Thursday, 28 February 2013

Divine Intimacy - On Being Hidden from Oneself

The following passage, taken from the Lenten readings in Divine Intimacy, really touches me deeply, as it describes certain virtues which I quite keenly lack...

1. In order to enter the fullness of the hidden life, it is not enough to hide oneself from the attention of others; we must also hide from ourselves, that is, forget ourselves, avoiding all excessive concern about ourselves. We can be preoccupied with self not only from a material point of view, but also from a spiritual point of view. To be overly concerned about one's spiritual progress, about the consolations which God gives or does not give, about the state of aridity in which one may be -- all this is often the sign of a subtle spiritual egoism, a sign that the soul is more occupied with itself than with God. We must learn to forget ourselves, to hide from ourselves, by refusing to examine too minutely what is happening within our soul, and by not attaching too much importance to it, renouncing even the satisfaction of wanting to know the exact condition of our own spiritual life. It is well to understand that God often permits painful, obscure states just because He wants the soul to live hidden from itself. This was the aim of St Teresa Margaret's programme of self-effacement; she intended not only "to live, as it were, hidden and unnoticed" among her sisters, but "to be, in a certain manner, hidden and unknown to herself, to die to herself without knowing it and without feeling any pleasure in this mystical spiritual death, burying in Christ, in a very subtle way, every thought and personal reflection, even in the spiritual and eternal order." This is what complete forgetfulness of self explicitly proposes to one who renounces even the spiritual satisfaction of recognizing his own immolation. But in order to avoid turning one's thoughts inward, the soul must focus its aspirations elsewhere; hence the negative exercise of not thinking of itself must accompany the positive exercise of fixing its centre in Christ, of "burying in Christ" every thought, every preoccupation with self, even in the spiritual order. No one can succeed in turning away from himself unless he concentrates all his attention on the object of his love. St Teresa Margaret completely forgot herself; her thoughts were absorbed "in Christ", her one Well-Beloved.

2. A soul entirely oblivious of self is also completely disinterested. It no longer serves God in a mercenary spirit, with more regard for the reward which it may receive than for His glory, but it is "at His service", according to St Teresa's beautiful expression, "gratuitously, as great lords serve their king" (L). This should be the attitude of an interior soul called by God to a life of intimacy with Him. Such a one should act not as a hireling, but as a daughter or a spouse. Here we have one of the most beautiful fruits of the hidden life. St John of the Cross teaches that "more pleasing to God is one good work, however small it be, that is done in secret with no desire that it be known, than a thousand that are done with the desire that they be known to men. For he that with purest love does such works for God's sake, not only cares nothing to have men see him, but does them not even that God Himself may see him. Such a man, even though God were never to know it, would not cease to render Him the same services, with the same joy and purity of love" (SMI, 20).

This total purity of intention makes the soul act for God alone and never for personal interest, even of a spiritual nature. God will certainly reward our good works, but concern about this is wholly abandoned to Him as long as the soul is intent only on giving Him pleasure. The hidden life thus finds its culminating point in a complete disinterestedness, not only concerning human rewards and praises, but also in regard to spiritual consolations; our soul seeks God alone and God alone is sufficient for us. Even if, apparently unaware of our love and our services, He leaves us in aridity and abandonment, we do not worry nor stop on this account, since the one motive which actuates us is to please God alone.

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