"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it."

St Philip Neri

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"It is better to be burdened and in company with the strong than to be unburdened and with the weak. When you are burdened you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted. When you are relieved of the burden you are close to yourself, your own weakness; for virtue and strength of soul grow and are confirmed in the trials of patience."

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?"

Thomas á Kempis

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 18


Introduction

1. Since in this state of spiritual betrothal the soul is able to see her excellent qualities and ample riches and also that she does not possess and enjoy them as she would like because she still dwells in the body, her suffering is often intense, especially so when her awareness of this lack is heightened. Her presence in the body makes her feel like a noble lord held in prison. Such a prisoner is subject to a thousand miseries, while his dominions are confiscated and he is prevented from making use of his lordship and wealth; all he gets from his riches is a little food, and that very sparingly. The extent of his suffering is obvious, for even the members of his own household are not submissive to him, and his servants and slaves without respect turn against him every chance they have, even to the point of taking from his plate the morsel of food meant for him. For at the moment God favors the soul with the taste of a morsel of the goods and riches he has prepared for her, a bad servant or appetite, sometimes an inordinate movement, sometimes other sensory rebellions, rises up in the lower part to impede this good.

2. As a result the soul feels as though she were in the land of enemies and tyrannized among strangers and like one dead among the dead. She has a definite experience of what the prophet Baruch discloses in stressing the misery of Jacob's captivity: How is it, Israel, that you are in enemy land? You have grown old in a foreign land, you are defiled with the dead, you are counted with those who go down into hell [Bar. 3:10-11]. And Jeremiah, feeling this miserable treatment the soul suffers because of its captivity in the body, speaks in a spiritual sense to Israel: Is Israel perhaps a servant or a slave? Why is he thus imprisoned? The lions have roared upon him, and so on [Jer. 2:14-15]. By "the lions" he refers here to the appetites and rebellions of this tyrant king, sensuality.

To manifest the trouble she receives and her desire that this kingdom of sensuality with all its armies and disturbances come to an end or be entirely subjected to her, she raises her eyes to the Bridegroom as to one who will accomplish all of this and speaks against those movements and rebellions:

You girls of Judea,
while among flowers and roses
the amber spreads its perfume,
stay away, there on the outskirts:
do not so much as seek to touch our thresholds.

Commentary

3. It is the bride who speaks in this stanza; aware in the spiritual part of her being of rich and beneficial gifts and delights from her Beloved, she desires to preserve the security and possession found in them. She referred to these gifts and delights, of which the Bridegroom makes her conscious, in the two preceding stanzas.1 Realizing that because of the lower, sensory part this good can be disturbed and in fact is, she begs the operations and movements of the lower faculties and senses to be still and not transcend the limits of this sensory region to molest and disquiet the higher and spiritual part. She asks this so that the good and delight enjoyed will not be impeded by even the slightest motion in this lower part. When the spirit is rejoicing, the movements of the senses and its faculties, in the measure that they are active and lively, molest and disquiet it. She says, then:

You girls of Judea,

4. The lower, sensory part of the soul is Judea because it is weak and carnal and, of itself, blind like the Judean people. She names the imaginations, phantasies, movements, and affections of the lower part "girls." She calls them all girls because as girls attract lovers to themselves by their affection and grace, so these pleasant sensory operations and movements strive persistently to attract the will of the rational part to themselves. They try to draw it out of its interior to a desire for the exterior things that they crave. They also endeavor to move and attract the intellect so it may be wed to them in their base way of feeling, and they strive to bring the rational part into conformity and union with the sensory. You, then, O sensory operations and movements, she says,

while among flowers and roses

5. The flowers, as we said,2 are the soul's virtues. The rose bushes are the faculties (memory, intellect, and will) that bear and nurture in themselves the flowers of divine concepts, acts of love, and these same virtues. Then, while among these virtues and faculties of my soul

the amber spreads its perfume,

6. By "the amber" she refers to the Bridegroom's divine Spirit abiding within her. The divine amber spreading its perfume among the flowers and rose bushes is a reference to the overflow and communication of the Spirit in the faculties and virtues of the soul, by which he imparts through them the perfume of divine sweetness. While the divine Spirit is giving my soul this sweetness,

stay away, there on the outskirts:

7. The "outskirts" of Judea (and Judea, we said, refers to the lower or sensory part of the soul) are the interior senses (memory, phantasy, and imagination) in which the forms, images, and phantasms of objects gather and reside. By means of these images the sensory appetites are moved. These forms are what she refers to as girls. When they are quiet and tranquil, the appetites are also asleep. These images enter the outskirts, the interior senses, through the gates of the exterior senses - hearing, sight, smell, and so on. They do so in such a way that we can call both the interior and exterior sense faculties "outskirts," for they are the districts outside the walls of the city. That part of the soul called the city is the innermost part, the rational portion, which is capable of communion with God; its operations are contrary to those of the sensory part.

Yet because there is a natural communication of the people, or girls, dwelling in these outskirts of the sensory part with the superior part or city, this communication is of such a kind that what occurs in this lower part is usually felt in the interior part, and consequently distracts and deprives this part of the peace derived from its spiritual activity and attentiveness to God. As a result she tells those dwelling in the outskirts, in the interior and exterior senses, to remain quiet.

do not so much as seek to touch our thresholds.

8. This means that they should not even touch the superior part through the first movements. The first movements are the entrances and thresholds of the soul. When these girls pass beyond first movements to the rational part of the soul, they cross the thresholds. But in the case of first movements, it is said that they merely set foot on the thresholds or knock at the door. This happens when the sensory part attacks the rational for the sake of some inordinate act. The soul not only tells these girls not to enter, but also tells them not to distract the quietude and good she enjoys.
 

 
   
 
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