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Brookline Carmel Bulletin                        

August 20, 1961


Cogitatio Sancta

(Holy Meditation)


Sanctification of Natural Alleviations


Human beings enjoy a unique position in the universe of created things.  Man bridges the gap that separates the world of matter from the world of spirit.  These two elements are so intimately united in human nature that, in order to be philosophically exact, we have to admit that there is no such thing as a ‘dead’ man.  Philosophically, Man is a being who subsists in virtue of a spiritual, immortal soul that vivifies and animates a material body.  A disembodied soul is not a ‘man’; neither is a human body that has been deprived of its quickening spirit.  That the two can be parted in death is not a normal state of affairs.  It is the punishment meted out to the human race as a consequence of Original Sin.


Now it is quite common for us to speak of saving or sanctifying our souls, but we never speak of saving or sanctifying our bodies.  That, of course, is because the moral attributes that constitute a man in a state of holiness reside in the soul, the spiritual, rational element of our nature.  Still, these virtues are made manifest in and through the body; and again, the soul depends upon the cooperation of the body in order to acquire moral perfection.  It would be more exact, therefore, to speak of sanctifying human nature.  At any rate, the welfare of the body has a decided influence upon the welfare of the soul.  Anyone who takes up the task of perfecting himself spiritually must make allowance for the needs of the body.


We have already considered the relationship between work and sanctity.  It now remains to speak of how to care for the body and its needs in such a way as to further the process of growing in holiness.  Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen introduces the term ‘natural alleviations’ into the literature of asceticism, and under it he lumps the various means of satisfying the body’s needs.  He defines them:  those certain comforts and supports of which the body has need in order to maintain itself in good, efficient working order.  They are, to be specific, clothing, shelter, food, rest (sleep), and recreation.


In order to sanctify the use of these things, two things must be observed:  purity of intention and ‘due measure’.  The two are not unrelated, obviously, because the lack of due measure is itself due to the want of a right intention.  One danger inherent in the comforts and supports listed is the pleasure they all, particularly food, sleep and recreation, afford.  God in His Wisdom has attached pleasure to them because, it seems, He wants to insure these necessities are not overlooked.  The pleasure is both an incentive and a reward for fulfilling His Will.  It is wrong, however, to indulge in these things for the sake of the pleasure alone.  We are rational beings.  To be true to our nature, we must, when we perform an act, intend the effect it is designed to achieve.  It is not wrong to rejoice and take delight in the pleasure that is derived from eating, sleeping and recreation – we should in fact be grateful to God and humbly thank Him for it – provided we do not fail to intend the primary effects, namely, to restore strength to the body, psychic energy (morale) to the spirit, and, in general, the enthusiasm and capacity to carry out faithfully and fruitfully our obligations to God and man.  Yes, we need to be healthy in mind and body to fulfill our religious duties, also.  When God formulated His laws, He had healthy people in mind.


There is a possibility of another sinful motive creeping into our intention and vitiating the use we make of natural alleviations.  It is a motive we seldom advert to and it is called “concupiscence of the eyes”.  This motive is rooted in pride.  It issues in seeking that quantity and quality of comfort and alleviation that nourish our inordinate desire to be exalted above the rest of our fellow men.  It is true that desire for something exquisite in the way of food, shelter, clothing and recreation can be prompted by a desire for pleasure of a more subtle and refined type, but most often it is due to the realization that a better than ordinary quality implies a better than ordinary man.  Apparently we need some external circumstance to help justify our tendency to think of ourselves as better than the common herd and our longing for special recognition from our fellow humans.  Fancy house and property; fancy clothes, table fare and expensive forms of recreation supply that evidence.


Clearly, the mere use of natural alleviations of a superior quality does not of itself imply sinfulness.  For it is quite reasonable, rather, fitting and proper, that quality be in proportion to a man’s dignity and stature.  Persons in authority and other dignitaries are expected to live in circumstances in keeping with their high estate.  Likewise, those who by dint of hard work and personal industry have gained for themselves an abundance of material means are entitled to a mark of distinction.  To enjoy natural alleviations of an extra special kind is not out of order for such persons.


There is a virtue which enables a man to observe due measure in the use of the comforts and supports we have been speaking of.  This virtue overcomes the concupiscence of the eyes.  It is the virtue of moderation.  St. Paul tells us:  “Let your moderation be known to all men”.  And Jesus Himself spoke of this virtue when He said:  “Let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven  Moderation adds great luster and charm to the human personality.  It is the setting against which all other good qualities show up to best advantage.  This delightful perfection attracts others to the paths of virtue, and that is what gives God great honor and glory.

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