Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

St John of the Cross – Principles for Detachment

March 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Detachment, Lent, Seasonal Meditations

These are the golden rules proposed by St John of the Cross for total detachment: The soul must always be inclined ‘not to the easiest thing, but to the hardest; not to the tastiest, but to the most insipid; not to the things that give the greatest pleasure, but to those that give the least; not to the restful things, but to the painful ones; not to consolation, but to desolation; not to more, but to less; not to the highest and dearest, but to the lowest and most despised; not to the desire for something, but to having no desires.’ In this way, we shall gradually become accustomed to subduing this inordinate desire for pleasure, which is at the base of all attachments. It is like going against a current; hence it is a hard tiring task which can be accomplished only by strength of will. We must oppose the inclinations of nature and make ourselves do what is repugnant to nature. This is, however, a sweet task for a soul in love with God; it knows that everything it refuses to self is given to God and that, when it has reached the point of renouncing self in everything – of selling everything – God Himself will give it the precious pearl of divine union.

Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C. D.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • kathy

    I really liked this post. I also, of course, didn’t like it. Thank you.

    • lisakeuhlen

      Funny, Kathy.

  • Guest

    It is extremely challenging not to have spiritual direction.It is a spiritual desert where I live and work.Loneliness and depression on the spiritual level is always with me but God in His great mercy sustains me.Pray for me.

    • Georgina

      Hi Terese – will lift your intentions up at Mass. I just found out about SQPN on Ning- it’s a great Catholic network with people from all over the world. It’s wonderful. God Bless you as He keeps you close to His Sacred Heart.

  • dympnakearns

    Tough – but true!

  • Marta

    Well, Saint John of the Cross lived in a convent… his whole and entire life devoted to love God… how? knowing, loving and imitating Christ. In this, I guess, we all follow. Or better: we are on our way.
    Each with our goods and bads, trying to love a little better every day.
    By reading the New Testament and getting into the scene of Christ´s everyday life we might understand a little better what Saint John of the Cross is saying… How did Jesus love, how did he show us the path, in every little and not so little detail? If we don´t do this, Saint John´s words may sound a bit too radical… we are, at least I am, working my way, slowly, by the Grace of God.

  • lisakeuhlen

    Ugh! Where was John when he wrote this? I can see one who has taken religious vows and in a monastery aspiring in this manner to, what we who love God all aspire to– Surrender. But, life in the trenches offers plenty to lift up to Christ to join Him in His suffering. If the suffering outweighs the ‘abundant life’, or vice versa, so be it. God made the world beautiful for us to enjoy and see Him in it. If I am focusing on anti-pleasures, I cannot stop and smell the roses.

  • lisakeuhlen

    Ugh! Where was John when he wrote this? I can see those who have taken religious vows and live in a monastery aspiring in this manner to, what all who love God aspire to, Surrender. But, life in the trenches offers plenty of suffering to join Christ in His Passion and to learn compassion and surrender. If the suffering outweighs the ‘abundant life’, or vice versa, so be it. God created the world beautiful to be enjoyed and to see Him in it. If I am so ‘anti-pleasure’, I cannot stop and smell the roses.

    • It might be interesting for you all to take a quick tour of the life of St. John of the Cross. You will probably be very surprised. He was actually imprisoned and beaten by those in his own order…

      • A_Irwina

        Yes I read about his life and it surprised me that his own brothers in the same order threat him like that. I think The Dark night of the Soul, he wrote it when imprisoned.

  • rtshiel

    This is all very commendable but the reality, I believe is, that what ever we are dealt, and is on our plate is to be accepted as the will of God, we are not to go looking for desolation and the negative….I believe living a life of grace, close to God, doing his divine will also has it’s up side that one needs to not loose sight of this amidst the sorrows, the above reference makes it sound like it is mostly doom and gloom One has to have a healthy love of self in order to ascend and or aspire to divine union….and that union has alot to do with God’s work in us rather than the other way around….many of us need to learn to allow God to love us and that also involves joys. Just some thoughts

  • Cathy

    This is absolutely beautiful! With all of the reading that I do, and the homilies that I have heard, and the praying as well. One thought keeps coming back… “If you want to follow Me, you have to deny your very self and take up the cross.” It really makes you think about the things you could change in your life to get closer. This is well spelled out, so that most can understand. Thank you for posting that, and I know that I want to read more about Father Gabriel.

    • You can read more of Father Gabriel’s work in a book entitled Divine Intimacy. It is one of the best daily devotional/meditation works that you can find. Particularly if you are drawn to Carmelite spirituality.

      It is also available in less expensive paperback versions.

      • Cathy

        You had recommended Diveine Intimacy to me when I had commented on St John of the Cross. I bought it and it is truly amazing!! I do not leave anywhere without it and the daily reflections touch my heart like no other prayer book has. Thank you for letting me know about it, and I apparently love Carmelite spirituality!!

      • Kitty

        My husband has been reading the Divine Intimacy for several years now and it has deeply transformed his faith and deepened it. I also started reading it and it is the most powerfully devotional work I have ever come across.

  • Georgina

    Thank you for such wonderful nourishment and spiritual direction. God Bless you for this link and your ministry!

  • jessiebeard

    God is in the present moment but sometimes this is not so easy to remember. St. John of the Cross suffered, in the present moment, what was necessary according to God’s perfect will for his spirituality. We wonder, sometimes, why certain things happen to us, but God knows why, and we must seek him in the present moment because He is not in the past nor is he in the future.

  • larrybets

    I love Saint John of the Cross. I would love to be able to join John here but unfortunately I am in the world, very in the world with a wife and child. That being said I do try and live in the world but not of the world every moment of every day. It’s not easy to do which I am sure many of us can attest to.

    I would love to see guides, techniques, or help for Lay people who want to live out the Gospel in this way, but still are very much in the world.

    Peace be with you.

    • Lydiamoody

      Dear Larry,
      Have you considered the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, OCDS?
      God bless you and Mary lead you.

  • Cee

    Thank you all for the messages posted. As I was reading the messages, I noticed that they’re all from a year ago. I wish I could talk to anyone of you. I’m feeling desolate. Or perhaps, please just pray for me. Thank you. Blessings to each of you who’ll read this message. God loves you!

    • Becky Ward

      Dear Cee,

      Many of the posts, or messages, are older, but just to the left of the ‘comment section’ there are lists that show both, the recent posts, as well as the most recent comments people have made. This is how I found your post here.

      I AM praying for you; and I know others on the site will too, we’re kind of like a big extended family here.

      Know that God is with us in our struggles……always……providing the strength to keep going.

      May He Bless you abundantly, now and forever!!

      • Cee

        Dear Becky,

        Thank you for the reply and the prayers. I’m feeling better now. God bless you, too, and your family!


      • Cee

        Dear Becky,

        I should add, thanks for your consoling words, as well. I say “Amen” to what you’ve said. And I apologize for my delayed response. I didn’t ask to receive email on messages posted and I didn’t visit the site till now again. I hope and pray that all is well with you an everyone here.

        As I mentioned to Linda, it’s nice to have found a group of people whose faith and beliefs are similar to our – making us kindred spirits. Isn’t that wonderful?

        God bless you now and forever, too!


    • Linda

      Hi Cee, I have dealt with a lot of periods of desolation this past year after a terrible shock.  I have found that rather than fighting the feeling, if I pray through the time and trust, really trust that God will send consolation, the time is easier to bear.  I have learned that whenever there is a desolation, a consolation will follow and I remember that when in the midst of desolation.  I also offer the things that bother me or are stressful up to God and focus on doing all for His glory.  It makes a difference and gives peace.
      God bless, Linda

      • Cee

        Dear Linda,

        Thank you for your reply and words of consolation. I understand what you’ve said, and I agree – embracing “what is” helps in dealing with struggles we sometimes face in life. God is good that after desolation comes consolation. Whether for good or bad, nothing is permanent in this world. I hope you’re all right now after whatever tough time you’ve been through. I’m glad to have found this site, then should I experience a need to communicate to someone or ask for prayers, I’ll come to this site and talk to you, faith-filled people of God. We may be strangers and personally unknown to one another, but we’re all kindred spirits, just the same.

        God bless,


  • Kitty

    Mother Theresa is my favorite example of a life lived in total detachment to self! Pray for us Blessed Mother Theresa that we may follow your good example.

Skip to toolbar