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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

This all sounds like that silly medieval idea of hating the world. What’s wrong with God’s creation?

Outline of the Answer
• Complacency
• The World
• Contempt of the World
• Detachment from the World

 
Many of those today who call themselves Christian want to live complacent, comfortable lives, and they aren’t much interested in doing the hard work of learning about and studying the true faith and then living it from the depths of their hearts. They make faith into an intellectual process of “knowing,” rather than a matter of dying to the self.

  

Christ constantly rebuked the Pharisees for their intellectual bickering about the details of the Law while their hearts lacked any sincere concern for others. Well, the “Pharisees” of the Church today are those who, in rejecting Tradition with a thump of the Bible or in arguing about the defects of Vatican II, neglect the humility and self-sacrifice that are fundamental to Christianity.

  

If you really want to live a holy life, therefore, you have to open your eyes to the fact that the culture around us—including much of so-called Christian culture—is not holy by any standards. The early Christians knew this well enough, but they lived in a hostile, pagan culture. When the world is trying to kill you, it’s not that hard to see the world for what it is. But many “Christians” in today’s world are totally blind to the psychologically subversive effects of our contemporary culture.

  

Do not be deceived. There is nothing in popular culture today that encourages us to holiness, and there is everything in popular culture today that incites us to turn from God to idolize the “self” and its fleeting satisfactions.

  

 
The World

In psychological terms, the “world” is nothing but our personal attempt to protect ourselves, in one way or another, from weakness and vulnerability, through illusions of human glory and power.

In theological terms, the “world” is nothing but our cultural attempt to protect ourselves, in one way or another, from weakness and vulnerability, through illusions of human glory and power, in order to hide ourselves—in our naked emptiness—from God.

In either sense, then, the “world” scorns God and makes an idol of itself. 

 
Contempt of the World

Contemptus mundi, or “contempt of the world,” is certainly not an outdated medieval concept, but it is often misunderstood.

  

Contemptus mundi does not mean to have disdain for sunrises and sunsets and swallows rollicking in the evening sky.

  

Contemptus mundi does not mean contempt for natural beauty.

Nor does contemptus mundi mean to nurture disgust and hatred for anything.

So why does Christian “contempt“ for the world have nothing to do with hatred? Well, Christianity is based in love, and to understand love we must be clear about the following:

  

Love has nothing to do with hatred for evil.

  

Love has nothing to do with fighting Satan and his agents with human power.

Love has nothing to do with trying to avoid hell.

Love, however, has everything to do with the desire for the good.

Contemptus mundi, therefore, is the Christian rejection of the world—the human social world, in all its vanity—and its futile attempt to hide from God and from His true love. Contemptus mundi is loving refusal to condone or participate in the world’s sins.

  

Likewise, the concept of contempt for the self (especially as used by Thomas à Kempis and Saint John of the Cross) does not mean self-loathing. It really means to set aside our self-interests for the sake of the salvation of others, and, at the same time, to develop our own talents as fully as possible in the service of Christ.

  

Now, if you don’t grasp the concept of contemptus mundi right at the beginning of your spiritual quest, how will you ever fulfill the command of Christ to pray constantly (Luke 18:1)? How can you pray constantly when your head is filled with the world and all its sports scores, movie reviews, television schedules, shopping sales, drugs, sex,[1] alcohol, cell phones and video games?

  

He said to them again, “I am going away and you will look for Me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.”
      So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill Himself, is He, because He said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
      He said to them, “You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.”

  

—John 8:21–24

One easy way to understand this is to contemplate the story of the Exodus:

Egypt can be seen as an image of humanitys slavery to sin.

The journey through the desert can be seen as an image of the need to detach ourselves from the things of the world—to fast and eat only the heavenly food and water that come from total trust in God—so as to attain chaste spiritual purity.

The land of Canaan can be seen as an image of the social corruption that surrounds us and that must be avoided at all costs in order to remain in a state of grace.

 
Detachment from the World

Detachment from the world, therefore, shouldn’t be considered as a spiritual work in the negative sense—that is, as whatever you do to avoid something. Instead, it should be considered in the positive sense as whatever you must do to achieve something good. 

Let me explain.

Christ emptied [2] Himself to come into the world—right into the midst of our wretchedness and pain—to save us from our sins. Therefore, those who call themselves Christian should be willing to empty themselves of their pride of self and to enter into the pain of others, so that, through sacrifice and prayer, others might be healed from their sins.

What a waste to cling to your “self” and its attachments to the world! What a waste to refuse to empty your “self” in Christ! What a waste to renounce the cross by filling yourself with the world’s frivolity, vanity, and defiance of chastity, thus joining a God-forsaking culture in hiding its pain behind illusions where healing can never reach!

 

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Notes

1. Sex is not love, it’s desire, pure and simple. If sex were love, we wouldn’t have AIDS and venereal diseases, would we? Even in a legitimate marriage between a man and a woman sexual activity is more often than not just a form of desire—what John the Evangelist calls “sensual lust.” Nevertheless, in a truly devout marriage a man and a woman can raise their sexual activity to the level of the holy when sexual union ratifies their mutual desire for mystical union with God.

2. “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). The Greek word translated here as “empty” is kenosis, a great mystery that illustrates the process of divine love seen not just in the Incarnation but also in the giving of the Holy Spirit. And, behind all of this, stands God’s emptying of Himself in His act of creation, a pure act of love.

 


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