John of the Cross' Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book One

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is a poem with a treatise explaining it. It describes how to reach divine union, described as Mount Carmel, through love.

This is the first stanza:

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
- oh, happy chance! -
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

St John says that if we are attracted by earthly or heavenly goods, we won't get to Mt Carmel. But following John of the Cross doesn't mean forsaking all goods; just don't put them ahead of God. He wants us to take a path of nothingness to God alone. In the end, only the desire for God saves you. It is necessary to get rid of the things that dissipate or weaken your desire for God; you must be focused.

Having the virtue of chastity rooted deeply in the faith allows for you to develop deep, close, intimate friendships in your life.

St John teaches that dark nights are essential to the spiritual life, and that there are two forms of them: the dark night of the senses, which is the way to get from the purgative stage of the spiritual life to the illuminative; and the dark night of spirit, which takes you from the illuminative stage to the unitive. The dark night of the sense is both active and passive; there are things you can actively do, such as a media fast, to dispose yourself to it. The dark night of spirit, however, is passive. The dark nights are so called because in them we must live by faith; then we must persevere in trust of God. The dark nights are purifications of the soul.

The means of entering the night of sense, the things that dispose you to the night, are based on this principle: "have habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds by bringing your life into conformity with his. You must then study his life..." Spend time with Jesus in the Gospels and by adoring him in the Eucharist. This principle is what keeps John from being like Buddhism, however similar as the rest of his 'nada nada' path to Carmel is to the natural religion.

Steps to carrying out this principle include: having a discipline of life ordered to the love of God, renouncing sensory satisfactions that are not purely for the glory of God. Be inclined not to the easiest, but to the most difficult; not to the most delightful, but to the most distasteful; not to the highest and most precious, but to the lowest and most despised; not to wanting something but to wanting nothing, etc. St John advises us to earnestly embrace these practices and try to overcome our will's repugnance toward them. You can train your senses to delight in difficult things for the Lord and his glory. These steps conquer your appetites; they change how you take in sensory stimulation.

Are your senses given to pursuit of self, or of God? When they are pursuing self, you are inconstant--you have moments of devotion to God, but then you fall back into sin.

What do I do in my free time? Fix this, and you'll have tranquility and more energy.

The reason so many of us, in particular Americans, are not able to love freely, is because we're addicted to comfort. Addiction to comfort retards our ability to love. Renounce comfort, the easy chair or the La-Z-Boy, to play basketball [or any other distasteful sport] with your brothers. That is how your heart will be able to love with freedom. To get rid of your addiction to comfort, incline yourself to the most difficult, as John said. This doesn't mean always do the most difficult; but free yourself so that you can choose the most difficult and aren't enslaved to comfort.

We need to choose, day by day, to be completely vulnerable to the Lord and to his will. Asceticism can't take away the deep-seated, involuntary contempt for my brother; the wounds, dark things in my heart; involuntary movements in the heart. Self-knowledge is the first step in opening yourself to what God wants to do for you. He wants to re-order your wounds so that instead of tearing you down they lead you to God. Surrender to God in prayer. Just sit there and be attentive to his love. Attend to him in darkness and silence.

Seminarians need to learn to be anonymous: the more anonymous you are, the more fruitful your ministry for God. This relates back to F.X.N. Van Thuan's idea of following God and not the works of God. We need to be the man that people want to follow to God.

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