avarice

John of the Cross devotes the next chapter of The Dark Night to the sin of avarice, which literally means “to crave.”

He describes spiritual avarice this way:

Many beginners also at times possess great spiritual avarice. They hardly ever seem content with the spirit God gives them. They become unhappy and peevish because they don’t find the consolation they want in spiritual things. Many never have enough of hearing counsels, or learning spiritual maxims, or keeping them and reading books about them. They spend more time in these than in striving after mortification and the perfection of the interior poverty to which they are obliged.

Furthermore, they weigh themselves down with overdecorated images and rosaries. They now put these down, now take up others; at one moment they are exchanging, and at the next re-exchanging.

It’s not that John is opposed to devotional practices, such as the rosary. On the contrary:

What I condemn in this is possessiveness of heart and attachment to the number, workmanship, and overdecoration of these objects. For this attachment is contrary to poverty of spirit, which is intent only on the substance of the devotion…

The avaricious soul gets distracted by all of the non-essential things, the worldly pleasures of even spiritual practices. At the college I attended, there is a hillside with a Eucharistic chapel, the stations of the cross, a Tomb of the Unborn Child, and a Nativity scene. All of these are great, and I have especially fond memories of quiet hours in the Eucharistic chapel. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but only in the use we sometimes made of them. Some of my friends used to joke about this part of campus as a “spiritual Disneyland” where you could move from one spiritual ride to the next (anything to keep from studying for final exams!).

So what is the “one thing necessary”? John describes it this way:

They… who are well guided from the outset do not become attached to visible instruments or burden themselves with them. They do not care to know any more than is necessary to accomplish good works, because their eyes are fixed only on God, on being his friend and pleasing him…. Their pleasure is to know how to live for love of God or neighbor without these spiritual or temporal things. As I say, they set their eyes on the substance of interior perfection, on pleasing God and not themselves.

Something to think about the next time I am complaining interiorly about the music at Mass or the homily. When someone asks me, “How was Mass?”, there is always one thing I can say: “It was good. Jesus was there.”

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