If you desire that devotion be born in your spirit and that the love of God and the desire for divine things increase, cleanse your soul of every desire, attachment, and ambition in such a way that you have no concern about anything. Just as a sick person is immediately aware of good health once the bad humor has been thrown off and a desire to eat is felt, so will you recover your health, in God, if you cure yourself as was said. Without doing this, you will not advance no matter how much you do.
Sayings of Light and Love, 78
This is what we have heard from him, and the message that we are announcing to you: God is light; there is no darkness in him at all. If we say that we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying because we are not living the truth. But if we live our lives in the light, as he is in the light, we are in union with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth; but if we acknowledge our sins, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from everything that is wrong. To say that we have never sinned is to call God a liar and to show that his word is not in us.
I am writing this, my children, to stop you sinning; but if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is just; he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away, and not only ours, but the whole world’s. We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, “I know him,” and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him. We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.
“Cleanse your soul,” writes Our Holy Father Saint John of the Cross. This is the medicine, the remedy he prescribes to those who are sin-sick and desire health and wholeness in Christ. Cleansing the soul of all that is not God enables us to grow in devotion, the desire for the things of God, and to grow in the love of God.
What are we cleansing? Desire. Attachment. Ambition. St. John of the Cross leads us on an examination of conscience with these three points.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) provides a veritable smorgasbord of theological and catechetical delights upon which we may feast in its article on the Tenth Commandment. (CCC 2534-2557) “The tenth commandment concerns the intentions of the heart,” and that goes precisely to the heart of the teaching of St. John of the Cross. Although the teaching of the Catechism rightly focuses on “coveting the goods of another” (CCC 2534), St. John would caution us to examine our disordered desires for another’s spiritual goods, not simply temporal goods. Who among us has not desired or envied someone else’s contemplative spirit, prayerful attitude, or Christlike zeal?
The Catechism says that “the sensitive appetite leads us to desire pleasant things we do not have” (CCC 2535). But Our Holy Father John of the Cross explains how his teaching encompasses more than just the senses: “God gathers together all the strength, faculties, and appetites of the soul, spiritual and sensory alike, so the energy and power of this whole harmonious composite may be employed in this love” (Dark Night II, 11:4).
Love: that must be our true ambition. First, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; then, to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lk 10:27). St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus went one step further, praying: “You know, Lord, that my only ambition is to make you known and loved” (Pri 8). If we are willing to do some regular housekeeping, we will progress—step by step— toward the desired state of having “no concern about anything”, just like an infant in its mother’s arms (cf. Ps 131:2).
Saint Raphael Kalinowski, a Discalced Carmelite friar from Poland who learned about the Carmelite order by reading the lives of the saints during years of forced labor in the salt mines of Usole, Siberia, has some housekeeping suggestions for us. May the beauty and depth of his words bring us a message of hope and encouragement as we read and understand the teaching of Our Holy Father St. John of the Cross.
As the raging sea seems to feel displeasure at all that pollutes it, and desires to expel from itself anything foreign, so that the beauty of the mysteries it holds might appear to view in all clarity, so the soul does not tolerate anything within itself unless it is of God or leads to God; approaching confession from the abyss of her misery, she casts off everything, desiring to preserve in herself only the image of God according to which she was created, to look only at him and to rejoice only in him. In her love-filled tears she receives a shower of graces that descend from the wounds of her Savior. The misery of sin makes way for grace, the thorns become roses, and even the very poison of sin changes into an antidote for the soul. Here are the fruits of a good confession: it purifies, heals, fortifies, and beautifies the soul.
All that we have treated so far leads us back to what we discussed at the beginning: imitating our Holy Father by using the means the Savior left us to purify our soul, to preserve the heart ever pure in order to be able to transform it into an altar of the living God, and to become enamored of him in suffering and being despised: Altare Dei, cor nostrum! Humilis corde, cor Christi est [The altar of God is our heart; the humble heart is like the heart of Christ].
In the sketch of the Ascent of Mount Carmel drawn by Our Holy Father John of the Cross, we read: “Here there is no longer any way because for the just . . . there is no law.” This means that if all the prescriptions of the law have as their object the love of God, when this is fully attained, the prescriptions cease of themselves. True repentance, in crushing the heart of man, crushes everything opposed to the love of God and destroys all that does not lead to him…
And all this through Mary.
(Excerpts from On a Good Confession, 24 November 1902)
O St. John of the Cross
You were endowed by our Lord with the spirit of self-denial
and a love of the cross.
Obtain for us the grace to follow your example
that we may come to the eternal vision of the glory of God.
O Saint of Christ’s redeeming cross
the road of life is dark and long.
Teach us always to be resigned to God’s holy will
in all the circumstances of our lives
and grant us the special favor
which we now ask of you:
mention your request.
Above all, obtain for us the grace of final perseverance,
a holy and happy death and everlasting life with you
and all the saints in heaven.
The novena prayer was composed from approved sources by Professor Michael Ogunu, a member of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order in Nigeria.
Praskiewicz OCD, S 1998, Saint Raphael Kalinowski: An Introduction to his Life and Spirituality, Translated from the Italian by Coonan, T, Griffin OCD, M and Sullivan OCD, L, ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.