One of my great teachers, John of the Cross, has been with me in a special way this Lent. From the Subida de Monte Carmelo:
Cualquier gusto que se le ofreciere a los sentidos, como no sea puramente para
honra y gloria de Dios, renúncielo y quédese vacío de él por amor de
"Renounce and remain empty of any sensory satisfaction that is not purely for the honor and glory of God. Do this out of love for Jesus Christ" (trans. ICS)
Emptiness is not an option; our ontological poverty as created beings and our temporal and cognitive limitation make us experience ourselves as lacking. We find ourselves as beings who long for something solid and eternal, but without much reliable or solid in ourselves nor with much time left. Emptiness is our condition, but what sort of emptiness we want to be is our freedom. We can have the searing and grasping boredom that is the emptiness of sin, or the blessed emptiness that makes our souls like unto the no-thing that is God. We are either the rotten and inverted pride that is the emptiness of despair, or the dark and blessed emptiness of the Holy of Holies at the heart of God's Temple.
The glorification and glory of God is my happiness. Each time I try to enjoy any created thing apart from this glory, I allow myself to be tricked into choosing my own misery and non-being.
"Everything you love for its own sake, outside of God alone, blinds your
intellect and destroys your judgment of moral values. It vitiates your
choices so that you cannot clearly distinguish good from evil and you do
not truly know God's will." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 203)
Humanity exists in the image and likeness of God that God himself might be incarnate in it, perfectly sharing the glorious, infinite, and perfect delight that is his own being. In and because of Jesus Christ, my deepest and most real identity is the glory of God. "The glory of God is man fully alive," said St. Irenaeus, famously. For the converse we go to St. Paul: 'Life' means Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth, as a human life, is the Word of God conceived by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of this mystery of the incarnation and the passing of Jesus through the alienation, suffering, and death we insist upon for ourselves with our violence and sin is this: we realize ourselves in the Love that makes us beloved sons and daughters in the Beloved of the Lover who is the Father of all.
But this deepest identity for which we were created still suffers frustration. Because of the lingering effects of original sin, my thoughts are confused and my affections disordered. That's why I try to enjoy created things for their own sake, apart from the glory of God. Each time I do, I reinforce the misery which is the law of sin and death that festers in my mortal nature. To "renounce and remain empty of any sensory satisfaction that is not purely for the honor and glory of God," as John teaches, is the beginning of recovering my real self, the particular humanity created by God to be a unique and unrepeatable expression of his glory.