…the essence of the spiritual life does not lie in any of those things to which I have alluded. It consists in nothing else but the knowledge of the divine goodness and greatness, of our own nothingness and proneness to evil; in the love of God and the hatred of self; in entire subjection, not only to God Himself, but, for the love of Him, to all creatures; in giving up our own will and in completely resigning ourselves to the divine pleasure; moreover, in willing and doing all this with no other wish or aim than the glory and honor of God, the fulfillment of His will because it is His will and because He deserves to be served and loved…
…But if you aspire to such a pitch of perfection, you must daily do violence to yourself, by courageously attacking and destroying all your evil desires and affections. In great matters as well as in small, it is necessary, then, that you prepare yourself and hold yourself in readiness for this conflict, for only he who is brave in the battle will be crowned. – Spiritual Combat, pg. 9 (Sophia Press version)
When I read this passage, right away the alarms went off. Of course, it makes sense that we are to love God and subject ourselves entirely to Him – what’s not to understand about that? But I was taken aback by the harshness of the words “hatred of self” and “doing violence to yourself.” These concepts are alien to everything I’ve been taught to believe. I mean, words like these can certainly wreak havoc with my “self” esteem! What about the fact that I am good because God made me in his image and likeness? When God created us, didn’t He say that “it was very good”? If that is true, then why must we HATE ourselves?
After I took a break for a day or so for prayer and contemplation, I remembered a book that I’ve read to my children every Lent for the past several years. The book is called The King of the Golden City: An Allegory for Children (KOGC) by Mother Mary Loyola (which I strongly recommend for children and adults alike – [particularly the version with pictures - they’re beautiful]).
KOGC couches this passage in terms that even a seven year old can understand. And frankly, I often need to approach concepts like this one as a young child before I can digest them, because they are so foreign to everything I’ve been taught.
Chapter Five in KOGC is called A Troublesome Partner, and it is a great lesson in self-mortification. Following are a couple of excerpts from this chapter:
…all the men, women and children each had a comrade who was always with them, from the time they came into the Land [of Exile] till the time they went out, and forever after. the name of this partner was Self. The two were never separated. They walked, worked, went to sleep and woke together. But the owner of the hut was – or ought to have been – master or mistress there. Self was the sub-, or under-partner. So it was not what Self liked or disliked that mattered, but what the King wanted and what was good for the owner of the hut. This lesson Self had to learn, and, as a rule, it was learnt very slowly.
If allowed to become master,
Self showed himself a cruel tyrant. He made a slave of the hut-owner who should have taught him better, and treated him so badly that life was a misery to him. No: the only way to secure any kind of peace was to keep this unruly comrade in his place and put him down firmly when he gave himself airs.
I am certainly NOT a theologian (as demonstrated by my use of a children’s book to make sense of the above passage); but in light of this above description, I understand Self as almost separate from Me. It reminds me of the old cartoons where a person, when contemplating an action, has a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other.
Perhaps another term for this “Self” being described by Scupoli might be “concupiscence.” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, concupiscence is “‘an inclination to sin” that we are all left with as a result of The Fall of Adam (#1264). The Catechism assures that while “it is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.”
After reading KOGC as well as the Catechism, it makes sense to me that Self must be trained to be subject entirely to God’s will. How can I love God above all things, if I love my Self and wish to please my Self above all things? That there should be no Self, but that which is completely in union with God. And to the extent that Self is not completely subject, it should be hated and viciously attacked, or else…
Because there was so much I wanted to share on this issue, I’ve decided to post this Thursday as well. In that post, I’ll share an example from KOGC of what happens when a little girl allows “Self” to have her way.
For Discussion: What did you think of this the passage above from Spiritual Combat? Did you glide right past it, or did you find it a little foreign to your experience? Any other thoughts stand out to you in this first portion of the book?
PS: For those of you who are catching up: Click here for the posts explaining the book club and to get oriented to where we are!