Skip to comments.What Attachments are, and what they are not.
Posted on 07/03/2014 2:00:26 AM PDT by markomalley
For most of us, attachments to this world are THE struggle that most hinders our spiritual growth. 80% of the Spiritual life is a battle about desire and the fundamental question: What do you want most, the world and its pleasures, or God and his Kingdom? So easily this world gets its hooks into us and we are attached to it. It is hard to break free from inordinate desires.
But what are attachments, and what are they not? Are there ways we can distinguish attachments from ordinary and proper desires? What are the signs they we are too attached to some one or something? To address questions like these, I want to turn to a great teacher of mine in matters spiritual, Fr. Thomas Dubay. Father died a little over a year ago, but he left us a great legacy of teaching through his books, audio recordings and programs at EWTN. In addressing these questions I would like to summarize what he teaches in his spiritual classic Fire Within in which he expounds on the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
Here then are some excerpts (pages 133-135). Fathers teaching is in bold, black italics. My own poor remarks are in plain text red. You may wish to read only Fr. Dubays text to begin with, and only read my additions it you think you want elaboration.
I. WHAT ATTACHMENT IS NOT for sometimes it is easier to say what a thing is not prior to saying what it is. In this Fr. Dubay disabuses us of wrongful and sometimes puritanical notions that are neither biblical nor Catholic since they reject as bad what God has made as good, and as a blessing. Scripture says, God created [things] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:3-4).
1. First of all, attachment is not the experiencing of pleasure in things, not even keen, intense pleasure. The complete avoidance of pleasure is neither possible nor advisable in human life ..There is no doubt that the pleasures of the five senses easily lead to a selfish clinging to them for their own sakes, but nonetheless, the pleasures themselves are not blameworthy. God made them, and they are good.
The remarks here are very balanced. Of itself, taking pleasure in what God has made is a kind of thanksgiving and surely an appreciation of what God has created and given.
Yet, due to our fallen nature, we must be sober that our experience of pleasure, like all our passions, can become unruly, improperly directed and take on a life of its own. Pleasures can divert our attention from the giver to the gift alone, if we are not mindful to look beyond the gift to the giver and the purpose He intends.
Consider that a husband properly enjoys intense pleasure in his intimate experiences with his wife. Properly understood, there is little way he can NOT enjoy this, other things being equal. But these intimate moments have a meaning beyond themselves. They summon him to greater intimacy, appreciation and love for his wife, and ultimately, for the God who created her. Further these moments draw him to share his love and appreciation through an openness to the fruit this love will bear in his children.
Hence the gift of intimacy is wonderful and to be enjoyed to the top, but it is not an end in itself. When it becomes its own end, and exists in our mind only for its own sake, we are on the way to attachment and idolatry.
2. Nor is possessing or using things an attachment to them. We must all make use of things in this world to accomplish what God has given us to do. God is surely pleased to equip us with what we need to do his will, to build the Kingdom, and to be of help to others.
3. Nor is being attracted, even mightily attracted, to a beautiful object or person an unhealthy attachment. As a matter of fact, we should be drawn to the splendors of creation, for that is a compliment to the supreme Artist. Saints were and are strongly attracted to the glories of the divine handiwork and especially to holy men and women, the pinnacles of visible creation.
A gift to pray for is the gift of wonder and awe, wherein we appreciate and are joyful in Gods glory displayed in the smallest and hidden things, as well as the greatest and most visible things. We are also summoned to a deep love, appreciation and attraction to the beauty, humor and even quirkiness displayed in one another.
But here too these things are meant to point to God, they are not ends in themselves. And it sometimes happens that we fail to connect the dots, as St. Augustine classically describes: Late have I love you, O Beauty, so ancient, and yet so new! Too late did I love You! For behold, You were within, and I without, and there did I seek You; I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those things kept me far from You, which, unless they were in You, would not exist. (Confessions 10.27)
So, once again, to be attracted by beauty is, of itself, good. But it is not an end. It is a sign pointing to the even greater beauty of God and his higher gifts.
II. WHAT ATTACHMENT IS St John of the Cross [observes] that if anyone is serious about loving God totally, he must willingly entertain no self-centered pursuit of finite things sought for themselves, that is, devoid of honest direction to God, our sole end and purpose. St. Paul makes exactly the same point when he tells the Corinthians that whatever they eat or drink, or whatever else they do they are to do all for the glory of God
.. (1 Cor 10:31)
St John of the Cross explicitly states that he is speaking of voluntary desires and not natural ones for the latter are, little or no hindrance to advanced prayer as long as the will does not intervene with a selfish clinging. By natural desires the saint has in mind, for example, a felt need for water when we are thirsty, for food when hungry, for rest when fatigued. There is no necessary disorder in experiencing these needs .to eradicate these natural inclinations and, to mortify them entirely is impossible in this life.
Of course even natural desires can become unruly and exaggerated wherein we seek to overly satisfy them and they become ends in themselves. Fr. Dubay makes this point later. St. Paul also had to lament that there were some whose god was their belly and who had their mind set only on worldly things (cf Phil 3:19)
[More problematic and] especially damaging to normal development are what John calls, habitual appetites, that is, repeated and willed clingings to things less than God for their own sake. And here we come to some critical distinctions.
[W]e may ask when a desire becomes inordinate and therefore harmful. I would offer three clear signs.
1. The first is that the activity or thing is diverted from the purpose God intends for it. And this is very common today with sex and with many matters related to the body.
2. The second sign is excess in use. As soon as we go too far in eating, drinking, recreating, speaking or working, we show that there is something disordered in our activity. We cannot honestly direct to the glory of God what is in excess of what He wills. Hence, a person who buys more clothes than needed is attached to clothing. One who overeats is clinging selfishly to food.
Yes, beer, for example, is a sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy. A couple of beers is gratitude, ten beers is a betrayal. God gives in abundance to be sure, but more so that we can share with the needy and the poor, than that we should selfishly cling to it our self as though it existed as its own end.
Sharing spreads Gods glory, as St Paul says, All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Cor 4:15) And again, You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (2 Cor 9:11). Thus the abundance of God is directed to the spreading of his glory and to the widening of thanksgiving, NOT as an end itself, that we should hoard it. Gods gifts point back to Him not to themselves.
3. The third sign of attachment is making means into ends. We have one sole purpose in life: the ultimate, enthralling vision of the Trinity in glory, in our risen body. Everything else is meant in the divine plan to bring us and others to this final embrace with Beauty and Love. As soon as honesty requires us to admit that this eating or that travel, this television viewing or that purchase is not directly or indirectly aimed at Father, Son and Spirit, we have made ourselves into an idol. We are clearly clinging to something created for our own self-centered sake.
This is often the hardest of the three to discern but I think the heart of the difference between a thing becoming an end rather than a means, is the question of gratitude. How consciously grateful are we to God for the things and pleasures we enjoy? Do they intensify our gratitude or do they merely distract us from thinking about God?
Further, do they help me in my journey upward to God or do they merely root me more deeply in this passing world?
Another (scary) question is, How easily could I give this up if I discovered that it was hindering me from God or that God no longer wanted it in my life? This is hard, because we really enjoy certain things. But the key question is not that we enjoy them, but whether they honestly lead us to God. And we must be honest about this, avoiding puritanical notions, but also avoiding self justifying ones.
Here too, an important thing to seek from God is not that we merely give up things with a sour face and bad attitude, but that we actually start to prefer good things in moderation over distracting things in excess. If we let God go to work, the good begins to crowd out the bad in an incremental, growing way.
[Therefore:] an attachment is a willed seeking of something finite for its own sake. It is an unreal pursuit, an illusory desire. Nothing exists except for the sake of God who made all things for Himself. Any other use is a distortion.
Msgr Pope ping
This is one of the best Christian/religion/philosophy posts I’ve seen posted here -> merely because of the very subject matter itself, but then the treatment is correct.
A few hundred years before Christ arrived (and, implicitly, and actually, since the dawn of the first amoeba, the ground was being prepared.) That is, there was religious thought developing which, had it not developed, Christ would have appeared to living beings as ‘just another living being who was born and died’ ... if even that.
St. Augustine was not just a monk with a few profound insights that are nice to remember. “Whatever is exposed to the light, itself becomes the light.”
The question, then, is, what exactly is this light, what is its nature. As a ‘word’ or ‘symbol’, to what does it point, whence arises it.
This light is ‘awareness in the moment.’ Another way to characterize it might be ‘a non-grasping (non-attached) effortless concentration in the moment, and only in the moment. (Another way to characterize ‘only in the moment’ is ‘having no time’ and therefore ‘eternal.’ ... because eternal doesn’t mean ‘infinity time’ ... it means ‘unbounded by time’ - or ‘no presence of time’ - better still - ‘there is no such thing as time - short or long.’
This goes to the core mistake (sin using the meaning “to miss the mark” - as opposed to the moral/ethical treatment of sin) of attachment.
In short, attachment, or the time bound (non-eternal) desire for a thought object, is, itself, suffering. It is not good or bad, strictly speaking. It is, itself, suffering. Attachment doesn’t cause suffering. It is itself suffering.
Therefore, there is no reason to feel guilty for being attached, nor to feel good for non-attachment. Attachment is already its own punishment (so don’t punish yourself twice - you are already suffering.)
Attachment, time-bound desire, clinging, attraction as lust, aversion as fear: nothing to feel guilty for. because ‘already suffering.’
The experience, itself, of attachment is already suffering.
This is why a joyous experience, if it is sought, is in itself suffering. However, the experience itself is devoid of suffering. (This is why all sin is forgiven ... except, of course, if one is attached via attraction or aversion to the memory of the sin.)
Attachment IS, ITSELF, a final gate to Heaven. Paradoxically, as are most of the gates, attachment is, itself, illusion. It is not that it isn’t real. It is. But its essence, its eternal nature, is not suffering. Paradoxically, its essence is light. Just, as it turns out, is everything else.
So it is very important to distinguish between experience and attachment. Anything longed for will lead to suffering. Anything avoided will lead to suffering. Longing and Avoidance are time-bound constructs. Anything with time-bound nature will lead to suffering - whether perceived as good (lust) or bad (fear.)
So what the heck, then, are you supposed to do? You can not long, nor can you avoid?
This is turning everything, “every thing” over to God, including space, time, and every thing that occurs bounded in space and time, and this is why no man can save himself. Attachment, even to salvation, is an uncrossable barrier to salvation.
In the meantime, if mind is any help at all in seeking God, mind should be put to the task of unravelling illusion. All desire and all fear is attachment.
(That is why the ‘apple’ was the apple of the knowledge of good and evil, or the attachment to good and evil. Desire for ‘good’ will lead to suffering. Desire for ‘bad’ will lead to suffering.)
The lily neither spins nor toils. (no attachment to good, no attachment to bad.) In this state, it manifests beauty, or light. Possessing no grasped nature, it is only what it is. Desire the lily, and you will suffer.
It is one of the most delicate paradoxes.
How can one experience God, but not desire God, cling to God, be attached to God? Any of these three will lead to suffering, is suffering, just as certainly as fear, avoidance, disgust with Satan, will cause suffering, is suffering.
What can you do? Anything you ‘do’ is suffering. Spinning is suffering. Toiling is suffering. This is ‘The World’ as Jesus called it, into which we are born, each moment. ‘The World’ is, itself, suffering. But the rejection of this ‘The World” is, itself, suffering.
What can you do?
Another good Msgr Pope column. And on a topic you’ve often addressed: This is not our world, what keeps souls attached to it and “where our treasure lies.”
That’s a very interesting post, it may be interesting to read more elaboration (as I may be missing something) but I must take issue with the following:
“(That is why the apple was the apple of the knowledge of good and evil, or the attachment to good and evil. Desire for good will lead to suffering. Desire for bad will lead to suffering.)
The lily neither spins nor toils. (no attachment to good, no attachment to bad.) In this state, it manifests beauty, or light. Possessing no grasped nature, it is only what it is. Desire the lily, and you will suffer.”
Two things: I think we can all agree that suffering is bad.
Assuming that is an agreeable axiom, then I object to the following assertion:
Desire for good will lead to suffering. Desire for bad will lead to suffering.
What these two statements clearly force, is that therefore all desire is bad. (Again, assuming we can and do agree suffering is bad)
But this notion (that all desire is bad) is precisely not Father’s point/claim above. Indeed if I may expound briefly, all desire is a desire for Christ. Even disordered desires. This is because our desires are never fully satisfied, and thus, in an objective way, point to (indeed require) Christ as their fulfillment.
So in this way, desire itself isn’t “bad”. No matter what desire you’re talking about. It only becomes bad when (as you correctly say) we “sin” (or miss the mark) with them. And what is the mark?
Again, their only solution: Jesus Christ.
What you have described in your post does not seem like Christianity (at least not Catholic Christianity), it seems like Buddhism. Buddhists also claim all desire is bad. Especially a desire for beautiful things like the example you used with the lily.
You seem to be advocating a detachment from all things created which is again not Father’s point above. Indeed all things are good (in the Christian religion) precisely because they were created by God. Thus as Father says, it’s not “bad” to have an attachment to things, only a disordered attachment is destructive.
Thanks to you and to Msgr. Pope. This line alone was worth the price of admission:
“... an important thing to seek from God is not that we merely give up things with a sour face and bad attitude, but that we actually start to prefer good things in moderation over distracting things in excess.”
FRegards, and GOD’s blessings on you, in JESUS’ name
Correction: I should have said: “It’s not bad to have a desire for things. Only a disordered desire for things is bad.”
I detect a whiff of Buddhism in your brief treatise.
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Advocating a detachment from everything (even FR) —
AND an attachment to ONLY God. Isn’t this what he is talking about?
We are going to suffer in this world, regardless.
If you mean that's what tinyowl was saying, yes quite possibly. I don't know for certain.
We are going to suffer in this world, regardless.
That is true absolutely. The question I was raising was "why" do we suffer: I maintain it is not because of our desires rather because our desires (which are infinite)'remain unfulfilled here on earth. No matter what we do we can never have "enough". In this way, our desires are a tool that point to Christ because only he can truly satisfy them. Thus, in this way it can be said all desire is a desire for Christ. Recognizing this objective fact of our collective human nature goes a long way in helping every man realize his destiny which is in Christ. If one is not honest with oneself, this fact will never become evident.
This is also how it can be said quite accurately that the Church offers freedom: freedom not only from sin but also freedom to be truly what God created us to be. Which is freedom to be our true self, not some fake person suppressing his desire for the sake of society, or moralism, or for any other sake or reason outside. But a real person who knows who he is, what he is, and what he is meant to be, which is in Christ, loving Christ, this is our destiny. This is precisely freedom when we embrace our destiny freely.
God created us with infinite desire precisely to help us realize Christ is our destiny and thus, who we should strive for. Who we should be only attached to. Thus desire isn't bad, only when they are disordered and we allow this disorder to rule us, define us, are they bad.
Msgr. Pope supports his bishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who insists on committing the mortal sin of giving Communion to pro-abortion politicians, and punishes priests who refuse to commit this same mortal sin.
What do you mean by he “supports” Cardinal Wurl? Is obedience to one’s bishop support of said bishop’s sin? Has Msgr Pope personally given Holy Communion to openly pro-abort politicians?
Thanks for the ping. This is very good, indeed.
He has, in writing, supported Wuerl’s “pastoral approach” to the issue—i.e, giving Communion to pro-abortion politicians.
He has called pointing out that Wuerl’s policy is gravely sinful “causing scandal.”
No priest is required by his promise of obedience to commit sin. There is absolutely nothing admirable about a priest’s joining his bishop in sin. A bishop who commands priests to commit sin, and punishes any who disobey, is abusing his office—in a gravely sinful manner.
I have no idea whether Msgr. Pope has ever given Communion to a pro-abort. I know he has never refused Communion to a pro-abort politician, because:
If he had ever REFUSED Communion to a pro-abort, Wuerl would have suspended him, as he suspended Fr. Guarnizo for refusing to give Communion to a public lesbian.
The attachment to good or bad being the same thing.
The desire for good and bad being the same thing.
It’s not that ‘bad’ isn’t ‘bad’. It’s that attachment to “not bad” gives rise to suffering.
It’s the ‘desire’ and the ‘attachment’ that cause suffering. Bad in itself may cause the experience of pain. Good in itself may cause the experience of joy.
Attachment to either. Desire for either. This is the realm of The World, not Heaven. In Heaven, there is no good or bad, no either. The key words, then, are ‘desire’ and ‘attachment’. Normally we think the key words are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ... or ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
It sounds like semantic tricks, and it sounds a little like Buddhism, but Buddhism is totally misinterpreted anyway.
But it’s not. The trap that keeps us in The World is locating our souls within a time bound, space bound architecture.
I promise I’m not playing semantic tricks - I’m very sincere.
What all this points to - and it can only point - is beyond concepts, words anyway. I believe that’s why (I think) even Judeo-Christian traditions at times have held that to even speak His name is in itself to miss the mark.
Suffering is itself not bad. The experience of it is unpleasant, and we may not want it. But in itself it is not bad. It says “Wake Up! You are going in the wrong direction.” Without it, the starving person would not eat, the spiritually corrupt person would not change, even the good man would not know that The World is not where peace is to be found.
This whole conversation takes a life time. I take no issue with your last paragraphs ... I agree with them in fact in the context you’re using the words.
This spiritual stuff ... very difficult to use words ... because from above, my property is ‘down’ ... it is also ‘down’ from a man in China. But China is down from me, and I am ‘down’ from China.
So all those sentences are true, all the words are true, yet they are totally contradictory. Words are in the realm of The World, ultimately can never be trusted because they change based on where one is standing. So yeah ...
“Again, their is only solution: Jesus Christ.”
Yes, but not ultimately those words, rather, what those words point to, which is nameless.
I’m going to shut up now. I don’t disagree with a single word in the Bible (I disagree with many interpretations of the Bible), but I know I’m skating on thin ice to discuss it these ways. Just food for thought - for chewing or spitting out if it tastes bad. And not a word of it is to veer from traditional teaching. I’m no Saint, but I care about these things deeply.
I disagree with with your statement that Msgr Pope supports Cardinal Wuerl.
Upon ordination, Msgr made a promise of obedience to his Bishop, Cardinal Wuerl.
Obedience does not equate to support as you cannot know what Msgr Pope has said in disagreement or protest when one-on-one with the Cardinal.
Obedience does not equal support.
Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam
“Two things: I think we can all agree that suffering is bad.”
Suffering can be penance for our sins.
Suffering can temper our steel.
Suffering, including the humiliation of illness, can open our minds to new ways of seeing things.
The Earth is a device put here to give us the opportunity to become worthy to spend eternity with God.
Without suffering, the device does not function.
Unless bad things can happen to good people for no apparent reason, the device does not function.
I am convinced that God has an entirely different perspective on suffering, and even death, than do we mortals.