Dark Night of the Soul: Lenten Observance, Day 5, 2013

Chapter III: Of some imperfections which some of these souls are apt to have, with respect to the second capital sin, which is avarice, in the spiritual sense.

The idea of avarice in spiritual practice is interesting.  One tends to think of someone like Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser, as guilty of avarice, and he has made a God of wealth.  But it seems like St. John is aiming at getting to something akin to the idea of “non-attachment.”  For he cites people hoarding trinkets (including wax medallions called agnusdeis (they have a lamb on them – agnus dei = lamb of God) which is something I’ve never heard of – and I heard a lot about this stuff in my Catholic youth.  And I’ve seen truly magnificent rosary beads, or a beautifully carved crucifix, or one made of precious metal, and you can think of the statue of the Infant of Prague, all decked out in regal finery.  Those are a sort of avarice.  It also puts the focus on the fine object than on the transcendent truth beyond that object.  St. John, though, also warns against a fixation on objects poor in themselves as a form of avarice.

At the end of this section, St. John suggests that it is only by the grace of God that you get past all this, and he seems to imply that one fools oneself if one thinks s/he can get to union with the divine entirely by one’s own efforts.

But earlier in this chapter he seems to suggest that mortification and the perfecting of inward poverty as a means to this end, and that seems to suggest that one can take efforts that will bear fruit.  Of course, I get the willies when I think of people engaged in mortification, as it can become its own trap. I think of people with anorexia as somewhat engaged in mortification.  I’m sure that St. John would suggest that anything taken to extremes, or for the wrong reasons, could lead to error, but I still worry about stuff like this.  Thinking oneself a sinner who needs just a bit more punishment – that path can lead one to go too far, and when one realizes that too late, well, that’s pretty awful.

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