a lawyer and father of six. I am thus very occupied most of the time. I know
being holy is for all the faithful and I strive to incorporate prayer and
penance throughout my day, revolving around the Eucharist. My question is:
Are the ascetical practices of St. John of the Cross, as you mention on your
website, meant for all or only for the few religious who can devote their
entire life to them? or for occasional periods in our life (e.g. lent, to
overcome addictions, etc.)? Is it dangerous for an ordinary mortal like myself
to try to scale this Mount? Is it even possible in a normal lay
hrist Himself told us what He requires
When the Pharisees
heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one
of them [a scholar of the law] tested Him by asking, Teacher, which
commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to him, You shall
love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with
all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second
is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the
prophets depend on these two commandments.
So what does it really mean,
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your
soul, and with all your mind? Can an ordinary mortal do
this? How much is enough? Well, I can tell you what the Catholic mystics
through the ages have said it takes: everything you have. Furthermore,
thats actually something anyone can afford.
Vocation in the
Context of Devotion
Now, as Saint Francis de
Sales wrote, it would be ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable
for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing
their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like
a religious. Still, he explains,
bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or
destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just
as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure
any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.
Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes
brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person
becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his
vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become
more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more
sincere. . . .
Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we
can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.
From The Introduction to
the Devout Life
by Saint Francis de Sales, bishop
Office of Readings, 24 January
Note carefully that the
need for every Christian to aspire to a life of perfection is
the whole point of my website. Catholic mysticism
is simply a matter of living a humble and devout
lifestyle so as to seek holiness in everything
you do, letting nothing interfere with a life of constant prayer. For example,
rather than thinking of family responsibilities as a hinderance to prayer, parents
can maintain a dedicated prayer life in two ways: by performing all daily tasks
while maintaining a constant awareness of the presence of God (such as by praying
the Jesus Prayer) and by sharing some of their vocal
prayer time (e.g., the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary) and holy
reading with their children, as a family activity.
A Final Image
Beyond that encouragement, I can offer
you one final image in your own language that you might find particularly understandable.
When you say, Is it dangerous for an ordinary mortal like myself to
try to scale this Mount? Is it even possible in a normal lay
life? you express a subtle doubt in a way that sounds as if you were
arguing a case in court before a jury, with a preconceived answer already
in your mind.
So imagine standing before Christ
the Judge on the last day. You will have to stand in your own defense. If
you walk into the court with humility and say,
My Lord, I can offer no defense. I have already given you everything
I havemy occupation, my family, my entire lifeand I have nothing
left with which to defend myself, Christ might just say,
Thats true. Case dismissed. But, if you have hidden doubts,
He might just say, I dont think so. Lets hear what your
Accuser has to say. There you will be, empty and broken, with a fool
for an attorney, standing next to the opposing counsel: Satan himself. And
Satan, a master psychologist, will trample all of
your psychological excuses and defenses into the
dirt. It wont be pretty.
But, if you accept the fact that
youindeed, anyonecan and should ascend Mount Carmel, and if you
make the sacrifices to make the climb, then you
will discover the ineffable glory awaiting you at the summit.
With Trials as
You might wonder why some persons
grow to such great spiritual heights and why others make so little progress.
Well, Saint John of the Cross explains it.
And here it ought to be pointed
out why so few reach this high state of perfect union with God. It should
be known that the reason is not that God wishes only a few of these spirits
to be so elevated; He would rather want all to be perfect, but He finds few
vessels that will endure so lofty and sublime a work. . . .
There are many who desire to advance and persistently beseech God to bring
them to this state of perfection. Yet when God wills to conduct them through
the initial trials and mortifications, as is necessary, they are unwilling
to suffer them and they shun them, flee from the narrow road of life [Mt.
7:14] and seek the broad road of their own consolation, which is that of
their own perdition [Mt. 7:13]; thus they do not allow God to begin to grant
their petition. They are like useless containers, for although they desire
to reach the state of the perfect they do not want to be guided by the path
of trials that leads to it.
of the Cross
Flame of Love,