following excerpts are taken from “The Ascent of Mount
by St. John of the Cross)
It is very important to keep in mind
that just as through hard work, prayer and perseverance there is
gradual growth in the spiritual life, there may also be gradual
spiritual deterioration through carelessness and laxity.
nothing worthy of a person’s joy other than the service of God
and the procurement of His honor and glory in all things.”
– St. John of the Cross
As St. John tells
us, something very small can lead into great evils and destroy
The harm that he
refers to has its origin and root in the one principal harm
embodied in wrongful joy in natural goods, and that is the
Withdrawal from God.
To what evils does
this withdrawal entail? – The evils that manifest themselves
as a consequence of seeking joy and pleasure in created things
(including persons) rather than in the Creator.
St. John cautions us
to beware of becoming seduced into seeking joy and pleasure in
natural objects, which include beauty, grace, elegance, bodily
appearance and all other physical endowments. The same applies
to spiritual goods and attributes, which include intelligence,
discretion and other talents belonging to the rational part of
the human being.
St. John cautions
that if one does not turn one’s joy to God in all things, the
resulting joy will always be something false and illusory.
deceitful and beauty vain; she who fears the Lord will be
praised.” [King Solomon - Proverbs 31:30]
Withdrawal from God
through affections for objects or persons breeds every harm and
evil in the soul.
St. John writes, “The
measure of the harm reflects the intensity of the joy and
affection with which the will is joined to the creature, for in
that proportion does it withdraw from God.”
has four degrees, each worse than the other:
The First Degree:
Backsliding: a blunting of the mind in relation to God.
“By the very fact
that spiritual persons rejoice in something and give reign to
the appetite in frivolous things, their relationship with God is
darkened and their intellect clouded.”
The Second Degree:
An increase in directing the will toward worldly things.
of this degree cause one to withdraw from spiritual exercises
and the things of God…To lack satisfaction in these exercises
because of the pleasure found elsewhere and in other things,
causes a person to give oneself over to many imperfections,
frivolities, joys and vain, selfish pleasures.”
this second degree takes away entirely the spiritual practices
to which individuals were accustomed, so all their mind and
heart fix on the worldly.
The Third Degree:
Complete abandonment of God
Individuals in this
spiritual state no longer care about observing the laws of God,
but attend primarily to worldly things, allowing themselves to
fall into mortal sins.
Persons in this
category are those who are so engrossed in the riches, affairs
and pleasures of this world that they no longer care for
fulfilling the obligations of God’s laws and commandments.
Their appetites for
the physical and carnal become such that they can never be
satisfied. Consequently, for these persons, their inherent
spiritual weakness allows them to give in to their passions to
the point of being enslaved by them, and, thus, they fall into
habitual sins in an effort to satisfy disordered desires, which
by their very nature, are insatiable.
The Fourth Degree:
Entirely forgetting and forfeiting the God who so loved them
A person’s memory,
intellect and will(2)
wander far away from God and so He is forgotten, as if He were
not their God at all.
from God his Savior.” [Deuteronomy 32:15]
The harms manifested
by backsliding – Consequences of seeking joy and pleasure in
created goods rather than in the Creator
Signs - Tepidity of Spirit
Tepidity of spirit is
the direct outcome of each and every kind of joy that is not
found in God. St. John writes that, “fornication is a
particular evil that follows directly from joy that is found
solely in natural goods.”
St. John of the Cross
notes that there are six principal indications and warning signs
that directly ensue from seeking joy only in worldly things and
Look for these signs
to see whether or not you may be backsliding, as these
behavioral characteristics are each a tacit indication of
tepidity of spirit:
presumption, pride and disesteem of neighbor
sensual delight and lust
vain praises – feeding the ego
4) Reason and
judgment of the spirit become very dull
of the mind with creatures and things rather than God
tepidity and weakness
St. John says that by
the time a person has reached the sixth warning sign, he has
degenerated so far that his soul finds extreme tedium and
sadness in anything Godly, even to the extent of abhorring them.
Refocus on God
For those who find
themselves seeking joy, consolation, pleasure and satisfaction
in earthly pleasures, you are looking in the wrong place and,
thus, will never be satisfied.
Look to God
alone who is your true Joy, Pleasure, Consolation and
Satisfaction, and you will need nothing else.
(1) Book 3: Chapters 20 through 22.
(2) St. Thomas Aquinas formulated
that the human soul is comprised of three constituent components
– the memory, the intellect and the will.