Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Spiritual Ecstasy

Father John J. Lombardi

"Amor Facit Ecstasans-Love produces ecstasy"
                                         St Thomas Aquinas

Q.: What is a human being? A.: One who is called into union with God, into God-likeness. We humans all tend toward something-seeking happiness and wholeness in the possession of that thing-or person, whether it is money, sexuality or workaholism. May our union be with the Holy Some-One Whom is God, the Most Blessed Trinity. Some people will never find this complete union. Catholics should--they have the sacraments and a treasury of wisdom to guide them!

Jesus says, describing this Divine completion of the Father and us disciples: "On that day you will know I am in the Father and you in Me and I in you" (Jn. 14:20). And: "That all may be one as you Father are in Me, and I in you, that they may be perfected in unity" (17:21). St Augustine said, after pursuing so many false unions: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God".

This unity of the Trinity is what God wants for us-He wants us to find fulfillment in Him. But: we must first realize this and then go out of our selves to be in Him, and practice it all our life long. St Thomas' quote above-"Love produces ecstasy"--illustrates this profound fact-we are, essentially "lovers-seeking-Union". The "love-desire" planted within us comes from some-where and, when made holy (called "sacred desire" by Augustine), coerces us out of ourselves into the right object, person or, ultimately, Persons-God-the Trinity. Our whole life is a learning of this fundamental Truth.

You will likely seek this completion in one of four ways: in another person, in possessions, in experiences, or in God Himself. Which are you choosing? You've heard descriptions of people seeking union: "He's all wrapped up in his work, or: "She's consumed by anger," or: "She swooped me off my feet," or: "His treasure are his possessions." All indicate people trying to find competition and union in wrong places, events, things or persons. The basic dynamic and desire is the same-a craving for union, and an object for fulfillment. Jesus speaks of true desire this way: Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Mt. 5:6).

Remember: Love produces ecstasy. Divine Love is liberating-it frees us from false cravings (such as lust) and hurtful objects of fulfillment (wrong relationships). Conversion is the spiritual process of awakening whereby we learn this-that we have traded God for people or things. Hopefully we learn: Only God can ultimately fulfill-ultimately.

God shows us proper spiritual desire-Jesus Christ goes out of the Heavens and gives Himself to us: In the Incarnation (enfleshment) God is a "going-out-of-Love". Once man sinned, God "went forth" to save and redeem us-showing us the essence of God (God is love-1 Jn. 4: 16). While yet remaining a Trinity, God came in the Son-Christ to redeem, elevate and divinize our fallen nature and wrongful desires. The Incarnation was a kind of ecstasy. Ecstasy means "to stand outside of". Jesus did this Himself and came to us. Since we are created in His image and likeness we are called to imitate this "going outside of"-by adoring Him (leaving our sinful selves behind thru sacred meditation); obeying Him (going out of our selfish selves to embrace His Will), and finding Him in his disguises (going out of our comfort zones to the poor, sick and dying). You see: Life is a constant imitation of God by going out of oneself!

St Thomas says: "Love transforms the lover into the beloved, it makes the lover enter into the interior of the beloved, and conversely, (so that) that nothing of the beloved remain not united to the lover--just as the form comes into the innermost of the thing formed. Likewise the beloved penetrates the lover, coming into this interior; and because of this it is said that love wounds and that it transfixes the lover's passions."

Translated: we become the object we love. Hopefully, the "object" of our desires and love is God! Further, St Thomas implies: We "enter into God, the Beloved- into His "interior," that is, past the veils of previous understanding to deeper levels of love and union. This occurs, though, only when we are pure like the Virgin Mary, and she will help us sing: "My soul magnifies the Lord"-(Lk 1:46). God-the-Beloved then penetrates and "transfixes" us by changing our desires to more pure, Godly ones, helping us to receive and find fulfillment in Him.

So: What are you inordinately seeking and holding onto? Your sins, possessions, selfish self-is this what you want to preserve? Each movement of the false, preservative self alters the God-given dynamic for union with God. Denying or deterring your noble heritage-Union- is not the Way! and prevents the Beloved from fully entering within you, to your innermost region, your soul. God says to Israel and the soul: "Therefore I will allure her, lead her into the desert and speak to her heart" (Hos 2:16). God desires to enter into your soul, your castle within, going outside of Himself-His Glory and transcendence-to come to you. So, rise up, O Soul, spirate above the ramparts and look for your King, Your Beloved Lord! He wants to make you a King or Queen, not a prisoner. He wants to transform you into Himself rather than allow you be imprisoned by selfish desires which will never fulfill. He wants you to partake of His nature and kingly realm. Be transfixed!

The Lord wants nothing left of you not united to Him. What are you ruggedly preserving and promoting to protect against Him? Possessions, fear and selfish desire, and dark mental states, to prevent this burning and piercing by the Beloved? Jesus says: "No one can see the Kingdom without being begotten from above" (Jn. 3:3).

In "spiritual begetting," or rebirth, first comes the penetration: God's Grace and Life visits you and begins to make you supple, capable of receiving Him more. Then comes God's entrance into the interior (of your soul) and this is most foreign to you because of your attachments to past, habitual ways of self-enclosure and wrongful union. St Thomas observes: "it is said that love wounds"-because it is hard to let go and surrender what was previously, supposedly, delightful. You will undergo suffering-for a time, until you learn that this Divine Friend, burning and freeing you (ecstasy) is your Beloved. Then comes the transfixing-the transformation of the passions and emotions into a new way of life: "Behold, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old passed, the new has arrived" (1 Cor. 5:17).

His language is Love and His goal is Union. He will speak to you, progressively in a language you understand, but you must be patient. "May the God of glory grant you a spirit of wisdom and insight to know Him clearly. May He enlighten your innermost vision…" (Eph. 1:17-18).

You are still defending against the Creator-Beloved by your illusion of self-preservation, based upon independent self. This is the constant battle-between self and Sacred Divinity. You must constantly choose for God and not the Three Enemies: Self, Satan or the sensuality of the world, which always promise, but can never deliver, union. For this tumultuous and Trinitarian journey you need Grace! Pray for Grace (which is God's Divine Life) to see false and true unions, deliver you to It and persevere. You cannot do it alone for you will chose false unions throughout this life. Pray for the Holy Spirit-the "Sacred Sender of Grace," to; 1) correct your spiritual vision; 2) open you up to the Beloved's burning and loving visitations; 3) to seal you to the trinity; and 4) help you persevere in a holy Way of life.

What are some false unions? Some unions come and go quicker-such as super bowl frenzies and sports affairs; sensual experiences; a high from sprinting or swimming (endorphin charge)--in all these experiences we are looking for an unitive experience, charged with earthly delights (endorphins surges or sensual gratification) that will fulfill us. They never last. All come and go. However: these point to: 1) the possibility of union in this life; 2) our ceaseless attempts at unity and perpetuating union; 3) union must be possible with someone, somewhere in a more lasting way; and, 4) there must be way to perpetuate this temporal and perpetual unity.

So, beware: there are so many false unions. Here are some in our world: Materialism: this Mammon-centered practice promises unity with possessions- they will never fulfill and, even if they do partially, they will distract and inordinately attachments before true Union with God and others…Sensualist-thru pornography (now a $10 billion a year industry) is mainstreamed and promises union thru libidinal experience. No person or sensual experience can replace the Divine Persons…Drugs-promise chemical alteration of consciousness with flights of fancy and alleged "mental liberation". Problem: we will always have to return to reality and, subverting this is denying, poisoning union with Ultimate Reality. Muslim extremism-we see today radical Islamicists murdering and terrorizing to bring about a Islamic state. They will do anything for this so-called unity. Communism- godless communism promises a unity of man with man and nature without any foundation, except some sinful person's plan (Mao, Stalin or Che Guevara). Communism will not produce unity but only oppresses…

This "urge to merge" --seeking sacred union, is within us, within our culture and world. St Paul writes, "To restore all things in Christ" - (Eph. 1:10,23).

Love is the essence of God (1 Jn. 4:16) and of the Cosmos and people. Therefore: love is the liberating link of man and God. How will you cultivate this?

St Thomas continues his description of Divine Union: "But since nothing can be transformed into another except according as it recedes in a way from its own form…therefore another division precedes this division of penetration, insofar as the lover is separated from himself in tending into the beloved. And according to this, love is said to make ecstasy, and to burn, since that which burns rises [ebullit, "boils over"] outside itself and exhales. Since, however, nothing recedes from itself unless freed from what was containing it within itself, just as a natural thing does not lose [it's] form unless freed from the dispositions whose form was retaining it in matter; therefore, it is necessary that that limit which used to contain it only among its own limits, be removed from the lover. And because of this, love is said to melt [liquefacere] the heart…

You cannot be transformed into God-likeness by keeping the limits of self and sinful ways-these are like iron-vaulted doors preventing the Beloved's entry into your inner citadel, the apex of your soul. There are a seeming infinite array of these diverting doors which clog divine Grace. But be not deterred! God will penetrate you if you allow Him-layer by layer, door by bolted door. St Paul exhorts: "And all of us, gazing upon His glory, are being transformed into His Image, from glory to glory" (II Cor 3:18).

The more you perceive of this transformation the more you will "boil over" and gain your soul. If you're half-human, you will likely want, though, to hold onto the previously freed "containers of self" (because of the "pull" of sensuality), but God's Grace will free you-Love will melt-liquafacere-the previous dispositions of self and castle-like fortress structures you create, if you persevere and surrender them.

There are, then Three Ecstasies we can imitate on our Earthly Sojourn: 1) God-as- He- Is- in- Himself-the inter-dwelling of the three Divine Persons, called circumincession, wherein They dwell within. Each Other. Jesus hints at the Trinity and our participation in It, speaking of the Father: "May I be in them and Thou (Father) in Me that they be perfected in unity" (Jn. 17.21). As the Three Persons are One so may you go out of your daily concerns and become one with other persons. 2) The Incarnation -Jesus coming forth from the Hidden Trinity: come and go forth, then, from your old self and be renewed in Him: "I live, no longer it, but Christ within me" (Gal 1:19-20). 3) Jesus dying on the Cross--Ultimate Love and Death pouring forth His Divinity to save souls-Stand outside yourself and under the Cross and receive His Blood and redemption: ". All three "manifestations" of God show us: the need to go out of self and supposed boundaries of limitation, and that our ultimate meaning in life is to practice this outgoing ecstasy on earth-so as to "partake of his divine nature" (II Pt 1:4) and so be prepared and ready for eternal beatitude, hopefully, in Heaven

How to deepen union with God? Crosses will help us be purified-when we embrace trials and tribulations we will "boil over" from our normal imprisoning limitations of self and rise above them to new ranges of soul-powers. How can you embrace more crosses to allow God with His spiritual scalpel to carve out of you, and make you more like Him?

Charity-when we go out to the other-Jesus in His disguises of the poor, sick and dying, we lose our normal clinging selves. How can you give more to lose more of yourself? Contemplation: When we more deeply pray we allow God to melt within use anything left remaining that is other than Him…How and when will you pray more? The Love that you cultivate within you, by Grace, will help you lose yourself and grow into ecstasy, and into God-likeness.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi