The meditations are distinctly Carmelite in flavor. I used to think that I could be a Carmelite, but now I’m not so sure. My understanding is that Carmelites are big on mortification. I can embrace the redemptive value of suffering, but I balk at the idea of voluntary, unnecessary suffering. I like to think that if I ever end up in a hospital with a serious injury, that I will forego the morphine drip and embrace the pain, but I have a sneaky suspicion that if the time ever comes, I’ll end up embracing the drip instead of the suffering. The engineer in me imagines my self as an excited atom, shedding gamma rays of lost grace as my spiritual electrons seek their lowest energy state. At this point, my wife is surely rolling her eyes.
It is not that I don’t see the value of mortification, just that I don’t seem to be able to do it. From today’s meditation:
After the Incarnation, the Cross of Jesus is the greatest proof of His love for man. Similarly, mortification, which is suffering eagerly accepted for the love of God, is one of the greatest proofs of love that we can give Him. It means freely giving up a satisfaction or a pleasure in order to impose on ourselves, for love of God, something which is contrary to our own natural inclination; we thus prove that we prefer to satisfy God rather than ourselves. Every act of voluntary mortification, whether physical or moral, says to God, “Lord, I love You more than myself!” And since a soul in love has an ardent desire to give proof of its love, it is very vigilant not to miss a single opportunity for renunciation.
As always, love is the key that unlocks all of the spiritual treasures. Today’s mass reading from Isaiah reminds us that fasting and penance, in and of themselves, merit nothing if our hearts remain hardened. It is not magical. If we fast because we think that God will reward us, we do it for the wrong reason. What God desires from us is love. It doesn’t matter what pious deeds we perform, if we don’t love our neighbors. Pious devotions and practices (and yes, fasting) help us to empty ourselves and place the focus of our attention on God.
Grrr. I started out by writing about how mortification and fasting aren’t my cup of tea, and then I end up praising the practice. It’s almost as if I’m trying to argue myself into a deeper commitment. . . .