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A Troublesome Partner – Spiritual Combat – Book Club

June 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

…the essence of the spiritual life does not lie in any of those things to which I have alluded. It consists in nothing else but the knowledge of the divine goodness and greatness, of our own nothingness and proneness to evil; in the love of God and the hatred of self; in entire subjection, not only to God Himself, but, for the love of Him, to all creatures; in giving up our own will and in completely resigning ourselves to the divine pleasure; moreover, in willing and doing all this with no other wish or aim than the glory and honor of God, the fulfillment of His will because it is His will and because He deserves to be served and loved…

…But if you aspire to such a pitch of perfection, you must daily do violence to yourself, by courageously attacking and destroying all your evil desires and affections. In great matters as well as in small, it is necessary, then, that you prepare yourself and hold yourself in readiness for this conflict, for only he who is brave in the battle will be crowned. – Spiritual Combat, pg. 9 (Sophia Press version)

When I read this passage, right away the alarms went off. Of course, it makes sense that we are to love God and subject ourselves entirely to Him – what’s not to understand about that? But I was taken aback by the harshness of the words “hatred of self” and “doing violence to yourself.” These concepts are alien to everything I’ve been taught to believe. I mean, words like these can certainly wreak havoc with my “self” esteem! What about the fact that I am good because God made me in his image and likeness? When God created us, didn’t He say that “it was very good”? If that is true, then why must we HATE ourselves?

After I took a break for a day or so for prayer and contemplation, I remembered a book that I’ve read to my children every Lent for the past several years. The book is called The King of the Golden City: An Allegory for Children (KOGC) by Mother Mary Loyola (which I strongly recommend for children and adults alike – [particularly the version with pictures – they’re beautiful]).

KOGC couches this passage in terms that even a seven year old can understand. And frankly, I often need to approach concepts like this one as a young child before I can digest them, because they are so foreign to everything I’ve been taught.

Chapter Five in KOGC is called A Troublesome Partner, and it is a great lesson in self-mortification. Following are a couple of excerpts from this chapter:

 …all the men, women and children each had a comrade who was always with them, from the time they came into the Land [of Exile] till the time they went out, and forever after. the name of this partner was Self. The two were never separated. They walked, worked, went to sleep and woke together. But the owner of the hut was – or ought to have been – master or mistress there. Self was the sub-, or under-partner. So it was not what Self liked or disliked that mattered, but what the King wanted and what was good for the owner of the hut. This lesson Self had to learn, and, as a rule, it was learnt very slowly.

If allowed to become master,

Self showed himself a cruel tyrant. He made a slave of the hut-owner who should have taught him better, and treated him so badly that life was a misery to him. No: the only way to secure any kind of peace was to keep this unruly comrade in his place and put him down firmly when he gave himself airs.

I am certainly NOT a theologian (as demonstrated by my use of a children’s book to make sense of the above passage); but in light of this above description, I understand Self as almost separate from Me. It reminds me of the old cartoons where a person, when contemplating an action, has a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other.

Perhaps another term for this “Self” being described by Scupoli might be “concupiscence.” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, concupiscence is “‘an inclination to sin” that we are all left with as a result of The Fall of Adam (#1264).  The Catechism assures that while “it is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.”

After reading KOGC as well as the Catechism, it makes sense to me that Self must be trained to be subject entirely to God’s will. How can I love God above all things, if I love my Self and wish to please my Self above all things? That there should be no Self, but that which is completely in union with God. And to the extent that Self is not completely subject, it should be hated and viciously attacked, or else…

Because there was so much I wanted to share on this issue, I’ve decided to post this Thursday as well. In that post, I’ll share an example from KOGC of what happens when a little girl allows “Self” to have her way.

For Discussion: What did you think of this the passage above from Spiritual Combat? Did you glide right past it, or did you find it a little foreign to your experience? Any other thoughts stand out to you in this first portion of the book?

PS: For those of you who are catching up: Click here for the posts explaining the book club and to get oriented to where we are!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • Alexandra Campbell

    Luckily for me, I have read other classic Catholic books that talk in this manner about “self” and the great need for mortification of self-ish desires. As a clinical psychologist, my training was full of the theories that claim that self is to be “actualized” at almost all cost, and that “self-esteem” or the lack thereof is at the root of many emotional problems. Fortunately, my journey back to the Catholic faith has taught me that the emphasis on self and the goal of making oneself happy by doing what one finds pleasant, is a lie straight from the pit of hell! Satan would love for us to believe these modernist, psychological theories that put man first and take God practically out of the equation for finding true happiness. True happiness does lie in putting self, or ego, into the back seat and God, charity and sacrifice for others in the driver’s seat, so to speak. I think that the concepts are so radical for our day and age that we almost can’t even believe that we must do the things recommended by this passage. But, with experience I have learned that putting self first leads to misery and that living for God’s glory leads to true happiness! It is hard to do, but I pray for us all to be able to!

    • Vicki

      Alexandra – Thanks for your unique perspective. I’m so thrilled that we have one more psychologist that can lead people from a Godly perspective. That’s what my husband always tells our kids: JOY is Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last. It’s absolutely true.

      • MelissaStacy

        I love this acronym – easy to remember but powerful enough to prompt a change in behavior…thank you!

    • Becky Ward

      AMEN!!!! 🙂

      • $1650412

        I really appreciate your comment here too, Alexandra. Sometimes from my vantage point, living for self looks pretty appealing! It is a blessing to have someone with an added expertise to shine the light, from yet another angle, on the same truth. More voices, more experiences, more colors through the spectrum of lives lived in Christ illuminating the same magnificent fact- very helpful!

    • Robert Kraus

      Glad to see a psychologist in the club. I myself have battled some depression issues in my life, so it’s refreshing to read your perspective from a clinical point of view. I look forward to reading more of your comments.

    • Ramanie

      Thank you Alexandra.This post is so good. God bless you

    • GAartist

      Thank-you for that professional insight. As foreign a concept this is to the average person, it is so simple.-Yet almost impossible to practice if the spiritual maturity is not there. What you said about the goal of making one self happy, a lie straight from the pit of hell is so true. How many marriages ended with that line of thinking? Unless you are lucky enough to have a Catholic counselor in your town, the advice is often more harmful than good. I know first hand.

  • abandon56

    I am both encouraged and discouraged when I read this. It reminds me of a definition I once read (John of the Cross?) for despising or contempt of self: to look away from. If I do not read in this passage from the book of the love and mercy of God, I get lost in “myself”: fear, discouragement, etc.

    • Guest

      Discouragement is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit at work. This is not to be interpreted as contempt of self, but as contempt of the ‘sin’ in oneself which resides in our fallen nature. Jesus redeemed us from that. Rejoice and be glad! Trust in him, accept his gift! You are a child of God, and all that is His is yours.

  • Christina Solt

    I’m thrilled you used a childrens book to illustrate this point. Like you, I digest things in small bites. We will be adding this book to our library as we have 3 small children. What an awesome family activity; to battle “SELF.” Thank you for showing us another way to bring the Kingdom of God closer to us. My princesses thank you also. The fruits of the bookclub are blossoming!

    • Vicki

      Thanks, Christina! I’d love to hear what you and your children think of that book.

  • Deacon Paul

    I have the Tan Classics version of the book.
    In Chapter 2, the author discusses “distrust of self” as a Gift from God, and my attentiion was caught immediately – I had never thought of it as a “gift” before. He speaks of our need to “despise ourselves as wretched creatures” – – and this made me think of the song, Amazing Grace, saving a “wretch” like me…
    Indeed, it is language we are not accustomed to read. But a true understanding of our past ways, easily led astray, etc., puts it in perspective. It is only in total surrender to God – our real goal – that we can see ourselves a little bit with the eyes of God. Powerful stuff…
    – Deacon Paul
    deaconpaul@cox.net

    • Vicki

      Deacon Paul – That’s true. I love that song, and I do think of myself as a “wretch” – but I was taught that God loves a “wretch” like me. That made it a challenge to think of “hating” myself. Thankfully, I’ve now made peace with that terminology.

    • Snirtler

      Strong stuff these ideas of violence to oneself and despising one’s wretchedness. We’ve heard it before from our Lord, who says that if our hand or foot causes us to sin, cut it off or if our eye does, then pluck it out. If this sort of language was strong in Jesus’s time, it hits even more strongly for us moderns or (post-moderns?), who’ve lost the language of sin.

      We pat ourselves on the back for not being thieves or murderers, but we think nothing of small sins, say gossiping or snarking on someone at church. St Augustine says that when we beg forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, we “learn not to suppose that we are without sins, even though we should be free from crimes.”

      • judeen

        things we do in everyday.. can destroy others.. easyly.. we do not think of that… I was taught that gossip is a form of killing… killing love.. anothers self esteem so on.. we do not think of that… and what we say about others we can curse them… this was also explained to me.. wish bad things on people or about people we curse them.. so too the curse comes back to us.. this is scripture. something to think about at church….

  • Joan

    Thank you! That was a beautiful explanation. It never occurred to me to look at the Self as almost separate from Me.

    • Robert Kraus

      I agree, I always think that I am Self. So what does mean Me is called…or is that the point…Me is the label for my non-self?

  • hazcompat

    Galatians 5:24 All who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with all its passions and its desires. Transfigure us oh Lord.
    peace.

  • liù

    This seems to me to be the same as the often heard phrase, “dying to self” in which we detach from material things, self-centeredness, habits, characteristics…, and accept our sinfulness and need for God. Also called psychological defenses. Am I on the right track?
    Additionally, so far, this book reminds of The Imitation of Christ.

    • Vicki

      Yes! As I’ve heard Kimberly Hahn say in many talks – we are to be a living sacrifice. Every day we are to crawl back up on that altar and give it all again.

  • KathrynH

    This reminded me of when I was learning about confession this year. The closer you get to God and the more you fall in love with God, the more you realise how much work you have to do on your life. It is sort of like the farm we bought. A fix it upper for sure. 5 years in and it looks way better, but each improvement it makes other areas of work stand out. So, hating my self is not hating the essence of who I am, but rather, it is hating the parts of me that God will help me change for His glory.

  • littlestflower1

    Thank you for this post; it is something I have been having difficulty understanding myself. When self is viewed as concupiscence and almost as a distinct entity, it makes complete sense to be able to talk of hating self. After all, even in secular terms if we are self-ish it is never considered to be a good thing and self-lessness is an admirable quality.

    • Vicki

      Good point! I hadn’t made that connection, but it’s right on – interesting that the people we admire most are “self-less” and yet our culture still advocates that we put our wants, our needs and our desires first.

  • jk4dios

    I have yet a different version (Wylie North) of this book, in e-version. It would be helpful, for me at least, if you would please list chapter as well as page.
    That said, I found that I had already highlighted this passage. Our society is consumed with “a healthy self-esteem” rather than self-respect. Spiritually, it seems to me, self-respect is based on the reality of who and what we are before God–a mere, but totally loved, nothing. To see ourselves in this way “does violence” to that self-concept that the world tells us we should have.
    When I place myself in adoration before the One Who made me, it is not hard to see how much damage my “self” has done and is doing to me. What I need to learn is how to avoid doing that damage. That is an on-going process.

    • $1650412

      I understand what you are saying here- I once had the idea or impression of being a flat zero- actually the number zero written in chalk on a flat surface-a nothing of no dimension-that was how much I was bringing to the relationship as far as my myriad talents that God could so substantially benefit from…(HA!) but at the same time- we always juxtapose that with the thing we do give that is completely unique to us, and that He places such a crazy premium value on- our free will offering of love and commitment. Is that not true? I guess the guidance from the book is in how to do that with the most clarity- so the offering is truly authentic- really real.

      • jk4dios

        Actually, I think we may be talking in similar ways, but not quite about the same thing. My basic point in saying that, before Him, I am the smallest dust mote, is to point out that He is God, and I am not. It does not matter how talented, gorgeous, successful, or failure that I am. None, absolutely none, of that changes the fact that He is God and I am not. Nor does it change that, even so, I am His totally beloved daughter, based solely on His being the Savior and Defender and Creator. What an awesome thought. Of course, it also makes it harder to understand why my “self” still refuses to conform itself to His holy Will. That’s something I just have to keep working on in prayer and confession, I guess. I think this study will also be of help. Thanks for your response to my earlier post.

        • $1650412

          I really love how you have expressed this here- so true!

        • Vanesa

          Thank you, JK! To live that way brings such peace and freedom!

  • $1650412

    Really? If I am honest, I find it devastating, because I know how hard this is to live up to and I know I cannot do it; even on my best days if I really wanted to, I would not be able to live up to this love for God, that He deserves. ( I can’t even live up to on my own behalf- for my own greatest good. That is how puny my heart is.) My ONLY hope is grace personified by God tortured and dead on the Cross. And I find it almost impossible to sustain that hope in as far as it depends on me.
    That is my first comment, my second is as hard hitting, and perhaps judgmental of others. I think most people find a comfort zone in which they make those sacrifices to obey God’s will where it and their will simultaneously and naturally intersect, thinking it is somehow heroic. I know very few people reigned by peace who do not also have a great deal of autonomy over their circumstances and situations.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Wow Jo – Dark today?! Regarding your first comment, I find this understanding a great comfort. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” (Phil 1:6) This reality allows me to rest as I fight. Sounds contradictory but in this paradox I know that my job is to keep turning back to Him and he will take my puny corrupt efforts and turn them to gold. Rest, receive peace, fight.
      Regarding your second mean comment 🙂 I think you are dead on target. It is easy to give 10,000 when your income is one million and your expenses 1/2. On the other hand, I have seen those who give half their income – a sizable sum but a significant sacrifice.
      All that said, peace can be found even when the world around you is hostile and out of control. Maybe our next book should be “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” by Fr. Jacques Philippe.

      • Vanesa

        Wonderful book too. Thank you, Dan, for all you’re doing. You, Vicki, Father John, all of you! Amazing book club! =D

    • Vicki

      Jo-Regarding your second comment, I know a few people who do submit joyfully to God’s will even at great sacrifice to themselves. And these are not people who have no other choice (by this I mean it’s not because they or others they love are ill, etc.). They truly sacrifice daily. But these few people stand out like beacons because they are so remarkable and so rare in this day and age. I will say that until I met my mother-in-law (one of those people), I would have thought a lot of this was pie in the sky but not possible for “regular” people. Now I KNOW otherwise.

    • Rachel

      Please help me with something. Jo said that “most people find a comfort zone in which they make those sacrifices to obey God’s will where it and their will simultaneiously and naturally intersect . . . ” I think I know what you mean, Jo, but I’m just learning (from Abandonment to Divine Providence) that sometimes we feel guilty for not wanting — and even feeling an aversion to — do something that we “think” is God’s will, when actually God’s will comes as “an attraction” to doing something, difficult or not. Does that makes sense? So, in a sense, God’s will and ours do intersect. Don’t they?

      • Becky Ward

        I think it depends a great deal on where we are in our spiritual journey.
        If we are living in sin, God’s will will be distasteful to us. Once we realize that we need God and take steps to change our lives and seek to develop a relationship with Him….then we are ‘drawn’ or attracted to the things that are His will for us.
        For example: I had heard for years that we should participate in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. But the thought of just sitting there with no TV or radio or anything else to DO was a real turn-off. I didn’t understand the value of sitting with Jesus. Eventually I tried it….it was awkward…I could barely get through 15 minutes…..but eventually I felt a pull to be there, and now I see the fruit of doing this because I have received tremendous healing while I sit with Jesus. Now an hour is not enough……
        It was God’s will for me to be there all along – yet my feelings and reactions changed once I set my heart in the right direction.
        I hope this helps!

    • Becky Ward

      Amen!! You are so right here……speaking from my own experience -which means I’ve done it – I find that we define ‘just the right amount of holiness’ to be seen and know as Catholics…but never would we want to ‘go overboard’ into religious fanaticism by actually practicing our faith fully!
      Our society is so self-centered today…we are in great need of works like this book to wake us up to the consequences of remaining so.

    • $1650412

      @Dan- and stormy- next stop: the Confessional!
      You are so right! That was not ‘perhaps judgmental’, it was very judgmental (EW!!). @Vicki-I can also truly think of many people I know, not just a few, who live a beautiful Christlike witness full of joy under dire circumstances not of their own choosing, and I am just whining, (yikes, that’s not a virtue is it?) All too true!
      I think really the only silver bullet in Spiritual Combat is what we are doing here: recognize the battle for what it is- (thank you, Lord, for Dom L. Scupoli!), strive to know God more, follow Him more closely, open up our hearts and minds to a greater depth and breadth of what that means in loving Him, pursue grace whole-heartedly- and persevering therein, find meaning (possess Christ and be possessed by Him) and exude peace. (Every now and then I want the instant powdered version of sanctification- just mix with water, stir and SHAZAAM! The ‘hard’ work is done!)

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeanie.h.lewis.5 Jeanie Huff Lewis

        One quote from Ch. 1 (near the end) that I found particularly poignant and I think on topic here is this: “… it is not your duty to will and perform that which is in itself more excellent, but that for which God before all else strictly desires and requires of you.” There are many good things to do, and I can do all of them, yet ignore the one thing that God really wants me to do. In this case, though I am doing much good I am still not doing the will of God.
        I really like the story of the little girl with the toy pearl necklace. She loved it more than anything. At night her father would ask her if she loved him, and she would reply, “yes.” Then, he would ask her to give him her pearl necklace, but she loved it and couldn’t give it to him. This went on for quite ssome time. Every evening the girl would tell her father how much she loved him, but she could not give him her fake pearl necklace. Finally, the girl came to her father one evening. She still loved her pearl necklace very much, but she willingly gave it to her father because she loved him more. When she was finally able to let go of her fake, toy pearl necklace, then her father gave her a real pearl necklace.
        We hold onto things that we really love, and God our Father is always asking “Do you love me more than this.” When we finally let go of the thing we love for the sake of the Father, he then gives us real gifts of great worth. But, he can’t give them to us, until we willingly let go of what we have been holding onto so tightly. We are unable to receive his greater gifts because our hands are full of the things we believe to be valuable, but are only fake toys.

  • Guest

    I see ‘self’ as the fallen aspect of our nature of the flesh. That has to be mastered by the Spirit… the Holy Spirit. For all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. (St. Paul to the Romans 8:14).
    For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the desires of the
    Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you
    from doing the things you want to do. (St. Paul to Galatians 5:17).
    We wage a constant war within ourselves and this is what is meant by ‘doing violence to ourselves.’ We are at war with our fallen nature.
    All sins are expressions of life according to the flesh. St. Paul said that life set on the flesh is hostile to God, and cannot submit to God’s law. (Romans 8:7).
    This is a very important aspect of a life of faith, which has been forgotten in a culture that promotes quite the opposite. In fact, anyone who aspires to conquer the flesh by the Spirit will likely be perceived as someone with a psychological problem, in need of therapy and reprogramming.
    We see that mindset being played out now, too, in the war against religious freedom, particulary the Catholic faith, because the Church stands steadfast to the word of God. The Church represents a contradiction and a testimony to the conscience about sin and its relation to the sovereignty of the flesh. The secular ‘slave of the passions’ desires to stifle that message. Christ was a victim of that same mindset.
    The way to heaven is difficult and narrow indeed! The way of self- indulgence is the wide gate that Jesus said was the path of destruction (and many are those who would enter.)(Matt 7:13)
    “Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your flesh to sin as an instrument of sin, but yield yourselves to God as people who have been brought from death to life, and yourself to God as an instrument of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace,(Romans 6:12-14) But in order to accomplish this…we must fight the battle against our fallen inclinations on a daily basis…until death.
    On that note, we fall over and over again. God knows our weakness. We have recourse to the Sacrament of Confession that provides us with a new start every time and more grace for the battle.
    St. Paul, pray for us pilgrims on this arduous journey!

    • Guest

      One other thought I had about doing violence to self…an example of this would be truly loving someone that our human nature cannot stand… such as a difficult relative that is hard to love. The tendency would be to avoid that person. Doing violence to oneself would be to serve that person and see them as Christ sees them.

      • $1650412

        good example!

  • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    It seems to me that a backdrop of mercy is important here. When we deny self, we are simply rejecting what is not of or for God in us. In that rejection, we are welcoming God into that space that we have just cleared for Him (by His grace of course). So, we must decrease so that He may increase in us. It is a bit like finding a rotted food item in the pantry (self). We reach in to take it out. As we do, Jesus steps up behind us and receives it from us. In his hands, the rotting item becomes a beautiful bouquet of perfection. Another element of self cleaned out, another injection of Grace poured in…

    • $1650412

      very helpful comment! thanks!

  • McMack

    This reminds me of the advice given to me during confession by a wise priest. He suggested I laugh at or poke fun of myself when I become discouraged. When I am upset with my efforts or ashamed of my pride and stubbornness, he advised me to chide my “self” like I would a child. He told me to literally say, “Self, now settle down. Self, you need to stop thinking you are so important. You are really just a small and weak self, and you need God’s help.” Said with a smile and with encouragement for me to say this quickly and without making a big deal out of it … simply to recognize my weakness and reliance on God. These simple words have helped me enormously. Before I used to wallow in self-pity when I fell, or dwell on my weaknesses. Now I try to turn my attention quickly to God and ask Him to lift me up. I see my “self” as a unruly child that longs for the gentle discipline of a loving parent.

    • Becky Ward

      Awesome! 🙂

      • $1650412

        I like this too! Really helpful concept!

    • littlestflower1

      What a wise priest. We quite often take ourselves far too seriously. There is good light-hearted look at “self” in a video by the modern Christian band “Mercy Me” called “so long self” on you tube at http://youtu.be/bxMnr0pM78U.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steven.walter.12 Steven Walter

      Well said. I definitely need to have that conversation with my “Self”. I, as a person with severe recurrent depression, begin to wallow in the mire after failures or when I get discouraged. That has been a “natural” response for me nearly all of my life. The view that you mention is an excellent counter to my “natural” response.

  • Fr Thomas Murphy LC

    I find this to be an old-school way of talking in which God is seen as Almighty and Omnipotent, but it fails to portray him as Father and Friend, at least to the modern ear, which is how Christ teaches us to relate to Him, i.e. as his children. Personally I would never use this kind of language in talking to someone about the spiritual life.
    I like the identification you make of ‘self’ with our fallen human nature, our concupiscence, the ‘old man’. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” Rom. 7:20 The whole passage is very enlightening: Romans 7:13-25.
    Regarding the use of a children’s book, being theological does not mean being complicated. I find that the quotes you take from that children’s book touch a deeper chord in my own heart than the Spiritual Combat text.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Hmm – “old school.” I don’t know that I care for these kinds of designations as they tend to, on their face, devalue something based on a figure of speech that would paint the entire enterprise as problematic. I am sure you didn’t intend to do that. Regardless, knowing your formation, you know that the key with any text that is more than 100 years old is to ensure we wrestle properly with the author’s intent. In this case, there is a particular emphasis that was needed in his time (and I believe inspired by the Holy Spirit) and is needed in ours (replete with narcissism). The emphasis is good and true but spoken in terms that dealt very specifically with the issues the author faced. However, when divorced from the entire context of the book or the complete work of our redemption, things can become problematic… Thus the beauty of the modern combox! Good to have you joining in Father.

      • Fr Thomas Murphy LC

        Thank you. There certainly was no devaluing intent in my comments, and I apologize for using a misleading expression like ‘old school’. I like Spiritual Combat. All I meant was that ‘self’ is a loaded word in today’s culture and can mean very different things to different people, and that the explanation you give in your post is very insightful. The spiritual journey is most certainly a spiritual combat, a daily path of purification and conversion.

        • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

          Helpful explanation – thank you!

        • MoLeland

          I understood you perfectly. I wasn’t halfway through the second chapter before I said to myself, “Wow!! this guy is really old school”, I don’t understand the negative reaction to the word. I see it as term of endearment, but as you said father, a style that would make it harder to reach certain swaths of people today. Just like it is harder for “old school” coaches to coach today’s youth. I don’t want to get off topic by parsing the term “old school” any further, but lets just say that your post was old school and the reaction to it demonstrates how old school methods are aren’t as effective today as they were in the past.

    • judeen

      scripture that other day said… you no longer call your self slave or master but freind… for a slave does not know what the master is about… something like that… God is freind and Father when we right our selves with God… we cleaned house.. so to speak. the only way to the Father is through the Son .. His mercy forgiveness and healings… then Jesus will bring us to the Father… -Holyness. where every prayer is answered.. all blessings flow from the Father.. the mass is said to the Father… so on.. this is how I look at it….

    • Guest

      But I think, Father, we have in these times, to a large degree, lost that holy fear of God and horror for sin. We have swung the pendulum too much the other way. Yes, God is Father and friend, merciful and forgiving. But at the same time Almighty and Omnipotent, and just judge. Christ also did not mince words about that aspect of God. That holy fear and reverence has to be revived. Both aspects of God must be recognized equally,don’t you think?

      • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        Very well said.

      • Fr Thomas Murphy LC

        Oh yes, I agree 110%. Thank you for saying that. I spoke about that in my last homily!

      • GHM_52

        I don’t see why harshness is necessary to recognize the need for holy fear. Holy fear is not human fear and much less the fear that God’s and our enemy loves to inspire. Holy fear is nothing but reverent love of God. It seems to me that what we moderns have failed at teaching is that to love God is equivalent to doing What He tells us to do and that not loving God has consequences, dire consequences, both here on Earth and after death.

      • Pat

        Agree.

    • Pat

      Yes, agree; unless one has actually experienced God’s love in a personal way, one could, in my opinion, easily misinterpret many earlier spiritual writings with the idea of hatred of self.

  • judeen

    we are made up of expereinces… things we have learned.. also our wants… and desires… the devil uses them to temp us.. and worm his way into our soul… temptation but also our wants… lust so on … what we want… this is the part of hating our selves.. for as we grow in holyness. we find deeper things.. selfishnes.. bad wants of all kind.. even lieing to our self… slowly cleaning up to be the person God wanted us to be… this is who God loves.. and we should like… it is to sort out the sinful part we do not even know… we are nobody with out God.. we can do nothing with out God .. and we can not over come anything with out God… He is the source of all that is good.. we realize how little we are…

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeanie.h.lewis.5 Jeanie Huff Lewis

      Another quote from Spiritual Combat Ch 2 (the first section) states, “the consideration of your own weakness must go before the consideration of God’s power, and both should precede all your actions.” Wow. Before every action I should call to mind my own weakness, my own inability to do anything good without God. Then, I must recognize God’s power to do all things, and my trust that He will do do good in me. Once I have done this I am ready to act, not before. Many times I don’t think about my own weakness and God’s power until AFTER I have already acted and failed. This turns everything around for me. If I have acted in the order of recognizing my weakness, and then God’s power before every action, I cannot fail, because whatever the result it must be God’s will.

  • lacatholicmom

    I have to agree with Fr. Murphy, that to our modern ears this passage seems to fail to portray God as our loving Father and we as his children. I understand Fr.’s reticence to use this language with someone needing guidance about the spiritual life. Thus the importance of reading this book with the proper guidance and interpretation as we are doing here in the book club.

    Dan, I appreciate your statement that we must struggle with the text as it appears, regardless of our initial reaction, so that we may come to understand the author’s intent (an important concept for biblical interpretation as well!).

    There are a couple of sentences that were left out of the middle of the excerpt above which greatly clarify the author’s intent: “this is the law of love, impressed by the hand of the Lord Himself upon the hearts of His faithful servants; this is the abnegation of self which He requires of us; this is the sweet yoke and light burden; this is the obedience to which, by His voice and His example, our Master and Redeemer calls us.”

  • lacatholicmom

    What God asks of us, therefore, isn’t so difficult if we assume the position of a humble, trusting child–something like the “little way” of St. Therese. The Lord does all the heavy lifting on the cross; we only must have the humility to open up our arms and let him lift us up.

  • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

    I get confused about the advice spirituality books give, some books like this say that we should be hard on ourselves for our sinfulness. “daily to violence to yourself”
    Yet, others say that we should be gentle with ourselves, (like when praying or being grateful for self-knowledge) and take ourselves lightly because getting discouraged is prideful…and there is humility in accepting our weaknesses…
    Coming from a tendency to scrupulosity…
    Which is right? Or more aptly in which situations is one more applicable than the other?

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear MTD – with folks that struggle with scrupulosity it is very important to review these challenges with your spiritual director. The conflict is an opportunity from the Lord to work out how these things might apply to your life. If it disturbs your peace and you cannot overcome this state on your own, it will be important for you to set the reading aside, pray for wisdom, and engage with your director about it.

  • GHM_52

    When I read religious books written in centuries past, I find this “harsh,” “fire & brimstone” tone almost always. On the other hand, modern books are all about sweetness and honey. Frankly, I don’t know what to think. The message expressed by Scupoli in characteristic harshness is the same message expressed by Our Lord Jesus in His typical authoritative and firm tone (free of harshness) and in St. Paul’s letters (also in a much less harsh tone). Since the message (which is what matters) is always the same, I prefer the tone used by Our Lord and St. Paul.

  • Mike

    Than makes sense.

  • Burns227

    I guess the words of Our Lord would apply here: ‘Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self’

    • Becky Ward

      Kevin and Burns227 – Great minds think alike! 🙂 Perfect quote!

  • Kevin

    It seems the words of Our Lord apply here: ‘Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self.’

  • DiannaWorm

    Great reflection, Vicki! I loved with a priest said at a conference I was at this weekend. He said that we always want to do the wrong thing. But it’s by listening to the Holy Spirit (either in others or through our prayers) that we find the right thing.

  • DiannaWorm

    Oops. Hit share too quickly!
    I was taken aback by the harshness as well, but I think it’s because I was raised in an era of a warm and fuzzy Jesus. Not that Jesus isn’t warm and caring, but He’s more than that. I was raised to have a very high self esteem and that would be the answer to all of life’s issues. And how many times has that high self esteem been a stumbling block in my own spiritual growth? Countless!! I also think that, while harsh to hear, we have to be ruthless with ourselves or we won’t change. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but if I’m trying to develop a new habit, I can’t let anything slide or the old habit comes right back.
    Lots to think on with this.

    • Vicki

      That’s so true! I do a great job of making resolutions and am determined to change – but the culture we live in does not support that change. It is so easy to get off track – I guess the key is to repent and recommit ourselves to our Lord each time we catch ourselves having turned off the narrow path. As they say – a plan may be terrific, but often falls apart in the execution! I think this is why a conversion of the heart is absolutely necessary – when our hearts change, we will not be so desperately TRYING to stay on the right path while secretly eyeing how attractive the other path (deceptively) appears. Instead, we’ll walk joyfully along, happy to be there.

  • Grace

    When I read this passage I was reminded of a time in my life when I became very upset over my own weakness. A quote from Mother Teresa really spoke to me then and I believe it applies to this reading:
    “Take your eyes away from yourself and rejoice that you have nothing, are nothing, and can do nothing. Give Jesus a big smile each time your nothingness frightens you. Cling to our Lady, for she, too before she could become full of grace, full of Jesus, had to go through that darkness.” (Mother Teresa)

    • Vicki

      I love that quote, and will write it down – beautiful and simple!

  • Iris

    When I read this passage I was also taken aback. In the Bible it says we should love our neighbor as ourselves, which to me means we must love ourselves. So how can we hate ourselves and love ourselves at the same time? Your explanation really helped me. I now realize that I should love myself as a creation of God, which is good, but that I should hate my selfish, self-centered tendencies and turn to God to do His will not mine. One of my greatest struggles is determining what His will is and then fighting my will so I can do His will instead. I look forward to reading this book with the hope of finding ways to become stronger in the battle against self.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Iris – there is a popular misunderstanding about this passage in Matthew 22. By Jesus’ own count, he is only pointing out two commands. Thus there is an assumption about the pre-existence of self-love. How is this so? We feed ourselves. We clothe ourselves. By instinct we always come first. He is saying, “take care of others in the way you already take care of yourselves.” He is not saying that self-love is a problem of lack, but of obvious abundance.

      • Iris

        Thank you. I appreciate the insight.

      • Vanesa

        And He also said “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15, 12) so, as I see it, He command us to love each other (including ourselves) to the extent of giving out life for our salvation. That way I find easy to understand what does it mean to die to ourselves. It’s all about learning what really means to Love. Thank you!

  • Tim

    As a police officer and someone who has served in the military, I found Father Scupoli’s book refreshing. It was just what I needed. A soft, touchy – feely, warm and fuzzy book on spiritual combat (is there such a thing?) would not have worked for me. I believe that he wrote the book for people who needed to and still need to “do violence to one’s self.” Living in a sinful state is not pretty. I think he wrote the book out of love, so that those who need to burn themselves down in order to rise up have a clearly defined no – nonsense guide book on how to rely on Jesus as their Captain. The book has probably saved many a soul’s life. I hope it saved mine. I still refer back to it often after first having read it 2 years ago. I thank God that He brought Father Scupoli into my life. I would recommend the book to anyone struggling with sin. Thank you very much for picking Father Scupoli’s book.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Hey Tim – pray for my son Jordan. He is joining the Birmingham Police department next month…

      • Tim

        Will do –

  • Robert Kraus

    As soon as I read the passage, particularly another similar quote about recognizing “your vileness and nothingness”, I felt a combined sense of truth and caution. Truth, because compared to God and his grace I am vile and nothing. Caution, because, the words immediately conjured sad, depressed thoughts. I have struggled with clinical depression over the years, and one symptom of that has been low self-esteem.
    I read these and similar words and had two gut reactions. “Yes!” and also “Be careful, Bob!” I didn’t want dwelling on my “vileness and nothingness” to make me depressed or anxious. Only by contemplating God and his grace, and his compassion in rescuing me from my sin and nothingness, could I counteract the bad feelings. It’s still a struggle, but I wonder if there are others who saw it like this?

    • Becky Ward

      Yes! And this seems like a good place to point out that the book also speaks of the fact that God is good and merciful! You’re not alone in the way you received this…and if it weren’t for God’s grace NONE OF US would have any hope! 🙂
      Blessings!

  • Jeanette

    Re: ‘You must daily do violence to yourself”
    What do you do when your spiritual director says to you that you are ‘ too hard on yourself.’ when you are trying to correct your faults….venial sin or imperfections? This was told to me recently. He told me that I don’t tend to see the good in me, as I concentrate on what I believe our my bad tendencies. I do find that I am a bit more tense about my spiritual life as a result of being hard on myself and maybe not as joyful as I could be. He did say that I was on the track right though. I told him I’m that way because I don’t trust myself….then the thought came to me that perhaps perfectionism is a subtle trick of the evil one to eventually get one over time to rely more on one’s own efforts than on God’s grace.How can one work on eliminating your faults and also be kinder to yourself? Any suggestions?

    • Becky Ward

      Trust in and OBEY your spiritual director. (Unless of course he should tell you to kill someone or something like that.)
      God has given you a director and speaks to you through this soul. The best way I have of dealing with things like this is to imagine what I would advise another person to do…..and then (this is the hard part)…take my own advice.
      I’m a grandmother, and it’s easy for me to insert my grandkids into the situation and I take God’s place…….I am blind when it comes to seeing my good traits, as well as most of the bad ones…..but I know that I want what is best for my grandchildren and I would never want them to be as hard on themselves as I am on me……so I think about whatever situation I am currently dealing with….reflect on how I would treat my grandkids….and then do my very best to apply the same kindness…forgiveness…..patience, love, etc…to myself.
      If you tend to see the negative….you might focus on strengthening a virtue rather than eliminating faults…they kind of go hand in hand anyway.

      • Jeanette

        Thank you Becky. I’m a grandmother too so I can certainly relate to your suggestion. I guess the key is to be able to discern when I’m becoming too hard on myself and I will ask the Holy Spirit to help me here. Much like you, my spiritual director said he has a gift of being able to separate himself from difficult situations and look at them from afar and discern what to do….I certainly pray that I can develop that gift as well. You have been most helpful. Thank you again.

  • Dave

    I found this passage to be brutally direct. It reminded me of some of the writings of Father Thomas Dubay, who was critical of those who emphasize vocal prayer rather than focusing on spiritual union with God.
    I think the passage is foreign to my experience to the extent that the first emphasis must be on developing a prayer life. The visionaries of Medjugorje have reported that our Blessed Mother is exhorting all of us to pray for three hours each day. The bishop of our diocese encourages us to find time to pray rather than becoming so worried about the quality of our prayer. He tells us that if we give God a quantity of time, he will provide the quality.
    I reconcile the two by seeing them as steps on a journey. At the beginning, it is about making time for God. As the journey continues, the emphasis becomes “more of him, less of me”

    • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

      Dave, the “jury is still out” on
      Medjugorje

  • MelissaStacy

    I am blessed by all the comments and discussion. Thank you!

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Just as well I was off on my Tuesday Divine Mercy Cenacle and so was AWOL. Reading your responses is truly an eye opener. Now, to the “granite” we are discussing……to me she is called “puny little ego” full of herself, giving herself airs and always pushing herself forward to take credit of anything good and to mock you when you fall flat on your face – as I so often do……but you know what, my good people of God????? when she raises herself to sit herself on the “Throne” I just tell her, quietly and firmly…….”that is not your Throne…..step down and shut up”…. then I look at the Divine Mercy Image and just whisper a humble “thank You” prayer, remembering…….”Without Me you can do nothing”……recognizing the “mad dictator in ourselves” and learning how to side-step that dictator, one needs lots of Prayers and Graces from God……frequent Holy Communions and Confessions – that is, an active Sacramental Life, will see us through…….I love the reassuring Joshua 1: at such
    moments…

    “I will always be with you; I will never abandon you”.

  • jdobbinsPHD

    I do not see what Scupoli says as particularly harsh as much as trying to be honest with yourself. When he uses terms like hatred of self he does not mean it in the literal sense of wishing we are in Hell. He is expressing the lack of trust he has in himself to do good, and the absolute need we have to love God, for it is only through genuine love of God that we can be properly oriented. We are weak, and our will, left to itself, will lead us away from God and to the things of this temporary world. So, we have to will to love God and place all our trust in Him. We have to seek His will in all things and trust that He will always lead us on the path to Himself. It is similar to what Padre Pio said to his spiritual directors. He was so afraid, because of his human weakness, that he might do even the slightest thing to offend God, he would ask his directors to pray that he dies immediately. His directors, wisely, responded they would do no such thing and that God would take him when it was His good pleasure to do so. Of course, the good Padre lived to a ripe old age.
    I think Scupoli is also saying the same thing Teresa of Avila said, just in a different way. She says that no matter where we are in our journey to God, we have to keep coming back to the rooms of humility and self-knowledge. Humility because we have to place our trust in God and always be honest with ourself, and self-knowledge because we always have to compare our self to Jesus in His humanity, mindful that He told us to imitate Him because He is meek and humble of heart.
    Scupoli is giving us the orientation we need to beome and remain God’s children, no matter our age, and that means learning to trust God and not self. That is very hard to do because we always want to be in control. Relinquishing control of our life to God is hard. Each moment we accept what God places in our life and we deal with that, whether it be a circumstance or a person, pleasant or tragic. DeCaussade refers to it as the sacramentality of the present moment. Brother Lawrence speaks of it as living always in the presense of God. Regardless of the approach, we have to be ever mindful of our weakness and of God’s infinite love for us, and trust in that Love, submitting our will to His so He may lead us to Himself. Without a substantial prayer life, this is virtually impossible.

  • Jenny

    This passage was an immediate call to me. I am currently in a situation where a monkey wrench has been thrown into some elaborate plans that I had made. But they were not God’s plans. I feel like ‘spiritual violence’ has been done to me but I know also that this was a call I needed to put aside what I want in favor of what God wants.

    As a physician, I know that not all beneficial treatments are pleasant. We need to llok forward, knowing that if we follow God’s will for us, He will provide for us, even if we can’t see where we are going all the time.

  • Suzanne

    I think it all comes down to HOW we do battle with our evil desires and affections. I am reminded of something Dorothy Day said in her book, “The Long Loneliness”. She wrote: If we love God with our whole heart, mind and strength, how much room do we have for anything else? Maybe one way of doing battle with our evil desires is to starve them to death!

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    I have re-read this Post again and to me, this sentence sums up the daily struggles each one of us has to face on our Journey to our Eternal Home: “…..the knowledge of the Divine Goodness and Greatness, our own nothingness and proneness to evil…”

    Once we acknowledge that to live as God created us to live, we must strive to do His Will at all times, we come to accept that we cannot do this on our own. We need His Grace: “Without me you can do nothing”.

    With this in mind, through Prayers and living our Christian life actively, God will give us the Graces necessary to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. This, however, is not an emotional kind of love……it is a state of the mind, and of the Will to wish well for others….to rejoice with those who are joyful, to comfort those who are in difficulties, to be ready to assist those who need our help, even if this means that we inconvenience ourselves for the sake of helping others, and to do so unconditionally. These are called the “Spiritual
    and Corporal Works of Mercy”.

    Love of neighbour means that, we always put the Will of God first, then the needs of others and we put ourselves and our needs or situations last…..This is certainly not easy…..as normal human beings, born with the fallen nature, this is not a state we can attain on our own…..once again, we need to pray to God to grant us this Great Grace.

    When it comes to forgiveness, again we need God’s Grace to be able to forgive unconditionally.
    Mother Church advises us that we first need to understand, and discover what was our own contribution to the situation that arose and hurt us. After we honestly do this, with God’s Grace, we are able to forgive….but there are situations where you did not contribute to the tragedy……. for example, how do you forgive one who has murdered your child or your spouse? Here, again, we need God’s Special Grace which He will grant us through Prayers and Acts of Reparation. This Spiritual Combat is an ongoing struggle which will only come to an end when we die.

    But we are not alone. Our Immaculate Mother Mary, our Guardian Angels, our Patron Saints and all the Angels and Saints is Heaven are helping us every inch of the way in
    this combat with their Prayers and Supplications. Aware of this array of the Army of Helpers fighting on our side, our Hope to win the Race at the Finishing Line is kept alive and assured.

  • Pat

    I still have yet to get the book, but I loved your explanation of self because I too have had a problem with the idea of hatred of self presented in older spiritual writings, a seeming contradiction to the concept of the more modern promotion of a healthy self-esteen. Thanks for helping turn on the “Light bulb”.

  • Mary@42

    See why I love this Website??? I was AWOL for a week attending a Retreat and coming back I find such wonderful responses from you all. Praise be God for this Website where we share our experiences, knowledge and our individual understanding of how God wants His children to live In Him, With Him and Through Him.

    • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

      Hi Mary@42!
      Glad to see you online! I was worried about you when I saw the news about Kenya, the bomb at the Church and kidnappings on the news this morning! I hope you’re doing well!

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