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Sunday, 4 August 2013

Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux and John of the Cross and the Purification of the Spirit Pt. 24

 "ad lucem per crucem, and of the progressive configuration of the soul to Christ crucified." 

Garrigou-Lagrange has at interesting comparison concerning the experience of the passive purification of the Illuminative State leading up to Unitive State and St. Therese, St. Teresa, and St. John of the Cross. I do not think I need to comment here, but merely highlight some key ideas. If we all aspired to this state, can you imagine how strong and mighty the Church would be on Earth? This following the road to perfection is for me the real evangelization needed today. I make a few comments in blue.

Spring in Kent, 2013

Such is the simultaneous passive purification of faith, hope, and love of God and of souls in God, a purification which, in the case of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, is united to reparatory suffering for sinners.

Then the most pure motive of this love of charity appears in all its elevation: namely, that God is sovereignly lovable in Himself, infinitely more so than all the gifts which He has given us and which we expect from Him. Here the acts of faith, hope, and charity fuse, so to speak, in an act of perfect abandonment to the divine will, while the soul repeats the words of Christ on the cross: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." (32)

Then the soul understands what St. John of the Cross says: "For this is a certain fire of love in the spirit whereby the soul, amidst these dark trials, feels itself wounded to the quick by this strong love divine. . . . And inasmuch as this love is infused in a special way, the soul corresponds only passively with it, and thus a strong passion of love is begotten within it. . . . The soul is itself touched, wounded, and set on fire with love. . . . The soul, however, amidst these gloomy and loving pains, is conscious of a certain companionship and inward strength which attends upon it and invigorates it." (33)
St. Teresa speaks in like manner of this last purification which precedes the transforming union: "She sees herself still far away from God, yet with her increased knowledge of His attributes, her longing and her love for Him grow ever stronger as she learns more fully how this great God and Sovereign deserves to be loved. . . . She is like one suspended in mid-air, who can neither touch the earth nor mount to heaven; she is unable to reach the water while parched with thirst, and this is not a thirst that can be borne, but one which nothing will quench." (34)

Again, one cannot skip these progressive steps. The purification of the senses and spirit in the Dark Night is absolutely necessary for one to become a saint.

At the end of this trial, charity toward God and one's neighbor is purified of all alloy, as gold in the crucible is freed from its dross. And not only is the love of charity thus purified, but notably increased. The soul now makes intense and heroic acts of charity, which obtain immediately the increase of grace which they merit, and with sanctifying grace increase greatly at the same time all the infused virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are connected with charity.

The love of God and of souls then becomes increasingly disinterested, ever more ardent and forgetful of self. We admire the purity of the conjugal love of the sailor's wife who does not cease to think of her absent husband, who may be dead, since for several months she has had no word that he is still alive. She loves him as if he were present, and brings up her children in the love of their father who has disappeared. How can we fail to admire the purity of love in these spouses of Jesus Christ who, like St. Teresa of Lisieux, remain for a long time, for months and months, deprived of His presence, in the greatest darkness and aridity, and who do not cease to love Him with a love as strong as it is pure, for the sole motive that He is infinitely good in Himself and incomparably more so than all His gifts! In this state the tenderness of love is transformed into the strength of union, according to the expression of the Canticle of Canticles: "Love is strong as death," (35) and even stronger, for no trial can overthrow love. The soul then remembers that in our Lord, who fashions souls to His image, love on the cross was stronger than spiritual death, that it was the conqueror of sin and the devil, and by the resurrection the victor over death which is the result of sin. In the passive purifications, described by St. John of the Cross, the Christian and Catholic mystic relives these great truths of faith; thereby the soul is configured to Christ in His sorrowful life, before being configured to Him in His glorious life for eternity.

I grew up in a Mississippi River town which has an area of Victorian houses on what is called the Gold Coast. These houses have Widow's Peaks, which are high balconies made for the wife of a sailor to stand and look at the ships coming in to see if her husband had returned. I lived in one such Victorian house for awhile, not this one shown, but similar. The faithfulness of the woman on the Widow's Peak is still a moving metaphor for Love which is stronger than Death.

Widow's Peak in Davenport, Iowa


St. Teresa (36) speaks of this purification, but does not distinguish as clearly as St. John of the Cross does, what essentially constitutes it from the sufferings which quite often accompany it, and which she herself experienced, as we see from her autobiography.(37)
In The Interior Castle she writes:
O my God, how many troubles both interior and exterior must one suffer before entering the seventh mansion! Sometimes, while pondering over this I fear that, were they known beforehand, human infirmity could scarcely bear the thought nor resolve to encounter them, however great might appear the gain. . . . They really seem to have lost everything.
I shall not enumerate these trials in their proper order, but will describe them as they come to my memory, beginning with the least severe. This is an outcry raised against such a person by those amongst whom she lives. . . . They say she wants to pass for a saint, that she goes to extremes in piety to deceive the world. . . . Persons she thought were her friends desert her, making the most bitter remarks of all. They take it much to heart that her soul is ruined - she is manifestly deluded - it is all the devil's work - she will share the fate of so-and-so who was lost through him. . . . They make a thousand scoffing remarks of the same sort.

Such trials are not clear ways to God, but God's way of leading us to humility. People will not understand you and will speak against your efforts to become holy.
Ochs House, Daveport, Iowa
 It is very difficult to find a priest who understands this stage of purification. Many will say that one is being too hard on one's self or scrupulous. Apparently, such a priest has not experienced these stages.
I know someone who feared she would be unable to find any priest who would hear her confession,(38) to such a pass did things come. . . . The worst of it is, these troubles do not blow over but last all her life. . . . How few think well of her in comparison with the many who hate her! . . . Experience has shown the mind that men are as ready to speak well as ill of others, so it attaches no more importance to the one than to the other. . . . [Later] the soul is rather strengthened than depressed by its trials, experience having taught it the great advantages derived from them. It does not think men offend God by persecuting it, but that He permits them to do so for its greater gain. . . .
Our Lord now usually sends severe bodily infirmity. . . . Yet, oh! the rest would seem trifling in comparison could I relate the interior torments met with here, but they are impossible to describe. Let us first speak of the trial of meeting with so timorous and inexperienced a confessor that nothing seems safe to him; he dreads and suspects everything but the commonplace, especially in a soul in which he detects any imperfection, for he thinks people on whom God bestows such favors must be angels, which is impossible while we live in our bodies. He at once ascribes everything to the devil or melancholy. . . .

One of the severe trials of these souls, especially if they have lived wicked lives, is their belief that God permits them to be deceived in punishment for their sins. While actually receiving these graces they feel secure and cannot but suppose that these favors proceed from the Spirit of God; but this state lasts a very short time, while the remembrance of their misdeeds is ever before them, so that when, as is sure to happen, they discover any faults in themselves, these torturing thoughts return. The soul is quieted for a time when the confessor reassures it, although it returns later on to its former apprehensions; but when he augments its fears they become almost unbearable: Especially is this the case when such spiritual dryness ensues that the mind feels as if it never had thought of God nor ever will be able to do so. When men speak of Him, they seem to be talking of some person heard of long ago.
 Memory changes and is purified. One's ideas of Who God is are swept away. One waits for God to reveal Himself as and when He wishes to do so. One must be patient in love.
London at Night Inversed
 Dryness and the death of the imagination must be accepted. Without such humility, one gets stuck and cannot move forward. Faith in Divine Providence is key.

 All this is nothing without the further pain of thinking we cannot make our confessors understand the case and are deceiving them. . . She believes all that the imagination, which now has the upper hand, puts before her mind, besides crediting the falsehoods suggested to her by the devil, whom doubtless our Lord gives leave to tempt her. . . .
In short, there is no other remedy in such a tempest except to wait for the mercy of God who, unexpectedly, by some casual word or unforeseen circumstance, suddenly dispels all these sorrows. . . . It praises our Lord God like one who has come out victorious from a dangerous battle, for it was He who won the victory. The soul is fully conscious that the conquest was not its own as all weapons of self-defence appeared to be in the enemies' hands. Thus it realizes its weakness and how little man can help himself if God forsake him.(39)
Finally, when one is truly humble, the Bridegroom approaches the Bride.

Tauler speaks in like strain, as we noted earlier. His teaching on this subject, which should be read, will be found in his sermons for the Monday before Palm Sunday (nos. 7, 8), for Easter Sunday, for the Monday before Ascension Thursday, and in the third sermon for the Ascension.(40)
It would be easy to show by quotations from other masters that the teaching of St. John of the Cross is entirely conformable to the tradition of the great spiritual writers, to what they have said of the royal way of the cross, ad lucem per crucem, and of the progressive configuration of the soul to Christ crucified. We read in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: (41) "Heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him."