Quote of the day: 27 February

How do we become holy?

It is here that John of the Cross makes a painful observation:

I am confident that the Lord will help me explain this matter because it is extremely necessary to so many souls. Even though these souls have begun to walk along the road of virtue, and our Lord desires to place them in the dark night that they may move on to the divine union, they do not advance. The reason for this may be that sometimes they do not want to enter the dark night or allow themselves to be placed in it, or that sometimes they misunderstand themselves and are without suitable and alert directors who will show them the way to the summit.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel
Prologue 3

We make little progress in our journey toward holiness because we really don’t let the Lord act in our lives. What’s more, we lack those “alert directors who will show [us] the way to the summit.” That’s why John of the Cross wrote The Ascent of Mount Carmel, the work that we will study primarily during this online Lenten retreat. [Free registration here] It will help us to better understand how to let God work in our lives. We who spend so much time experiencing life on the exterior level need to close our eyes to experience our “Father who sees in secret” and works secretly in the depths of our hearts: only faith discerns this secret inner presence. Therefore, in this Lenten season, let’s pay attention before all else to our interior life for prayer, fasting, and service. May everything be centered starting from our heart, from our deepest intentions. 

Only then will we be able to live a true reconciliation with God and with ourselves. Let’s be careful when it comes to those famous “what-are-you-giving-up-for-Lent” resolutions that sometimes focus more on the image of ourselves (proving to myself that I can do it) than on the search for God. Let’s perhaps choose to do less, but let’s do it with profound, determined commitment. John of the Cross invites us to a ‘blessed adventure’. We’re setting off on a mountain hike. It’s time to leave behind our comfortable, ‘sweetness-and-ease’ spirituality and put on the spirituality of the crampons (cf. Pope Francis, Final Homily of WYD 2016 in Krakow)! 

What should we put in our backpacks for this journey into the unknown? The important thing, John tells us, is to have “urgent longings” and to be inflamed and wounded with love for the Lord. It’s only from this powerful love that we will draw the “courage and constancy to readily deny all other appetites” (Ascent 1.14.2) and not get lost along the way. The whole issue is, therefore, in the movement, in this dynamic of love that takes us out of ourselves, in the middle of the night, for a fabulous adventure with Christ. So let’s ask for the grace that the Holy Spirit may come to renew our hearts and awaken the love of God in us. Only this powerful love can give us the impetus to set out on our journey.

fr. Jean-Alexandre of the Lamb, OCD

You may wonder, “what are crampons?” We wondered about that, too. Crampons are a piece of gear used to climb or walk on ice. 

Wikipedia describes crampons this way: “A crampon is a traction device that is attached to footwear to improve mobility on snow and ice during ice climbing. Besides ice climbing, crampons are also used for secure travel on snow and ice, such as crossing glaciers, snowfields and icefields, ascending snow slopes, and scaling ice-covered rock.”

We weren’t the only ones who were curious about the “spirituality of the crampons”; another retreat subscriber wrote to Father Roberto, OCD at the retreat office in Vienna. Father kindly shared this explanation from one of the North American translators. We’d like to share it with you, too.

Crampons are overkill for Abraham Lake, but they do offer the best traction transitioning from lake shore to the ice over sloped ice. | Jeff Wallace / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Your translator used crampons as a child in the snow and ice of the Great Lakes region of North America. They are extremely useful to ensure that you don’t slip and fall when walking. I used them to walk to and from the bus stop, for example. My father was a bridge construction manager, so he wore crampons in the winter on job sites. Without crampons, when a winter storm brings icy conditions, you’re paralyzed… Either you hibernate and stay home until conditions improve, or you venture outside and take the risk of falling on the ice. But, to have crampons gives you the freedom to keep moving, walking, working, and exploring in icy conditions. For some people, icy conditions are an adventure; for others, ice is adversity. There is always risk involved.

Now, let’s look at the homily of Pope Francis

Holy Mass for World Youth Day
Campus Misericordiae – Kraków
Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Holy Father talks about paralysis and risk in his homily. Zacchaeus faced a second obstacle in meeting Jesus: the paralysis of shame. The pope even talks about the action of climbing in the story of Zacchaeus, although he climbed a tree, not a mountain. But about Zacchaeus, Pope Francis says this:

The paralysis of shame did not have the upper hand.  The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus “ran ahead”, “climbed” the tree, and then, when Jesus called him, he “hurried down” (cf. Lk 19:4,6).  He took a risk, he put his life on the line. For us too, this is the secret of joy: not to stifle a healthy curiosity, but to take a risk, because life is not meant to be tucked away.  When it comes to Jesus, we cannot sit around waiting with arms folded; he offers us life – we can’t respond by thinking about it or “texting” a few words!

Holy Mass for World Youth Day
Campus Misericordiae – Kraków
Sunday, 31 July 2016

Now, this is surely the heart of the “spirituality of the crampons” to which fr. Jean-Alexandre refers. It means not giving in to a feeling of paralysis—whether it be caused by shame, fear, guilt, sadness, or any other emotion. Rather, Jesus calls us to pick up our spiritual crampons, those simple means that aid us to take risks, to move forward in love and trust with Him.

Pòrt de Vielha in the Catalan Pyrénées | Yannick Ott / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

To register for the Lent 2020 Online Retreat with Saint John of the Cross directed by fr. Jean-Alexandre of the Lamb, OCD from the Paris Province of the Discalced Carmelite friars, click here. There is no charge, it is not too late to register, and you will receive weekly meditations with helpful tips to put the teachings of St. John of the Cross into practice in your life during Lent.

wishing you a blessed lent

John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

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