Why is spiritual detachment necessary?


Have you made an idol out of chocolate? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In my post last week we defined spiritual detachment as getting rid of our selfish clinging to things or persons other than God in response to His love for us. Today I would like to address why detachment is necessary.

St. John of the Cross, co-founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and a doctor of the Church, wrote, “The soul that desires God to surrender Himself to it entirely must surrender itself to Him without keeping anything for itself.” Wouldn’t you like to have God completely give Himself to you, holding nothing back? Then you must give yourself completely to Him. When you keep God at arm’s length, you cannot grow very close to Him!

Likewise, if your soul is full of earthly things, you leave no room for God. Consuming spiritual junk food leaves no room for what really nourishes us. Only God can satisfy our longing for happiness. The more we try to make ourselves happy through material things and other people, the less happy we will be. We were made for union with God. Nothing less will suffice.

Disordered attachments equal idols

Attachments are a kind of idolatry. When we are unwilling to let go of our grasp on things, even for the sake of God, we have made a little god out of them.  We are implicitly saying that they are at least as important to us as God is.

Are you often distracted during prayer? When a friend or family member speaks to you, do you find your mind wandering to your own concerns? Sometimes this is a result of wrong attachments.

We have not learned how to trust God with our lives, so we are not at peace. We have constant worries and preoccupations. They sap our energy and weaken our relationships with God and other people.

You can’t see God (or anything) clearly with a log in your eye

File:The Enthroned Trinity as Three Identical Figures.jpg

The Enthroned Trinity as Three Identical Figures (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Attachments also cloud our vision.  Jesus said we need to remove the plank from our eye in order to see clearly. That plank might be sin, or it might be attachments. Our ability to give good advice and real help to other people is jeopardized by them. (See Matthew 7:3-5.)

Finally, no one can see God face-to-face in Heaven, if he is attached to something else. We must be absolutely pure and God-focused first. Being purged from our inordinate attachments is not optional. That is where Purgatory comes in. The more tightly we cling to things while on earth, the longer and harder our Purgatory will be. Since we have to be purged sooner or later, why not—as St. Teresa of Ávila was fond of saying—make a virtue of necessity, and start the process now? Wouldn’t being at peace immediately after death be worth the price of letting go of things that can never make us happy anyway?

Are there things that are holding you back from God? What would be difficult for you to give up? It might be as small as a cup of coffee or as big as a close friendship. Take some time today to meditate on this.  Now is the moment to start letting go, so you can grasp more firmly onto God.

Connie Rossini

Share with us: What are you struggling to let go of? What practical steps are you taking to be less attached?



About Connie Rossini

Connie Rossini gives whole families practical help to grow in holiness. She is the author of Trusting God with St. Therese and the free ebook Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life. She writes a spirituality column for The Catholic Voice of the Diocese of Omaha, Nebraska, and blogs at Contemplative Homeschool. She is also a columnist for SpiritualDirection.com. Connie and her husband Dan have four young sons.
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8 Responses to Why is spiritual detachment necessary?

  1. SaintlySages says:

    For the more fervent, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between inordinate attachments and legitimate duties toward people and things that God has placed in our care. God bless!

    • Hmm, that’s an interesting observation. Some people are naturally more moved by things, people, and events than the rest of us. Some have a greater need for friendships. Some display more emotion. To an outsider, it might look like attachment. But it seems to me that in their own hearts they could tell the difference as easily as anyone else. (Perhaps I’m mistaken.) As I wrote, I think what distracts you in prayer and in conversation with others gives a good indication of what’s most important to you. Loving and caring for people is not inordinate attachment. Skipping prayer to meet a friend for coffee might be. Loving beauty and wanting to beautify your house is not wrong. Having a lot of possessions you don’t need and resisting the idea of giving them up might be attachment too. A spiritual director is invaluable to help us discern these things!

  2. Gabbi says:

    It is a constant, changing spiritual chore to find the proper use of material goods. I recall a story involving St. Francis in which he was distracted during prayer by a little vase someone had given him. He ended up throwing it to the floor. The beauty of the vase was not enough to keep it since it kept his mind off of his prayer.

    If we see ourselves as children before the Lord, I think He is pleased with our efforts and constant turning toward Him.

    • Great story! Most of us would think it was disrespectful of the feelings of the giver to smash his gift. You’re right that this challenge never goes away. Our culture is so materialistic (after all, a lot of people have no spiritual life, no healthy relationships, so goods are all they have). We’re all influenced by that. I like what you say about our efforts. God’s not standing over trying to find something wrong He can correct. He’s always looking for the good He can reward.

  3. George says:

    The late Fr. Anthony DeMello had a fabulous series called Awareness in which he describes attachments as the source of our unhappiness. It is not as though we have to do anything to be happy. Happiness, he would say, is not something to be sought after or something we can “find”. Why? Because we already have it. The problem is that we are all the time covering it up with our attachments – attachments to people and things like money reputation, the opinion of others, etc. Drop your attachments and you are left with pure, undiluted happiness. Meditative prayer or contemplation (awareness) is the key!

  4. Ricky says:

    I am most attached to emotions, a sense of belonging, feeling of a good conversation with someone, the experience of being part of something, the warm feeling that comes from being needed and helping someone else, and the excitement of exploring something new. When these things are absent in my day, I feel an emptiness, sadness, a desire to do nothing.
    I wonder how others might work through this awareness and create the energy and joy that is truly present?

    • It sounds like this attachment may be grounded in your temperament, and you can’t change your temperament. But you can start to detach from feelings by pursuing the love of God above all else. The more you meditate on the Gospels in prayer, the more you will learn to truly love Jesus, and other desires will start to fade. However, it will take going through the passive night of the senses before you can be completely detached from emotions. God will lead you through this night when you have done all you can to overcome habitual sin through prayer and common actual grace. In the passive night, all consolation in prayer is removed, so that you learn to seek Jesus for Himself alone, rather than any feelings, insights, or inspirations you gain in prayer You will find that your peace and joy come from pursuit of Him alone. It’s a gradual process. We cannot overcome these attachments without contemplative graces.

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