I’m currently reading Ascent of Mount Carmel (available online here). I don’t know whether I’ll do much in the way of posting based upon it (and certainly any concerted effort at that must wait until the present series on Veritatis Splendor is complete), but this at least is an interesting passage that seems worth a post.
Oh, that one could show us how to understand, practise and experience what this counsel is which our Saviour here gives us concerning self-denial, so that spiritual persons might see in how different a way they should conduct themselves upon this road from that which many of them think proper! For they believe that any kind of retirement and reformation of life suffices; and others are content with practising the virtues and continuing in prayer and pursuing mortification; but they attain not to detachment and poverty or selflessness or spiritual purity (which are all one), which the Lord here commends to us; for they prefer feeding and clothing their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations, to stripping themselves of all things, and denying themselves all things, for God’s sake. For they think that it suffices to deny themselves worldly things without annihilating and purifying themselves of spiritual attachment. Wherefore it comes to pass that, when there presents itself to them any of this solid and perfect spirituality, consisting in the annihilation of all sweetness in God, in aridity, distaste and trial, which is the true spiritual cross, and the detachment of the spiritual poverty of Christ, they flee from it as from death, and seek only sweetness and delectable communion with God. This is not self-denial and detachment of spirit, but spiritual gluttony. [II, vii, 5; emphasis added]
There is a powerful temptation for people to want only good things from God: not necessarily always the goods of this earth, but even spiritual goods. If a man’s path takes him through spiritual deserts for a time, he may be prone to doubt or even to anger towards God, as though he has a right to expect mountaintop experiences on a regular or even daily basis. But God doesn’t normally deal with us in this way. We must receive with patience and gratitude that which He does give us, because that is what we really need. What we want has no essential connection at all to what we need. I think it’s a wonderfully apt comparison to describe this craving for “sweetness and delectable communion” as gluttony, since after a fashion it’s a lot like the craving for steaks and pies and all manner of delectable foods.