False Desires

St. John of the Cross was, and continues to be through his writings, the spiritual director par excellence. He maintained his spiritual direction of followers by means of short spiritual maxims which he placed in directees’ places in the dining room to help focus their commitment.[1] The Sayings of Light and Love are a collection of some of these maxims.

From the Sayings of Light and Love by St. John of the Cross:

#22:     A bird caught in birdlime has a twofold task: It must free itself and cleanse itself. And by satisfying their appetites, people suffer in a twofold way: They must detach themselves and, after being detached, clean themselves of what has clung to them.

Birdlime is a sticky, adhesive substance spread on branches and twigs to capture small birds. Physical pleasures and desires can often be like birdlime. Consider alcoholism; once addicted the alcoholic is stuck to the bottle, addicted to it, so much so that he or she cannot get away from its hold. Violent or sexually explicit images in a movie will often cling to our memory. So, even after sobriety or after seeing a graphically suggestive movie, we need to cleanse ourselves of the hold the drug or drama has on our memory and imagination. This is the twofold task St. John speaks of in Saying #22—first to free ourselves from the hold the drink, drug, or thought has on us; second to cleanse ourselves of its lingering, sticky effects.

Grace is the solvent that will free us and cleanse us from these snares. Prayer disposes us to receive this grace. So, we must work hard at beating these additions, working as if everything depended on us and praying as if everything depended on God. (St. Ignatius of Loyola).

[1] Leonard Doohan, A Year with St. John of the Cross: 365 Daily Readings and Reflections, p. 109 Amazon Books (2015).