June 15, 2008


In my experience of religious life, the most basic trick the devil uses to get us off track is to convince us that everything is someone else's fault. For example, we get tricked into these kind of thoughts:

I'm unhappy because the house I live in is too loose or too strict. (I presume the latter thought is possible; would that I ever have such an experience!)

I'm miserable because the miserable state of religious life/regular observance/our ministry/the Catholic Church is making me miserable and preventing me from being the kind of religious or minister I want to be.

I'm depressed because I have to do all kinds of things that I didn't sign up for and have nothing to do with my vocation, e.g. in my case, fixing the PBX, reseting the T1, pumping rain water out of the church hall, etc. If only I was in a vibrant parish/province/order/church then I wouldn't have to worry about such things and could happily spend my time on better things.
All of these are examples of the same trick by which we lose sight of ourselves and blame everyone else for our unhappiness, depression, and misery. It works well because it relieves us of the spiritual responsibility of looking after the only person or thing around us that we can actually control: ourselves. When it gets really bad we just stop noticing or worrying about our own sins--which are the actual cause of our unhappiness--and take up the rotten pleasure of noticing what's wrong with everybody else.

This is why I consider John of the Cross to be one of the only sensible writers on religious life I have ever read (and I've read a few). In his Counsels to a Religious, he writes:
In order to practice the first counsel, concerning resignation, you should live in the monastery as though no one else were in it. And thus you should never, by word or by thought, meddle in things that happen in the community, nor with individuals in it, desiring not to notice their good or bad qualities or their conduct...you should engrave this truth on your heart: you have come to the monastery for no other reason than to be worked on and tried in virtue; you are like a stone that must be chiseled and fashioned before being set in the building. Thus you should understand that those who are in the monastery are craftsmen placed there by God to mortify you by working on you and chiseling at you.

My emphasis. Translation of Kavanaugh and Rodriguez.


Pia said...

I'd say it's the same thing that happens in a family...sometimes I feel like my kids are chiselling at me... I never thought of looking at them as the ones who have been sent to work on me. But I suppose they'll have to start looking at me like that, too. :-)

Anonymous said...

You have a great weapon here, though, since you can see these unwelcomed chores as opportunities for genuine obedience. I mean, you can know that these particular things I would not have chosen for myself and, far from distracting me from the right course, they are the right course.