Saturday, August 8, 2009

What's New With You?

A priest/friend of mine sent an email yesterday and asked what was new. A quick review yielded nothing. But as I considered the question more and more, I thought of my recent study of Ignatian discernment and how hard I have been working to find an organized way to process what I'm learning.

I'm not sure if I'm still in the beginning phase of the faith journey or the more advanced phase.

It matters, because the enemy works on us in different ways, depending on how far we are in our faith walk.

The novice to the faith has the most uncomplicated approach to discernment. In those early days/years, consolations (peace, joy, quiet, stillness, confidence, delight) are from God. The enemy, on the other hand, primarily sends disquiet and discord (uneasiness, trouble, cacophony, anxiety).

The advanced pilgrims have a more complicated discernment process. The enemy realizes that he is dealing with one who wants to follow God and one who pauses to hear God speak, one who stops to test the signs and discern God's will. The enemy knows that this is a soul who yields to consolations and listens to the voice of stillness and quiet, confidence and peace, joy and delight.

And so, the enemy sends a false consolation. He is willing to trick the advanced one into believing that a certain good thing is God's thing. But the advanced pilgrim knows that not every good work is a work meant for him to do. The enemy uses good things and false consolations to throw the more advanced pilgrim off course.

So, it matters how far I have come in this journey.

But discernment is not that cut-and-dried. It is not all that simple, even if one can confidently say that she is a novice or advanced.

One of the first Catholic books I read was Dark Night of the Soul. In this book, St. John of the Cross talks about a dark night, a sense of being abandoned by God, a lonely place in the journey where one does not feel any consolation at all. An arid land.

But here, the pilgrim is definitely advanced in the faith journey. In this case, there are no consolations, not even false ones.

And so, it seemed that Ignatian discernment and Carmelite spirituality (St. John of the Cross, for example) were both entering my mind and soul, and I couldn't make order of it. I couldn't figure out how to organize what I was learning. It didn't fit together.

And then something happened.

I saw the cross of Christ in my mind. And I did what I used to do, when I was first walking toward the Catholic Church, first walking in those new paths and trying to hear God's voice. And in that quiet place, I sensed the answer to my confusion.

The answer was found in the Cross.

This is the place where Ignatian discernment and Carmelite spirituality find their nexus. Where they intersect, like two pieces of wood that meet in the center, as with a cross. As with the Cross. That center is precisely where we see the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Somehow, we must find that nexus in our own lives. We must find that place where the crossbeam of Carmel and the vertical piece of Ignatian discernment meet. The place where we are completely Christ's.

Whether we are struggling to discern God's will (Ignatian discernment for the novice and advanced pilgrim) or we are sensing the dark night of abandonment and full submission without consolation (Carmelite spirituality), it finds proper order in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

At first glance, these two spiritual walk seems tangled, impossible to integrate, perhaps even contradictory. The first one accompanies the active life. The second one accompanies the hidden life.

I asked myself: Who has stood at the cross and contemplated this mystery? Who has looked into the moment in which the horizontal meets the vertical. That place where outstretched arms of sacrifice and complete abandonment (the horizontal) intersect with the upturned face that seeks to know and fulfill the Father's will (the vertical). Is there someone who knows all about this?

Of course. The Immaculate Heart of Mary.

She shows us how to fully integrate the seeking with the submitting, the discerning with the emptying.

In short, she shows us how to do the impossible - to seek and to know, in order to sacrifice and abandon all. To receive answers, in order to keep nothing for self.

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