God’s Holy Angel: Part 54 Mini-Course on Prayer

Editor’s note:  David Torkington continues his series on prayer with the fourth and final section, “From Meditation to Contemplation”.  Read part 53 here, and begin with part one here.

The Mystic Way Part IV

The Jewish religion began with God-given love and divine revelations and became a religion of man-made laws and human regulations by the time of Christ’s coming. The love that Christ had for his own beloved people can be measured by the forceful way he attacked those who had misled them. There were over six-hundred rules and regulations determining everything that a person said and did.  The extra exertion of riding a donkey astraddle was forbidden on the sabbath, but sitting side-saddle was allowed. Eating bread baked on the sabbath—and an egg, if the hen transgressed by thoughtlessly laying it on that same day—was another of the petty strictures and restrictions that plagued daily life. With what Jesus called ‘the one thing necessary’ forgotten, love was lost to sight.

The love of Jesus that would reverse and renew everything was poured out on the first Pentecost Day, onto and into all who were prepared to receive it. Although this love would endlessly be poured out to the end of time, St. Peter said that only those who, after being baptized, chose to repent and repent continually, could receive it. In Aramaic, the language in which St Peter was speaking, there was no word for a person who has repented but only for a person who is repenting. If you are repenting you are continually open to receive the Love of the Holy Spirit. But if you are not, then you are not receiving him and are therefore only a nominal Christian. 

Spiritual Theology and Mystical Theology 

Spiritual Theology teaches us how to receive the Holy Spirit. We learn how to repent, relentlessly turning and opening our hearts and minds to God, first through the way we practice selfless acts of love inside of prayer, and second by the way we practice selfless giving in all we say and do outside of prayer. Although we may know in a superficial sort of way that we are afflicted by pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, sloth and other evil desires and urges, few know that the source of these powerful drives are to be found deep down in our unconscious mind. Unless they are rooted out, we will never be able to repent successfully, enabling us to raise our hearts and minds to receive the fullness of God’s love, because these base drives continually drag us down to earth. 

Mystical Theology is that branch of Spiritual Theology that teaches us how to continue to try to love God when we are led into the Dark Night of the Soul, our purgatory on earth. When we persevere, we enable his love to destroy the roots of evil in us at the source. 

When mystical theology was no longer generally taught or practiced after the condemnation of Quietism, Catholic Spirituality only generally survived on a fairly superficial level. That is, in comparison with the hundred or so years after the Council of Trent when, according to Monsignor Ronald Knox, Garrigou Lagrange OP, Adolphe Tanquerey, and Henri Bremond,  Mystical Theology was both taught and practiced on an unprecedented scale. For without the theology that teaches how to enable God’s love to destroy the seven deadly sins at source, they will continue to rule us. Precepts and laws, rules and regulations may try to contain the effects of evil but they can do nothing to destroy it. 

Is Man a Rational Animal?

Aristotle defined man as a rational animal, but until our reason is ruled by love it will regularly be deceived by the powers of evil from within, making truth extremely elusive.  At the Reformation, everyone was told to read the Bible and use their own reason to interpret it for themselves, and anarchy inevitably ensued. Scores of different religions were founded as different interpretations prevailed and hundreds of misunderstandings of the truth caused further anarchy within each different denomination, down to the present day.  As a cynic once put it, a Protestant, bible in hand, is his own Pope. Their reason was sadly at the mercy of the ingrained pride and prejudices that influenced them from within. 

The same thing happened at the Enlightenment. It arose at the beginning of the eighteenth century to proclaim the primacy of reason at almost the same time that Mystical Theology, proclaiming the primacy of love, was being systematically dismantled. For the next four centuries, the most intelligent of men and women in every branch of human learning would believe they were dispassionately guided by reason. However, it was not only their intellectual findings that were adversely affected by the evil forces but also their moral lives. In his sonnet Batter my Heart the metaphysical poet John Donne put it this way:

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv’d and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The Divine Comedy

It is only love, not ours but God’s love, the Holy Spirit, who can free the reason from all the malignant influences that corrupt it from deep in the unconscious. The spectacle of arrogant human beings proclaiming their version of the truth can be laughable, a ‘Divine Comedy,’ but such pride and prejudice has wreaked havoc throughout human history and is anything but a joke.

When I was young I looked up to the great and the good who governed us, looked after us, policed us, judged us and made all the important decisions for us with unquestioning equanimity. However, the older I become the more I am horrified that so many of my elders and betters, no matter how intellectually brilliant they might be, and with the best of intentions,  are as influenced as I am by the demons that dwell in the nether regions of our personalities. Climbing the ladder of secular success, without any attempt at climbing the ladder of spiritual perfection, can influence not just our moral lives but our professional decisions too. 

We can become so accomplished at covering our failures, with our peers quick to defend us, that we become assurance for each other when caught out, and so become invulnerable to justice. 

The Wisdom of St Catherine of Siena

A Nobel prize-winning geneticist recently said that although humankind has made massive intellectual and technical strides in the last three thousand years he could see no evidence of any noticeable emotional and moral progress. If you think this is pure hyperbole, you have not been listening to the world news in recent years!  When we look at the naked, battered and bleeding body of Jesus on the Cross, we are looking at what unrestrained evil can do that lurks deep in every unpurified human being.  What was done to him will always be done by the powers of evil from within to other individuals, peoples, races, and nations whenever allowed to express itself without restraint. The evil that we read about in our newspapers, hear on our radios or see on our television screens is but the outward projection on a global scale of the unconquered evil that resides within us all. That is why St. Catherine of Siena said, ‘The trouble with the world is me’. There is only one way that we can participate in the annihilation of the evil that is within us all. A messenger must be sent to take with him the offering of our selfless loving, making it possible for the fullness of love that resides in God to come and destroy the evil that resides in us.

God’s Holy Angel

In Aramaic and Hebrew a divine messenger is called an Angel. In the third Eucharistic prayer that I loved so much, it is God’s own Holy Angel who takes the offering of our self-sacrifices to God, so that in return we may be filled with the only love that can  drive out and destroy the evil that resides and rules us from within. If other Angels have been given different tasks, only God’s Holy Angel, Christ himself, whose divine love  can mix, mingle and  merge with our weak human love, can enable our self-offerings to be received by God, because  they are offered in, with and through him. No other Angel can do this. This enables God’s redeeming Angel to return again and again with the only love that can vanquish the evil that rules us from within.

Sigmund Freud detailed the unholy drives, impulses, and urges within that can enthrall our reason, in what he called the unconscious or the ‘id.’ It is only Christ and his love descending into the hell that is within us who can wipe out the evil and replace it with the love of heaven. Nevertheless, when the irresistible force of God’s love strikes the immovable object of a human heart captivated by evil, it takes time, a long time, even for God’s love to do what is only possible to divine love. What to do, how to act and how to progress is contained in the teaching of Mystical Theology and that is why it is so important. 

Baptism may well call us all into Christ’s Mystical Body, but we cannot be fully united with his glorified body until what St. Paul called the Old Man is put to death. When this is completed, then we can be completely united with the New Man, the Risen and Glorified Christ. Then in, with and through him, we can be united for ever with the ultimate glory that radiates to eternity from the Three in One.                        

Laudetur Jesus Christus,  in saecula saeculorum

David Torkington is the author of Wisdom from the Western Isles and Wisdom from the Christian Mystics which complement this series.

Image courtesy of Pixaby.

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