The Essence of Detachment
Presence of God – Help me, O Lord, to understand the meaning of that total detachment which is the indispensable condition for perfect union with You.
“The soul has only one will, and if it occupies itself or encumbers itself with anything, it will not remain free, solitary, and pure, as is required for divine transformation” (Ascent of Mt. Carmel I, 11,6). This teaching of St. John of the Cross is in perfect harmony with the fundamental precept of Jesus: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind” (Luke 10:27). If the heart is occupied with inordinate attachments to self or creatures, it is clear that it cannot love God with all its strength, which is divided between God and self, between God and creatures. The precept of charity proposed to all Christians requires the radical renunciation of every attachment which is not conformable to the will of God, or which is not consistent with the love of God. Total detachment is the logical result of Jesus’ commandment and the indispensable means of perfectly fulfilling it.
This is why St. John of the Cross insists that if the soul wishes to possess God, it must strip itself of all that is not God. This is why it must give up every satisfaction or attachment which does not lead to God. This is the meaning of his statements: “In order to enjoy everything [that is, to enjoy God, who is everything], do not seek to enjoy anything [do not seek any inordinate pleasure]. In order to possess everything, do not desire to possess anything. When you stop at anything, you do not reach the all” (Ascent of Mt. Carmel I, 13,11.12). When the soul, through some disordered attachment, stops at any creature, it interrupts its progress toward God: the nothingness of the creature prevents it from reaching the all of God.
O Lord, why should the idea of total detachment frighten me since it is the means of finally arriving at loving You with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my strength, since it is the path which leads me to union with You, infinite beauty and charity, Triune God, the beginning and end of all things?
“O blessed detachment from all that is mean and perishable, to what a sublime state will you not raise me? You love me, my God, and for those who love You, Your love is no insignificant thing! Why, then, should I not return Your love with all my strength? It would really be a happy exchange, O my God, giving You my love and receiving Yours. I know indeed that You can do everything, and that I can do only what You enable me to do. But what do I do for You, my Lord and Creator? I make some feeble resolutions which really amount to nothing. But if You wish me to gain everything by this nothing, I shall not be so foolish as not to listen to You!” (Teresa of Jesus Way of Perfection 16).
O Lord, with Your help I wish to set to work immediately to refuse no sacrifice, to spare no fiber of my heart in order to detach myself completely from everything that might tie me to earth. These sacrifices and detachments will pain my weak human nature, but You will enable me to see that, even though they make my heart bleed, it is nothing in comparison with the immense treasure which they purchase for me, which is the attainment of You, my God, You who are All.
O Lord, do not permit my cowardly heart to tarry amid earthly things; do not permit me to divide my affection, little as it is, between You who are All and creatures who are nothing, between You, my God, and my egoism, which is nothing but sin and misery. Perhaps I think “it is a small favor to have the grace to consecrate myself wholly, without reservation, to You who are the All” (Teresa of Jesus Way of Perfection 8)? Oh! how I long, O Lord, for this supreme favor of total detachment which will give me the liberty of loving You with all my strength!
If You, O Lord, have already granted me the grace to renounce earthly things, to abandon life in the world and to consecrate myself to Your service, what gratitude I owe You! Do not permit me, I beg of You, to be so blind as to believe that because I have left the world, I have nothing else to do. What a mistake it would be, after making such big sacrifices, to attach myself to miserable trifles, which are not worthy of a soul consecrated to You!
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Art for this post on the essence of detachment: St. John of the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.