backgrounder (2013)

“ENDA defines ‘gender identity’ as ‘the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.’”

“ENDA’s treatment of ‘gender identity would lend the force of law to a tendency to view ‘gender’ as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex. Second, ENDA’s treatment of ‘gender identity’ would adversely affect the privacy and associational rights of others. In this respect, ENDA would require workplace rules that violate the legitimate privacy expectations of other employees… Third, ENDA would make it far more difficult for organizations and employees with moral and religious convictions about the importance of sexual difference, and the biological basis of sexual identity, to speak and act on those beliefs.”

Chairmen Statement on ENDA-style Executive Order (2014)

“[The executive order] lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent… “The executive order prohibits ‘gender identity’ discrimination, a prohibition that is previously unknown at the federal level, and that is predicated on the false idea that ‘gender’ is nothing more than a social construct or psychological reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex. This is a problem not only of principle but of practice, as it will jeopardize the privacy and associational rights of both federal contractor employees and federal employees.”

Chairmen Statement on Department of Labor Regulations (2014)

“The regulations published on December 3 [2014] by the U.S. Department of Labor implement the objectionable Executive Order that President Obama issued in July to address what the Administration has described as ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ discrimination in employment by federal contractors. . . . [T]he regulations advance the false ideology of ‘gender identity,’ which ignores biological reality and harms the privacy and associational rights of both contractors and their employees.”

Chairmen Statement on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (2013)

“Unfortunately, we cannot support the version of the ‘Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013’ passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate (S. 47) because of certain language it contains. Among our concerns are those provisions in S. 47 that refer to ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’ All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as contained in S. 47 is problematic. These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.”

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (5th Edition)

(# 53) “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” (No. 70) “Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization.”

For further related USCCB resources, see:

• USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009), https://www.usccb.org/resources/pastoral-letter-marriage-love-and-life-in-the-divine-plan.pdf

• USCCB, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (2006), https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/homosexuality/upload/minstry-persons-homosexual-inclination-2006.pdf

• Made for Each Other (video, viewer’s guide, and resource booklet), available at www.marriageuniqueforareason.org

Love, His will is perfect,
Matthew

1 Peter 5: 8.
2 Mieczysław Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference, Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016.
3 Interview with Father Andrew Swietochowski, July 31, 2017.
4 The Pontifical Council for the Family and the International Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.
5 Diane Montagna, “Online Exclusive: What John Paul II Intended to Say the Day He Was Shot,” Aleteia, May 7, 2016.
6 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 164.
7 Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, May 29, 1994.
8 Gaudium et Spes, 36.
9 Other proposed titles included “Human Love in the Divine Plan” or “The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage.”
10 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper, 2001), 343.
11 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2516 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).
12 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
13 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
14 George Weigel, City of Saints (New York: Image, 2015), 232.
15 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
16 Pope John Paul II, Master in the Faith 2, Rome: December 14, 1990.
17 Matt. 19: 8; Mark 10: 6– 9.
18 Matt. 5: 28.
19 Matt. 22: 30; Mark 12: 25; Luke
20: 35– 36. 20 TOB 133: 2.
21 Theology of the Body 15: 1; 32: 1, 3.

Purifying motives


-by Circle of Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430–1516), “Christ Carrying the Cross”,1505-1510, oil on panel, 49.5 × 38.5 cm (19.5 × 15.2 in)Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA


-by Br Norbert Kelliher, OP

“We carry our cross. We do it to be disciples of Christ, to do His will in our life and not our own. But surrendering our own willfulness means more than a determination to obey. The paradox of discipleship is not that we do the will of another and receive a reward, but that in leaving behind our own will we discover it again in Christ. In the end, we will discover that we desire the same thing that Christ does.

St. John of the Cross, a disciple of Christ known for his asceticism, expresses this paradox in one of his Sayings of Light and Love:

“Deny your desires and you will find what your heart longs for. For how do you know if any desire of yours is according to God?” (Sayings 15)

Desire is our will’s attraction to the good. When we are willful in a disordered way, we seize on something that is good but in a way contrary to God’s will and to our nature. We can also have desires that follow reason and are virtuous. Real virtue includes adapting to our circumstances and purifying our motives, which often have been distorted by past sin. As our desires are educated in discipleship, we should question them and see whether they are good here and now.

This saying of St. John of the Cross can help us in our daily discipleship by making us skeptical about some of our desires. It is always necessary to deny innately disordered desires, as well as selfish ways of satisfying innately good ones. At other times we have to let go of good desires by force of circumstance, even though in another case they would be virtuous.

To deny ourselves out of a desire to please God is a way of taking up our daily cross, as Christ says His disciples must do. Just as the man who wishes to save his life ends up losing it, so the man who does not deny his own disordered desires ends up suffering what he does not desire. Rom 6:23 But if we learn the habit of denying our inappropriate desires, we can find our satisfaction in desiring Christ above all things.

By denying ourselves out of humility, we create more room for the One desire that matters. If we doubt whether we will find what we’re looking for along this road, we can imagine querying the saint:

“Was it worth it, St. John of the Cross, to leave behind so many of your own desires for Christ?”

His unequivocal answer would be, “Yes! Now I possess Christ and have all I ever could have wanted.” The willfulness of a saint is greater than that of a sinner, because he clings tenaciously to Goodness itself.

For those of us who are not saints, we can take comfort that perfect self-denial does not come immediately. We may get there some day, but for now, fulfilling our basic duties in life and our Lenten practices is enough. By taking these up faithfully, with a longing for Christ, we are surrendering our own will little by little. This process is painful, but we know that one day it will lead to our greatest joy.”

[Ed. you will know you are doing this correctly if greater and greater peace comes with an ever more intimate relationship w/Him, resting ever more in His sweet, sweet love.]

Love, joy, and intimacy with Him, His growing peace to you,
Matthew

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, OCD, “En Una Noche Oscura…”

zurbaran_john_cross
-St. John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656 [Archdiocesan Museum of Katowice, Poland]

michael-pakaluk-portrait-boston-pilot
-by Michael Pakaluk

“En una noche oscura”, “On a dark night.” So begins his most famous poem. What is described, and what the great mystic wants to evoke, does not take place during the day, but at night. And not during any night we might know, but a night from the 16th century.

Yes, people have stopped working and are at rest, sleeping. No one is about. And there is no light from the sun, of course. But there are no human lights either. What few candles and lamps people might own have been extinguished. Since the night is dark, we can presume that not even the moon is shining.

But note this difference between our “dark” and the Spanish oscura, literally “obscured.” Darkness is superficial, a kind of color, but being obscured is a deep condition: the Spanish word makes clear that the darkness of the night comes from the covering-over or obscurity of the sun.

Understood spiritually, this could be someone manically surfing on his phone, plopped in front of the TV, or fervently preoccupied with Christmas shopping. Human light, as Pope Benedict said, is often darkened reality. Mary is out of sight; God is obscured; and his soul is in a state of extreme privation.

Con ansias, en amores inflamada – “With disquietude, though inflamed with love.” Some translators give “yearning” for ansias. But that is too positive. It makes things easy. After all, the word is cognate with our “anxiety.” So consider instead the common core of anxiety and yearning: namely, unsettledness, dread, or restlessness. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” The genius of the line, and the genius of him who wrote it, St. Augustine, is to see that, metaphysically, restlessness must be linked with love.

If you are paying attention you see that inflamada is feminine, and thus the author is asking us to consider a woman, alone on this dark night, troubled and yet deeply and romantically stirred by love. And, as she is a woman, she loves for having first been loved. Thus, although all is dark, we still can “see” something, namely, we can see her lover “in” the response of this woman, the beloved.

Spiritually, the woman is the human soul, perhaps the soul of that smart-phone addicted man, who sleeps lightly and wakes at 3 AM with that all too-familiar dread. Yet St. John of the Cross wishes to give him a key to interpreting his soul’s condition then. He can see the action of God in his own restlessness.¡Oh dichosa ventura! – “Oh blessed chance!” This may seem a strange line, an unusual interjection, but, as if to assure us that the meaning is well considered, the author repeats it again, in the very same place of the second stanza (as you can see if you read the whole poem).

To get the flavor, consider our expressions, “What a great stroke of luck!” “To my good fortune!” “By a happy fate!” If you frown upon the Saint for invoking luck, consider: the main English word for what all of us desire most of all is “happiness,” which means, literally, the state of enjoying “hap” or luck. (What “happens” is what accidentally turns out so.)

You can call it grace, if you look at the big picture, of God above looking down at the restless man below, and bestowing gifts according to His Eternal Will. Then there is nothing “lucky” about it, no aspect of “hap.” But from the point of view of the restless man, what comes next seems like the sheerest good luck. It is entirely incidental to his own powers, ideas, and limits. He would not in a million years have blundered upon it himself. Spiritually, the soul is always “surprised by joy,” as another great spiritual guide once put it.

Salí sin ser notada – “I went forth without being noticed.” The sheerest luck is that the soul goes forth. In the dark night, when all is dead, it rises and leaves. But then notice that immediately a task is presented to the soul: it is unnoticed and must want to remain unnoticed. Vanity, preening, recognition, human praise – consolation – it must give all of this up. “The Father who sees in secret will reward in secret.”

Spiritually, it is a miracle, on par with the resurrection, if the media-addicted man turns to God in prayer. Yet not if, for a Christian, but when. And when he does pray, he immediately has his work cut out for him, as in prayer he lives life in a different way, which implies no recognition. No one will click on you or “like” you for your prayer.

But yes, the Saint wants us to consider the boldness and adventure of a woman setting out secretly at night to meet her lover, because the mystery on which the soul embarks in prayer is even greater.

Estando ya mi casa sosegada – “while my house most assuredly was at rest.” This line too gets repeated. It therefore goes with the other line, and if the other line refers to God’s grace, seen from a human point of view, this line must refer to the human contribution, from the point of view of God’s grace.

Spanish casa can mean either the dwelling or the household. Spiritually, to say the dwelling is at rest is to say that the human body plays no part. To say that the household is at rest is to say that the human soul itself is not the origin. Christians and their prayers are born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1:13, KJV)

At the end of the poem the soul is “lost in oblivion,” and leaves its cares “forgotten among the lilies.” St. John of the Cross, lead us there.”

“Clothe me, O God, with the green garment of hope. A living hope in You gives the soul such ardor, so much courage and longing for the things of eternal life that, by comparison with what it hopes for, all things of the world seem to it to be, as in truth they are, dry, faded, dead, and without value. Give me then, a strong hope, O my God, so that it may strip me of all the vanities of the world, that I may not set my heart upon anything that is in the world, nor hope for anything, but live clad only in the hope of eternal life. Let hope be the helmet of salvation which will protect my head from the wounds of the enemy, and will direct my gaze to heaven allowing me to fix my eyes on You alone, my God. As the eyes of the handmaid are set upon the hands of her mistress, even so are my eyes set upon You, until You take pity on me because of my hope. Grant that I may set my eyes on naught but You, nor be pleased with aught but You alone. Then You will be pleased with me, and I shall be able to say in all truth that I receive from You as much as I hope for” (cf. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, II, 21,6-8).

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 2, Dark Nights & St John of the Cross

depression

“Many Catholics and other Christians who are familiar with the Church’s tradition of prayer and mysticism have heard of the spiritual state known as the “dark night,” described by the Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross. Actually, John of the Cross divides the “dark night” into two stages, the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the spirit, and assigns them to different stages of progress in the spiritual life. Speaking somewhat loosely and without awareness of these more technical meanings of the term, Christians will sometimes refer to any spiritual trial — dryness in prayer, doubts or difficulties with faith, or strong temptations — as “dark nights of the soul.”

I have evaluated some devout Christian patients who interpret their depressive symptoms as a “dark night.” Believing that they are enduring a spiritual trial rather than a medical or mental illness, they are often reluctant to seek treatment with medications or psychotherapy. When they fail to find relief from their suffering from spiritual direction or prayer, they can be tempted to despair or may feel as though God has abandoned them.

What St. John of the Cross describes when writing about the dark nights of the senses and of the spirit is not, in fact, the same thing as clinical depression. It is necessary to distinguish between these two states.29   Distinguishing them properly will help in identifying the right treatment modality, so that a person will not continue to suffer needlessly if he is depressed.

Let’s begin with a brief sketch of the two dark nights as St. John describes them. The dark night of the senses is characterized by dryness in prayer, an inability to apply imagination to the mysteries of Christ, a lack of emotional satisfaction from the spiritual life, and a lack of felt enthusiasm in prayer. Nonetheless, the person in this state retains a deep commitment to seeking union with God and following Christ and does not consider abandoning the spiritual life. This feature helps to distinguish the dark night of the senses from other spiritual or moral problems, such as acedia or lukewarmness. The dark night of the senses is a positive and normal development indicating progress in the spiritual life. The previous spiritual or affective consolations that God granted are withdrawn, in order to advance one’s faith, hope, and love by purifying one’s sensory attachment to pleasure and self-will. This helps the soul to become more selfless and attuned to God and to practice loving abandonment to Him.

The dark night of the spirit occurs in more advanced stages of the spiritual life and is characterized by profound interior pain and a sense of emptiness. In this state, God allows the person to perceive his own interior disorder and depravity, the infinite gap between the sinful creature and the all-holy God. The person in this state has no awareness of God other than pure faith, and even his faith seems to him to be inadequate. As a result, the person may wonder if God can accept and forgive him. St. John of the Cross maintains that the cause of this pain is, as the theologian Kevin Culligan describes it, “the light of God’s self-communication to the person, the contemplative knowledge that allows persons to see both God and themselves as they actually are, not as they had formerly imagined God or themselves to be.” Culligan continues, “[T]he loss of these images [of self and God] is for the person an experience of death, with all the consequent feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, and grief.”30

St. John teaches that both dark nights are the result of God’s increasing self-communication to the person, which purifies the soul first of sensory and then of spiritual attachments. Such a state may feel like darkness to the person, but objectively it is an intensification of divine light in the soul. The individual is actually moving closer to God, not farther away. Like a person who emerges from a cave into the bright sun, the initial experience is blinding and disorienting.

The description of the two dark nights implies at least one intermediate stage. To further clarify these movements in the spiritual life and how they might relate to depression, it can be helpful to view the dark nights within the larger context of what Christian spiritual writers call the three “ways,” or stages, of the spiritual life: the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way.31 The first stage, the purgative way, follows upon the initial conversion (sacramentally accomplished in Baptism) that launches the life of Christian discipleship. Every baptized Christian embarks upon a spiritual life whose goal, on this side of death, is nothing less than infused contemplation of the mysteries of the faith. To enjoy such fullness of intimate union with the Trinity re-quires a purging, a burning away, of unreasonable attachments to the goods of this world, so that one might be free enough to enjoy the infinite good that is God Himself. If one allows this healing work, the Lord, in His goodness and mercy, purifies the soul of selfishness and sinful attachments, helping the person to grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

A decisive moment comes with the first dark night, that of the senses, which leads on to the second stage of the spiritual life, the illuminative way. The illuminative way is a time when the soul feels consoled and uplifted by God. In this stage, one often has an enthusiasm to pray, to do spiritual reading, to receive the sacraments, and to serve others; the soul experiences a certain ease in following God’s will, desiring holy things, and turning away from sin and worldly attachments.

From this period of illumination, the soul is led, by way of the dark night of the spirit, into a third phase, the unitive way. The unitive way is the consummate stage of Christian life on earth. Spiritual growth continues at this point, but it occurs within a stable life of perfect unity with the Trinitarian life of love. Infused contemplation of the mysteries of the faith gives rise to a love without deficiency — perfect unitive life with God. This is a life of holiness, of sanctity. Every Christian is called to attain this perfection of love, even before death. Entry into this unitive way is made possible by successfully undergoing the dark night of the spirit. In this transition, the soul may experience a sense of desolation, but a “desolation” that is actually uniting the soul to God. It is imperative for properly understanding the dark nights to attend to the period of consolation — the illuminative way — in between the two dark nights. The point for our purposes is that one is not led directly from the beginning stages of the spiritual life into the dark night of the spirit. Before being led into this type of purification, the soul enjoys deep and abiding consolation in God and the things of God.

In the dark night of the spirit, it is true that the soul senses the loss of God’s presence, and this causes great pain. Between the dark night of the senses and that of the spirit, however, there is spiritual consolation. (More will be said about this in the following section.) This period of spiritual consolation is key for differentiating depression from the dark night of the spirit. A depressed person is not likely experiencing the abiding consolation of the illuminative way. In this way, the basic pattern of progress in the spiritual life can help us distinguish depression from the dark nights. Both dark nights belong to the dynamism of grace, by which God brings about perfect union of the soul with Himself. Love burns through the whole process, and that marks even the darkness of the senses and the darkness of the spirit that occur as God draws the Christian to the fullness of life.

Although a sense of loss is common to both depression and the dark nights, it is manifested differently. Depression involves the loss of ordinary abilities to function mentally and physically, and it can also be triggered by interpersonal loss, loss of a job, and so forth. The interior dryness of the dark night of the senses involves a loss of pleasure in the things of God and in some created things. However, it does not involve disturbed mood, loss of energy (with cognitive or motor slowing), or diminished sexual appetite — all of which are seen commonly in depression. Those in the dark night of the senses have trouble applying their mental faculties to the practice of prayer and meditation, but do not typically have difficulty concentrating or making decisions in other areas of life.32

With the dark night of the spirit, as described above, there is an acute awareness of one’s own unworthiness before God, of one’s personal defects and moral imperfections, and of the great abyss between oneself and God. However, a person in this state does not experience morbid thoughts of excessive guilt, self-loathing, feelings of utter worthlessness, or suicidal thoughts — all of which are commonly experienced during a depressive episode. Furthermore, neither of the two darks nights involves changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, weight changes, or other physical symptoms (e.g., gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain) that sometimes accompany depression.

In his helpful article on the subject of distinguishing depression from the dark nights, Kevin Culligan writes from his own experience as a spiritual director: “I can usually tell whether persons are depressed or in the dark night by attending closely to my own interior reactions as these persons describe their inner experience. As a disorder of mood or affect, depression communicates across personal relationships. Depressed persons typically look depressed, sound depressed, and make you depressed. After listening to depressed persons describe their suffering, I myself begin to feel helpless and hopeless, as though the dejected mood of persons with depression is contagious. I also frequently feel deep pity for the “profound rejection and hatred of the self” that characterize persons who are truly depressed. By contrast, I seldom feel down when I listen to persons describe the dryness of the dark nights of sense and spirit. Instead, I frequently feel compassion for what persons suffer as they are spiritually purified, together with admiration for their commitment to do all that God asks. In fact, at these times I feel my own self being energized. It seems that the strengthening of spirit that God brings to persons through darkness is also communicated to me.33

What we have noted so far has to do with the dark nights of the soul occurring in the transitions between the purgative and illuminative and between the illuminative and unitive ways. But we must recognize another kind of dark night, one that is not transitional to higher stages of the spiritual life; instead, it belongs to the highest stage of spiritual life. In the perfect unitive life, one of the modes of union with God would include union with Jesus in the darkness of the Cross. This is where one must locate the dark night experienced by our Lady in her mystical, co-redemptive sorrow at the foot of the Cross — a sorrow born of an incomparably profound participation in the sorrow of Jesus. Since it is an expression of Christ’s divine love, this sorrow forges a deeper union between the Mother of God and her divine Son.

An excellent contemporary example of such a dark night ex-perienced by a saint (as opposed to the dark nights necessary to attain to sainthood) is that of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Let us examine how this differs from depression. It came as a surprise to most people to learn after her death that Mother Teresa was in profound spiritual darkness for nearly forty years. Why were so many people shocked? Because she was so joyful. She was full of vitality and had incredible energy and charisma to draw others into her prayer and work for the poorest of the poor. Her personal writings make clear that she spent years in a kind of profound dark night; but she was far from depressed. Anyone who met her could testify that she exuded a joy that was contagious — a joy that communicated the presence of God to those around her. We could say that the sorrow she experienced in the felt lack of God’s presence in her soul is that mystical, uniquely Christian sorrow that is born from the Cross. It is a participation in Christ’s own sorrow, where joy and sorrow are not opposed because both are expressive of the divine love revealed in the Cross.”

29 I am indebted in this section to an excellent theological and psychological study by Kevin Culligan, “The Dark Night and Depression,” Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century, ed. Keith J. Egan (New York: Paulist Press, 2003), 119-139.
30 Ibid., 125.
31 For a general introduction to the three stages of the spiritual life, see Benedict Groeschel, Spiritual Passages: the Psychology of Spiritual Development (New York: Crossroads, 1984). See also Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life (Rockford, Illinois: TAN, 2002).
32 Culligan, “The Dark Night and Depression,” Carmelite Prayer, 130.
33 Ibid., 135.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (p. 62-69). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, “The Darkness of Unknowing”

st-john-cross


-by Br Brent Bowen, OP

In darkness and secure
By the secret ladder, disguised,
– Ah, the sheer grace! –
In darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled;

We know a lot about God, both through the natural faculty of reason that God gifts to humanity, and through Divine Revelation. However there is a vast difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. The content of theology allows us to know more about God, but all of this knowledge is pointless unless it leads us into deeper intimate communion with the One Who Himself is knowledge.
Saint John of the Cross, vis-à-vis Aristotle, offers us advice in this endeavor:

Let it be recalled that according to a philosophical axiom all means must be proportionate to their end. That is, they must manifest a certain accord with and likeness to the end so that through them the desired end may be attained. For example: those who want to reach a city must necessarily take the road, the means, that leads to the city (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 2, #2).

How can I come to know a God who, in many ways, is so unlike me? Is there a means through which I can truly know God? Saint John seems to answer these questions:

It is noteworthy that among all creatures both superior and inferior, none bears a likeness to God’s being or unites proximately with Him […] Consequently, intellectual comprehension of God through heavenly or earthly creatures is impossible; there is no proportion of likeness (Ascent, Bk 2, #3).

Thus, we can know a lot about God through our study of theology, but we will never exhaust the fullness of God’s being through our study of God. Likewise in the spiritual life we eventually come to the realization that our yearning for God’s presence is never going to be satisfied through any natural means. When we reach this point we certainly should not abandon our quest for union with God, but we need to change tactics. Instead of trying to use our intellectual faculties as the primary means toward union, we must humbly submit to God’s action in prayer.  The mystical tradition often refers to this submission as “darkness.” By entering into the darkness of unknowing, we dispose ourselves to freely receiving God’s presence:

In order to draw nearer the divine ray the intellect must advance by unknowing rather than by the desire to know, and by blinding itself and remaining in darkness rather than by opening its eyes (Ascent, Bk 2, #5).

Although it can be scary, and one can feel downright alone in the darkness, we must cling to our faith and allow ourselves to be purified by the One Who is Light Itself. Occasionally we may see brief glimpses of this light, and these give us the strength and hope to continue trudging along the dark way. The good news is: the darkness does not last forever – it is only a preparation for something infinitely greater! Enter into the darkness! You will not regret it!”

With Saint Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross was called to the exceedingly difficult task to reform a decadent, declining and worldly state of affairs in the Religious life—specifically the Carmelite Order. Neither the men nor the women took a liking to someone rocking their comfortable boat of complacency! God chose these two saints to disrupt their comfortable status quo!

The anger which led to fury leveled against Saint John of the Cross was so intense that violent persecutions descended upon the saint like an unending tempest! John was kidnapped, locked in a small cell in a Carmelite convent. He was scourged, deprived of saying Holy Mass, barely given enough food to eat so as to survive, nor even a bath to take for hygiene purposes. Through Our Lady’s intercession St John escaped.

After all of this unjust abuse both verbal, physical, mental and spiritual, the great mystical doctor of the Church Saint John of the Cross, never uttered an unkind word against any of those who plotted and carried out against his person such unjust and uncharitable actions!

At the end of his life he was asked where he would like to end his days— in a convent where he would be loved and appreciated to end his days or in the convent of a Superior that detested him. St John of the Cross preferred the latter so as to conform his life more and more to the passion, suffering and humiliations of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

In conclusion Principle and Foundation teaches us who God is, where we come from, where we are heading and how to get there. An essential component of Principle and Foundation is “Ignatian Holy Indifference”. A key means to attaining Holy Indifference is a constant and dynamic prayer life, which leads to a total confidence in God, which is translated and manifested in a total willingness to give one’s whole self to God as a sacrifice, offering and oblation.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, OCD (1541-1591) – Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Mystical Theology

El_Greco_-_View_of_Toledo_-_Google_Art_Project
-El Greco’s landscape of Toledo, Spain (ca 1596) depicts the priory in which John was held captive, just below the old Muslim alcázar and perched on the banks of the Tajo on high cliffs

One of the Great Catholic Reformers, Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) (b: 24 June 1542 — d: 14 December 1591), born Juan de Yepes Alvarez of a Jewish converso family, was a major figure of the Catholic Reformation, a Spanish mystic, and Carmelite friar and priest, born at Hontoveros, Old Castile.

John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver’s daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love of God.

John was a reformer and re-vitalizer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature.

Ordained a Carmelite priest at 25 (1567), John met Teresa of Jesus (Avila–October 15) and like her vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment.

Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment, John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into The Light, paper he used to write on passed to him by one of his guards.

There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in the “Spiritual Canticle”.

But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had his “Ascent to Mt. Carmel”, as he named it in his prose masterpiece.  Thomas Merton said of John: “Just as we can never separate asceticism from mysticism, so in St. John of the Cross we find darkness and light, suffering and joy, sacrifice and love united together so closely that they seem at times to be identified together and inseparable.”

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-“The Ascent of Mount Carmel”, as depicted in the first edition of 1618 by Diego de Astor

The Church of England commemorates him, too, as a “Teacher of the Faith” on this same day.

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-In the iconography of St John of the Cross, you can see the words written in the book, which was St John of the Cross’ motto:  “Domine, pati et contemni pro te!”  “Lord, to suffer and be despised for You!”

“Live in the world as if only God and your soul were in it; then your heart will never be made captive by any earthly thing.” -St. John of the Cross

“The Lord measures out perfection neither by the multitude of our deeds, but by the manner in which we perform them.” -St. John of the Cross

“To saints, their very slumber is a prayer.” -St. John of the Cross

“In the first place it should be known that if a person is seeking God, his Beloved is seeking him much more.” -St. John of the Cross

Prayer of Peace

“O Blessed Jesus, grant me stillness of soul in Thee. Let Thy mighty calmness reign in me. Rule me, O thou King of gentleness, King of peace. Give me control, control over my words, thoughts and actions. From all irritability, want of meekness, want of gentleness, O dear Lord, deliver me. By thine own deep patience give me patience, stillness of soul in Thee. Make me in this, and in all, more and more like Thee. Amen.”-St John of the Cross

“Let Your divinity shine on my intellect by giving it divine knowledge, and on my will by imparting to it the divine love and on my memory with the divine possession of glory.

Let us so act that by means of this loving activity we may attain to the vision of ourselves in Your beauty in eternal life. That is: That I be so transformed in Your beauty that we may be alike in beauty, and both behold ourselves in Your beauty, possessing now Your very beauty; this, in such a way that each looking at the other may see in the other his own beauty, since both are Your beauty alone, I being absorbed in Your beauty; hence, I shall see You in Your beauty, and You shall see me in Your beauty, and I shall see myself in You in Your beauty, and You will see Yourself in me in Your beauty; that I may resemble You in Your beauty, and You resemble me in Your beauty, and my beauty will be Your beauty and Your beauty my beauty; wherefore I shall be You in Your beauty, and You will be me in Your beauty, because Your very beauty will be my beauty; and therefore we shall behold each other in Your beauty.

O abyss of delights! You are so much the more abundant the more Your riches are concentrated in the infinite unity and simplicity of Your unique being, where one attribute is so known and enjoyed as not to hinder the perfect knowledge and enjoyment of the other; rather, each grace and virtue within You is a light for each of Your other grandeurs. By Your purity, O divine Wisdom, many things are behold in You through one. For You are the deposit of the Father’s treasures, the splendor of the eternal light, the unspotted mirror and image of His goodness.

Awaken and enlighten us, my Lord, that we might know and love the blessings which You ever propose to us, and that we might understand that You have moved to bestow favors on us and have remembered us.

O Lord, my God, who will seek You with simple and pure love and not find You are all he desires, for You show Yourself first and go out to meet those who desire You?

My spirit has become dry because it forgets to feed on You.”

Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love

“Lord God, my Beloved, if You remember still my sins in suchwise that You do not do what I beg of You, do Your will concerning them, my God, which is what I most desire, and exercise Your goodness and mercy, and You will be known through them. And if it is that You are waiting for my good works so as to hear my prayer through their means, grant them to me, and work them for me, and the sufferings You desire to accept, and let it be done. But if You are not waiting for my works, what is it that makes You wait, my most clement Lord? Why do You delay? For if, after all, I am to receive the grace and mercy which I entreat of You in Your Son, take my mite, since You desire it, and grant me this blessing, since You also desire that. Who can free himself from the lowly manners and limitations if You do not lift him to Yourself, my God, in purity of love? How will a man begotten and nurtured in lowliness rise up to You, Lord, if You do not raise him with Your hand which made him? You will not take from me, my God, what You once gave me in Your only Son, Jesus Christ in Whom You gave me all I desire. Hence I rejoice that if I wait for You, You will not delay. With what procrastinations do You wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart? Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God Himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me.What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less, nor pay heed to the crumbs which fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in It and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.

Oh, how sweet Your presence will be to me, You Who are the supreme good! I must draw near You in silence pleased to unite me to You in … I rejoice in Your arms. Now I ask You, Lord, do not abandon me at any time in my recollection, for I know not the value of my soul.”

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-reliquary of St John of the Cross, Convent of Carmelite Friars, Segovia, Spain

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-reliquary of St John of the Cross, Ubeda, Spain

“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” – St. John of the Cross, “Special Counsels: Degrees of Perfection #9

“The Dark Night of the Soul”
-by St John Of the Cross

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

“The soul, however, cannot be perfectly purified from these imperfections, any more than from the others, until God shall have led it into the passive purgation of the dark night, of which I shall speak immediately. But it is expedient that the soul, so far as it can, should labor, on its own part, to purify and perfect itself, that it may merit from God to be taken under His divine care, and be healed from those imperfections which of itself it cannot remedy. For, after all the efforts of the soul, it cannot by any exertions of its own actively purify itself so as to be in the slightest degree fit for the divine union of perfection in the love of God, if God Himself does not take it into His own hands and purify it in the fire, dark to the soul.” — St. John of the Cross, p.14, Dark Night of the Soul, St Benedict Press Classics

“God does not fit in an occupied heart.”
— St. John of the Cross

From the Proper for the Feast of St John of the Cross

Lord,
you endowed our Father Saint John of the Cross with a spirit of self-denial and a love of the cross. By following his example may we come to the eternal vision of Your glory.

Love,
Matthew