May 2, 2013
Applying St. John's Teaching to Daily Life in the World
John does not hide the difficulty of the struggle ahead for those who have entered the religious life, and provides little hope for an easier way to progress in virtue. To give oneself up to God requires a stripping of oneself of all possible attachments, concerns, anxieties, possessions, and even certain loves and friendships. In short, one must strip oneself of anything and everything and live solely for God. Only in doing this, John states, can one be truly able to pray as the psalmist, "I will cling close to you" (Ps 62:9).
There are many things, John calls them demons, which try to attack a monk after he has renounced the world. In convincing a monk that he is no better off for the renunciation, the monk either returns to the world, or falls through his grief into despair.
The grief, John tells us, comes from the love of things left behind in the world and, therefore, a monk must be diligent in guarding his heart. Once beginning the difficult journey on the narrow way, John states, it is easy to fall again onto the broad highway that leads to destruction. When the thoughts of the world threaten to overwhelm, the best weapon is prayer.
With this third step, John concludes the first section of his treatise describing renunciation and the break with the world which is a prerequisite to the spiritual journey of the monk. As with the two previous steps, exile involves the painful stripping away of worldly attachments - renouncing all for God. Exile means leaving all that one finds familiar. For those in the religious life, it means separation from relations.
John is quick to point out that this does not mean hatred of family, but the recognition that even what is good can be used to draw one away from God. Once a person has renounced the world and entered the monastic life, the strength of his feelings for his family can draw him away from his commitment.