Tuesday, 14 May 2013

London-UK Course: "Introduction into Spiritual Life"

School of Mary, London-UK

Introduction into Spiritual Life
1st Level Course in Spiritual Life
with Jean Khoury

* Discover the necessary foundations for a strong spiritual life
* Learn to connect with God directly in order to efficiently receive His graces daily
* Develop your personal relationship with Jesus
* Understand the action of the Holy Spirit in you

“Very inspiring with a fresh approach to ideas and some wonderful new insights for me.”
Delightful delivery. Always arresting and respectful of the audience.”
‒ Previous participants

Venue: Shannon Board, St Mary’s University College, Waldegrave Road, Twickenham, TWI 4SX. Nearest Station: Strawberry Hill (from London Waterloo/Vauxhall)

Dates: The sessions will take place on the following Saturdays between 10.00 ‒16.30: 29th June, 6th July, 13th July, 20th July, 27th July, 3rd August and 10th August

Cost: £20.00 a day (£10.00 for students and unwaged). The fee includes services of tea and coffee. Participants are to bring a packed lunch or buy from the canteen.

Contact: To register or for further enquiries please email: schoolofmarylondon@gmail.com
Call: Leonora Butau on 07908513762 Website: www.amorvincit.com

This Course has received the approval and blessing of H.E. Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

80: What is holiness? #3

“Imagination” and “faculties”

In our journey toward holiness there are pitfalls and needs for discernment. In the following paragraph, saint Theresa of Avila mentions the difference between the “faculties” and the “imagination”. What does she mean by that? and how can learning this difference affect our understanding of real holiness?

“I like the way in which some souls, when they are at prayer, think that, for God's sake, they would be glad if they could be humbled and put to open shame - and then try to conceal quite a slight failure. Oh, and if they should be accused of anything that they have not done - ! God save us from having to listen to them then! Let anyone who cannot bear trials like that be very careful to pay no heed to the resolutions he may have made when he was alone. For they could not in fact have been resolutions made by the will (a genuine act of the will is quite another matter); they must have been due to some freak of the imagination. The devil makes good use of the imagination in practising his surprises and deceptions, and there are many such which he can practise on women, or on unlettered persons, because we do not understand the difference between the faculties and the imagination, and thousands of other things belonging to the interior life. Oh, sisters, how clearly it can be seen what love of your neighbour really means to some of you, and what an imperfect stage it has reached in others! If you understood the importance of this virtue to us all you would strive after nothing but gaining it.” (Interior Castle, V,III,10)

This passage is taken from saint Theresa’s book “The Interior Castle”, Fifth Mansions, chapter III, paragraph 10. This chapter is of great importance because it addresses the pitfalls of “illusion” and “spiritual pride” in spiritual life, and in our journey toward holiness. (see the whole chapter here)
In spiritual life, striving toward holiness, what is important to achieve for us is a good healthy will, i.e. a healthy virtue. “Virtue” is a “good habit”. A “habit” comes from the “repetition of good acts” (i.e. loving your neighbour). Having a Spiritual Life means that on a daily basis one practises - amongst other things - hours of “prayer of the heart”. If the Prayer of the heart is not accompanied by “lectio divina” (i.e. putting into practise with our will the will of God), we end up entering in deeper and deeper illusions: thinking that we are growing, thinking that by the fact of practising the “prayer of the heart” we are close to God, we are spiritually fine, we are saints.

“thinking that” means fooling myself, imagining something that doesn’t exist. One can lie to himself to the point of starting to believe his own lies. In order to do that one uses his imagination. Today, we easily consider imagination as a “faculty” of the soul.
The most important faculties of the soul, at least for Theresa of Avila are: Mind, Will and Memory. She is following an Augustinian division, as saint John of the Cross as well (while saint Thomas Aquinas will use only: Mind and Will). These are called “rational faculties”, i.e. the faculties of the rational soul (opposed to the animal soul), the higher part of the soul.

Listening to God in order to discover His Will for us, and putting, with our will, His Word and His Will into practise is a key issue in spiritual life. This is why I always stress on the fact that we have always to practise together “lectio divina” and “Prayer of the heart” (but obviously not in the same hour), they are the two legs we use in order to walk. As you can see, the mechanism of the Prayer of the heart is the Action of God in a supra-conscious area in us: the spirit. We can’t see the roots of our being (i.e. the spirit). They are real, but hidden like the roots of a tree. During the Prayer of the heart we are not supposed to see or to feel anything (“seeing” and “feeling” happen in the conscious part), because the Action of God is happening deep in us. And even if we feel or see something (in the conscious part), we don’t have to pay attention to it. We need to remain in the general attitude of love, having our heart/spirit immersed in Jesus. This means that our mind and our imagination are left alone, free, and potential victims of the illusions of the devil. Since we are practising the prayer of the heart, the Devil can try to convince us that we reached the heights of holiness. He can then divert our attention from Lectio divina (thus creating a weakness in our faculties: mind and will). So the time spent in “Prayer of the heart” can make us the pray of the Devil.

Obviously saint Theresa doesn’t use the expression “lectio divina”, but in the end of the day she gives us its real contents, the core of what is needed: we need to love our neighbour and if we don’t do so, we shouldn’t fool ourselves, thinking that we reached the goal of spiritual life. Saint John in his first letter gives us the same warning: how can you pretend to love God whom you don’t see (or feel) (Prayer of the heart) and not to love your neighbour that you see?! (see 1John..,..) There is a big difference between illusion (just the work of imagination) and a human mind and a human will that listen to the Will of God and put it into practise.
On top of that, and she says it in this beautiful chapter III: if we do love our neighbour, the love that God pours in us during the prayer of the heart will increase a lot. Saint John of the Cross will mention this Golden Rule as well in his Spiritual Canticle (See Spiritual Canticle, A, 12,11; Living Flame of Love, I,6,34).

In another place, she says: if you practise the prayer of the heart and don’t work on growing in virtues (activating the mind and the will, according to the Will of God) you’ll remain like dwarfs (spiritual dwarfs, i.e. very weak).

One of the tactics the Devil uses with spiritual persons is to convince them (to fool them) that they reached the Goal (union with God or so), and by doing that, they stop making their efforts of growth, real growth, especially in loving their neighbour – the result is going backward. Living in illusion is a very good tactic of the devil for more spiritual persons. This is why, from the first lines of the Fifth Mansions, saint Theresa of Avila mentions the spiritual illusion: “the Devil appearing like an Angel of light” (quote from saint Paul). Obviously the Devil changes his tactics and adapts them to the spiritual level of the person. He won’t tempt the spiritual person with something clearly evil. On the contrary, now that the person is determined to reach God, the Devil will tempt her with “the appearance of Good”. A fake “good thing”: he tries to convince the person that he/she is with God, that he/she reached Him… “yeyyyyy, now rest and enjoy”. He then won.

Theresa of Avila, as a real Master of Spiritual life, has to warn us about this temptation. And in order to discover it, one of the most important elements of discernment is to be able to distinguish between an act of will from anything else like: feelings, emotions, imagination… i.e. illusions. While an act of the will is real, free, voluntary, any feeling, emotion, imagination is more of a passive, receptive state that doesn’t necessarily involve any change in us, any use of our will.

Therefore, discernment and discipleship (through Spiritual Direction) are vital in certain stages. Seeking Advice/Discernment is an implicit act of proclamation of the Incarnation: God is present amongst us and wants/loves to speak to us through our Spiritual Director (but watch out, we need to choose the right one, because the “spiritual son” will be like the “spiritual father” says the Catechism, quoting saint John of the Cross. There is no magic here.). See Ascent of Mount Carmel book 2 chapter 22, second part.

Important remark: As we can see here, imagination (which is considered as a faculty), can be the easy pray of the Devil. Of course, what saint Theresa of Avila means by “imagination” could be explained as well as an act of the mind (producing thoughts) with no practical application (no implications for the will). Like the one who reads, reads and reads spiritual books and ends up by believing that he reached the state he is reading about. Reading can have a “hypnotic” effect on him (with the help of the Devil). But, but: there is a difference between this illusion and convincing ourselves, strengthening our desire and willingness to serve God, setting high goals, and motivating ourselves with great thoughts: in her writings, saint Theresa invites us on the contrary to motivate ourselves by setting high goals and widening the horizon of our mind. Something will come out of “many good desires”, while nothing will come out from not harbouring “high goals” and “good desires”. In fact, saint Theresa of Avila is very modern: nowadays we do hear a lot about the role of visualisation in order to achieve high, complicated goals/acts. You run it first in your mind: you visualise it. The brain (neurological paths) is then activated accordingly and creates new paths and, by repeating the visualisation, you strengthen these new paths and will be able to put what you visualised into practise. This is not “illusion” or ill imagination, or fooling ourselves. On the contrary, this is opening the way for the mind and will in order to achieve new directions given by God. Saint Theresa of Avila is not jeopardising imagination and creativity, on the contrary; she is warning us of a false “imagination” that doesn’t lead anywhere.
Here, “imagination” and “mind” are very close. You can almost repeat what saint Theresa said this way: “because we do not understand the difference between the mind and the will…” i.e. we don’t see that thinking about something is not yet doing it. Saint Paul says is bluntly: the good I want to achieve (what my mind sees and knows as “good”) my will doesn’t put it into practise! My will is still ill, not transformed into the will of God. Mind and will are divided.

In other words, it connects with what saint James says in his letter: faith is not enough! Believing is good, it opens us and connects us with God in order to receive His Holy Spirit. But a faith that doesn’t have real applications, that doesn’t spring in real practical acts, remains an illusion. In other words: you may have the Holy Spirit at the reach of your hands, but if you don’t put into practise His Will, then He remains at your door and never really enters. You are fooling yourself.

I hope this helps.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Text 3: Interior Castle, 5th Mansion, chapter III

Continues the same matter. Describes another kind of union which, with the help of God, the soul can attain, and the important part played in it by the love of our neighbour. This chapter is of great profit.

1 LET us now return to our little dove, and see something of what God gives her in this state. It must always be understood that she will try to advance in the service of Our Lord and in self-knowledge. If she does no more than receive this favour, and, as though she enjoyed complete security, begins to lead a careless life and stray from the road to Heaven - that is, from the Commandments - there will happen to her what happens to the creature that comes out of the silkworm, which leaves seed for the production of more silkworms and then dies for ever. I say it leaves seed because for my own part I believe it is God's will that so great a favour should not be given in vain, and that if the soul that receives it does not profit by it others will do so. For, as the soul possesses these aforementioned desires and virtues, it will always profit other souls so long as it leads a good life, and from its own heat new heat will be transmitted to them. Even after losing this, it may still desire others to profit, and take pleasure in describing the favours given by God to those who love and serve Him.

2 I knew a person to whom this happened [herself], and who, though having herself gone far astray was glad that others should profit by the favours God had shown her, she would describe the way of prayer to those who did not understand it, and she brought them very, very great profit. Later, the Lord gave her new light. It is true that she had not yet experienced the effects which have been mentioned. But how many are called by the Lord to apostleship, as Judas was, and enjoy communion with Him, or are called to be made kings, as Saul was, and afterwards, through their own fault, are lost! From this, sisters, we may deduce that, if we are to acquire increasing merit, and not, like Saul and Judas, to be lost, our only possible safety consists in obedience and in never swerving from the law of God; I am referring to those to whom He grants these favours, and in fact to all.

3 Despite all I have said, this Mansion seems to me a little obscure. There is a great deal to be gained by entering it, and those from whom the Lord withholds such supernatural gifts will do well to feel that they are not without hope; for true union can quite well be achieved, with the favour of Our Lord, if we endeavour to attain it by not following our own will but submitting it to whatever is the will of God. Oh, how many of us there are who say “we do this” and think “we want nothing else, and would die for this truth”, as I believe I have said! For I tell you, and I shall often repeat this, that when you have obtained this favour from the Lord, you need not strive for that other delectable union which has been described, for the most valuable thing about it is that it proceeds from this union which I am now describing; and we cannot attain to the heights I have spoken of if we are not sure that we have the union in which we resign our wills to the will of God.
Oh, how much to be desired is this union! Happy the soul that has attained to it, for it will live peacefully both in this life and in the next as well. Nothing that happens on earth will afflict it unless it finds itself in peril of losing God, or sees that He is offended - neither sickness nor poverty nor death, except when someone dies who was needed by the Church of God. For this soul sees clearly that He knows what He does better than it knows itself what it desires.

4 You must observe that there are many kinds of grief. Some of them come upon us suddenly, in natural ways, just as pleasures do; they may even arise from charity, which makes us pity our neighbours, as Our Lord did when He raised Lazarus; and these do not prevent union with the will of God, nor do they cause a restless, unquiet passion which disturbs the soul and lasts for a long time. They are griefs which pass quickly; for, as I said of joys in prayer, they seem not to penetrate to the depth of the soul but only reach these senses and faculties. They characterize all the Mansions so far described but do not enter that which will be dealt with last of all, from which the suspension of the faculties already referred to is inseparable. The Lord can enrich souls in many ways and bring them to these Mansions by many other paths than the short cut which has been described.

5 But note very carefully, daughters, that the silkworm has of necessity to die; and it is this which will cost you most; for death comes more easily when one can see oneself living a new life, whereas our duty now is to continue living this present life, and yet to die of our own free will. I confess to you that we shall find this much harder, but it is of the greatest value and the reward will be greater too if you gain the victory. But you must not doubt the possibility of this true union with the will of God. This is the union which I have desired all my life; it is for this that I continually beseech Our Lord; it is this which is the most genuine and the safest.

6 But alas that so few of us are destined to attain it! A person who takes care not to offend the Lord and has entered the religious life may think he has done everything. But oh, there are always a few little worms which do not reveal themselves until, like the worm which gnawed through Jonas's ivy, they have gnawed through our virtues. Such are self-love, self-esteem, censoriousness (even if only in small things) concerning our neighbours, lack of charity towards them, and failure to love them as we love ourselves. For, although late in the day we may fulfil our obligations and so commit no sin, we are far from attaining a point necessary to complete union with the will of God.

7 What do you suppose His will is, daughters? That we should be altogether perfect, and be one with Him and with the Father, as in His Majesty's prayer. Consider what a long way we are from attaining this. I assure you that it causes me real distress to write in this way because I know how far I am from it myself, and entirely through my own fault. For we do not require great favours from the Lord before we can achieve this; He has given us all we need in giving us His Son to show us the way. Do not think that if, for example, my father or my brother dies, I ought to be in such close conformity with the will of God that I shall not grieve at his loss, or that, if I have trials or illnesses, I must enjoy bearing them. It is good if we can do this and some times it is a matter of common sense: being unable to help ourselves, we make a virtue of necessity. How often philosophers used to act thus in matters of this kind, or in similar matters -- and they were very wise men! But here the Lord asks only two things of us: love for His Majesty and love for our neighbour. It is for these two virtues that we must strive, and if we attain them perfectly we are doing His will and so shall be united with Him. But, as I have said, how far we are from doing these two things in the way we ought for a God Who is so great! May His Majesty be pleased to give us grace so that we may deserve to reach this state, as it is in our power to do if we wish.

8 The surest sign that we are keeping these two commandments is, I think, that we should really be loving our neighbour; for we cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reasons for believing that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbour. And be certain that, the farther advanced you find you are in this, the greater the love you will have for God; for so dearly does His Majesty love us that He will reward our love for our neighbour by increasing the love which we bear to Himself, and that in a thousand ways: this I cannot doubt.
9 It is most important that we should proceed in this matter very carefully, for, if we have attained great perfection here, we have done everything. Our nature being so evil, I do not believe we could ever attain perfect love for our neighbour unless it had its roots in the love of God. Since this is so important, sisters, let us strive to get to know ourselves better and better, even in the very smallest matters, and take no notice of all the fine plans which come crowding into our minds when we are at prayer, and which we think we will put into practice and carry out for the good of our neighbours in the hope of saving just one soul. If our later actions are not in harmony with those plans, we can have no reason for believing that we should ever have put them into practice. I say the same of humility and of all the virtues; the wiles of the devil are terrible, he will run a thousand times round hell if by so doing he can make us believe that we have a single virtue which we have not. And he is right, for such ideas are very harmful, and such imaginary virtues, when they come from this source, are never unaccompanied by vainglory; just as those which God gives are free both from this and from pride.

10 I like the way in which some souls, when they are at prayer, think that, for God's sake, they would be glad if they could be humbled and put to open shame - and then try to conceal quite a slight failure. Oh, and if they should be accused of anything that they have not done - ! God save us from having to listen to them then! Let anyone who cannot bear trials like that be very careful to pay no heed to the resolutions he may have made when he was alone. For they could not in fact have been resolutions made by the will (a genuine act of the will is quite another matter); they must have been due to some freak of the imagination. The devil makes good use of the imagination in practising his surprises and deceptions, and there are many such which he can practise on women, or on unlettered persons, because we do not understand the difference between the faculties and the imagination, and thousands of other things belonging to the interior life. Oh, sisters, how clearly it can be seen what love of your neighbour really means to some of you, and what an imperfect stage it has reached in others! If you understood the importance of this virtue to us all you would strive after nothing but gaining it.

11 When I see people very diligently trying to discover what kind of prayer they are experiencing and so completely wrapt up144 in their prayers that they seem afraid to stir, or to indulge in a moment's thought, lest they should lose the slightest degree of the tenderness and devotion which they have been feeling, I realise how little they understand of the road to the attainment of union. They think that the whole thing consists in this. But no, sisters, no; what the Lord desires is works. If you see a sick woman to whom you can give some help, never be affected by the fear that your devotion will suffer, but take pity on her: if she is in pain, you should feel pain too; if necessary, fast so that she may have your food, not so much for her sake as because you know it to be your Lord's will. That is true union with His will. Again, if you hear someone being highly praised, be much more pleased than if they were praising you; this is really easy if you have humility, for in that case you will be sorry to hear yourself praised. To be glad when your sisters' virtues are praised is a great thing, and, when we see a fault in someone, we should be as sorry about it as if it were our own and try to conceal it from others.

12 I have said a great deal about this elsewhere (Way of Perfection ch. 7), sisters, because I know that, if we were to fail here, we should be lost. May the Lord grant us never to fail, and, if that is to be so, I tell you that you must not cease to beg His Majesty for the union which I have described. It may be that you have experienced devotion and consolations, so that you think you have reached this stage, and even enjoyed some brief period of suspension in the Prayer of Quiet, which some people always take to mean that everything is accomplished. But, believe me, if you find you are lacking in this virtue, you have not yet attained union. So ask Our Lord to grant you this perfect love for your neighbour, and allow His Majesty to work, and, if you use your best endeavours and strive after this in every way that you can, He will give you more even than you can desire. You must do violence to your own will, so that your sister's will is done in everything, even though this may cause you to forgo your own rights and forget your own good in your concern for theirs, and however much your physical powers may rebel. If the opportunity presents itself, too, try to shoulder some trial in order to relieve your neighbour of it. Do not suppose that it will cost you nothing or that you will find it all done for you. Think what the love which our Spouse had for us cost Him, when, in order to redeem us from death, He died such a grievous death as the death of the Cross.