“He who with the help of God’s grace becomes aware of the will’s constant movements and learns to direct them toward God will never fail to taste something of heaven’s joy even in this life and, certainly in the next, he will savor it fully.”
– Excerpt from chapter 4 of The Cloud of Unknowing
“Let your longing relentlessly beat upon the cloud of unknowing that lies between you and your God. Pierce that cloud with the keen shaft of your love, spurn the thought of anything less than God, and do not give up this work for anything. For the contemplative work of love by itself will eventually heal you of all the roots of sin. Fast as much as you like, watch far into the night, rise long before dawn, discipline your body, and if it were permitted—which it is not—put out your eyes, tear out your tongue, plug up your ears and nose, and cut off your limbs; yes, chastise your body with every discipline and you would still gain nothing. The desire and tendency toward sin would remain in your heart.
What is more, if you wept in constant sorrow for your sins and Christ’s Passion and pondered unceasingly on the joys of heaven, do you think it would do you any good? Much good, I am sure. You would profit no doubt and grow in grace but in comparison with the blind stirring of love, all this is very little. For the contemplative work of love is the best part, belonging to Mary. It is perfectly complete by itself while all these disciplines and exercises are of little value without it.
The work of love not only heals the roots of sin, but nurtures practical goodness. When it is authentic you will be sensitive to every need and respond with a generosity unspoiled by selfish intent.
Anything you attempt to do without this love will certainly be imperfect, for it is sure to be marred by ulterior motives.”
– Excerpt from Chapter 12 of The Cloud of Unknowing, Author Unknown (William Johnston edition)
The words of the wise, unknown monk who wrote this book cut me right to the quick. They stir up an intense envy within my heart of the many Saints of old who have loved God in abandonment and sincerity. The many, told and untold, whom have experienced a radical conversion and have left the world and all its trappings behind with unfathomable joy. And even more wonderful, is the idea of leaving ones ego in the dust; the reality of decreasing so that Christ might increase; the reality of “no longer I, but Christ who dwells within me”.
The first and most formidable opponent I encounter in following a desire for a truer, deeper prayer life is the self: my ego. I seriously envy those who have crossed that particular threshold, for truly they must know a joy unimaginable. The disciplined ego, the container of knowledge within, the one who “knows” gets demoted, so to speak, in favor of the One within who Loves. It is a fantastic mystery, the Life within the soul made possible by the fulfillment of Christ and His Passion! As the author of Cloud intimates in earlier chapters, it is impossible to know God with knowledge, rather knowing God entails loving Him, of making the action of moving self away from all its other desires, and in fact moving the will away from self, in favor of loving and longing for the indwelling Creator and fixing its attention with all its might thereupon.
From today’s Gospel reading:
“And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
Mark 4:18-19 RSV-CE
Cares of the world, delight in riches, desire for other things: reflections of our lusts, fears and idolatrous tendencies…all very loud voices, in stark contrast to the still, small voice of God. It’s no wonder we seldom hear the Word of God. This renders desolation within, a deeply troubling reality at work. It is a situation where God sends the prophet of prophets, the voice crying in the wilderness to get our attention. “Make straight the way for the Lord” is his message. I’ve thought quite often of this particular mystery.
Consider how often and in what ways we spend ourselves…our time, our loved ones time, our resources…consider that ones cares can be spent elsewhere if one so chooses, such as upon the needy, upon our children, upon anything not self-serving. Making straight the way for Lord is exactly this. A decisive interior action, a turning away from such cares as mentioned in today’s Gospel, which render us essentially deaf to God’s voice, and toward humility, an honest assessment of one’s interior well-being. To do so, awakens the interior senses, so to speak, and tends to stir ones conscience. Approaching the Word of God in such a way till’s the soil of our hearts deeply and render’s it suitable for hearing, that is receiving the seed of God’s Word in spirit and in truth and likewise bearing real fruit.
In summary, today’s Gospel reflects that which is most detrimental to a true and vibrant faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone who hears today’s Word should stop for a moment and take notice. It could mean the difference between spiritual life or spiritual death.
O God, my God:
This gaping sadness, a bitter void;
A playful evil, thoughtless thoughts,
Made the fool for hearing and believing,
Twists and perversions of what is happy unwrought.
O God, my God:
Your patience astounds, and draws from this sickened soul,
A gaping sadness; observes a bitter void;
Why, the perennial question cries forth!
A thoughtless thought, a mindless mind.
O God, my God:
Tears unwept fill my soul,
A maddening torrent of gaping sadness,
Over the edge into the bitter void, distant now,
Over the edge where one might behold
The bottomless bottom, an ultimate end.
O God, my God:
A single tear escapes me,
A single breath partakes of Thee,
And the living soul of your likeness grows still.
O Lord of life, of death, of all that was and is and is to come:
This gaping sadness consumes me.
The bitter void taunts me.
I observe thoughtless thought, the mindless mind,
The image of your likeness in distress, lost,
At long last before the mirror, counting the cost!
O God, my God.
Behold, o little god, behold the gaping sadness,
Behold the bitter void, consuming, consuming.
And then behold my God, Who Is, Who Was, Who Ever Shall Be.
(A New Song, by Unlikely Wanderer)
2016 is only a few hours away for us here in the Republic of Korea. Happy New Year of Mercy to all! Stay safe, be blessed!
Souls that love God feel a strong attraction for solitude, for they know that God converses familiarly with those who shun the noise and distractions of the world. “O blessed solitude,” exclaims St. Jerome, “in which God with loving condescension deals familiarly with chosen souls!” God does not speak in those places where time is squandered in loud laughter and idle talk. “The Lord is not in the earthquake” (3 Kgs. 19: 11), but He says, on the contrary, in the words of the prophet Osee: “I will lead her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart.” (Osee 2:14). God speaks to the soul in solitude, and by His words the heart is inflamed with Divine love. “My soul melted when my beloved spoke,” said the spouse in the Canticle (5:6).
Read this in its entirety at CatholicTradition.org: St. Alphonsis Liguori: Recollection
A walk and a wonder,
A sounding of a migrant soul,
A stolen glance, an epic blunder,
The soul is thirsty upon the threshold,
She is bloodied, battered, and feeling old,
She is seen and heard, yet unknown.
Her deepened desires torn asunder.
O Infinite Grace, from Mercy’s well,
The finding of your wandering, migrant bride,
A finite one, for whom Mercy’s Love so swells,
She falls at your feet, and unleashes her sigh,
For You shatter all pretense and lull every pride,
You dry all her tears and draw to your side,
She wonders, adores you, and ascends your Carmel.
Upward, onward, inward she soars,
Through clouds of unknowing, by day and dark night,
Caught up and found by her bridegroom adored!
She loves Him, she loves Him with all of her might,
Prepared at long last to stand firm and fight,
The monkey’s and demons that consumed her with fright,
She is armed now and fierce with the most ruthless of Swords.
And faced unannounced with so terrible a Light,
The shadows and twistings howl and flee,
The Bridegroom stands calm in Glorious Might,
The heart of His Bride, forever His shall be,
Death, and his wicked word shall forever see,
The wages of its sin, eternally lost and empty,
And united at last, the Bride and her Lord of Light…
(A New Song, by Unlikely Wanderer)