It’s Lent. Many of us, if not most of us, reading this blog are doing some sort of penitential acts to better grow in Christian virtue during this season. As we anticipate Easter and the celebration of the glory of the Resurrection, we better train ourselves in this spiritual “competition” which is life (cf. 1 Cor 9:25; 1 Tim 2:5; 4:18).
Those practices that I just mentioned are likely exterior mortifications of some form. Perhaps we forgo eating this, perhaps we force ourselves to eat a meal of that, perhaps we deny ourselves this physical luxury. We build up patience, fortitude, and love. And this is all well and good.
But the primary thing that has to be curbed is not our appetites for things but our will itself. It is our will that is the root cause of our distance from God; it is our will which God wants to clean up, reform, and turn to his advantage. Tauler tells us all this in a sermon:
In proportion as a man renounces himself and goes out of himself, in the same proportion God enters into him in very truth… One drop of this renunciation, one rill of it, would better prepare a man and lead him nearer to God than the most absolute exterior denudation… A short moment lived in these dispositions would be more useful for us than forty years following practices of our own choice.
In the measure that our own will, intent on its own way, is emptied out and renounced, so does God enter in. But to only hollow out space for God as regards what we choose to eat or what physical sacrifices we make would be to effect an insignificant transformation. It is good. It is needed. But it is not enough. There is yet more space than that for God in our lives. We can think about it this way. The exterior mortification which we choose is still something of our choice. They do not necessarily imply that our will is humble, pure, and wide-open to God in such choices.
A denudation of having our own way is in order. The hollowing out of a space in our lives for God must become more interior. A spiritual emptiness and mortification is required. It will come eventually, and we cannot choose its form. We can only endure and hope. Indeed, just a short time of such mortification, penance, and denudation is worth much, much more than a long time of exterior penance: “A short moment lived in these dispositions would be more useful for us than forty years following practices of our own choice.”