Friday, November 28, 2014

Clarification and Caveat on Reading Spiritual Books

In clarifying that an older priest thought the advice and guidance of St. John Climacus to be "too hard" or "too harsh" (as he has in past mentioned Padre Pio may have been just too harsh or sharp-tongued with penitents in confession), am sure if the priest was sent the book and read it, he would find the words of John Climacus to be quite astute and rather balanced.

As to balance, one must take into consideration the goal.  If the goal is to be lukewarm or to strive in the spiritual life to a mid-point, such as 50 percent spiritual, that is better than to not strive much at all, or to have a 25% attitude.  If one desires spiritual perfection, then striving to go "whole hog" makes sense, and if one lands somewhere in the 90th percentile, that is excellent!

This nothing Catholic hermit used to respond to a priest or two who would rebuff that the hermit was too extreme in trying to do what amounted to what Jesus said to do.  And in that, this hermit did not do it well at all, really.  But it seemed the hermit was doing enough other than what the priests were used to in parishioners, so that it seemed extreme and out of balance to their perspective.  So the hermit would explain that it was indeed balanced and just average, if one could view being in the middle of a greater extreme.

(This makes better sense if one draws a horizontal line and marks it off in units of ten, and then aims for the last unit, moving from left to right or right to left.  Then within that last unit which otherwise might seem an extreme, place oneself smack-dab in the middle of that last unit.  That is a good place to aim when one desires to climb the holy mountain.  Go for the summit but without stepping over the peak and losing balance, falling down the other side.)

So this nothing Catholic hermit is going to send a copy of John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent as a gift for the priest who is also a dear friend.  Once he starts to read it, page by page and step by step, he will see that it is not too hard nor too harsh.


Now comes the caveat.  It is probably not prudent to cherry pick aspects of a book written by a wise and holy saint of any era and think one can assess or critique it.  In other words, do not just go on the few parts this nothing hermit has set forth in this blog and make judgment accordingly.  Do not try to assume it is too hard or harsh, or that it has error in it, or is not applicable to our lives today.  One must read it from preface through to the end, in which John Climacus writes about faith, hope and love.

What the point of this nothing Catholic hermit's sharing aspects of the various steps in this excellent guide for any hermit or any Christian or any secularist, is to chronicle how this hermit's life and soul are being helped by having such a solid guide whose advice and counsel flows from lived experience, Christ's own words, as well as the writings of Apostles and prophets in the Bible.  It is not as if one is choosing a guide whose life did not produce beautiful fruit or whose soul was not perfected.  John Climacus is one of several holy souls whose writings can guide us in practical ways, augmenting and fleshing out the Living Word of God.

But get that book or whatever other that is proven and outstanding over time and the reading by many souls over the centuries.  READ IT from page to page and start to finish.  Apply the guidance to daily life.  Practice what is advised to learn, and avoid what is advised to avoid.  Know that none of it is too hard, nor unbalanced, nor not suitable to our lives in our time period.

As the saint wrote within the counsels, that while the book was written mainly with monks in mind, it also is for any soul who desires to grow closer in Christ, who wishes to follow Him to a more pure ideal.  Yes, just because John Climacus had monks and solitaries in mind, the discourses or steps of spiritual help and perfection are for anyone, for he mentions:   "Angels are the light of monastics, while the monastic state is a light for all men."

As for if following the advice in straightforward manner, or if it "works", bringing the spiritual results desired, that all depends upon the one reading and digesting the counsels.  This nothing Catholic hermit, for example, is not strong enough today to give away all its possessions, for example!  It has not cut off totally thoughts of the world, and the temptations to leave the discomforts of this hermitage and greener and lovelier "pastures."  

This hermit did not have the fortitude, to begin with, to go to an austere place, where people will rebuff and criticize and exclude--as Climacus advises that as a sure help in gaining humility.  But the hermit finds itself in such a place, led here by God by praying for where to be.  His Real Presence provided what He knew would stretch this hermit to seeming beyond ability to cope, where this nothing hermit is in some aspects literally in rags now, upon a dunghill, and learning the phases of mourning that are positive and holy-necessary for a spiritual aspirant to learn, for the love of God.

Reading extraneous stuff, especially that of the temporal world, may not be toxic, but much of it is not going to help the aspiring soul reach the summit.  It is like eating empty calories.  This nothing Catholic hermit over time has given up much extraneous reading materials, yet recently, probably due to the mind fearing drawing too close to God, fearing too soon--it has taken to distracting itself with too much news of the day.  Fear is a sure hindrance, and too much is too much. 

Still, this nothing Catholic hermit prays that each of you readers is led by God to whatever helps come to you from holy souls who have withstood the test of time.  May they be tried and true by the known fruits of their lives and by the proven spiritual results in their writings over the centuries.  Above all may what we ingest of others' guidance be known in these guides' fruitful union with His Real Presence.

God bless His Real Presence in us!  Little children, let us love one another and remain in His Love!

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