Advent Reflection on the Necessity of Detachmenteditor
Humility and Prayer
“Humility embraces the virtue of detachment. It seeks the good of self after God and neighbor. Humility moves us to rely on God’s goodness and grace, helping us to understand that this life is not about us and that our will must be united with God’s will” (Father Christopher House).
There is a story handed down among Carmelites about a young novice. She goes before the Mother Superior and asks, “May I work while I pray.” The Mother Superior shakes her head in disapproval and disappointment. A short while later the novice returns to ask, “Mother, may I pray while I work?” This question brings a smile and a nod.
The practice of The Way of Perfection, as it is called by St. Teresa of Avila, calls us to set aside times devoted exclusively to God. Then we must also remember to pray throughout the day while doing other things – blending prayer and activity.
Carmelite Spirituality and Detachment as Foundational in the Spiritual Life
St. Teresa, who lived from 1515 to 1582, defined stages of prayer and sought out union with God through deep contemplation. She experienced such mystical love for Our Lord that at times she was even lifted off the ground!
At the time when St. Teresa entered the convent with a clear vocation, other women entered because they had nowhere else to go, whether they had a vocation or not. The nuns wore jewelry. Money determined rank. The original dedication to silence and deep prayer, which is traced back to Elijah, had been lost. Saint Teresa, joined later by St. John of the Cross, founded a reformed Order called the Discalced (or “shoeless”) Carmelites. She wrote several books in order to instruct her nuns in cloistered prayer. Her deep study into how to pray, formed the basis of all further theological study in this area. But she was not without suffering. Many in the mainstream Carmelite order resisted her work, spoke ill of her, and even had her co-worker St. John of the Cross imprisoned and tortured for a year.
The prominent themes in the writings of the Carmelite saints include:
- Humility before God is of utmost importance.
- Detachment from worldly things comes easier and is absolutely necessary as we reach toward Heaven.
- We need the help of a Spiritual Director, so we are not deceived by the devil. If nothing else, seek regular use of the Sacrament of Confession.
- We need discernment regarding any “consolations” (mystical experiences) because the devil can mask himself in such gifts.
- Deep prayer leads to union with God and complete surrender to His Will. This is contemplation.
Detachment Is Necessary for Salvation
A lack of detachment is the root of many contentions and envy. It fuels anger, gives rise to injustice, and feeds pride. I doubt there is any violation of God’s commandments that does not involve an inordinate attachment to created things. Just think of the occasions when someone might lie, steal, or kill. Note as well how each of the seven capital sins involves a lack of proper detachment.
In many respects, wealth can be a hindrance to our eternal salvation. Yet, it is possible to become a saint even while possessing what is far more than the average person, as indicated by the life of St. Casimir of Poland, St. Louis IX of France, and others. Conversely, it is possible for a poor person to become so greedy over the few items that he does own that he loses his salvation because of it.
In all things, we must practice complete indifference to things. Whether God blesses us with many earthly possessions or few, we must be indifferent to earthly things. All things – whether in large or small quantity – are only means to help us achieve our eternal salvation. In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola in his spiritual exercises: “Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed by free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short.”[i]
And this detachment to earthly things and concerns solely for the love of God and adherence to the Commandments is required for salvation – regardless of any of our unique situations or circumstances. We should pray for the virtue of detachment especially as we meditate on the Nativity of Our Lord in Bethlehem, since the King of Kings was born in such a humble place – a feeding trough for animals. Source.
Spend some time listening to Fr. Rodriguez speak on the importance of detachment in the spiritual life. And pray to Our Lord and Our Lady for the graces you need to be holy.
Catholic Truth Editor writes…
Some may disagree, but it is at least arguable that we are witnessing, in the case of Fr Pavone, an example of the danger of lack of detachment. That’s not to suggest that I support the Vatican’s aggressive treatment of this priest, and apparently disproportionate (to say the least) punishment by dismissing him from the clerical state, but it seems to me that Father, who has done immense work for the protection of unborn babies over a period of years, comes across as being somewhat too attached to his work in the pro-life movement. We should pray for him, to avoid or overcome this danger. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for Fr Pavone!
It’s useful to reflect on our own attachments – to particular people, to material goods, to preferred work etc. Is it too difficult to be detached from the things of this world? It wold be very useful to share any tips on practical ways to overcome an attachment. The Christian standard is very high: Our Lord taught that if we love anything or anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of Him. So, let’s make the best possible use of these final days of Advent, using them to reflect on the central importance of detachment if we are to make progress in the spiritual life. The great Carmelite saint, Teresa of Avila advocated this detachment, teaching that “all things pass away” and that “God alone suffices to fill our hearts…”
This is a lovely topic for the end of Advent. I think detachment is very hard. I am attached to so many things, LOL!
I think the fact that most of us (me, definitely) spend most of Advent buying stuff for Christmas, shows too much attachment to material things.
All we can do, IMHO, is be aware of the danger and try to watch that we don’t get overtaken by things or too attached to people. You can see that when someone is devastated at the death of a loved one, some people say they never got over the death of someone close to them. That is probably due to a lack of detachment.
I agree with everything you say. I would only add that I am all too attached to getting my own way, and it makes me impatient so I’m working on that but don’t hold your breath, LOL!
I thought I’d post the Advent hymn, O Come, Emmanuel, because I’ve not heard it this year in church which is disappointing. I suppose I shouldn’t be too attached even to a hymn, LOL!
I always love that hymn, too, one of my favourites for Advent.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel is one of my favourite hymns. I seldom hear it sung these days, though. That’s a lovely rendering. Thanks for posting it.
That’s a beautiful hymn.
Detachment is essential in the Christian life. That is one thing that is clear in the gospels, if we don’t commit to Christ totally, with everything else after him, we cannot be true followers. It’s that simple.
A fruitful Advent to everyone at CTS.
That’s a lovely reflection at the top of the page. I copied this bit from St Ignatius:
In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola in his spiritual exercises: “Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed by free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short.”
That really is a high standard – we all pray for good health etc. you always hear expectant mothers saying “as long as the baby is healthy” I don’t mind a girl or boy, etc. So, that is a very high standard indeed. Christians need to be completely detached from everything and live in the company of divine providence. I wonder how many people actually do that? I’m afraid I don’t, I fall very far short.
I agree, this is a lovely reflection. I want to read the intro again, and maybe listen to the talk by Fr Rodriguez.
A peaceful Advent, everyone!
I can’t believe we’re at the end of Advent! It’s just flown by.
That reflection from the Fatima Center is beautiful.
Detachment is not something I think most of us think about much and yet we should. It’s obviously right at the heart of Christianity. When you think about it, we can’t put God first in our lives unless we are detached from everything else.
I think you are right about detachment not being something we think about, and I can’t remember ever hearing a homily about it. I think good spiritual reading books help to make us realise the importance of being detached from worldly things.
I once saved the link I got here, to a website which offers free traditional Catholic books and top of the list is the Imitation of Christ which I think is really all about detachment. I haven’t read it in a while but I do sometimes dip into it and it is a treasure trove.
That link is a treasure trove of spiritual writings, as you say.
I singled out one to post here, for two reasons; firstly the title of the first chapter about patience hits me between the eyes, since I’m the opposite of patient, and secondly, the writings of St Alphonsus are always challenging – this book (link below, which I’ve not read) looks to follow in that same tradition. Just as the title of the first chapter drew my attention, so the overall title of the book did so as well: “The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ”
The fact is, unless we love God we won’t be able to detach ourselves from the things of this world. I recall in one of his sermons, St John Vianney (Cure D’Ars) said that since we are commanded to love God, and since that is difficult given that we cannot see God, we must ask Him to implant that love in our souls. Might be worth spending these last days of Advent doing just that.
I’ve just paid a visit to the Tradidi Quod et Accepi blog and read the linked (below) absolutely beautiful Christmas story. We’ve discussed the story of the Mysterious Staircase/Santa Fe convent chapel before, more than once, on this blog but this version, by Arthur Gordon is truly touching.
I’ve already emailed it to family members. It’s well worth spreading this particular Christmas cheer around…
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