27 January 2009

The Lord's Prayer: The Fifth Petition

In Hugh of Balma’s mystical explanation of the “Our Father,” next is the fifth petition which is, “And forgive us our debts” in which we ask “to be freed from three pressing things.”

1. “The evil of venial guilt.”
2. “The danger of temptation, which has to do with both guilt and its punishment.”
3. “The evil of the punishment incurred by frequently falling into sin.”

Being “liberated from the evil of venial sins” is “fully attainable only by the gift of love.” For “when disordered inner forces or unsuitable delights of the senses lead” one to a desire to “seek repose somewhere other than in the fount of beatifying blessedness,” then one’s glance turns away “from Him and becomes unfocused.” Venial sins, perhaps somewhat underestimated, do, however, “darken the soul.” When one seeks delights from another source and turns away from the Beloved as if He “were insufficient,” the yearning of such a person would be deservedly slowed down. “The Book of Wisdom employs the figure of a lamenting person to describe someone unable to eradicate his deeply rooted earthly thoughts: ‘For the corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation pressed down the mind that muses upon many things’” (Wisdom 9:15). The more one ponders the “lower things,” the more “one becomes… distant from heavenly help.” When this occurs, the body weighs down the soul and “thus a constant struggle burdens the spirit.”

When “stained by venial sins,” the tendency is to cower “from the graceful light found in the Bridegroom’s Presence.” To the Beloved, one “would seem to be less attractive because His gaze focuses specifically and solely on the inner beauty.” It is when we conform “through inner beauty of spirit to supercelestial beauty are” our “words acceptable to Him.” Our Lord tells us this when He says: “Your voice is sweet and your face is charming” (Canticle of Canticles 2:14). That is to say, “your voice tastes nothing but heavenly things, and your face is not deformed by a multitude of venial sins or fleshly affections.” And so, “in surging up to that union which is acquired directly by love’s movement, the human spirit’s tendency to avert her glance must first be straightened out.” When this happens, “venial guilt is in no way able to inflict rude harm to the soul, since it is like a drop of water and falls into the fire and instantly congeals and is absorbed by the fire.”

“It is quite reasonable, then, that we should be made to owe a certain penalty when the spirit is less directly oriented toward Him in Whom true happiness is found.” He says to us: “Come to Me you that labor and are burdened down” (Matthew 11:28). Since “you have lived so long in wretchedness and because glory is delayed, you can consider yourselves burdened and slowed down by lugging around the weight of the body’s burden.” It is our Lord Who will refresh us, Who imparts to us “the divine consolations that quiet” our “yearnings.” He tells us: “I am meek and humble of Heart” (Matthew 11:29), “and therefore I stoop down to those who call forth My riches through constant yearning.”

“You shall find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). This is when love’s “yoke will be sweet and the burden light” (Matthew 11:30). “For by its worthiness and joyful attractiveness the yoke of the soul binds the will inwardly.”

With this yoke, “the burden is truly said to be light, because it lifts the spirit from lower things,” and establishes the spirit on a higher level. “The yoke is described as sweet because the one bearing it lives the angelic rather than human life – imperfectly for now, yet fully and felicitously when body and soul separate.”

“Again, the yoke is said to be sweet because it makes the human spirit lead this bitter life with such interior joy and rejoicing that the life of glory begins already in this life, so that the superabundance of the soul’s joy can totally overwhelm and absorb the body’s punishments.” And again, “the burden is also described as light because the richness of the inner soul… keeps winter’s icy hunger or summer’s insistent heat from causing any harm.”