John of the Cross (2)
John of the Cross (2)
4. Three Causes
The third sin is spiritual luxury. It is from this sin that all of the others proceed, and thus, it is the most important. Here is what happens: a soul which is deep in prayer may experience profound temptations and find itself powerless to prevent them. Sometimes this even happens during holy communion, or when saying confession. This happens from one of three causes.
The first cause is the physical pleasure the body takes in spiritual things. The lower part of nature, the flesh, is sometimes stirred up during times of devotion. But it cannot possess and lay hold upon the experience, and so, begins to stir up what it can possess, namely, the impure and the sensual.
The second cause is the devil. In order to disturb and disquiet the soul the devil will try to stir up impurity within the soul, hoping that it will give heed to these temptations. The soul will begin to fear these temptations and become lax in prayer, and if they persist, it may even give up on prayer altogether.
The third cause is an inordinate fear of impure thoughts. Some souls are so tender and frail that they cannot stand such thoughts and live in great fear of them. This fear in itself can cause their downfall. They become agitated at the least disturbance and thus are too easily distracted.
When the soul enters into the dark night, all these things are put under control. The flesh will be quieted, the devil will be silent, and the fear will subside, all because of the fact that God takes away all of the sensory pleasure, and the soul is purified in the absence of it.
5. Saints in a Day
When the soul begins to enjoy the benefits of the spiritual life and then has them taken away, it becomes angry and embittered, This is the sin of spiritual wrath, the fourth capital sin, and it, too, must be purged in the dark night.
When their delight comes to an end, these persons are very anxious and frustrated just as an infant is angry when it is taken away from its mother’s breast. There is no sin in this natural disappointment, but if it is left to itself, it may become a dangerous vice.
There are some who become angry with themselves at this point, thinking that their loss of joy is a result of something they have done or neglected to do. They will fuss and fret and do all they can to recover this consolation. They will strive to become saints in a day. They will make all kinds of resolutions to be more spiritual, but the greater the resolution, the greater is the fall.
Their problem is that they lack the patience that waits for whatever God would give them and when God chooses to give them. They must learn spiritual meekness which will come about in the dark night.
6. Beyond the Limits of Moderation
The fifth sin is spiritual gluttony. Many souls become addicted to the spiritual sweetness of the devotional life and strive to obtain more and more of it. They pass beyond the limits of moderation and nearly kill themselves with spiritual exercises.
They will often try to subdue their flesh with great acts of submission, lengthy fasts, and painful penances. But note: these are one-sided penances; they do not come from God. Such persons are working their own will, and thus, grow in vice rather than in virtue.
They are not walking in true obedience, but rather, are doing what they want in the time and measure that they have chosen. They do these things not for God but for themselves, and for this reason they will soon grow weary in them. For this reason, it is probably better for these persons to give up their devotions entirely.
The problem is this: when they have received no pleasure for their devotions, they think they have not accomplished anything. This is a grave error, and it judges God unfairly. For the truth is that the feelings we receive from our devotional life are the least of its benefits. The invisible and unfelt grace of God is much greater, and it is beyond our comprehension.
It may be said that through their efforts to obtain consolation such souls actually lose their spirituality. For true spirituality consists in perseverance, patience, and humility. The sin of spiritual gluttony will prompt them to read more books and say more prayers, but God, in his wisdom, will deny them any consolation because he knows that to feed this desire will create an inordinate appetite and breed innumerable evils. The Lord heals such souls through the aridity of the dark night.
7. Weary with Spiritual Exercises
The last two sins are the vices of spiritual envy and spiritual sloth. People who fancy themselves as spiritual are quite often not pleased to hear about the spiritual growth of others. Their chief concern is to be praised themselves. They are not pleased that such attention is being given to someone else and would prefer to be thought of as the most spiritual of all. This is contrary to love, which, as Paul says, rejoices in goodness.
Spiritual sloth happens when the pleasure is removed from the spiritual life. Such souls become weary with spiritual exercises because they do not yield any consolation, and thus, they abandon them. They become angry because they are called to do that which does not fit their needs. They begin to lose interest in God for they measure God by themselves and not themselves by God. Such souls are too weak to bear the crosses that are given to us to help us grow, crosses we face in the dark night of the soul.
8. God Works Passively
Let it suffice to say, then, that God perceives the imperfections within us, and because of his love for us, urges us to grow up. His love is not content to leave us in our weakness, and for this reason he takes us into a dark night. He weans us from all of the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness.
In doing so he is able to take away all these vices and create virtues within us. Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth become strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.