NOTE: This blog post appeared earlier this year, but is reposted with additional reflections for the Christmas season. Enjoy! During the time of Jesus’s birth, all subjects and citizens of the Empire had to submit to census by decree of Caesar Augustus, who was the nephew of Julius Caesar and was considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He was referred to as Princeps Civitatis (First Citizen). The census showed off Augustus’s greatness: the number of people in his Empire and under his rule quantified his power.
St. John of the Cross’s doctrine on union with God demonstrates that when we remove what is contrary to God in ourselves, God will unite to us closer and closer in love. The nature of this union is not one of essence; we do not become God. Rather, we are so close to God in this union that we, by participation, become like God. To understand how we retain our identities as human persons when we unite with God, we need to understand the distinction between essence and existence and its relationship to God’s primary mode of presence in all existents.
This week I discussed how a spiritual soul can see beauty in things. All being is beautiful; even the most depraved person still has beauty due to being created in the image of God. On the other hand, a virtuous person possesses beauty to a greater degree than the depraved person. So, first, I am going to discuss a bit about what beauty is per se and then discuss how a virtuous person is beautiful.
No human being can altogether escape suffering in this life. Christians are keenly aware of the reality of suffering, given that Scripture makes no attempt to camouflage it. The Passion of Jesus, the martyrdom of the Apostles, and the daily potential for martyrdom in the early Church made the Church Fathers self-conscious about the fact of suffering. One Church Father, the Greek Patristic St. Irenaeus (130-200), meditated on suffering in his book Against the Heresies (Adversus Haeresus).
One of the difficult aspects of our faith is reconciling what is called the “immanence” of God with the “transcendence” of God. Furthermore, as human persons, we have a bias towards our mode of knowing that affects our view of God. In this post, I am going to briefly address the notions of immanence and transcendence in relation to God and how our mode of knowing affects what we believe about God.
Several people have told me recently that they have ceased watching the News, whether on television, social media, or virtually any other platform. They say they find it too depressing. In fact, one person told me that she has had a few panic attacks watching the News, as she contemplates what kind of world her children and grandchildren might be destined to live in. Her anxiety is not unique. Social scientists have studies and surveys to show that this past year cases of anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, and other forms of mental illness have significantly increased.
God is the highest love we can have and is the guiding principle of life, yet many people, even virtuous people, never reach the spiritual perfection they need to attain union with God in this life, because they lack the courage they need to break away from their attachments. St. John of the Cross laments about souls who despite having many gifts, even virtues, still do not make a complete break with what they are attached to, however small that attachment may be.
In this week’s podcast, I mention that Jesus talks about how the Son of Man has authority over the Sabbath. I want to explain a little about the significance I see in this title. In the beginning of Mark 2 (the same chapter in this week’s podcast), the paralytic is laid in front of Jesus. After Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic, Jesus saw in the hearts of the scribes who were watching him that they thought Jesus was blaspheming, that only God could forgive sin.
When St. John of the Cross says that God is a “dark night” or “darkness to the soul,” it may sound troubling when referring to God, who is normally referred to as “light” or specifically “the light of the world.” One thing to keep in mind is that God is darkness only relative to our powers. Just as the sun is a kind of darkness and blindness when you stare directly at it (which I do not recommend), when we try to “stare directly at God,” our powers are overwhelmed since by nature our powers are finite and God by nature is infinite.
Is there a relationship between meekness and fear of punishment? Meekness means to channel energy and passion towards the right end with the right means. Fear of punishment is the first mode of love because out of a self love the person does not act towards a goal or the person acts towards a goal for the sake of a conditional good. Meekness and fear of punishment seem unrelated, but when considered closely, a clear relationship exists.
The natural world can act as a launch point to God. In fact, one of the great saints of the Church, St. Bonaventure, along with St. John of the Cross, used nature as a launch point for contemplation of our God. I recently started reading St. Bonaventure’s A Soul’s Journey to God and think St. Bonaventure can help us focus on what matters, which is our relationship with Christ, who is our Lord, our Savior, and our God.
In the podcast episode this week, I engage in a discussion about wonder, fear, and sacrifice. I make a distinction between real love and what I call “logical love” and “sentimental love.” I want to take some time here to explain more about the distinction between these three types of love and whether real love is simply action. The three types of love I mention in the podcast are the following: (1) real-love, which is action with affectivity for the beloved’s good; (2) sentiment-love, which places love’s fulfillment in feelings rather than the good of the other regardless of how it makes the lover feel; and (3) logical-love, which separates speech and the practical activity required to show that the speech signifies a reality.
Silence is a challenging yet necessary aspect of the spiritual life. Finding interior silence can be difficult because we are always concerned with what is in front of us, even if it bores us,1 and finding exterior silence can be difficult because of the ease of connection and communication that we have in the world today. Most works I have seen on exterior silence recommend turning off devices and taking a walk outside or just sitting alone in a room.
Our crosses can come in many forms, but two primary ones are circumstances and people. Circumstances tend to pass, which makes these crosses may last a long time or may pass rather quickly. In either case, we need to be selfless by embracing the cross for others. Consider the following example: let’s say a person has the circumstantial cross of unemployment. This particular cross is hard because it is not only a material cross but also a psychological cross of the stigma of being unemployed, which tends to be conflated with being unwanted, like that person is not good enough.
When St. John of the Cross talks about annihilating natural operations, such as memory, he is not advocating Stoicism or extreme asceticism. The word “annihilation” is used to help us understand that two things that are contrary cannot coexist in the same subject and that if we wish for one contrary to exist, we must annihilate, remove, etc., the contrary that impedes the presence of the contrary we seek. Take the example of the impression of creatures through the memory: if a person focuses on creatures, the person is not focusing on God.
People often talk about God as Love, yet they often associate love with feelings, meaning they believe that love makes them feel good, not that love involves willing what is best for another person. Love is not feelings. Something can give a person good feelings that is not good for his or her completion as a person. Love, therefore, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, involves willing the good of the other.
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he explains how divine adoption is what we groan and endure for in our faith. He says we hope for what we do not possess yet, and once we do possess what we hope for through sight of the hoped-for, we no longer hope but rejoice. St. Paul continues by saying, τῇ γὰρ ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν ἐλπίς δὲ βλεπομένη οὐκ ἔστιν ἐλπίς ὃ γὰρ βλέπει τις τί ἐλπίζει εἰ δὲ ὃ οὐ βλέπομεν ἐλπίζομεν δι᾽ ὑπομονῆς ἀπεκδεχόμεθα (For in this hope we were saved, however hope, being seen, is not hope.
In Sayings of Light and Love, n. 68, St. John of the Cross says: Take God for a spouse1 and friend with whom you walk continuously, and you will not sin, and you will know how to love, and necessary things will be done prosperously for you.2 This particular saying is more important today than ever. Here, St. John of the Cross gives us a key principle for prosperity: we all need to take God as a spouse and friend.
In chapter 5 of the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul provides some insights that can help us to see more clearly why we should place our hope in the Lord. He says, Οὐ μόνον δέ ἀλλὰ καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν εἰδότες ὅτι ἡ θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ δοκιμήν ἡ δὲ δοκιμὴ ἐλπίδα (Not alone now but also we vaunt in being-hemmed-in-by-pressure knowing that being-hemmed-in-by-pressure accomplishes remaining-under-patiently and remaining-under-patiently the tested-and-true and the tested-and-true hope.
In Acts 17, St. Paul confronts the Athenians, particularly the Epicureans, Stoics, and visiting people, who seek novelty, on the Ares Hill about his teaching on Christ. St. Paul starts with this statement in verses 22-23: Ἄνδρες, Ἀθηναῖοι, κατὰ πάντα ὡς δεισιδαιμονεστέρους ὑμᾶς θεωρῶ διερόμενος γάρ καὶ ἀναθεωρῶν τὰ σεβάσματα ὑμῶν εὗρον καὶ βωμὸν ἐν ᾧ ἐπεγέγραπτο Ἀγνώστῳ Θεῷ ὃ οὖν ἀγνοοῦντες εὐεβεῖτε τοῦτο ἐγὼ καταγγέλλω ὑμῖν (Men, Athenians, I behold you in all things more religious than others.
In 1 Peter 3:15, St. Peter writes to us: Κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰητος καὶ φόβου (Now you all set apart Lord Christ in your hearts, prepared on every occasion for a defense to all demanding from you a reason concerning the hope in you, but with mildness and respect)
When a Pharisee asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the law is, Jesus responded with the two greatest commandments: loving God and loving neighbor (see Mt 22:34-40). The two greatest commandments of God center on love (Greek: ἀγάπη). Naturally, readers of this passage might wonder, how do I love God and my neighbor? Loving anything (or anyone) requires two steps: (1) choosing the object of one’s love and (2) going out to the object loved and uniting with it.
When Jesus comes before Pontius Pilate in the Gospel of John, Jesus shows us what truth is (a Person), and each person needs to have truth in the heart to hear Jesus’s voice and be led to Him, who is Truth. When Pilate first brings Jesus into the praetorium, Pilate asks Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews. Jesus immediately answers him, asking whether Pilate’s question came from within himself or he (Pilate) simply wanted to confirm what others were saying about Jesus being or claiming to be the King of the Jews.
Most people are cognizant of their ability to use their gifts or talents in life. But they often don’t consider the origin of those gifts and the necessity of that origin to maintain those gifts if they are going to use them. The origin of their gifts provides a foundation of borrowed being. People should be more cognizant of their borrowed being because they wouldn’t be able to use their gifts if they didn’t have that existence.
All knowledge begins with sense wonder. The human person encounters something that is unknown, and wonder, as a species of fear, acts as the origin of the human person’s journey to understand what that something is by nature. Wonder engages with sense experience but with an openness to this previously unknown something. The human person has different types of knowledge: on the one hand, a person may rest after discovering why 2+2=4; on the other hand, a person may rest after choosing to love another person.
Carmelite spirituality is known for contemplation and prayer, but less is said about the type of actions that are fitting for a person who follows the Carmelite way of perfection. What I’m about to tell you may sound painfully unwitty at first, but stay with me for a moment: the type of actions that are fitting for Carmelites are good actions. I know, I know. Everyone needs good actions, right? Yes, but people who spend a lot of time praying and striving to love God totally need to be reminded about actions, which must be loving and conform to God’s will if the person is actually loving God and conforming to his will.
When you think of spiritual perfection, do you ever consider where your journey toward perfection begins? I mean in terms of the human person—you know, the body and soul and all that constitutes them—where does the journey begin? You might be surprised when I tell you this, but the journey actually begins through the senses. Why the senses? Because the senses are the place where all human persons begin their interaction with being (reality).
Attaining spiritual perfection and union with God requires doing things we at first don’t want to do. One of these things is letting go of attachments that keep us from doing what God calls us to. We often don’t recognize what we are attached to, but the spiritual life requires identifying these attachments as we strive for spiritual perfection and union with God. This is sort of a silly example, but maybe you discern that God is calling you to learn how to paint, but you really like watching TV in your free time even when nothing particularly edifying is on.
I recently posted the following question in our community: what is the number one thing you could do today to show mercy toward someone who hurt you? What surprised me was not the answers I read from other members, but my own. I had to think about this question for a minute. Not only was I feeling that the possibilities were restricted by physical distance, like living in different places, but I also wanted to choose something I would actually do; otherwise, the question-and-answer process would be a waste of time.
Suffering is supposed to be redemptive, but we often fail to think of its redemptive nature when we’re in the midst of suffering. We concentrate on the physical, emotional, or mental pain, sometimes crumble under the weight of the pain (either physically or spiritually), and ultimately, if the pain continues for long enough, break. St. John of the Cross wisely advises us on how to suffer: In tribulation, immediately draw near to God with trust, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.
A few days ago, I learned that a friend of mine passed away. I was devastated when I heard the news, and I didn’t believe it at first. It must have been a mistake, I thought. He was too good to die; the world needs him. Grief is a natural process that all people go through when a loved one passes away. Christians go through the stages of grief. They don’t stop being sad just because they’re Christian.