Monday, January 6, 2014

St. John of the Cross on Repugnance Towards the Cross

We ought to note carefully our Savior’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter seven, about this road: Quam angusta porta et arcta via est quae ducit ad vitam! Et pauci sunt qui inveniunt eam (How narrow is the gate and constricting the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it) [Mt. 7:14]. We should note particularly in this passage the exaggeration and hyperbole conveyed by the word quam. This is like saying: Indeed the gate is very narrow, more so than you think. [...] Since he proclaims that few find it, we ought to note the cause: Few there are with the knowledge and desire to enter into this supreme nakedness and emptiness of spirit. As this path on the high mount of perfection is narrow and steep, it demands travelers who are neither weighed down by the lower part of their nature nor burdened in the higher part. This is a venture in which God alone is sought and gained; thus only God ought to be sought and gained.

4. […] I think it is possible to affirm that the more necessary the doctrine the less it is practiced by spiritual persons. […]

5. Oh, who can make this counsel of our Savior on self-denial understandable, and practicable, and attractive, that spiritual persons might become aware of the difference between the method many of them think is good and the one that ought to be used in traveling this road! They are of the opinion that any kind of withdrawal from the world, or reformation of life, suffices. Some are content with a certain degree of virtue, perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness, poverty, selflessness, or spiritual purity (which are all the same) about which the Lord counsels us here [Mk. 8:34-35: If anyone wishes to follow my way, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will gain it]. For they still feed and clothe their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of divesting and denying themselves of these for God’s sake. They think denial of self in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and purification in the spiritual domain. It happens that, when some of this solid, perfect food (the annihilation of all sweetness in God—the pure spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ’s poverty of spirit) is offered them in dryness, distaste, and trial, they run from it as from death and wander about in search only of sweetness and delightful communications from God. Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth. Through this kind of conduct they become, spiritually speaking, enemies of the cross of Christ [Phil. 3:18: For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears].

A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the delectable, leans more toward suffering than toward consolation, more toward going without everything for God than toward possession, and toward dryness and affliction than toward sweet consolation. It knows that this is the significance of following Christ and denying self, that the other method is perhaps a seeking of self in God—something entirely contrary to love. Seeking oneself in God is the same as looking for the caresses and consolations of God. Seeking God in oneself entails not only the desire to do without these consolations for God’s sake, but also the inclination to choose for love of Christ all that is most distasteful whether in God or in the world; and this is what loving God means.

6. Oh, who can explain the extent of the denial our Lord wishes of us! […] It is in the will that all negation takes place. Our Savior referred to this when he declared: Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it (Those who want to possess something, or seek it for self, will lose it). […]

His Majesty taught this to those two disciples who came to ask him for places at his right and left. Without responding to their request for glory, he offered them the chalice he was about to drink as something safer and more precious on earth than enjoyment [Mt. 20:22].

7. This chalice means death to one’s natural self through denudation and annihilation. […] For on this road there is room only for self-denial (as our Savior asserts) and the cross. The cross is a supporting staff and greatly lightens and eases the journey.

Our Lord proclaimed through St. Matthew: My yoke is sweet and my burden light [Mt. 11:30], the burden being the cross. If individuals resolutely submit to the carrying of the cross, if they decidedly want to find and endure trial in all things for God, they will discover in all of them great relief and sweetness. […]

8. I should like to persuade spiritual persons that the road leading to God does not entail a multiplicity of considerations [meditations], methods, manners, and experiences—though in their own way these may be a requirement for beginners—but demands only the one thing necessary: true self-denial, exterior and interior, through surrender of self both to suffering for Christ and to annihilation in all things. In the exercise of this self-denial everything else, and even more, is discovered and accomplished. If one fails in this exercise, the root and sum total of all the virtues, the other methods would amount to no more than going around in circles without getting anywhere, even were one to enjoy considerations and communications as lofty as those of the angels.

A person makes progress only by imitating Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. […] I would not consider any spirituality worthwhile that wants to walk in sweetness and ease and run from the imitation of Christ. […]

That they might realize that their union with God and the greatness of the work they accomplish will be measured by their annihilation of themselves for God in the sensory and spiritual parts of their souls. When they are reduced to nothing, the highest degree of humility, the spiritual union between their souls and God will be an accomplished fact. This union is the most noble and sublime state attainable in this life. The journey, then, does not consist in consolations, delights, and spiritual feelings, but in the living death of the cross, sensory and spiritual, exterior and interior.


Source: St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez, 2.7.2-11.

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