The strength of the soul consists in its faculties, passions, and desires, all of which are governed by the will. Now when these faculties, passions, and desires are directed by the will toward God and turned away from all that is not God, then the strength of the soul is kept for God, and thus the soul is able to love God with all its strength.” — St. John of the Cross
I believe St. John of the Cross was one of the most insightful spiritual directors to have ever lived. He acquired his understanding not just through the cognitive abilities of his mind but also through listening to the Spirit of God speaking to his heart.
I believe St. John had a good grasp of the difference between willfulness and willingness. We human beings are born with a drive toward willfulness which, if left to its own devices, would make us selfish, manipulative human beings.
We human beings are broken. We are socialized into a world that is broken. We are destined to a fate of believing lies, deceptions, illusions, and deteriorations leading to an eternity of inescapable suffering. It is this brokenness that opens us destructive attitudes within ourselves and to hostile, diabolical influences from without. What is really frightening is that many, many, people have no idea they are in this state. If it were not for the grace of God who continually tries to reach us and guide us we would be without hope.
If you believe you have, can have, or will have any real control over faculties, passions, and desires then you have entered the most deceptive way of thinking, feeling, and behaving known to humanity. You have entered the world of fools, illusions, and spiritual victims.
St. John of the Cross is someone who understands this reality. He is one who struggled with his own arrogance and ignorance. He struggled with the human responsibility to allow the Spirit of God take us from willfulness to willingness. St. John learned that only God could help us overcome the faulty thinking that works against us.
This is how this thinking works. We think that keeping the three aspects of our lives that St. John mentions should not be that hard. How hard could it be to keep our faculties in check, after all, our thought are of our own creation aren’t they (this is where deception has the upper hand)? And our passions, how difficult could it be to let them know that we are the boss instead of them? And lastly, desires of the things we want or think we want should not be that difficult to control by our will. If we adopt this kind of thinking we are likely already trapped.
In this state, the darkness that hunts us will used to our corrupted state to present us with apparent pleasures, leading individuals to imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more in their control and make a person grow in their vices and sins.
Thankfully, we have an Advocate. God, the Spirit strives to awaken us to this danger by bothering and reminding our consciences of the emptiness and discomfort that comes from this state. God gives us the grace to respond and thus to change. God also encourages us to grow in willingness that can aid us from falling back into the darkness.
Let these words remind us of what we need, “When the Advocate comes, the Advocate will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (Jn. 16:8-11)
The path of willingness comes with this promise, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn. 14:26-27 NIV) Reflecting and meditating upon these words can be of great help as we seek God’s will and not our own.