Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Catholic Hermit Writes about Family Relations, with Advice from Two Saints

Even though some hermits--and anyone intently pursuing God on the spiritual journey--may have interaction on a regular basis with family members, and joyfully so, others may not.  St. Teresa of Avila, in her book, Way of Perfection, reminds her religious sisters (and ipso facto others on the spiritual path of perfection) ought not be surprised when family relationships break down.  

She reminds that once on a spiritual path, seeking the summit of union with God, detachment from such as even family members, may be necessary.  So much does depend upon the individual person's situation; but often enough when one soul begins the spiritual assent, the familial ties grow taut and tend to break down, sometimes thread by thread.

She cautions that to cling will only aggravate those with other vocations or who are not as keen on seeking God in a more ardent way (at this time).  And thus, the person him- or herself will become distracted and distraught from the tensions.  Time and again in the realities of lives climbing the holy mountain, family relationships become a distraction to not only the progression of relatives and but also to the individual seeking spiritual perfection.

This is not to preclude that at some later date, a family member or many may also come to that spiritual desire for greater devotion and heightened desire for union with God.  Edith Stein's (St. Benedicta of the Cross) a younger sister later also converted from Judaism and join her as a Carmelite.  The two met death a couple years later in a Holocaust gas chamber.  The annals of history, recorded and not recorded, are filled with family members who come to deep or deeper, Christian conversions--sometimes long after a family member in the Faith is no longer physically on earth.

St. Teresa also advises, that if and when the Lord brings other family members back into one's life, to not expect it to be for much more than more lessons in the spiritual life.  She suggests there can be more suffering then than what can be experienced initially with the pains of detachment from family members and close friends.

This makes sense when reviewed in conjunction with many of our spiritual journeys.  When reading Way of Perfection for the second time after 16 years of a first reading, these chapters on detachment mirrored the current experience.  Instead of grieving so heavily and having self-doubts of failure in whatever may have caused the estrangements, there came a clarity of simply accepting this phase as God was allowing.  The detachment from some close family members lost its sting, knowing that this was part of the process for many in the spiritual journey, and  a necessary one.

We can assume that not all on the spiritual path endure this detachment, or not to the same degree of estrangement and painful situations.  To others, it is ungodly; we are so geared to thinking that we must be in the same place and bonded despite differences in souls' spiritual development and vocations.  St. Teresa explained it quite rationally and practically, as is her gift in spiritual guidance.

The anonymous writer of The Cloud of Unknowing has another book ascribed to his pen.  In Letters of Spiritual Direction, this Medieval monk-turned-hermit explains that while all souls are called to salvation, only some are called to spiritual perfection.  While this differentiation may seem to debase the title of Teresa's book, there is truth and reason to the explanation he gives. The inspired hermit monk is describing the lived differences between those called to single or married lay vocations as to those God calls to religious vocations and holy orders, as well as souls given mystic attributes by God at birth.  Both the hermit monk and Teresa of Avila agree on the high degree of suffering and trials, as well as their extreme spiritual longing, that afflicts yet blesses those called to perfection.  But it is these lived trials, sufferings, and seemingly spiritual extremes that can rattle family and friends who do not understand such souls.

One must not, then, despair when familial relationships break down even in the most ridiculous, inexplicable, and painful circumstances.  Continue turning to God, continue praying for the family members, and ask them to pray likewise for oneself.  Take whatever persecutions and sorrows of loss as God's choosing, for St. Teresa reminds that these matters can be temporary.  The soul who embraces and endures the sufferings God allows, will also at some point share in His consolations and be given the means to help any number of souls in magnificent, Christ-graced ways.

On a personal note, after confusion and deep grieving to the point of despair, when the Lord guided this hermit soul to the reading of the two above-cited books, the pain of the detachment process eased.  Patience and peace gathered within as always occurs when God explains His reasons to a devastated soul.  

Alienation of souls is unnatural only if we consider our own unnatural attachments to things of earth, including our human loves.   The holy love and peaceful prayers continue from this soul to God for the recognized loss; but in God's explanation, there is a calm relief that all is well and all shall be well with all souls, in Him.  It is marvelous to have our selves removed from the emotional fray--to simply accept His choosing.  We come to understand--to know--that Jesus is enough for us and is enough for our loved ones, as well.  Each moment is new, and momentous conversions may prayerfully, divinely, come in a heartbeat.

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