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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Spiritual Counsels

O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart?
Why do you love vanity, and seek what is false?

—Psalm 4:3

 

Fear  |  Love  |  Humility  |  Therapy  |  Books  |  About CSF

 
Introduction | The Mandate | A Basis both Ecclesiastical and Psychological 
Rationale | The Experiment | Counsels

 
THE MANDATE of Christianity is simple: love. Yet in this simplicity, complicated problems can spring up like weeds, for we more often than not use “love” as a mere excuse for self-indulgence. In the modern world especially—although it has been a problem throughout Church history—we commonly scorn real love. We scorn the suffering, self-sacrificial love with which Christ loved us to save us from our sins. And even though Christ commanded us to love each other “as I have loved you,” we scorn this love because we have so perverted and sentimentalized the concept of “love” that we even condone sin today in the name of Christ. Today, many of us believe that Christianity amounts to an unconditional acceptance of anything, even to the point of unconditionally accepting sin. And we do it in the name of “Christian love.” 

Most so-called Christians today give Christianity a bad name. They have allowed themselves to be duped by cultural brainwashing to the point that they have renounced real love. Instead of dedicating their lives to holy purity, they welcome moral corruption into their hearts as they go about seeking social acceptance from a corrupt world.

 
The Mandate

So, before explaining the spiritual counsels that can assist your healing, let’s consider the practical framework of a Christian life, reduced to its own simplicity: before we can enter into the pure love within the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be purified of all that is not genuine love.[1] Therefore, our mortal life should be a life of spiritual refinement, whereby we


recognize our own sins;


repent our sins, looking always to God’s infinite mercy;


live holy lives of chastity, modesty, and humility, while detached from the corrupt social world and praying constantly;


grow in faith by facing your constant trials without anger or resentment but only with perseverance and trust in God;


treat others with patience and forgiveness while assisting them—that is, by instructing them with our actions and words and praying for their enlightenment—that they might eventually recognize and repent their sins.

Therefore, a life of genuine Christian faith and love must be directed to doing everything we can to fulfill the Christian mandate and to avoiding anything that contradicts this mandate.

 
A Basis both Ecclesiastical and Psychological

Through its Tradition and laws, the Church is able to “guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2041). Now, in this context, the very necessary minimum means that salvation is not possible with anything less than what the Church requires.

But can it be advisable to do more than what the Church minimally requires?

Read an opinion of dissent 

Well, remembering how easy it is to pervert love into something it isn’t, it is just as easy to make “the very necessary minimum” into a mere intellectual performance. If we do that, we end up deceiving ourselves—and that, sadly, is far from what is really needed. Even at its very necessary minimum, love must be more than a surface scratch—it must cut deeply into the heart.

Now, in the realm of psychology, when attempting to heal emotional wounds that block spiritual growth, we need to go far deeper than surface appearances. We need penetrating psychological insight to get to the roots of the weeds that choke our spiritual development. 

The best way to develop psychological insight and spiritual development is to turn away from social “outsight”—that is, attachment to social identifications that merely cover over our inner confusion and turmoil with a surface feeling of acceptance by others. So, considering that unconscious psychological conflicts [2] more often than not lead us away from complete trust in God and right into spiritual disobedience, and considering the consequences of disobedience—all the temporal misery of purgatory, or, even worse, the unending misery in hell—it would be prudent to make certain that “the very necessary minimum” is not just an intellectual superstition.

Therefore, seek true love—the true and single ecclesiastical and psychological goal—at any cost. Aim high or you will miss the mark altogether. It is necessary to do everything we can to remain aware, at every moment of our lives, from the very depths of our hearts, that we are totally dependent on God’s love for us.

 
Rationale

Believe it or not, all the counsels that follow derive from pure love as exemplified by the Catholic mystics through the ages. There is nothing arbitrary, or artificial, or puritanical about them.

My love so delights the soul that it destroys every other joy which can be expressed by man here below. The taste of Me extinguishes every other taste; My light blinds all who behold it . . .

—as told to Saint Catherine of Genoa
Spiritual Doctrine, Part III, Chapter VII

Yet, sadly, most everyone who reads these counsels will balk.

“I can’t do that,” they say. “I’ll die if I have to give up television, Facebook, video games, cigarettes . . .” “I’ll die if I have to stop wearing sexy clothes.” “I’ll die if I have to give up the emotional and financial security of living with my boyfriend.” “I’ll die if I can’t watch football every Sunday.” “I’ll die if I have to wear a chapel veil.” Well, maybe you get the idea. We claim that we want to follow Christ, but, like the rich young man of the Gospels, we all have something we refuse to do because we’re afraid that life will be dull and empty at the foot of the Cross.

Christ told us, however, that in order to follow Him we had to take up the cross and die to our social identities. What is Christianity but death to this world and birth to a new, ineffably delightful spiritual life? And what is the basis for this new life? Love. Pure, simple love. And what are the things that obstruct pure, holy love? Well, how about entertainment, cigarettes, sports, and lust, for example—the very things to which you cling in order to preserve your social life as you think it should be.

So how do these things obstruct love? Well, in trying to preserve what now seems to you to be “life”—that is, in defending your pride of feeling accepted by the world—you in effect prevent yourself from doing what Christ told us all to do: give up everything for Him, from the very depths of your heart, so as to serve Him with every aspect of your being. To do what He asks is love, for it is to value the holy life He offers through Himself more than your own illusions about how you think life should serve your own pleasure.

  

The present time is very precious. Now are the safe days. Now is the acceptable time. But how sad that you do not spend this time well while you have strength to gather the merit which will allow you to live forever! The time will come when you will wish for one day or one hour for changing your ways, and I do not know whether you will get it. . . . Learn now to place Christ at the center of your life, that then you may begin to live your life with Christ. Learn now to let go of all things that stand between you and Christ . . . . Do, do now, dear friend, whatever you can do, because you do not know when you will die, nor do you know what will happen to you afterwards. Gather everlasting riches while you have time. Think of nothing except your eternal well-being. Care only for the things of God. . . . Keep your heart free and lifted up to God, for this world is not your permanent home . . . .

  

—Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ, 1. 23
(Trans. by William Creasy)

Right now, with all your illusions wrapped around you, you are dwelling in blindness, even though you deny it. Of course you can’t see it. Without deep spiritual scrutiny, who could see it?

Read an excerpt about spiritual blindness
by Saint Theophilus of Antioch, bishop

 
Just remember, for example, that many individuals caught up in addictions, such as alcoholism, will, while in a state of intoxication, claim that they are doing nothing harmful to their lives. It’s only when they get into a sober state of mind that they can perceive how close to death and total destruction they really were. And so it is in the spiritual realm. When you’re caught up in all the attractions of the world it’s literally impossible to see how much of your life is a refusal to serve God and how close to spiritual ruin you really are, even if you already claim to be a devout Catholic.

  

I have seen this in myself, for from time to time I have found many natural desires destroyed within me which had previous seemed to me very good and perfect; but when they were thus removed I saw that they had been depraved and faulty, and in accordance with those spiritual and bodily infirmities which, being hidden from me, I had not supposed myself to possess. And this is why it is necessary to attain such a subtlety of spiritual vision, in order that all which at first appears to us perfection may in the end be known as imperfections, robberies, and woes: all this is clearly revealed in that mirror of truth, pure love, in which all things appear distorted which to us had seemed upright.

  

—Saint Catherine of Genoa
The Life and Doctrine of St. Catherine of Genoa
Chapter XXIV

Therefore, if only you would now do what I tell you here, in true imitation of Christ, you would soon discover for yourself an experience of holy love so palpable and real that every unconscious resistance will dissolve into oblivion and only pure love will remain.

  

Instead of seeking your own pleasure, seek to do God’s will. Instead of defending your pride, defend the Faith. Instead of serving your self-interests, serve others with real love, as Christ Himself commanded us to do.

  

 


 
The Experiment

Consider this work to be a psychological-spiritual experiment; it will give you a chance to experience a life of spiritual nakedness such that, having no recourse to old distractions, your focus can be on three things only: (a) exploration of the fears and resistances that arise on your confronting your inner weakness; (b) devout prayer and reading; and (c) your work in the world, which is a physical necessity—may it honor God and sanctify your brothers and sisters.

  

I recommend that you make a commitment to follow these counsels for three months. During the course of that time, if you fall, don’t obsess about it, and don’t punish yourself; just stand up and start again where you left off.

  

After the three months, you will have a good idea of your weaknesses and resistances. Then you will have a choice.

You can simply give up the counsels and go back to your old ways and let the winds blow you where they will.

Or you can make a focused effort to resolve your weaknesses and resistances. To do this, it is necessary to take up relentless, persistent prayer to God (and to the saints and angels for their intercession) that you will grow in holiness. Moreover, at the same time, it is necessary to force yourself to maintain a calm trust in God’s protection and guidance despite your fears of admitting your own helplessness and despite your impatience with things not happening as quickly as you want.

If you face your fears, and if you desire above all things to clean your soul of your own self-impediments, then you will understand the following words of Saint John of the Cross:

  

Thus the small dove, the soul, not only returns to the ark of her God as clean and white as when He created her before her departure, but also carries in addition the olive branch that signifies the reward and peace obtained in her victory over self.

  

—Saint John of the Cross,
The Spiritual Canticle, 34. 4

 


 
Counsels

The greatest commandment is this: to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. If you really loved God, all the things you do and all the things you refuse to do—that is, all the behaviors of your life—would express your love for God. Although many various behaviors characterize this love, the mere performance of such behaviors is not an act of love. Still, practicing behaviors that characterize love can help to lead you into an understanding of divine love. Therefore, the goal of these counsels is not to strive to perform them perfectly; the goal is to perform the counsels in the hope of growing in love.

There are four basic aspects to this growth process: prayer, abstinence from defenses, charity, and self-encounter.

1.  During the course of the work, make prayer the basis of your emotional stability. Prayer has its foundation in formal prayers, but it derives its power and efficacy from constant moment-by-moment quiet communication with God. Note that prayer is not about bribing some cosmic magician to get rid of your problems, it’s about doing the hard work of facing your problems and overcoming them through trust in God’s guidance.


Teach yourself to pray the Jesus Prayer as a moment-by-moment ongoing practice. Interspersed with this prayer, add constant prayers of supplication for guidance and protection. State what you are feeling, and then ask for the guidance to work through your experiences. such as the following: “God, I feel so helpless; teach me how to do this.” “God, I’m so alone; give me strength and courage to continue.” “God, I don’t know what to do; show me what to do and help me.” “God, I’m overwhelmed with temptation; help me to resist.”
 


Miraculous MedalWear the Miraculous Medal [3] around your neck at all times as a seal upon your heart; the chain, therefore, should be long enough to keep the medal over your heart, rather than over your throat. Say its prayer (“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”) many times a day.

Like the angels, Mary had free will, and in her conception she was given the grace, like the angels, to be free of the desire to commit sin. Unlike Mary, the rest of humanity, in its state of original sin, is afflicted with the desire to commit sin, and so, for the sake of our salvation, we must endeavor always to renounce that unholy desire which lurks deep in the heart of our fallen being. Keeping the medal of the Blessed Virgin over our hearts gives us assistance in our battle of renouncing sin and evil.
 


Attend Mass every Sunday (if not daily) and on every holy day of obligation. Be careful to arrive on time (before the priest enters the sanctuary), and do not leave before the dismissal. Dress modestly and reverently. Women, cover your heads with a scarf or chapel veil.

If you have a family, read the Scriptural texts for the next days Mass each evening as a family activity. Spend time reflecting on the meaning of the texts. If you need help interpreting the texts, then use the book A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture as described on the Reading the Bible page of this website.
 


On a daily basis, keep, at a minimum, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

If you have a family, pray the Evening Prayer each day as a family activity, to the extent possible.
 


Every noon stop work and pray the Angelus (or the Regina Coeli during the Easter season).
 


Pray at least five decades of the Rosary every day to the extent possible.

If you have a family, pray the Rosary every evening after dinner with your family, in lieu of watching television.
 


Pray always for all the souls in Purgatory and for all the poor souls in danger of hell who have no one to pray for them.

 


 

2.  During the course of the work, you can encounter your inner brokenness by abstaining from all self-indulgent defenses that serve only to distract you from your brokenness. These defenses do nothing to lead you to spiritual purity and do quite a bit to seduce you into spiritual impurity. Have you ever affirmed a vow to renounce the works of Satan? Well, think carefully. The things that follow are—either directly or indirectly—all works of Satan. 
 


Sexual activity. Sex is not love, so outside of its procreative function in Holy Matrimony, it serves only the narcissistic purpose of making ourselves “feel good.” Learn, therefore, to place your trust in God, not in your own body or in the body of a “partner”—that is, a “partner in sin.” To learn to trust in God, it is important to face your emotional emptiness directly, without defenses. Therefore, to conduct your experiment in these spiritual counsels, live in chastity and abstain from eroticism: no interpersonal sex, no masturbation, no pornography, no dating, and no Internet or social network flirtations. (In Holy Matrimony marital chastity does not require abstinence from sex with your spouse, but, for the sake of your soul, any sexual activity must be free from lust. During the three months of experimenting with these counsels, however, you should abstain from all sexual activity;[4] you will have to negotiate this with your spouse.)
 


Tobacco. No one who remains enslaved to any addiction, including smoking, can fulfill Christ’s command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). To be addicted to anything means, by definition, that you love the addiction more than anything else—more than the welfare of your own soul and, therefore, more than God.
 


Alcohol. A small glass of wine can be a legitimate part of a meal, and an occasional glass of beer or a cocktail can be a part of a festive celebration, but any habitual use of alcohol is nothing but a way to soothe yourself when you should be turning to God in prayer. 
 


Marijuana. Recreational drugs, especially marijuana, cause you to let down your guard against evil. Marijuana deceives you with the false belief that you can function competently even though your brain is scrambled, and this self-deceived state opens a hellgate to demonic influence, making you the plaything of demons.[5] Marijuana is for atheists (those who reject the idea of God) and for Satanists (those who reject God). Self-induced altered states of consciousness are all a fraud, in the spiritual sense, because recreational drugs have no place in real love and devotion to holy things; instead, they manifest a hatred for authority.
 


Entertainment. Most entertainment, such as social media (e.g., Facebook), TV, movies, sports, electronic gaming, gambling, radio, and secular music, distracts you from a prayerful focus on holy things. Entertainment not only squanders your time and talents on frivolities, but it also infects you with the anti-Christian values (such as lust, pride, avarice, vanity, self-indulgence, competition, hostility, etc.) of contemporary society. Furthermore, these things incite you to idolize (that’s a mortal sin, remember) social acceptance, to neglect constant prayer, and, ultimately, to dilute the holy presence of God in your life. So, Instead of turning to a corrupt social world for emotional satisfaction, turn to God in contemplative silence and prayer. 
 


Immodesty. For both men and women, immodesty is a grave opening to sin. Avoid tight or revealing clothing, piercings, and tattoos. (If you have an existing tattoo, cover it in sorrow for having defiled your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.) For women, do not wear leggings, jeans, or slacks, and cover your head with a chapel veil when praying, especially in church. To learn true humility, set aside all vanity.[6]
 


“Junk” foods and “fast” foods. If you really believed that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, you would eat a healthy diet, not “bad for you” foods. Avoid white flour, and eat fatty foods and sugars sparingly. Eat only foods baked with whole grain flours. As much as possible, avoid eating meat, because meat is an expensive luxury. Eat simple foods;[7] avoid a regular use of restaurants; and gather up the money you’ve saved and give it to the poor—and lose excess weight in the process. 
 


Colas and soft-drinks. Drink water. Our bodies need water for survival,[8] but soft-drinks are just self-indulgence: empty sweetness with no nutritional or spiritual value.
 


Coffee. Avoid coffee or tea that is not a part of a legitimate meal (i.e., breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner). Coffee and tea, like wine, can aid digestion, but taken repetitively throughout the day coffee or tea becomes a harmful addiction. Drink water throughout the day instead.
 


Secular reading. Avoid magazines, books, newspapers, etc. not necessary for professional purposes. Read only spiritual texts that will help you understand the true Faith. (You can begin with the recommended readings from this website.)

 

For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things.

—Philippians 3:18-19

 


 

3.  During the course of the work, you can learn to minimize your sense of self-importance and pride by treating others with charity.


Avoid swearing, whether aloud or silently. Train your thoughts to be as calm, peaceful, and prayerful as possible. Avoid all hostility. Do not seek revenge and do not make threats. When injured, give a silent blessing to the person who injured you and pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for the sake of that person with the intention that he or she will come to recognize and repent such hurtful behavior.

But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths.

—Colossians 3:8

 

If anyone who does not control his tongue [9] imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is pointless.

—James 1:26

 

For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy.

—James 2:13
 


Avoid all gossip and competitive behavior, including sports. Learn to focus instead on your own inadequacies.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but everyone for those of others.

—Philippians 2:3-4
 


To every beggar who asks you for money, give a silent blessing—along with money, if he asks politely. Learn to feel the enormity of the world’s need and your inadequacy to provide for it. Moreover, don’t be concerned with whether the beggar is a fraud; give a silent blessing for his repentance. If you give him money, you also can tell the beggar that you think he is a liar and a fraud, if that’s how it appears, and you can preach the Gospel to him, but just as the beggar will have to give an accounting of his behavior to Christ, so will you have to account for your behavior.

  

Give to everyone who asks of you.

  

—Luke 6:30; Matthew 5:42

 


 

4.  During the course of the work, you can learn to encounter your unconscious fears and conflicts by


entering into the scrutiny of the Four Steps to Humility;


keeping a nightly log of your dreams—and interpreting your dreams;


keeping a personal journal of your experiences;


reading spiritual texts and setting aside time for contemplative prayer.

Study the books on the Recommended Readings page of this website. Begin with the Imitation of Christ. Read it straight through once, quickly, but thereafter open it at random and read bits of it in depth, as a sort of daily guidance, while reading the other books, including the Bible, and keeping the Liturgy of the Hours.

 


If you agree to all these counsels, receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: confess your past sins and state your desire to begin this work.

EMEMBER , the mystics did all these things, and more, not just for three months, but for their whole lives, out of pure love and reverence for God. The martyrs gave their lives out of faithful love for Christ.

  

The prefect Rusticus said: “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.” Justin said: “No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.” The prefect Rusticus said: “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy.” Justin said: “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Saviour.”

  

—From the Acts of the martyrdom of Saint Justin
and his companion saints
Office of Readings, June 1:
Saint Justin, martyr

Ultimately, you may do what you want—that is, no one can force you to live a holy life, because if your actions are not based in love, then they are all worth nothing, as Saint Paul said (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). And the spiritual awareness that our lives, without grounding in divine love, are worth nothing, is the justification for these counsels. So, having successfully encountered the challenges of this work, you just might have a changed outlook on Christian mysticism and morality, and love—real love.

Now I occupy my soul
and all my energy in His service;
I no longer tend the herd,
nor have I any other work
now that my every act is love.
 
If, then, I am no longer
seen or found on the common,
you will say that I am lost;
that, stricken by love,
I lost myself, and was found.

—Saint John of the Cross,
The Spiritual Canticle,
The Poem, Stanzas 28-29

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. Keep in mind this analogy: fire does not burn itself—only that which is not fire is burned by fire. Thus, in the spiritual realm, God’s love burns and torments whatever is not love. The fire of Purgatory is God’s love purifying and burning out of repentant souls every worldly attachment that is not love, until those souls become pure love. And the fire of Hell is God’s love that burns and torments unrepentant souls who are “not love” because in this life they have chosen lifestyles defiant of love, thereby refusing the opportunity to become love. 

2. A conflict refers to the psychological fact that one part of your unconscious mind wants healing and health and another part of your unconscious mind resists healing. This resistance usually derives from two things. First, because you have been so mistreated by others, in the depths of your mind you secretly believe that you are worthless and don’t deserve anything good. Second, because you are so angry with others for having mistreated you, you experience a certain unconscious satisfaction in remaining a victim so that you can “throw your pain back into their faces” in protest. 

3. Just as Christianity “began,” so to speak, with the Blessed Virgin, so your spiritual healing should begin with her guidance.
    But please understand that the Miraculous Medal is not “magic.” The graces that flow from its use, through the hands of the Blessed Virgin, depend entirely on your willingness to open your heart to them totally, free from superstition, with a deep yearning to have your life profoundly changed by them.
    In this sense, then, the Miraculous Medal is a sacramental. Tangible things such as medals and scapulars, and intangible things such as blessings are all sacramentals. Sacramentals, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them, men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy” (§ 1667).
    Thus, whereas sacraments in and of themselves produce graces for those who are properly disposed to receive them, sacramentals inspire us to desire divine grace.    

4. In lieu of sexual contact, try practicing non-sexual emotional and physical intimacy such as cuddling, holding hands, and embracing. 

5. Marijuana is an evil substance. That’s a fact. If you don’t want to believe it, then do what you want to do. And if you don’t learn the truth until you get to hell, then have no doubt the demons will be roaring with laughter at you. 

6. Please understand that I’m speaking here of vanity (from the Latin vanitas, meaning “emptiness” or “worthlessness”). We all need to go shopping at times, but some persons make shopping into a self-serving hunger for materialism. We all must keep our fingernails trimmed, but wasting money on having them painted is, well, wasteful. We all have hair that must be groomed, and premature gray hair is sometimes more attractive if it is returned to its natural color, but some persons change the color of their hair just to project an illusory sense of identity. The point here is that personal grooming shows a necessary respect for the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, whereas self-indulgence and vanity—both sins of pride—impede not only humble service to Christ but also true love to others and are therefore spiritually worthless. 

7. Don’t be rigid about this, however. The point here isn’t to punish yourself or make your life misery; the point is to introduce simplicity to life. Even though simplicity is a core value of Christianity, there is nothing wrong with eating special foods once in a while or of feasting occasionally. 

8. In general, one glass (8 oz—or 250 ml) of pure water per hour is recommended for good health. Be advised, though, that exceeding the maximum recommended water intake—½ qt/hr (500 ml/hr) in moderate temperatures and easy work load—can lead to a medical condition called water intoxication (hyposmolality/hyponatremia). 

9. “If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions” (James 3: 3–5).

 

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