Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 4, 2013

Ch. II “Of certain spiritual imperfections which beginners have with respect to the habit of pride.”
So in these next few chapters, St. John will look at pitfalls that the beginners have. The first he examines is that of pride. He notes that the enthusiasm of the beginner can lead the beginner to be all caught up in his efforts, and become quite self-centered. Also the beginner can take some early strides in this journey with having made it, even to looking at others’ efforts as paltry and empty. He cites the story of the Pharisee and the publican in the NT. The Pharisee goes into the temple and boasts before God of all the good deeds he is doing, while he despises the poor publican as a hopeless sinner and loser. In the NT, of course, it is the Pharisee’s pride that keeps him from having an authentic encounter with the publican, missing the whole point of the various spiritual exercises and practices of Judaism. The publican’s humility and acknowledgement of his faults is his saving grace.
Aside from the boastful, there is also the danger that the beginner, in thinking that he has now got it, or got the secret of getting to the truth, does not listen to others, but sticks only to his own way of doing and thinking. And such pride, while not as obnoxious as that of the Pharisee does keep one from developing. There’s an ad on TV in which Ed Schultz of MSNBC speaks of his dad, in which he recalls his dad telling him that he’d learn a lot more by listening rather than by talking. And that statement shows where the problem is – if one is convinced one has the truth, one is not open to anything else, but the mind and spirit are closed to any other insight, and that is dangerous.
When he speaks of the humble admitting their faults and humbling dismissing any praise of them and thinking their efforts and achievements are not worthy, while being ever ready to confess their sins, I find myself a bit troubled. Certainly in my youth, I largely held to this, but it sometimes meant that someone else, who spoke up for himself (or herself) got some advancement and opportunity that I did not get, because of my diffidence. And though I do think that humility is a virtue to cultivate, it is important to be aware of one’s gifts and of opportunities to further those gifts. I also found myself wondering if here St. John himself does not live up to this. For he did not accept the judgment of many in his order, and the leadership of the Carmelite order – those guys were not interested in reform. He continued to press for reform and he and Teresa of Avila were somewhat bull-headed about it. Though I agree that their path was the better path, I can’t help thinking that there isn’t a lot of humility there.

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