"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."

St Augustine

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"Happy is the youth, because he has time before him to do good. "

St Philip Neri

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PART 4 - The Unitive Way of the Perfect

Ch 52: The Transforming Union, Prelude of the Union of Heaven - Appendix (cont)


St. 40. The Final Preparations of the Soul

In the last stanza, St. John of the Cross describes the perfection of the virtues in the spiritual marriage and the perfect harmony in this state between the lower and the higher parts of man.

In this stanza the soul wishes to make it known that it is ready to receive the favors to be enjoyed in this state, gifts which it has asked of the Bridegroom and which, if the soul is not ready, it can neither receive nor preserve. Therefore the soul puts before the Beloved four dispositions or preparations which made possible what precedes, in order to urge Him still more to grant it the favors mentioned: "The first is that the soul is detached from all things and a stranger to them. The second is that the devil is overcome and put to flight. The third is that the passions are subdued and the natural desires mortified. The fourth. . . that the sensual and lower nature of the soul is changed and purified, and so conformed to the spiritual, as not only not to hinder spiritual blessings, but is, on the contrary, prepared for them. . . ."

" 'None saw it.' That is, my soul is so detached, so denuded, so lonely, so estranged from all created things, in heaven and earth; it has become so recollected in Thee, that nothing whatever can come within sight of that most intimate joy which I have in Thee. That is, there is nothing whatever that can cause me pleasure with its sweetness, or disgust with its vileness; for my soul is so far removed from all such things, . . . that nothing can behold me.

"This is not all, for: 'Neither did Aminadab appear.' Aminadab, in the Holy Writings, signified the devil; that is, the enemy of the soul, in a spiritual sense, who is ever fighting against it, and disturbing it with his innumerable artillery, that it may not enter into the fortress and secret place of interior recollection with the Bridegroom. There the soul is so protected, so strong, so triumphant in virtue which it then practices, so defended by God's right hand, that the devil not only dares not approach it, but runs away from it in great fear, and does not venture to appear. The practice of virtue, and the state of perfection to which the soul has come, is a victory over Satan, and causes him such terror that he cannot present himself before it. Thus Aminadab appeared not with any right to keep the soul away from the object of its desire.

" 'The siege was intermitted.' By the siege is meant the passions and desires, which, when not overcome and mortified, surround the soul and fight it on all sides. Hence the term 'siege' is applied to them. This siege is 'intermitted,' that is, the passions are subject to reason, and the desires are mortified. . . . Under these circumstances the soul entreats the Beloved to communicate to it those graces for which it has prayed, for now the siege is no hindrance. Until the four passions of the soul are ordered in reason according to God, and until the desires are mortified and purified, the soul is incapable of seeing God."

The soul says that in this state the cavalry dismount at the sight of the spiritual waters, because the sensible part of the soul is now so well purified, and in a certain way spiritualized. "So the soul with its powers of sense and natural forces becomes so recollected as to participate and rejoice to some degree in the spiritual grandeurs which God communicates to it in the spirit within."

Here again St. John of the Cross shows us that the spiritual marriage is the state of consummate perfection, the normal end of the present life, which can, however, be attained only in the mystical way, "in the fortress or the hiding place of interior recollection in the company of the Beloved."

Rich in suggestion is the conclusion by which St. John ends his work: "Whereunto [the spiritual marriage] may He bring of His mercy all those who call upon the most sweet name of Jesus, the Bridegroom of faithful souls, to whom be all honor and glory, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen." In these words the Mystical Doctor wishes for the grace to be introduced into the interior recollection which he has just described, that is, into the state of the spiritual marriage; and he wishes it for all those "who call upon the most sweet name of Jesus," that is, for all the faithful. Now, one does not wish for all the faithful an extraordinary grace, outside the normal way, especially if the one who wishes it is St. John of the Cross.

We shall append two texts from The Ascent of Mount Carmel, in which the holy doctor explicitly teaches that obscure contemplation (which is without any doubt mystical contemplation) is part of perfect union with God, and consequently is in the normal way, and that absolute renunciation in regard to all other types of knowledge does not apply to this contemplation, since it belongs to the union of love, the normal end of our life on earth.

St. John makes the following statement: "The second kind [of knowledge], which is obscure and general, has but one form, that of contemplation, which is the work of faith. The soul is to be led into this by directing it thereto through all the rest, beginning with the first and detaching it from them." (38)

Farther on he says: "This divine knowledge concerning God never relates to particular things, because it is conversant with the highest, and therefore cannot be explained unless when it is extended to some truth less than God, which is capable of being described; but this general knowledge is ineffable. It is only a soul in union with God that is capable of this profound loving knowledge, for it is itself that union. This knowledge consists in a certain contact of the soul with the Divinity, and it is God Himself who is then felt and tasted." (39) Nothing could be more clear and explicit.

From a study of all the texts that we have quoted (and they could be multiplied), it seems we may conclude that, in the opinion of St. John of the Cross, the state of the espousals and of the spiritual marriage is identified with the state of perfect love. It is, therefore, in the normal way; it is the normal end of our life on earth.(40)

To conclude and to clarify everything, we must, it seems, avoid two confusions:

I. What is essential to mystical contemplation must not be confused with what is accidental and accessory in it. The essence of mystical contemplation is the infused, obscure, general contemplation which St. John of the Cross speaks of in The Ascent of Mount Carmel (41) and in A Spiritual Canticle.(42) This contemplation is produced by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, by the gifts of wisdom and understanding. The other types of supernatural knowledge, particular and distinct like visions, revelations, locutions, and so on, as well as ecstasies and other exterior phenomena, are only something accidental in comparison with mystical contemplation, properly so called; they are, more properly speaking, gratiae gratis datae (43) which the soul ought not at all to desire.

2. Sanctity should not be confused with the salvation of the soul. We do not affirm that mystical contemplation in this life is necessary for the salvation of the soul, but the question is whether it is not necessary for sanctity. By sanctity we mean a very great perfection of the love of God and of neighbor, a perfection which, nevertheless, always remains in the normal way, for the precept of love has no limits.(44)

To state the matter with greater precision, the sanctity in question here is the normal immediate prelude of the life of heaven, a prelude which is realized either on earth or in purgatory, and which presupposes that the soul is fully purified, capable of receiving the beatific vision immediately. Finally, when we say that, according to St. John of the Cross, infused contemplation is necessary for sanctity, we mean a moral necessity, in other words, that in the majority of cases sanctity will not be attained without it. And we even add that without it the soul will not actually have the full perfection of the Christian life, which implies the eminent exercise of the theological virtues and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost which accompany them.

NOTE

To this very remarkable article which Father Alexander Rozwadowski, S.]., wrote in 1936, we shall add a simple remark: Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen, CD., has since that date drawn much nearer to this point of view. In fact, in an article in the Angelicum,(1) after describing the transforming union and quoting the moving call of St. John of the Cross to negligent souls, created, nevertheless, for such grandeurs,(2) he wrote: "This call, addressed by the saint to souls in general, shows us that he cannot consider 'extraordinary' the sublime things that he has just described for us. Not everyone is invited to graces which are privileges. The object of the sacerdotal prayer of Christ, made for 'all those who should believe in Him,' cannot, in its turn, be a 'reserved' good; and that which constitutes the flowering of the seed of supernatural life in our souls, which sanctifying grace is, must be prepared for all those who are endowed with grace." Likewise in regard to the desire for equality of love, he writes: "There is, therefore, in our charity for God an aspiration connatural to mystical love; such love is in no way 'extraordinary' for a soul endowed with the virtue of charity, but brings this virtue to its ultimate and integral perfection."

Lastly, infused contemplation, without which mystical love does not exist, is not extraordinary either, as Father Gabriel recognizes: "For St. John of the Cross, the 'illumination' of faith is the work of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. He has, moreover, strongly affirmed 'that faith leads the soul to union.' (3) He could not uphold such a thesis if it were necessary to add other 'extraordinary' principles to faith." . . '. We may therefore conclude, Father Gabriel says at the end of his article, that neither does the light necessary for the transformation of love belong to the order of reserved privileges. It is a "connatural" light: the light of faith accompanied by that of the gifts. Faith and the gifts are elements of our supernatural "organism." . . . Unfortunately the soul often recoils before the indispensable suffering which should prepare union. Let us not forget that "the door by which we enter into the riches of the knowledge of God is the cross." (4)

Father Arintero, O.P., taught this same doctrine from 1908 on in Evolucion mistica,(5) and we have not ceased to teach it since the first edition (1923) of Christian Perfection and Contemplation, in which we declared: "What constitutes the foundation of this eminent state, called the transforming union, is in no way miraculous." (6) And again: "All just souls are called, at least in a general and remote manner, to this transforming union, which is the normal prelude to the life of heaven. If they are faithful to this call, and at the same time humble and generous, they will hear a more proximate and urgent invitation.(7) St. Teresa repeats this in the Epilogue to The Interior Castle." (8)

The same conclusion is more or less explicitly reached by several authors who have treated of very close union with Mary in the unitive way, according to the principles set forth by St. Grignion de Montfort.(9) Father E. Neubert, S.M., has assembled some very significant data on this point.(10) On this subject must also be mentioned L' Union mystique a Marie, written by Mary of St. Teresa (1623-77), a Flemish recluse who experienced it personally.(11)

TOWARD A CLOSE UNION, ALMOST ALWAYS AN ACTUALITY
THE VALUE OF THE HIDDEN LIFE

The life of union seems to us expressed with simplicity and depth in the following letter from a contemplative religious who is still young and who has, we believe, truly found his vocation, in spite of the powerlessness of which he speaks:

Peace increases with joy, although everything sensible disappears more and more, and my poor soul is as if lost at times in the darkness, possessing nothing and unable to acquire anything by its own powers. Life becomes so simple. A single desire governs everything: to arrive at Love, to thank Him for His incomprehensible love, and to save souls. My desire for the infinity of God grows continually, and the clear view of my own nothingness is ever before my eyes. Though it humiliates me greatly, it does not discourage me. I try to live simply as at Nazareth, making each act, even the most banal, an act of perfect love. For is it not with our will that we love? What matter then if a man is truly a wretched nothing? Is not the sole, strong, and constant determination to give pleasure to Jesus and to my heavenly Mother by each act, love which grows more perfect with the intensity of the will? Every morning and repeatedly during my work or in the recitation of the Divine Office, I say to Jesus: Beloved Jesus, I wish each thought, each word, each little action to be an act of perfect love, and to each one of them I unite the infinite merits of Calvary, the immense merits of my Mother and of all the angels and the saints. This intention becomes more and more actual and is continually on my lips.

All (my powerlessness to understand His limitless love, my actual desire of love, my prayer for my friends, for souls), all is more and more summed up in this single word: Jesus. I think always of Him, but I do not possess Him sufficiently.

If I am mistaken in what I have just said, Father, correct me.

Oh, I see indeed that I am very wretched. All the sins and all the selfishness of my past life are ever before my eyes. I know that I have been very ungrateful. But precisely for that reason, I do not wish to lose a minute that is not an act of love. I should like my love to be as pure as possible in order that my poor life may be useful to the Church, to souls. In your letter you told me that I am not losing my life. What joy!

On the other hand, I see that I am so terribly poor. The world can offer me nothing; everything in it is vanity. This I see. The supernatural, the divine, which alone I seek, which alone can help me toward union with Jesus, I do not possess; at least I do not feel that I possess it.

My faculties no longer seem to belong to me; my thoughts do not come at will. The thought of Jesus, yes; but no others. I am convinced that I shall never be able to advance unless help comes to me from on high. Will it come? When? I wish to be patient, tranquil. May His holy will be done, and may I oppose no obstacle to it!

You know that in recent years, I have had to admit to my superiors and to everybody, that I was good for nothing, that I could no longer preach or teach. My memory retains nothing,(12) Thanks be to God, I am no longer concerned about men's opinion. I work for Jesus. Since my arrival here, I take my turn with the others for the sermons. Moreover, there are no great preachers here, and the people are simple. I also sometimes preach to our Carmelite sisters. Everybody claims to be satisfied, but these sermons are, more properly speaking, little talks in which everything is very simple and the language not elegant. I have nothing by heart; but I bring several great thoughts on a scrap of paper and try to talk about them. I know that grace alone can change hearts, and that is why I wish to be increasingly united to my divine Friend. A final reason why I wish that my poor life should be as holy as possible is the good of the Province. . . .

The conviction that there is only one thing to do, to render myself increasingly like the great friends of Jesus, in order to do good to the Church and to save souls, grows continually. Besides, my holy Order exacts perfection from me; it is not sufficient to be "a good religious"; one should be closely united to God. But that is precisely what constitutes my constant torment. The thought of the unbounded love of Jesus for us is always present to my thought. What can I do in return to please Him and to save souls? It is my first thought in the morning, it returns repeatedly in the course of the day, and it is my last thought at night.

 

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Footnotes
 
 

38. The Ascent, Bk. II, chap. 10.

39 Ibid., chap. 26.

40. This teaching of St. John of the Cross on the normal character of the mystical life seems to be also that of St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Bernard, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

41. Bk. II, chaps. 8, 9, 26.

42. St. 39.

43. Cf. Summa, Ia IIae, q. III, a. 1, 4, 5.

44. Summa, IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 3.

1. "Les Sommets de la vie d'amour," Angelicum, January, 1937, pp. 278-80.

2. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 39, par. 8.

3. The Ascent, Bk. II, passim.

4. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 36, par. 14. We are happy to see that Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen perfectly agrees with us in refusing to admit that there are, as Father Chrysogonous claimed, "two specifically distinct modes" for the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the one ordinary, the other extraordinary. Cf. "Le double mode des dons du Saint-Esprit," Etudes carmeJitaines, October, 1934, pp. 215-32; and supra, Vol. I, pp. 78-88.

5. Salamanca, pp. 460-86.

6. Christian Perfection and Contemplation, p. 257.

7. Cf. The Way of Perfection, chaps. 18-21.

8. Christian Perfection and Contemplation, p. 259.

9. True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, chap. 5, art. 5, An easy, short, perfect, safe way; chap. 6, art. I, How Mary forms the predestinate; art. 2, pars. 3-5, She conducts them, defends them, intercedes for them; chap. 7, art. 3, The grace of pure love; art. 5, Communication of the soul and of the spirit of Mary; art. 6, Transformation of souls in Mary in the image of Jesus Christ.

10. Cf. "L'Union mystique a la Sainte Vierge," La Vie spirituelle, January, 1937, pp. 15-29.

11. Les Cahiers de la Vierge (May, 1936), published, under the title L'Union mystique a Marie by Mary of St. Teresa, the text translated from the Flemish by L. Van den Bossche. (Introduction to Marian life. Marian life. The end of Marian life.) Cf. p. 55: "In this life the soul is transformed in Mary through fusion of love"; also, pp. 62-68 fl.

12. It seems to retain nothing, but it assimilates and transforms the food with which it is nourished in order continually to recall the things of eternity. The writer of this letter has the impression that his memory forgets everything; in reality, it retains what is most important of all, the relation to eternity. It is no longer immersed in time; it dominates it.