Today, there is a lot of confusion within the Church. Many voices are speaking at the same time, often claiming to be right, judging, and deciding what is right and what is wrong. The least we can say is that their discordance creates confusion in the mind of the average faithful.
From a Gospel and from a Spiritual Theology perspective one can notice that various documents and interventions of Pope Francis are addressing issues that belong to a certain stage of growth in Spiritual Life, and of course are meant for real people in the actual Church who are at this stage and would do well to listen to his advice. Not the least of these documents is his letter on the “Call to Holiness”. His kindness and meekness, however, are seen as a sign of weakness. This attitude is very comparable to the case of the Lord, seen by the then Jewish authorities, Scribes and Pharisees, as being very lenient. The emblematic climax of the shock between them can be seen in the case of the Adulteress (John 8:1ss): Moses said we should kill her! What do you say? i.e. are you with the Law or against it?
This stage of spiritual growth (Proficients), to which the Pope is appealing, is described in a masterly way by St. John of the Cross in his book “The Dark Night”, Book I, when we review all seven mortal sins applying them to spiritual life and to spiritual people: spiritual pride, spiritual gluttony, spiritual jealousy…. In this masterly treatment of these seven illnesses or sins he is not talking to beginners in Spiritual Life, but rather to advanced persons (proficients), whom he calls in one particular expression “the spirituals” (los espirituales see Dark Night Book I 1,3; 4,1; 8,1; 10,1…).
One of the major contributions of St. John of the Cross in Spiritual Life and in Spiritual Theology is his Doctrine about identifying serious defects, not in Beginners but in Advanced persons. One can almost say that this is his starting point when writing. In the Prologue of his book “Ascent of Mount Carmel” he declares that he wishes to “say something to relieve the great necessity which is experienced by many souls, who, when they set out upon the road of virtue, and Our Lord desires to bring them into this dark night that they may pass through it to Divine union, make no progress”.
To a certain extent, if we intently embrace all the span of Spiritual Teaching and Spiritual Masters over the past twenty centuries, we can easily say that this approach, despite the fact that it is true, and well in the spirit of the Gospel, is still new: i.e. it has never been presented with such clarity and abundance before St. John of the Cross! St. Paul, in fact, says that the devil can come in the angel of light vestments/garments, trying to seduce us (see 2 Co 11:14).
The good spiritual person is not tempted anymore by bad things, by obvious sins, but rather by spiritual sins, and they are very difficult to identify especially for the person who has not practised advanced discernment.“Spiritual sins” then can be identified as the devil offering a good thing to the person. In fact, it looks slightly shinier andmore « convincing », but less meek and humble and indeed less obedient, more seductive and one that inflates the spiritual ego. So, the “spiritual person” has to choose between a “real good” and a “fake good” that appears to be equally good but, in fact, is offered by the Devil. The foundation of this discernment is the following: not anything that is spiritual is good. By “spiritual” we mean: invisible, and maybe coming from God. The spiritual realm, by definition, is not the material visible realm! Do we know it? The non-material world is not only comprised of God but also has angelsand the Devil. And the Devil can (God allows him to do so) fake “graces” or “spiritual graces”. At this stage the discernment to make is between the real Lord and imitations of the Lord. St. John of the Cross will even dare to set three ways that claim to reach God and not two.
The following is a more representative rendering of St. John of the Cross original drawing. Followed by an English translation. Please note the numbering in red on each of the three ways/path to reach Union with Christ.
1- A way to the right: the way of the spirit gone astray, the person who follows the world: filled with material goods (“goods of the earth”) and therefore material sins (“possessions, joy, knowledge, consolations, rest…”).
2- A way to the left (that does not reach the summit of the mountain of Union with the Lord): the imperfect spirit, the person who is spiritual but who falls into a new spiritual temptation of “spiritual goods” that are not purely God”, the “Crucified naked Lord” as he puts it. The same list of material goods is included here as well, but all specified as spiritual: pride, becomes spiritual pride, gluttony becomes spiritual gluttony, human consolations become spiritual consolations.…
3- The little path in the middle that reaches the Union with God. This path rejects the “spiritual good” that is not God himself! In fact our unique and only good is God himself! We go to Him not because of his graces but for the sake of Him. It is as if we do not go to the king for his money and goods but for he himself, even if he is naked and crucified.
Identifying the second way, the way to the left that does not reach the top of the mountain is a total stroke of genius. Spiritual people normally do not know the difference between 2 and 3, it is all one for them! Hence the necessity of discernment and humble obedience! Otherwise the devil will play with that person like a cat with a mouse!
God allows spiritual people to undergo this stage in order to encourage the person toward a deeper obedience and purification. It is absolutely necessary. Still may “spiritual” idols need to be addressed! Idols that are “spiritual”, but which are not purely God himself. Many many people fall into the trap. Why? The fake good looks in fact so good and seduces and many fall! Significantly, St. John of the Cross says that it is almost impossible for any human being not to fall, even a little bit, in this type of sins!
They are sins, however, real sins! But since they appear in the garments of light, and look (apparently) good, people can never identify them as “sins”! On the contrary! We are dealing with spiritual persons who already avoid sin in all its forms! But this new spiritual form is unknown to them! So they fall!
Do we have this teaching in the Gospel? To a great extent we can say that the issue is addressed in the Gospel and on numerous occasions, and the persons who often embody this attitude are the Pharisees. If the Gospel is written for us, it means that all that is in it is for us. So, if the Gospel mentions the Pharisees, the evangelist is not mentioning a Jewish issue, but a typical Christian attitude: one can be perfectly Christian, and a serious committed Follower of Jesus and have the sins, not of the beginners, but of the advanced and these sins are embodied in the Christian Pharisee! If one were to compile a list of all the different passages that are related to the (Christian) Pharisee in the Gospel, one would obtain a picture of the typical deviations proper to advanced Christians. We know pride! It is the most horrible of human sins! But did we ever hear about spiritual pride? It is the pride that a very committed and spiritual Christian can have about spiritual issues? This sin for instance (and many others) does exist, but on a spiritual level: hence, one can think that he or she is better than others spiritually, in the eyes of God. One can think that he or she is a saint! One can think that he or she knows more and better about Spiritual Matters than others. One can think that he or she can discern more and better than others. And this does not include the search for spiritual powers and performance, seeking mysterious knowledge,mysteries, and not fail to be filled with intellectual spiritual pride….
And mostly, what the Lord underlines in the Pharisee is this distorted tendency of leaning on different “spiritual values” or elements, and in their name condemning our brother or sister in our heart!
Mind you, all the above can hardly be seen! We are fooled, deceived! The devil is really hiding under garments of Light, under the pretense of being like a real Angel of Light. A “Higher than Thou” attitude, thinking that we know better, and therefore we can judge, evaluate better than many people, including our leaders! Spiritual belief in oneself then becomes an inflated spiritual pride.
Many of the interventions of the Pope are to help people in this state. Of course, when one is filled with Spiritual Pride, he is the person least capable of listening! But still, the Pope has to talk, has to say it, as the Lord did when He underwent his ministry in Jerusalem. One can read and hear the entire Chapter 23 in the Gospel of Matthew, dedicated to this last necessary battle against the Pharisees and Jerusalem leaders! This applies to us Christians for the Gospel is written for us, not just to tell us past events: it is still valid today; in each generation of Christians we still have the temptation of behaving like the Pharisees.
Who has ears to hear, will hear.
A lot of the confusion which many Catholics feel today comes from the unresolved issues described above. They come from the fact that many “spirituals” do not listen to the Pope, do not obey him, and doing the worst work of the devil they end up by doubting what the Pope says by not seeing the real and pure spirit in his words. Today, in the Church, many voices are talking at the same time and they do not all come from God, but many come from the devil, very well disguised under garments of Light.
8 Sept 2018
Nativity of Our Lady
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