Author Topic: St. John of the Cross: Rejoicing in Moral Goods  (Read 74 times)

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Offline DigitalLogos

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St. John of the Cross: Rejoicing in Moral Goods
« on: August 16, 2021, 07:00:23 AM »
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  • An excerpt of "Ascent" I was reading this morning pertains to the problems associated with rejoicing in moral goods. It's a problem I've had, and many of us are susceptible to, as traditional Catholics.

    Ascent, Book III, Ch. 28-29:
    Chapter 28
    Seven evils to which men are liable if the will rejoices in moral goods. 

    THE principal evils to which men become exposed through the rejoicing of the will in good works and a virtuous life are seven in number, and most hurtful, because they are spiritual; I shall now give a brief description of them: 
    2. The first is vanity, pride, vain glory, and presumption, for no man can rejoice in his own works without attributing a great value to them. From this springs boasting and other faults; an instance of which we have in the Pharisee who in his prayer boasted of his fasts and the other good works he was doing.
    3. The second evil is generally connected with the first, and it is this: we come to judge others, and to pronounce them to be comparatively wicked and imperfect, and their good works to be inferior to ours; we despise them in our hearts, and sometimes express our selves contemptuously about them. The Pharisee had fallen into this also, for in his prayers he said, l O God, I give Thee thanks, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican; I fast twice in a week.’ {367} Thus by one act he fell into these two evils, namely, self-esteem and contempt of others, as many do daily, who say, I am not like such an one. neither is my life such as his. Yea, many of them are even worse than the Pharisee; he certainly despised others and pointed out the object of his contempt, saying, ‘this publican:’ they, indeed, are not satisfied with this, but give way to anger and envy when they hear others praised, or that they are doing more, or are more useful men, than themselves.
    4. The third evil is that, as they look for their own satisfaction in their good works, they will in general do only such as will furnish them with this satisfaction, or obtain for them the commendation of others. They do all their works, as our Saviour saith, ‘for to be seen of men,’ {368} and not for God alone. 
    5. The fourth evil issues out of the third, and is this: God will not reward them for their good works, because they seek it here in this world, in the joy, or the comfort, or the honourable advantages of their good works; of them our Saviour saith, ‘Amen. I say to you, they have received their reward.’ {369} They will therefore have nothing but their labour, and confusion of face without its reward. The children of men are so miserably involved in this evil that, in my opinion, the greater part of the good works, which are publicly done, are either vicious or worthless, or imperfect and defective in God's sight, because men do not detach themselves from self-interest and fromhuman respect. What other opinion can we form of those good works, which men do, or of the monuments which they raise, but which would have been undone and unbuilt, if their authors had not been influenced by worldly honour, human respect, and the vanity of this life? Is not all this too often done in order to perpetuate a name or a pedigree, or to mark authority and lordship; and that to the extent of setting up armorial bearings in churches, as if they would establish themselves there as images for the veneration of men? At the sight of these good works of some people, we may well say that men respect themselves more than God. 
    6. But passing from these who are the worst, how many are there who in their good works fall into these evils in many ways? Some expect their good works to be extolled, others expect gratitude for them, others enumerate them, and delight in the fact that such and such persons, and even the whole world are aware of them; sometimes they will employ a third person to convey theiralms, or to do any other good work, in order to make it the more known; some, too, look both for praise and reward. This is nothing else but to sound a trumpet in the streets, like vain men, but whom God for that reason will never reward. {370} 
    7. If men wish to avoid this evil they must hide their good works so that God alone shall see them, and they must not wish any one to think much of them. They must hide them not only from others, but from them selves also; that is, they must take no satisfaction in them nor regard them with complacency, as if they thought them of any value. This is the meaning of those words of our Saviour: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth.’ {371} That is, do not look with temporal and carnal eyes upon thy spiritual works. When this precept is observed, the strength of the will is concentrated in God, and our good works become fruitful in His sight; but where it is not observed, we shall not only lose our labour, but, very frequently, because of our interior boasting and vanity, singrievously against God. Those words of Job also are to be understood in this sense:’ If.... my heart in secret hath rejoiced, and I have kissed my hand with my mouth, which is a very great iniquity.’ {372} Here the ‘hand’ means our good works, and ‘ mouth’ our will which regards them with complacency. This is self-complacency, for the words of Job are, if my ‘heart hath in secret rejoiced,’ which is a ‘great iniquity, and a denial against the Most High God,’ as it is said there. To attribute our good works to ourselves is to deny them to be God's from Whom all good works proceed, and to follow the example of Lucifer, who rejoiced in himself, denying to God what was His, arrogating it to himself. 
    8. The fifth evil is, that men of this kind make no progress in the way of perfection; for cleaving to the pleasure and comfort of their good works, when this pleasure and comfort cease—which is usually the case when God seeks their advancement, when He gives them dry bread, which is the bread of the perfect, when He deprivesthem of the milk of babes, when He tries their strength, and purifies their delicate appetites, so that they may be able to taste the food of the strong—they become generally faint of heart, and fail to persevere, because their good works are no longer sources of pleasure. To this we may apply in a spiritual sense those words of the wise man: ‘Dying flies spoil the sweetness of the ointment.’ {373} For when mortifications come in their way they die to their good works, abandon them, and cease to persevere: it is in perseverance that spiritual sweetness and interior comfort consist. 
    9. The sixth evil is that men are generally deceiving themselves; considering those works wherein they find delight to be of greater importance than those wherein they find none: they praise and esteem the former, but despise and reject the latter; yet those works, generally, in which a man is most mortified —especially when he is not advanced in perfection— are more pleasing and precious in the eyes of God, by reasonof that self-denial involved in their performance, than those good works in which he finds consolation, where self-seeking so easily intrudes. ‘The evil of their hand,’ saith the prophet, ‘they call good;’ {374} that is, what is evil in their work they say is good. And they come to this because they derive their joy from their good works, and not from pleasing God only. The extent of this evil, among spiritually minded men as well as ordinary Christians, baffles all description, for scarcely any one can be found who doeth good simply for the love of God, without relying on some advantage of joy or comfort, or of some other consideration. 
    10. The seventh evil is that man, so far as he does not suppress all joy in moral good works, is the more incapable of listening to reasonable counsel and instruction with reference to his duties. The habitual weakness contracted by doing good works with an eye to this empty joy, so fetters him that he cannot accept the advice given him as the best, or if he does so accept it he cannot act uponit, through lack of resolution. The love of God and of our neighbour is greatly weakened in these persons, for their self-love, which they indulge in with reference to their own good works, makes charity cold.

    Chapter 29
    The benefits of repressing all joy in moral goods.

     VERY great benefits result to the soul, provided the will is restrained from vainly rejoicing in moral goods. In the first place, it is delivered from many temptations and illusions of Satan, which rejoicing in our good works secretly involves, as we learn from these words of God to Job: ‘He sleepeth under the shadow, in the covert of the reed, and in moist places.’ {375} This applies to the evil spirit, for he deceives the soul in the moisture of joy and in the hollow of the reed, that is, of good works done through vanity. Nor is it strange that the devil should deceive it secretly in this rejoicing; for, independently of the devil's suggestion, this empty joy is a delusion itself, especially when a feelfeeling of boasting lurks in the heart, as it is written, ‘Thy arrogancy hath deceived thee and the pride of thy heart.’ {376} Can there be a greater delusion than that of boasting? The soul is delivered from it by purifying itself from this joy. 
    2. The second benefit is that our good works are done with greater deliberation and in greater perfection. If the passion of joy and sweetness prevails, no deliberation can be had; for then rage and desire are so strong that they will not bend to reason; and, in general, under their influence we change our works and intentions, taking one thing in hand to-day and another to morrow, beginning everything and bringing nothing to good effect. If joy be the main-spring of our work, we shall be inconsistent: some men are naturally more so than others; and when our joy ceases, we abstain also rom our work and our resolution, however important hey may be. With people of this kind, joy is the soul and strength of their good works; and when that joy disappears their good worksperish, and they do not persevere. These are they of whom Christ saith, that they receive the word with joy, and that the devil takes it away forthwith that they may not persevere. ‘They by the wayside are they that hear; then the devil cometh and taketh the word out of their heart, lest believing they should be saved.’ {377} That is so, because all their strength and support was nothing else but this joy, and therefore to withdraw the will from it is an admirable preparation for perseverance and final success. Thir benefit, then, is as great as is the opposite evil. The wise man regards the substance and fruit of his labous not the pleasure and joy which it brings: he is not like one beating the air, but he reaps from his good works a durable joy, without demanding the tribute of delights. 
    3. The third benefit is divine; by quenching this hollow rejoicing in our works we attain to poverty of spirit, which is one of the beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ {378}
    4. The fourth benefit of suppressing this joy is, that we become gentle, humble, and prudent in our doings. We shall do nothing in a hurry, carried away by the rage and desire of this joy; neither shall we become presumptuous through overvaluing our good works under the influence of it; nor shall we be incautiously blinded by it. 
    5. The fifth benefit is that we shall become pleasing unto God and man, delivered from the dominion of avarice and gluttony, spiritual sloth and envy, and a thousand other vices.
    "The Heart of Jesus is closer to you when you suffer, than when you are full of joy." - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque


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