The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

‘Tolle lege!’

Sunday, 26 March 2017, 08:34 Last update: about 3 years ago

During this privileged time of Lent, a time certainly full of God's favour for all of us, provided that we collaborate with his unfailing and patient grace, a friend of mine introduced me to one of the greatest books ever written in the history of Christian spirituality. This book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent written by St John Climacus (Klímax), has been frequently dubbed in the West as the "Ladder of Paradise" (PG 88, 632-1164).


What is this great spiritual treatise all about? The Ladder of Divine Ascent is simply a detailed path that a monk needs to undergo if he really wants to be completely transformed into the dazzling light of Jesus Christ. The Ladder clearly shows that if the monk wants to reach the Heavenly Jerusalem, his roadmap should necessarily lead him to renounce the world, in all its types and manners, until he arrives safely in the perfection of love. In Step 30, among other things, John describes this kind of love in the following way: "Love bestows prophecy; love yields miracles; love is an abyss of illumination; love is a fountain of fire - in the measure that it bubbles up, it inflames the thirsty soul. Love is the state of angels. Love is the progress of eternity" (Step 30: 35).

The spiritual journey on which the monk is expected to embark is marked by 30 steps, each one of them interconnected with the one that comes after. The addressees of this outstanding work are monks who are living in community. However, since the Apostle rightly encourages us that "the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6), all Christians are, indeed, the real readers of The Ladder. Irrespective of whether one is a monk or married, gay or straight, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, man or woman, every one of us is called to let the Spirit of God sanctify him or her.

The Ladder is a practical guide to help those who would like to advance in their spiritual life. The way it is composed illustrates that this book serves provides an insight to those who are struggling to follow Jesus Christ. In Step 25, the author writes: "He who thinks that it is possible to use the visible word in order to describe the sensation and effect of the love of the Lord exactly, holy humility gracefully, blessed purity truly, divine enlightenment clearly, the fear of God honestly, assurance of heart sincerely, and imagines that by his description of things of this kind he will enlighten those who have never actually experienced them, is like a man who by words and comparisons wants to give an idea of the sweetness of honey to people who have never tasted it. But just as the latter talks in vain, not to say babbles, so the former either gives the impression of having no experience of what he is talking about, or else has become the mere toy of vainglory" (Step 25:1).

Being an invitation for the reader to help him/her grow interiorly with God, The Ladder aims to inculcate in the reader the spirit of humility and purity of heart. Step 25 says: "Know, beloved, that the valleys shall stand deep in corn and spiritual fruit. This valley is a soul low and humble among the mountains, that is, it is filled with labours and virtues, and always remains lowly and steadfast. David did not say, 'I have fasted', 'I have kept vigil', or 'I have lain on the bare earth', but 'I humbled myself, and soon the Lord saved me'" (Step 25:14).

Two phrases that really struck a chord in my heart are these two: "As you go on your way, arm yourself with prayer. When you reach the place, stretch out your hands. Flog your enemies with the name of Jesus, for there is no stronger weapon in heaven or earth. When you get rid of the disease (of fear), praise Him who has delivered you. If you continue to be thankful, He will protect you for ever" (Step 21:7). In addition, "let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath, and then you will know the value of solitude" (Step 27:61).

In the words of St Augustine: Tolle lege! (Take and read)."

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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