Thank you to everyone who participated tonight in a very challenging reading and discussion of The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
Tonight we began Step Five on painstaking repentance and an account of the Prison, another monastic community for those who have broken their vows and embraced a life of deep penance. This is probably the most difficult part of The Ladder to read. It requires the most work from us as readers to think about what John is doing. Why does he present us with such an image? Why paint a portrait of such a place of pain and affliction? Does he not risk losing readers because of the story? What is described is disturbing and meant to be so. For seeing what is so disturbing, our willingness to look at it and the unvarnished truth it present us with, also allows us to grasp its opposite – the invincible joy of knowing and loving Christ. Indeed, the sorrow is part of the joy.
We can only begin to understand St. John’s description of repentance and “the Prison” in light of the Cross itself. We see Christ take upon himself the sin of the world and what it cost him and how he sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane. These men of the Prison, that place of deep penance, entered into the Paschal mystery so deeply and could see the beauty of it so fully that their mourning and sorrow was a participation in the sorrows of the cross. And the desolation that they experienced was that of Christ himself calling out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” We tend to think of things in isolation and our own experiences in isolation from others and from those of Christ. But what we have seen with the fathers over and over again is this kind of radical solidarity that exists between us and that allows us to participate in the redemptive aspects of Christ’s work including the sorrows and darkness of the Cross and the descent into Hell.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
Text of chat during the group:
00:12:41 FrDavid Abernethy: Beginning Step 5 on page 97
00:33:32 Eric Ewanco: I've heard it said that the first sin involved eating which is why fasting is so important
00:47:59 Ashley Kaschl: In paragraph 7, that seems like a debilitating shame, how would one break free from that?
00:52:13 Cathy Murphy: The last sentence in paragraph 7 is challenging. If they are full of sorrow and repentant how are their souls offering nothing to God?
00:58:13 Ambrose Little, OP: I find it difficult to reconcile what appears to be dwelling in sorrow with confidence in God’s work in our lives and the lives of others. If the promises are true, then it seems like we should mostly dwell in joy and gratitude as penitents.
01:17:33 Mary M: I might be off because I missed the reading itself, but it seems like one of those Catholic principles held in tension together, where it's "both and" rather than "either or." It's neither despair over the depth of the gravity of sin nor presumption on the mercy of God, but simultaneously the deepest sorrow and joy in light of the reality of our sin and God's mercy.
01:25:26 Ambrose Little, OP: Seeing it as a mirror of the effects of sin (a kind of picture of hell) is helpful to me.
01:34:11 Rebecca Thérèse: Thank you 🙂
01:34:12 Jeffrey Ott: Thank you so much! Great to be with you all.
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