It’s a common problem in the life of prayer.
Sometimes in meditation, particularly when using spiritual reading, people think they’ve had a prayerful encounter with the Lord because they experience some kind of pleasure. I don’t mean a sensible pleasure or “feeling”, so to speak. Rather, the kind of pleasure that comes more from an increase in knowledge, instead of charity.
And since prayer is the movement of the heart toward God, this can be dangerous.
An over-emphasis upon knowledge leads to pride, instead of the humility necessary to enter into communion with God. “‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up”, says St. Paul (1 Cor 8:1). Knowledge can lead to self-love instead of self-gift because you have turned inward. You end up loving yourself more than God.
This was part of the proud downfall of Adam. He succumbed to the “advice” of the Evil One to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5) (emphasis mine).
True prayer is rooted in love of God and has its end in him.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that knowledge is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. In fact, in The Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena says that “knowledge must precede love.” After all, how can you fall in love with someone you don’t know?
Would you really take some stranger seriously who walked up to you and declared, “I have no idea who you are, but I’m in love with you!” The Doors may have had a hit lyric with “Hello, I love you won’t you tell me your name”, but the idea itself is ludicrous. In fact, taking the time to intentionally grow in your knowledge of God can actually be a demonstration of love.
Study is good! It’s necessary!
Even so, while knowledge provides a firm foundation, it is not the goal. It cannot become a substitute for relationship. Knowledge brings God down towards us, but love draws us up toward God, says the great 20th century Dominican, Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange.
Love is what unites us with God, not knowledge.
Of course, as Catholics, we’re not “either/or” people. It’s a “both/and” faith. Study the faith so that you can increase in love. “We know him,” says 1 John 2:3, “if we keep his commandments.” And the greatest commandment is to love.
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