CONTAINING NECESSARY ADVICES AGAINST THE MOST ORDINARY TEMPTATIONS.
THAT WE MUST DISREGARD THE CENSURES OF WORLDLINGS.
AS soon as the children of this world perceive that you desire to follow a devout life they will discharge arrows of mockery and detraction against you without number. The most malicious will attribute your change to hypocrisy, bigotry, and artifice. They will say that, being frowned upon and rejected by the world, you fly for refuge to God. Your friends will make a thousand remonstrances, which they imagine to be very wise and charitable. They will tell you that you will fall into some melancholy humor; that you will lose your credit in the world, and make yourself insupportable; you will grow old before your time; your domestic affairs will suffer; you must live in the world like one in the world; salvation may be had without so many mysteries; and a thousand similar impertinencies.
Dear Philothea! what is all this but foolish and empty babbling? These people are not interested in your health or affairs. "If you had been of the world," says our blessed Saviour, "the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you." St. John xv. 19. We have seen gentlemen and ladies pass the whole night, nay, many nights, together at chess or cards; and can there be any attention more absurd, stupid, or gloomy, than that of gamesters? And yet worldlings say not a word, nor do friends ever trouble themselves about them; but should they spend an hour in meditation, or rise in the morning a little earlier than ordinary to prepare themselves for communion, every one would run to the physician to cure them of hypochondriacal humors and vapors. These persons can pass thirty nights in dancing without experiencing any inconvenience; but for watching only one Christmas night every one coughs, and complains that he is sick the next morning. Who sees not that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and favorable to its own children, but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God?
We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with the world; it is so whimsical that it is impossible to satisfy it. "John came neither eating nor drinking," says our Saviour, "and you say he hath a devil. The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and you say: Behold a man that is a glutton, and a drinker of wine." St. Luke vii. 33. It is true, Philothea, that if, through condescension, we consent to laugh, play, or dance with the world, the world will be scandalized at us; and if we do not it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress gayly, the world will say that we do so for some evil end; if we neglect our dress, it will impute it either to meanness or avarice. Our mirth will be termed dissoluteness, and our mortification sullenness; and as the world thus looks upon us with an evil eye, we can never be agreeable to it. It aggravates our imperfections, publishing them as sins; it makes our venial sins mortal, and our frailties sins of malice. Charity is benevolent and kind, says St. Paul, but the world is malicious; charity thinks no evil, whereas, the world, on the contrary, always thinks evil, and when it cannot condemn our actions it will accuse our intentions. So that whether the sheep have horns or not, whether they be white or black, the wolf will not hesitate to devour them, if he can.
Whatever we do, the world will wage war against us. If we remain long at confession, it will wonder how we can have so much to say; if we stay but a short time, it will say, we have not confessed all our sins. It will observe all our motions, and for one word of anger that we utter it will protest that our temper is insupportable; the care of our affairs will be called covetousness, and our meekness, folly. But as for the children of the world, their anger is called generosity; their avarice, economy; their familiarities, honorable entertainments: spiders always spoil the work of the bees.
Let us turn a deaf ear to this blind world, Philothea; let it cry as long as it pleases, like an owl, to disturb the birds of the day. Let us be constant in our designs, and invariable in our resolutions. Our perseverance will demonstrate whether we have, in good earnest, sacrificed ourselves to God and dedicated ourselves to a devout life. Comets and planets appear to be almost of an equal light; but as comets are only certain fiery exhalations which pass away, and after a short time disappear, whereas planets remain in perpetual brightness; so hypocrisy and true virtue have a great resemblance in their external appearance, but they are easily distinguished from each other; because hypocrisy cannot long subsist, but is quickly dissipated like smoke, whereas true virtue is always firm and constant.
It contributes highly to the security of devotion, at the beginning, to suffer reproaches and calumny on its account, since we thus avoid the dangers of pride and vanity, which may be compared to the midwives of Egypt, who had been ordered by the cruel Pharaoh to kill the male children of the Israelites on the very day of their birth. As we are crucified to the world, the world ought to be crucified to us; since worldlings look upon us as foolish, let us regard them in the same light.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
THAT WE MUST ALWAYS HAVE GOOD COURAGE.
LIGHT, though it be beautiful and lovely to our eyes, nevertheless dazzles them after we have been long in the dark. Before we become familiar with the inhabitants of any country, no matter how courteous and gracious they may be, we find ourselves at a loss amongst them. It may probably happen, Philothea, that this general farewell, which you have bid to the follies and vanities of the world, may make some impressions of sadness and discouragement on your mind. If this should be the case, have a little patience, I pray, for these impressions will soon disappear. It is but a little strangeness, occasioned by novelty; when it shall have passed away you will feel ten thousand consolations.
It may perhaps be painful to you at first to renounce that praise which your vanities extorted from foolish worldlings; but would you, for the sake of this insignificant reward, forfeit that eternal glory with which God will assuredly recompense you? The vain amusements, in which you have hitherto employed your time, will again represent themselves to allure your heart, and invite it to return to them; but can you resolve to renounce eternal happiness for such deceitful fooleries? Believe me, if you persevere, you will quickly receive consolations, so delicious and agreeable that they will force you to acknowledge that the world has nothing but gall in comparison of this honey, and that one day of devotion is preferable to a thousand years expended in all the pleasures that the world can afford.
But you see the mountain of Christian perfection is exceedingly high. O my God! you say, how shall I be able to ascend? Courage, Philothea! When the young bees begin to assume their form we call them nymphs; as yet they are unable to fly to the flowers, the mountains, or the neighboring hills, to gather honey; but, by continuing to feed on the honey which the old ones have prepared, their wings appear, and they acquire sufficient strength to fly and seek their food all over the country. It is true we are as yet but nymphs, or little bees, in devotion, and consequently unable to fly so high as to reach the top of Christian perfection; but yet, as our desires and resolutions begin to assume a form, and our wings begin to grow, we may reasonably hope that we shall one day become spiritual bees, and be able to fly; in the meantime let us feed upon the honey of the many good instructions which other devout persons have left us, and pray to God to give us, wings like a dove, that we may not only be enabled to fly up, during the time of this present life, but also rest on the mountain of eternity in the life to come.
Table of Contents Next Page
OF THE NATURE OF TEMPTATIONS, AND OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FEELING TEMPTATION AND CONSENTING TO IT.
IMAGINE to yourself, Philothea, a young princess, extremely beloved by her spouse, and that some wicked man, in order to defile her marriage bed, sends an infamous messenger to treat with her concerning his abominable design. First, the messenger proposes the intention of his master; secondly, the princess is pleased or displeased with the proposition; thirdly, she either consents or refuses. In the same manner, Satan, the world, and the flesh, seeing a soul espoused to the Son of God, send her temptations and suggestions, by which, 1. Sin is proposed to her; 2. She is either pleased or displeased with the proposal; 3. In fine, she either consents or refuses. Such are the three steps to ascend to iniquity: temptation, delectation, and consent. But though these three actions are not so manifest in all kinds of sins, yet are they palpably seen in those that are enormous.
Though the temptation to any sin whatsoever should last during life it could never render us disagreeable to the divine Majesty, provided that we were not pleased with it, and did not give our consent to it; the reason is, because we do not act, but suffer in temptation; and as in this we take no pleasure, so we cannot incur any guilt. St. Paul suffered a long time the temptations of the flesh, and yet was so far from being displeasing to God on that account, that, on the contrary, God was glorified by his patient suffering. The blessed Angela de Fulgina suffered such cruel temptations of the flesh that she moves to compassion when she relates them. St. Francis and St. Bennet also suffered such violent temptations that, in order to overcome them, the one was obliged to cast himself naked on thorns, and the other into snow; yet they lost nothing of God's favor, but increased very much in grace.
You must, then, be courageous, Philothea, amidst temptations, and never think yourself overcome as long as they displease you, observing well this difference between feeling and consenting, viz., we may feel temptations, though they displease us; but we can never consent to them unless they please us, since to be pleased with them ordinarily serves as a step towards our consent. Let, then, the enemies of our salvation lay as many baits and allurements in our way as they please, let them stay always at the door of our heart in order to gain admittance, let them make as many proposals as they can; still, as long as we remain steadfast in our resolution to take no pleasure in the temptation, it is utterly impossible that we should offend God, any more than the prince of whom I spoke could be displeased with his spouse for the infamous message sent to her, if she took no pleasure whatever in it. Yet, in this case, there is this difference between her and the soul, that the princess, having heard of the wicked proposition, may, if she please, drive away the messenger, and never suffer him to appear again in her presence; but it is not always in the power of the soul not to feel the temptation, though it be always in her power not to consent to it; and, therefore, no matter how long the temptation may last, it cannot hurt us as long as it is disagreeable to us.
But, with respect to the delectation which may follow the temptation, it must be observed that, as there are two parts in the soul, the inferior and the superior, and that the inferior does not always follow the superior, but acts for itself apart, it frequently happens that the inferior part takes delight in the temptation without the consent, nay, against the will of the superior. That is that warfare which the Apostle describes, Gal. v. 17, when he says that the flesh lusts against the spirit, and that there is a law of the members and a law of the spirit.
Have you never seen, Philothea, a large fire covered with ashes? Should one come ten or twelve hours after, in search of fire, he would find but little in the midst of the hearth, and even that would be found with difficulty; yet there it is, since there it is found, and with it he may kindle again the remainder of the coals that were dead. It is just so with charity, our spiritual life, in the midst of violent temptations; for the temptation, casting the delectation which accompanies it into the inferior part, covers the whole soul, as it were, with ashes, and reduces the love of God into a narrow compass; for it appears nowhere but in the midst of the heart, in the interior of the soul, and even there it scarcely seems perceptible, and with much difficulty we find it; yet there it is in reality, since, notwithstanding all the trouble and disorder we feel in our soul and our body, we still retain a resolution never to consent to the temptation; and the delectation, which pleases the outward man, displeases the inward, so that, although it surrounds the will, yet it is not within it; by which we see that such delectation, being contrary to the will, can be no sin.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
TWO GOOD EXAMPLES ON THIS SUBJECT.
AS it is so important that you should understand this matter perfectly, I will explain it more at large. A young man, as St. Jerome relates, being fastened down with bands of silk on a delicate, soft bed, was enticed by all sorts of filthy allurements by a lascivious woman, who was employed by the persecutors on purpose to stagger his constancy. Ah, must not his chaste soul have felt strange disorders? Must not his senses have been seized with delectation, and his imagination occupied by the presence of those voluptuous objects? Undoubtedly; yet among so many conflicts, in the midst of so terrible a storm of temptations, and the many lustful pleasures that surrounded him, he sufficiently testified that his heart was not vanquished, and that his will gave no consent. Perceiving so general a rebellion against his will, and having now no part of his body at command but his tongue, he bit it off and spit it in the face of that filthy woman, who tormented his soul more cruelly by her lust than all the executioners could ever have done by the greatest torments; for the tyrant, despairing to conquer him by suffering, thought to overcome him by these pleasures.
The history of the conflict of St. Catharine of Sienna, on the like occasion, is very admirable. The wicked spirit had permission from God to assault the purity of this holy virgin with the greatest fury, yet so as not to be allowed to touch her. He presented, then, all kinds of impure suggestions to her heart; and, to move her the more, coming with his companions in form of men and women, he committed a thousand acts immodest in her presence, adding most filthy words and invitations; and, although all these things were exterior, nevertheless, by means of the senses, they penetrated deep into the heart of the virgin, which, as she herself confessed, was even brimful of them; so that nothing remained in her except the pure, superior will, which was not shaken with this tempest of filthy carnal delectation. This temptation continued for a long time, till one day our Saviour, appearing to her, she said to him: "Where wert thou, my sweet Saviour, when my heart was full of so great darkness and uncleanness?" To which he answered: "I was within thy heart, my daughter." - "But how," replied she, " could you dwell in my heart, where there was so much impurity? Is it possible that thou couldst dwell in so unclean a place?" To which our Lord replied: "Tell me, did these filthy thoughts of thy heart give thee pleasure or sadness, bitterness or delight?" - "The most extreme bitterness and sadness," said she. "Who was it, then," replied our Saviour, "that caused this great bitterness and sadness in thy heart but I, who remained concealed in the interior of thy soul? Believe me, daughter, had it not been for my presence these thoughts which surrounded thy will would have doubtless entered in, and with pleasure would have brought death to thy soul; but, being present, I infused this displeasure into thy heart, which enabled thee to reject the temptation as much as it could; but, not being able to do it as much as it desired, it conceived a greater displeasure and hatred both against the temptation and thyself; and thus these troubles have proved occasions of great merit to thee, and have served to increase thy strength and virtue."
Behold, Philothea, how this fire was covered with ashes, and how the temptation had even entered the heart, and surrounded the will which, assisted by our Saviour, held out to the last, making resistance by her aversion, displeasure, and detestation of the evil suggested, and constantly refusing her consent to the sin which besieged her on every side. Good God! how distressing must it be to a soul that loves God not to know whether he be within her or not, or whether the divine love, for which she fights, be altogether extinguished in her or not! But it is the perfection of heavenly love to make the lover suffer and fight for love, not knowing whether he possesses that love for which, and by which, he fights.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO A SOUL IN TEMPTATION.
THESE violent assaults and extraordinary temptations, Philothea are permitted by God against those souls only whom he desires to elevate to the highest degree of divine love; yet it does not follow that they shall afterwards attain it; for it has often happened that those who have been constant under these assaults have, for want of faithfully corresponding with the divine favor, been afterwards overcome by very small temptations. This I tell you, that, if you should happen hereafter to be assaulted by great temptations, you may know that God confers an extraordinary favor on you when he thus declares his will to make you great in his sight; and that, nevertheless, you must be always humble and fearful, not assuring yourself that you shall be able to overcome small temptations, after you have prevailed against great ones, by any other means than a constant fidelity to his divine Majesty.
Whatever temptations, then, may hereafter befall you, or with whatever delectation they may be accompanied, so long as your will refuses her consent, not only to the temptation, but also to the delectation, give not yourself the least trouble, for God is not offended. As, when a man is so far gone in a fit as to show no sign of life, they lay their hand on his heart, and from the least palpitation they feel conclude that he is alive, and that by the application of some restorative he may again recover his strength and senses; so it sometimes happens that, through the violence of a temptation, our soul seems to have fallen into a fit, so as to have no longer any spiritual life or motion; but, if we desire to know how it is with her, let us lay our hand upon our heart, and consider whether our will still retains its spiritual motion, that is to say, whether it has done its duty in refusing to consent and to yield to the temptation and delectation; for, so long as this motion of refusal remains, we may rest assured that charity, the life of our soul, remains in us, and that Jesus Christ, our Saviour, although concealed, is there present; so that by means of the continued exercise of prayer, the sacraments, and a confidence in God, we shall again return to a strong, sound, and healthful spiritual life.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
HOW TEMPTATION AND DELECTATION MAY BECOME SINFUL
THE princess, of whom we spoke before, could not prevent the dishonorable proposal which was made to her, because, as was presupposed, it was made against her will; but had she, on the contrary, given it the least encouragement, or betrayed a willingness to give her affection to him that courted her, doubtless she would then have been guilty in the sight of God, and, however she might dissemble it, would certainly deserve both blame and punishment. Thus it sometimes happens that the temptation alone involves us in sin, because we ourselves are the cause of it. For example, I know that when I play, I fall easily into violent passions and blasphemy, and that gaming serves me as a temptation to those sins; I sin, therefore, as often as I play, and I am accountable for all the temptations which shall befall me. In like manner, if I know that certain conversations will expose me to the danger of falling into sin, and yet willingly expose myself to them, I am doubtless guilty of all the temptations I may meet with on such occasions.
When the delectation which proceeds from the temptation can he avoided, it is always a greater or less sin to admit it, in proportion as the pleasure we take, or the consent we give to it, is of a longer or shorter duration. The young princess before alluded to would be highly blamable, if, after having heard the filthy proposal, she should take pleasure in it, and entertain her heart with satisfaction on so improper a subject: for, although she does not consent to the real execution of what is proposed to her, she consents, nevertheless, to the spiritual application of her heart to the evil, by the pleasure she takes in it, because it is always criminal to apply either the heart or the body to anything that is immodest; but the sin depends so much on the consent of the heart, that without it even the application of the body could not be a sin.
Wherefore, whenever you are tempted to any sin, consider whether you have not voluntarily given occasion to the temptation; for then the, temptation itself puts you in a state of sin, on account of the danger to which you have exposed yourself; this is to be understood when you could conveniently have avoided the occasion, and foresaw, or ought to have foreseen, the approach of the temptation; but, if you have given no occasion to the temptation, it cannot by any means be imputed to you as a sin.
When the delectation which follows temptation might have been avoided, and yet has not, there is always some kind of sin, more or less considerable, according to the time you have dwelt upon it, or the pleasure you have taken in it. A woman who has given no occasion to her being courted, and yet takes pleasure therein, is, nevertheless, to be blamed, if the pleasure which she takes originate in no other cause than the courtship. But, for example, if the gallant who sues for love should play excellently well upon the lute, and she should take pleasure, not in his courtship, but in the harmony and sweetness of his lute, this would be no sin; though she ought not to indulge this pleasure long, for fear that she should pass thence to a desire of being courted. In like manner, if any one should propose to me some ingenious stratagem, to take revenge of my enemy, and I should neither delight in, nor consent to, the proposed revenge, but only be pleased with the subtility of the artful invention; although it would be no sin, still I ought not to continue long amusing myself with this pleasure, for fear that by degrees I might be induced to take some delight in the revenge itself.
We are sometimes surprised by certain symptoms of pleasure, which immediately follow the temptation, before we are well aware of it. This at most can only be a light venial sin; but it becomes greater, if, after we have perceived the evil which has befallen us, we stop some time, through negligence, to determine whether we shall admit or reject that delectation; and the sin becomes still greater, if, after being sensible of the delectation, we dwell upon it, through downright negligence, without being determined to reject it; but when we voluntarily, and with full deliberation, resolve to consent to this delectation, this of itself is a great sin, if the object in which we take delight be also a great sin. It is a great crime in a woman to be willing to entertain dishonest love, although she never designs to yield herself up really to her lovers.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
REMEDIES AGAINST GREAT TEMPTATIONS.
AS soon as you perceive yourself tempted, follow the example of children when they see a wolf or a bear in the country; for they immediately run into the arms of their father or mother, or at least they call out to them for help or assistance. It is the remedy which our Lord has taught: "Pray that ye enter not into temptation." St. Matt, xxvi. 41. If you find that the temptation, nevertheless, still continues, or even increases, run in spirit to embrace the holy cross, as if you saw our Saviour Jesus Christ crucified before you. Protest that you never will consent to the temptation, implore his assistance against it, and still refuse your consent as long as the temptation shall continue.
But, in making these protestations and refusals of consent, look not the temptation in the face, but look only on our Lord; for if you look at the temptation, especially while it is strong, it may shake your courage. Divert your thoughts to some good and pious reflections, for, when good thoughts occupy your heart, they will drive away every temptation and suggestion.
But the sovereign remedy against all temptations, whether great or small, is to lay open your heart, and communicate its suggestions, feelings, and affections to your director; for you must observe, that the first condition that the enemy of salvation makes with a soul which he desires to seduce is to keep silence; as those who intend to seduce maids, or married women, at the very first forbid them to communicate their proposals to their parents or husbands; whereas God, on the other hand, by his inspirations, requires that we should make them known to our superiors and directors.
If, after all this, the temptation should still continue to harass and persecute us, we have nothing to do on our part but to continue as resolute in our protestations never to consent to it; for as maids can never be married as long as they answer no, so the soul, no matter how long the temptation may last, can never sin as long as she says no.
Never dispute with your enemy, nor make him any reply but that with which our Saviour confounded him: "Begone, Satan, for it is written the Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve." For as a chaste wife should never answer the wicked wretch that makes her a dishonorable proposal, but quit him abruptly, and at the same instant turn her heart towards her husband, and renew the promise of fidelity which she has made to him; so the devout soul, that sees herself assaulted by temptation, ought by no means to lose time in disputing, but with all simplicity turn herself towards Jesus Christ her Spouse, and renew her protestation of fidelity to him, and her resolution to remain solely and entirely his forever.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
THAT WE MUST RESIST SMALL TEMPTATIONS.
ALTHOUGH we must oppose great temptations with an invincible courage, and the victory we gain over them is extremely advantageous, it may happen, nevertheless, that we may profit more in resisting small ones, for as great temptations exceed in quality, so small ones exceed in quantity; wherefore the victory over them may be comparable to that which is gained over the greatest. Wolves and bears are certainly more dangerous than flies; yet the former neither give us so much trouble, nor exercise our patience so much, as the latter. It is easy to abstain from murder, but it is extremely difficult to restrain all the little sallies of passion, the occasions of which present themselves every moment. It is very easy for a man or a woman to refrain from adultery, but it is not as easy to refrain from glances of the eyes, from giving or receiving marks of love, or from uttering or listening to flattery. It is easy not to admit a rival with the husband or wife, as to the body, but not as to the heart; it is easy to refrain from defiling the marriage bed, but it is difficult to refrain from everything that may be prejudicial to conjugal affection; it is easy not to steal other men's goods, but difficult not to covet them; it is easy not to bear false witness in judgment, but difficult to observe truth strictly on every occasion; it is easy to refrain from drunkenness, but difficult to observe perfect sobriety; it is easy to refrain from wishing another man's death, but difficult to refrain from desiring what may be inconvenient to him; it is easy to abstain from defaming him, but it is sometimes difficult to refrain from despising him. In a word, these small temptations of anger, suspicion, jealousy, envy, fond love, levity, vanity, insincerity, affectation, craftiness, and impure thoughts, are continually assaulting even those who are the most devout and resolute. We must, therefore, diligently prepare ourselves, my dear Philothea, for this warfare; and rest assured, that for as many victories as we shall gain over these trifling enemies, so many gems shall be added to the crown of glory which God is preparing for us in heaven. Wherefore I say, that being ever ready to fight courageously against great temptations, we must in the meantime diligently defend ourselves against those that seem small and inconsiderable.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
WHAT REMEDIES WE ARE TO APPLY TO SMALL TEMPTATIONS.
NOW as to these smaller temptations of vanity, suspicion, impatience, jealousy, envy, fond love, and such like trash, which, like flies and gnats, continually hover about us, and sometimes sting us on the legs, the hands, or the face; as it is impossible to be altogether freed them, the best defence that we can make is, not to give ourselves much trouble about them; for although they may tease us, yet they can never hurt us, so long as we continue firmly resolved to dedicate ourselves in earnest to the service of God. Despise, then, these petty assaults, without so, much as thinking of what they suggest. Let them buzz and hover here and there around you; pay no more attention to them than you would to flies; but when they offer to sting you, and you perceive them in the least to light upon your heart, content yourself with quietly removing them, not by contending or disputing with them, but by performing some actions of a contrary nature to the temptation, especially acts of the love of God. But you must not persevere, Philothea, in opposing to the temptation the act of the contrary virtue, for this would be to dispute with it; but, after having performed a simple act of the contrary virtue, if you have had leisure to observe the quality of the temptation, turn your heart gently towards Jesus Christ crucified, and by an act of love kiss his sacred feet. This is the best means to overcome the enemy, as well in small as in great temptations; for as the love of God contains within itself the perfection of all the virtues, and is even more excellent than the virtues themselves, so it is also the sovereign antidote against every kind of vice; and, by accustoming your mind on these occasions to have recourse to this remedy, you need not even examine by what kind of temptation it is troubled. Moreover, this grand remedy is so terrible to the enemy of our souls, that as soon as he perceives that his temptation incites us to form acts of divine love he ceases to tempt us. Let these general principles suffice with respect to small and ordinary temptations; he who would wish to contend with them in particular would give himself much trouble to little or no purpose.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
HOW TO FORTIFY OUR HEARTS AGAINST TEMPTATIONS.
CONSIDER from time to time what passions are most predominant in your soul; and, having discovered them, adopt such a method of thinking, speaking, and acting, as may contradict them. If, for example, you find yourself inclined to vanity, think often on the miseries of human life; think of the inquietude which these vanities will raise in your conscience at the day of your death; how unworthy they are of a generous heart, and that they are nothing but empty toys, fit only for the amusement of children. Speak often against vanity, and, whatever repugnance you may feel, cease not to cry it down, for by this means you will engage yourself, even in honor, to the opposite side; for by declaiming against a thing we bring ourselves to hate it, though at first we might have had an affection for it. Exercise works of abjection and humility as much as possible, though with ever so great a reluctance; since by this means you accustom yourself to humility, and weaken your vanity; so that, when the temptation comes, you will have less inclination to consent to it, and more strength to resist it.
If you are inclined to covetousness, think frequently on the folly of a sin which makes us slaves to that which was only made to serve us, and that at death we must part with all, and leave it in the hands of those who perhaps may squander it away, or to whom it may be a cause of damnation. Speak loud against avarice, and in praise of an utter contempt of the world. Force yourself to give frequent alms, and neglect to improve some opportunities of gain. Should you be inclined to give or receive fond love, often think how very dangerous this kind of amusement is, as well to yourself as others; how unworthy a thing it is, to employ in an idle pastime the noblest affection of our soul, and how worthy of censure is so extreme a levity of mind. Speak often in praise of purity and simplicity of heart, and let your actions, to the utmost of your power, be ever conformable to your words, by avoiding levities and fond liberties. In short, in time of peace, that is, when temptations to the sin to which you are most inclined do not molest you, make several acts of the contrary virtue; and, if occasions of practising it do not present themselves, endeavor to seek them; for by this means you will strengthen your heart against future temptations.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
AS inquietude is not only a temptation, but the source of many temptations, it is therefore necessary that I should say something concerning it. Inquietude, or sadness, then, is nothing else but that grief of mind which we conceive for some evil which we experience against our will, whether it be exterior, as poverty, sickness, contempt; or interior, as ignorance, avidity, repugnance, and temptation. When the soul, then, perceives that some evil has befallen her, she becomes sad, is displeased, and extremely anxious to rid herself of it; and thus far she is right, for every one naturally desires to embrace good, and fly from that which he apprehends to be evil. If the soul, for the love of God, wishes to be freed from her evil, she will seek the means of her deliverance with patience, meekness, humility, and tranquillity, expecting it more from the providence of God than from her own industry or diligence. But if she seeks her deliverance, from a motive of self-love, then will she fatigue herself in quest of these means, as if the success depended more on herself than on God: I do not say that she thinks so, but that she acts as if she thought so. Now, if she succeeds not immediately according to her wishes, she falls into inquietude, which, instead of removing, aggravates the evil, and involves her in such anguish and distress, with so great loss of courage and strength, that she imagines her evil incurable. Thus, then, sadness, which in the beginning is just, produces inquietude, and inquietude produces an increase of sadness, which is extremely dangerous.
Inquietude is the greatest evil that can befall the soul, sin only excepted. For, as the seditious and intestine commotions of any commonwealth prevent it from being able to resist a foreign invasion, so our heart, being troubled within itself, loses the strength necessary to maintain the virtue it had acquired, and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy, who then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as it is said, in troubled waters.
Inquietude proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil which we feel, or of acquiring the good which we desire: and yet there is nothing which tends more to increase evil, and to prevent the enjoyment of good, than an unquiet mind. Birds remain prisoners in the nets, because, when they find themselves caught, they eagerly flutter about to extricate themselves, and by that means entangle themselves the more. Whenever, then, you are pressed with a desire to be freed from some evil, or to obtain some good, be careful both to settle your mind in repose and tranquillity, and to compose your judgment and will; and then gently procure the accomplishment of your desire, taking in regular order the means which maybe most convenient; when I say gently, I do not mean negligently, but without hurry, trouble, or inquietude; otherwise, instead of obtaining the effect of your desire, you will mar all, and embarrass yourself the more.
"My soul is continually in my hands, O Lord, and I have not forgotten thy law," said David. Ps. cxviii. 109. Examine frequently in the day, or at least in the morning and evening, whether you have your soul in your hands, or whether some passion or inquietude has not robbed you of it. Consider whether you have your heart at command, or whether it has not escaped out of your hands, to engage itself to some disorderly affection of love, hatred, envy, covetousness, fear, uneasiness, or joy. If it should be gone astray, seek after it before you do anything else, and bring it back quietly to the presence of God, subjecting all your affections and desires to the obedience and directions of his divine will. For as they who are afraid of losing anything which is precious hold it fast in their hands; so, in imitation of this great king, we should always say, "O my God! my soul is in danger, and therefore I carry it always in my hands; and in this manner I have not forgotten thy holy law."
Permit not your desires, how trivial soever they may be, to disquiet you, lest afterwards those that are of greater importance should find your heart involved in trouble and disorder. When you perceive that inquietude begins to affect your mind recommend yourself to God, and resolve to do nothing until it is restored to tranquillity, unless it should be something that cannot be deferred; in that case, moderating the current of your desires as much as possible, perform the action, not according to your desire but your reason.
If you can disclose the cause of your disquietude to your spiritual director, or at least to some faithful and devout friend, be assured that you will presently find ease; for communicating the grief of the heart produces the same effect on the soul as bleeding does in the body of him that is in a continual fever; it is the remedy of remedies. Accordingly the holy king St. Lewis gave this counsel to his son: "If thou hast any uneasiness in thy heart, tell it immediately to thy confessor, or to some good person, and then thou shalt be enabled to bear thy evil very easily, by the comfort he will give thee."
Table of Contents Next Chapter
THE sadness that is according to God," says St. Paul, "worketh penance steadfast unto salvation," 2 Cor. vii.; "but the sadness of the world worketh death." Sadness, then, may be good or evil, according to its different effects. It is true it produces more evil effects than good, for it has only two that are good, compassion and repentance; but it has six that are evil, viz., anxiety, sloth, indignation, jealousy, envy, and impatience, which caused the wise man to say, "sadness kills many, and there is no profit in it," Ecclus. xxx. 25; because, for two good streams which flow from the source of sadness, there are six very evil.
The enemy makes use of sadness and temptation against the just; for, as he endeavors to make the wicked to rejoice in their sins, so he strives to make the good grieve in their good works; and as he cannot procure the commission of evils but by making it appear agreeable, so he cannot divert us from good but by making it appear disagreeable. The prince of darkness is pleased with sadness and melancholy, because he is and will be sad and melancholy to all eternity; therefore he desires that every one should be like himself.
The sadness which is evil troubles and perplexes the soul, excites inordinate fears, creates a disgust for prayer, stupefies and oppresses the brain, deprives the mind of counsel, resolution, judgment, and courage, and destroys her strength. In a word, it is like a severe winter, which demolishes all the beauty of the country, and devours every living creature; for it takes away all sweetness from the soul, and renders her disabled in all her faculties. If you should at any time be seized with the evil of sadness, Philothea, apply the following remedies.
"Is any one sad," says St. James v. 13, "let him pray." Prayer is a sovereign remedy, for it lifts up the soul to God, our only joy and consolation. But, in praying, let your words and affections, whether interior or exterior, always tend to a lively confidence in the divine goodness, such as, "O God of mercy! O infinite goodness! O my sweet Saviour! O God of my heart, my joy and my hope! O my divine Spouse, the well-beloved of my soul!" etc.
Oppose vigorously the least inclination to sadness, and, although it may seem that all your actions are at that time performed with tepidity and sloth, you must, nevertheless, persevere; for the enemy, who seeks by sadness to make us weary of good works, seeing that we cease not on that account to perform them, and that, being performed in spite of his opposition, they become more meritorious, will cease to trouble us any longer.
Sing spiritual canticles, for the devil by this means has often desisted from his operations: witness the evil spirit with which Saul was afflicted, whose violence was repressed by such music. It is also necessarily serviceable to employ ourselves in exterior works, and to vary them as much as possible, in order to divert the soul from the melancholy object, and to purify and warm the spirits, sadness being a passion of a cold and dry complexion.
Perform external actions of fervor, although you may perform them without the least relish; such as embracing the crucifix, clasping it to your breast, kissing the feet and the hands, lifting up your eyes and your hands to heaven, raising your voice to God by words of love and confidence like these: "My beloved is mine, and I am his. My beloved is to me a posy of myrrh, he shall dwell between my breasts. My eyes have fainted after thee, O my God!" Say also: "When wilt thou comfort me? O Jesus, be thou a Jesus to me! Live, sweet Jesus, and my soul shall live! Who shall ever separate me from the love of God?" etc. The moderate use of the discipline is also good; against sadness, because this voluntary exterior affliction begets interior consolation, and the soul, feeling pain without, diverts herself from the pains which are within. But frequently the Holy Communion is the best remedy, because this heavenly bread strengthens the heart, and rejoices the spirit.
Disclose to your confessor, with humility and sincerity, all the feelings, affections, and suggestions which proceed from your sadness. Seek the conversation of spiritual persons, and frequent their company as much as you can. In a word, resign yourself into the hands of God, preparing yourself to suffer this troublesome sadness with patience, as a just punishment of your vain joys; and doubt not but that God, after he has tried you, will deliver you from this evil.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
OF SPIRITUAL AND SENSIBLE CONSOLATIONS, AND HOW WE MUST BEHAVE OURSELVES IN THEM.
GOD continues the existence of this great world in a perpetual vicissitude, by which the day is always succeeded by the night, the spring by the summer, the summer by the autumn, the autumn by the winter, and the winter again by the spring. One day seldom perfectly resembles another: some are cloudy, some rainy, some dry; others windy, - a variety which adds considerably to the beauty of the universe. It is the same with man, who, according to the saying of the ancients, is an epitome of the universe, or another little world; for he never remains long in the same state; his life flows away upon the earth, like the waters, floating and undulating in a perpetual diversity of motion, which sometimes lift him up with hope, and sometimes bring him down with fear; sometimes carry him to the right hand by consolation, sometimes to the left by affliction; and not one of his days, no, not even one of his hours, is in every respect like another.
Now, it is necessary that we should endeavor to preserve an inviolable equality of heart amidst so great an inequality of occurrences, and that, although all things turn and change around us, we should remain constantly immovable; ever looking and aspiring towards God. No matter what course the ship may take; no matter whether it sails towards the east, west, north, or south; no matter by what wind it may be driven, - never will the needle of the compass point in any other direction than towards the fair polar star. Let everything be in confusion, not only around us, but even within us; let our soul be overwhelmed with sorrow or joy; with sweetness or bitterness; with peace or trouble; with light or darkness; with temptation or repose; with pleasure or disgust; with dryness or tenderness; whether it be scorched by the sun or refreshed by the dew; yet the point of our heart, our spirit and our superior will, which is our compass, must incessantly tend towards the love of God, its Creator, its Saviour, in a word, its only sovereign good. "Whether we live," says the Apostle, "we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord." And "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? "No, nothing shall separate us from this love; neither tribulation, nor anguish, nor death, nor life, nor present grief, nor the fear of future accidents, nor the artifices of evil spirits, nor the height of consolations, nor the depth of afflictions, nor tenderness, nor dryness, ought ever to separate us from this holy charity which is founded in Jesus Christ.
This first absolute resolution, never to forsake God, nor to abandon his divine love, serves as a counterpoise to our souls, to keep them in a holy equilibrium, amidst the inequality of the several motions attached to the condition of this life; for as little bees, surprised by a storm in the fields, embrace small stones, that they may be able to balance themselves in the air, and not be so easily carried away by the wind; so our soul, having by resolution strongly embraced the precious love of God, continues constant in the midst of the inconstancy and vicissitude of consolations and afflictions, whether spiritual or temporal, exterior or interior. But, besides this general doctrine, we have need of some particular instructions.
1. I say, then, that devotion does not always consist in that sweetness, delight, consolation, or sensible tenderness of heart, which moves us to tears, and causes us to find satisfaction in some spiritual exercises. No, dear Philothea; for there are many souls who experience these tendernesses and consolations, and who, nevertheless, are very vicious, and consequently have not a true love of God, much less true devotion. Saul, pursuing David, who was fleeing before him in the wilderness of Engaddi, entered alone into a cavern, in which David and his people lay concealed. David, who on this occasion had many opportunities of killing him, spared his life, and would not even put him in bodily fear; but, having suffered him to go out at his pleasure, called after him to prove to him his innocence, and to convince him that he had been at his mercy. Now, upon this occasion, what did not Saul do, to show that his rage against David was appeased? He called him his child, he wept aloud, he praised him, he acknowledged his goodness, he prayed to God for him, he foretold his future greatness, and he recommended to him his posterity. What greater display could he make of sweetness and tenderness of heart? Nevertheless his heart was not changed; neither did he cease to persecute David as cruelly as before. In like manner there are some persons, who, considering the goodness of God, and the passion of our Saviour, are tenderly affected. They sigh, weep, pray, and give thanks, in so feeling a manner that we imagine that they have acquired an extraordinary degree of devotion; but, when the moment of trial arrives, we see, that as the passing showers of a hot summer, which fall in large drops on the earth, but do not sink into it, serve for nothing but to produce mushrooms, so these tender tears, falling on a vicious heart, and not penetrating it, are altogether unprofitable; for, notwithstanding all this apparent devotion, these tender souls will not part with a farthing of the ill-gotten riches they possess; nor renounce one of their perverse affections; nor suffer the least temporal inconvenience for the service of our Saviour, over whose sufferings they have just been weeping; so that the good affections which they had were no better than spiritual mushrooms, and their devotion a mere delusion of the enemy, who amuses souls with these false consolations, to make them rest contented, lest they should search any farther after the true and solid devotion, which consists in a constant, resolute, prompt, and active will to reduce to practice whatever we know to be pleasing to God. A child will weep tenderly when he sees his mother bled with a lancet; but if his mother, for whom he is weeping, would at the same time demand the apple or the sugar-plums which he had in his hand, he would by no means part with them; such is the nature of our tender devotion, when, contemplating the stroke of the lancet which pierced the heart of Jesus Christ crucified, we weep bitterly. Alas, Philothea! it is well to lament the painful death and passion of our Blessed Redeemer; but why, then, do we not give him the apple which we have in our hands, for which he so earnestly asks? why do we not give him our heart, the only token of love which our dear Saviour requires of us? why do we not resign to him so many petty affections, delights, and complacencies, which he wants to pluck out of our hands but cannot, because we feel more affection for these trifles than his heavenly grace? Ah, Philothea! these are the friendships of little children; tender, indeed, but weak, capricious, and of no effect. Devotion, then, consists not in these sensible affections, which sometimes proceed from a soft nature, susceptible of any impression we may wish to give it; sometimes from the enemy, who, to amuse us, stirs up our imagination to conceive these effects.
2. Yet these tender and delightful affections are sometimes good and profitable, for they excite the affections of the soul, strengthen the spirit, and add to the promptitude of devotion a holy cheerfulness, which makes our actions lovely and agreeable even in the exterior. This relish which we find in the things of God is that which made David exclaim: "O Lord, how sweet are thy words to my palate! more than honey to my mouth." Doubtless the least consolation of devotion that we receive is in every respect preferable to the most agreeable recreations of the world. The breasts of the heavenly Spouse are sweeter to the soul than the wine of the most delicious pleasures on earth. He that has once tasted this sweetness esteems all other consolations no better than gall and wormwood. There is a certain herb, the taste of which is said to impart such sweetness as to prevent hunger and thirst; so they to whom God has given the heavenly manna can neither desire nor relish the consolations of the world, so far at least as to fix their affections on them; they are little foretastes of those immortal delights which God has in reserve for the souls that seek him; they are little delicacies which he gives to his children to allure them; they are the cordials with which he strengthens them, and they are also sometimes the earnest of eternal felicity. It is said that Alexander the Great, sailing on the ocean, discovered Arabia Felix, by perceiving the fragrant odors which the wind bore thence, and thereupon encouraged both himself and his companions; so we oftentimes receive these sweet consolations in this sea of our mortal life, which doubtless must give us a certain foretaste of the delights of that heavenly country to which we tend and aspire.
3. But you will perhaps say, since there are sensible consolations which are good, because they come from God; and others unprofitable, dangerous, and even pernicious, that proceed either from nature, or from the enemy, - how shall I be able to distinguish the one from the other, or know those that are evil or unprofitable, from those that are good? It is a general doctrine, dear Philothea, with regard to the affections and passions of our souls, that we must know them by their fruits. Our hearts are the trees, the affections and passions are the branches, and their words and actions are the fruit. That heart is good which has good affections, and those affections and passions are good which produce in us good effects and holy actions. If this sweetness, tenderness, and consolation make us more humble, patient, tractable, charitable, and compassionate towards our neighbor; more fervent in mortifying our concupiscences and evil inclinations; more constant in our exercises; more pliant and submissive to those whom we ought to obey; more sincere and upright in our lives, - then, doubtless, Philothea, they proceed from God. But if these consolations have no sweetness but for ourselves; if they make us curious, harsh, quarrelsome, impatient, obstinate, haughty, presumptuous, and rigorous towards our neighbor, when we already imagine ourselves to be saints, and disdain to be any longer subject to direction or correction, they are then, beyond all doubt, false and pernicious; for a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit.
4. Whenever we experience these consolations we must humble ourselves exceedingly before God, and beware of saying, "Oh, how good am I! "No, Philothea, these considerations, as I have already said, cannot make us better; devotion does not consist in them; but let us say: "Oh, how good is God to such as hope in him, to the soul that seeks him!" 1. As the bare perception of something sweet cannot be said to render the palate itself sweet; so although this principal sweetness be excellent, and though God who gives it is sovereignly good, yet it follows not that he who receives it is also good. 2. Let us acknowledge that we are as yet but little children, who have need of milk, and that these dainties are given to us because our tender and delicate spirit stands in need of some allurement to entice us to the love of God. 3. Let us afterwards humbly accept these extraordinary graces and favors, and esteem them, not so much on account of their excellence, as because it is the hand of God which puts them into our hearts, as a mother would do, who, the more to please her child, puts the dainties into his mouth with her own hand, one by one; for if the child has understanding he sets a greater value on the tenderness of his mother than the delicious morsels which he receives; and thus, Philothea, it is a great matter to taste the sweetness of sensible consolations, but it is infinitely more sweet to consider that it is his most loving and tender hand that puts them, as it were, into our mouth, our heart, our soul, and our spirit. 4. Having thus humbly received them, let us carefully employ them according to the intention of the donor. Now, to what end, think you, does God give us these sweet consolations? To make us sweet towards every one, and excite us to love him. The mother gives little presents to her child to induce him to embrace her; let us, then, embrace our blessed Saviour, who grants us these favors. But to embrace him is to obey him, to keep his commandments, do his will, and follow his desires, with a tender obedience and fidelity. Whenever, therefore, we receive any spiritual consolation, we must be more diligent in doing good, and in humbling ourselves. 5. Besides all this we must, from time to time, renounce those sweet and tender consolations, by withdrawing our heart from them, and protesting that, although we humbly accept them and love them because God sends them, and that they excite us to his love, yet it is not these we seek, but God himself, and his holy love; not the consolations, but the comforter; not their deliciousness, but the sweet Saviour; not their tenderness, but him that is the delight of heaven and earth. It is in this manner we ought to dispose ourselves to persevere in the holy love of God, although throughout our whole life we were never to meet with any consolation, and be ready to say, as well upon Calvary as upon Thabor: "Lord! it is good for me to be with thee, whether thou be upon the cross, or in thy glory." 6. To conclude, I admonish you, that should you experience any great abundance of such consolations, tenderness, tears, sweetness, etc., you must confer faithfully with your spiritual director, that you may learn how to moderate and behave yourself under them, for it is written. "Thou has found honey, eat what is sufficient for thee." Prov. xxv. 16.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
OF SPIRITUAL DRYNESS.
AS long as consolation may last, do as I have just now directed you, dear Philothea! But this fine and agreeable weather will not always continue, for sometimes you shall find yourself so absolutely destitute of all feeling of devotion that your soul shall seem to be a wild, fruitless, barren desert, in which there is no trace of a pathway to find her God, nor any water of grace to refresh her, on account of the dryness which seems to threaten her with a total and absolute desolation. Alas! how much does a poor soul in such a state deserve compassion; but especially when the evil is vehement; for then, in imitation of David, she feeds herself with tears night and day; while the enemy, to cast her into despair, mocks her by a thousand suggestions of despondency, saying: "Ah! poor wretch, where is thy God? By what path shalt thou be able to find him? Who can ever restore to thee the joy of his holy grace?"
What shall you then do, Philothea? Examine the source whence this evil has flowed to you; for we ourselves are often the cause of our spiritual dryness. 1. As a mother refuses to gratify the appetite of her child, when such gratification might increase its indisposition, so God withholds consolations from us, when we take a vain complacency in them, and are subject to the spiritual maladies of self-conceit and presumption. "It is good for me that thou hast humbled me"; yes, "for before I was humbled I offended." Ps. cxviii. 2. When we neglect to gather the sweetness and delights of the love of God at the proper season, he removes them from us in punishment of our sloth. The Israelite, who neglected to gather the manna betimes, could gather none after sunrise, for it had then all melted. 3. We are sometimes pleased in the bed of sensual consolations, as the sacred Spouse was in the Canticles; the Spouse of our soul comes and knocks at the door of our heart, and invites us to return to our spiritual exercises; but we put them off, because we are unwilling to quit these vain amusements, and false satisfactions; for this reason he departs, and permits us to slumber. But afterwards, when we desire to seek him, it is with great difficulty that we find him; and it is no more than what we have justly deserved, since we have been so unfaithful and disloyal as to refuse the participation of his love, to enjoy the consolations of the world. Ah! if you still keep the flour of Egypt, you shall not have the manna of heaven. Bees detest artificial odors; and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with the counterfeit delights of the world.
4. The double-dealing and subtlety which we use in our spiritual communications with our director may also produce spiritual dryness; for, since you lie to the Holy Ghost, it is no wonder he should refuse his consolations. If you will not be as sincere and plain as a little child, you shall not, then, have the sugar-plums of little children.
5. If you have glutted yourself with worldly pleasures it is no wonder that you should find an unsavory taste in spiritual delights. When birds have once satiated their appetite the most delicious berries appear to them distasteful. "He hath filled the hungry with good things," says our blessed Lady. Luke ii. 33. "And the rich he hath sent away empty." They that are glutted with the pleasures of the world are not capable of the delights of the Spirit.
6. If you have been careful to preserve the fruits of the consolations which you have received, you shall receive new ones; for, to him that has, more shall be given; but he that has not kept, but lost, what was given him, through his own fault, shall never receive those graces which had been prepared for him. Rain enlivens green plants, but it destroys those that have lost their verdure.
There are several causes which occasion our fall from the consolations of devotion into dryness and barrenness of spirit. Let us, then, examine whether we can find any of them in ourselves; but observe, Philothea, that this examination is not to be made either with inquietude or too much curiosity; but if, after having faithfully considered our comportment, we find the cause of the evil to originate in ourselves, let us thank God for the discovery; for the evil is half cured when the cause of it is known; but if, on the contrary, you can find nothing in particular which may seem to have occasioned this dryness, trouble not yourself about making any further inquiry, but with all simplicity do as I shall now advise you.
1. Humble yourself very much before God, by acknowledging your own nothingness and misery. Alas! O Lord, what am I when left to myself but a dry, parched soil, which, far from receiving those showers, of which it stands in so so great need, is exposed to the wind, and thus reduced to dust. 2. Call upon God, and beg comfort of him. "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me.” Away, thou barren north wind, that witherest my soul; and blow, gentle gale of consolations, upon the garden of my heart, that its good affections may diffuse the odor of sweetness. 3. Go to your confessor, and opening to him the several plaits and folds of your soul, follow his advice with the utmost simplicity and humility; for God, who is well pleased with obedience, frequently renders the counsels we take from others, but especially from those who are the guides of our soul, profitable, when otherwise there might be no great appearance of success; as he imparted healing qualities to the waters of Jordan, the use of which Eliseus had, without any appearance of human reason, prescribed to Naaman. 4 Kings v. 14. 4. But, after all this, there is nothing so profitable, so fruitful, in a state of spiritual dryness, as not to suffer our affections to be too strongly fixed upon the desire of being delivered from it. I do not say that we ought not simply to wish for a deliverance, but that we should not set our heart upon it; but rather yield ourselves up to the pure mercy and special providence of God, that he may make use of us to serve him as long as he pleases. In the midst of these thorns and deserts let us say, "Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me"; but let us also add, courageously, "nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done." But here let us stop with as much tranquillity as possible; for God, beholding this holy indifference, will comfort us with many graces and favors; as was the case with Abraham when he resolved to deprive himself of his son Isaac. God, who contented himself with seeing him in this disposition of a pure resignation, comforted him with a most delightful vision, accompanied by the most consolatory benedictions. We ought, then, under all kinds of afflictions, whether corporal or spiritual, and amidst all the distractions or subtractions of sensible devotion which may happen to us, to say from the bottom of our heart, with profound submission, Job i. 21, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." For, if we continue in this humility, he will restore us his delightful favors as he did to Job, who constantly used the like words in his desolations.
Finally, Philothea, in the midst of our spiritual dryness, let us never lose courage, but wait with patience for the return of consolation. Let us not omit any of our exercises of devotion, but, if possible, let us multiply our good works; and, not being able to present to our dear Spouse the most exquisite dishes, let us offer him such as we can procure; for he is indifferent, provided the heart which offers them be perfectly fixed in the resolution of loving him. When the spring is fair the bees make more honey, and produce fewer young ones; for, when the fine weather favors them, they are so busy in their harvest among the flowers that they forget the production of their young; but when the spring is sharp and cloudy they produce more young ones, and less honey; for, not being able to go abroad to gather honey, they employ themselves at home to increase and multiply their race. Thus it happens frequently, Philothea, that the soul, finding herself in the fair spring of spiritual consolations, amuses herself so much in enjoying their sweetness, that in the abundance of these delights she produces fewer good works; whilst, on the contrary, in the midst of spiritual dryness, the more destitute she finds herself of the consolations of devotion, the more she multiplies her good works, and abounds in the interior generation of the virtues of patience, humility; self-contempt, resignation, and renunciation of self-love.
Many persons, especially women, falsely imagine that the spiritual exercises which they perform without relish, tenderness of heart, or sensible satisfaction, are less agreeable to the divine Majesty. Our actions are like roses, which when fresh have more beauty, yet when dry have more strength and sweetness. Our works performed with tenderness of heart are more agreeable to ourselves, who regard only our own satisfaction, yet when performed in the time of dryness they possess more sweetness, and become more precious in the sight of God. Yes, dear Philothea, in the time of dryness our will forces us to the service of God, as it were, by violence; and, consequently, it must necessarily be more vigorous and constant than in the time of consolation.
It is not great merit to serve a prince in the time of peace, amongst the delights of the court; but to serve him amidst the hardships of war, troubles and persecutions is a true mark of constancy and fidelity. The Blessed Angela de Fulgino says, that the prayer which is most acceptable to God is that which we make by force and constraint; the prayer to which we apply ourselves, not for the pleasure which we find in it, nor by inclination, but purely to please God; to which our will carries us against our inclinations, violently forcing its way through the midst of those clouds of avidity which oppose it. I say the same of every kind of good works, whether interior or exterior; for, the more repugnance we feel in performing them, the more agreeable they are in the sight of God. The less we consult our particular interest in the pursuit of virtues, the more brilliantly does the purity of divine love shine forth in them. A child easily is naturally affectionate to his mother when she gives him sugar; but it is a sign of a great love if he manifests the same affection after she has given him wormwood, or any other bitter potion.
Table of Contents Next Chapter
A REMARKABLE EXAMPLE IN CONFIRMATION OF THE PRECEDING REMARKS.
TO illustrate the whole of this instruction I will here relate an excellent passage from the history of St. Bernard, as I found it in a learned and judicious writer. Almost all, says he, who begin to serve God, and are not as yet experienced in the subtractions of grace, and in spiritual vicissitudes, finding themselves deprived of the sweetness of sensible devotion, and that agreeable light which invites them to run forward in the way of God, presently lose breath, and fall into pusillanimity and sadness. Persons of judgment account for this by saying that our rational nature cannot continue, for a long time, famished, as it were, and without some kind of delight, either heavenly or earthly. Now, as souls that are elevated above themselves, by the enjoyment of spiritual pleasures, easily renounce visible objects; so when, by the divine disposition, spiritual joy is withdrawn from them, finding themselves at the same time deprived of corporal consolations, and not being as yet accustomed to wait with patience for the return of the true sun, it seems to them as if they were neither in heaven nor on earth, and that they shall remain buried in a perpetual night. Thus, like little infants who have been weaned from the breast, they languish and moan, and become fretful and troublesome to every one, and especially to themselves. The following circumstance happened, in a journey mentioned in this history, to one of the company, named Geoffry of Peronne, who had lately dedicated himself to the service of God. Being suddenly deprived of consolation, and overwhelmed with interior disgust, he began to remember his worldly friends, his kindred, and the riches which he had lately forsaken; by which he was assaulted with so strong a temptation that, not being able to conceal it in his behavior, one of his greatest confidants perceived it, and, having taken an opportunity, accosted him with mildness, and said to him in private, "What means this, Geoffry? Whence comes it, that, contrary to custom, thou art so pensive and melancholy?"-"Ah, brother!" answered Geoffry, with a deep sigh, "I shall never, never more be joyful whilst I live." The other, moved to pity at these words, went immediately, with fraternal zeal, and told it to their common father, St. Bernard, who, perceiving the danger, went into the next church to pray to God for him; whilst Geoffry, in the meantime, being overwhelmed with sadness, and resting his head upon a stone, fell asleep. Shortly after both of them arose, the one from prayer, having obtained the favor he had asked for, and the other from a sleep, but with so pleasant and serene a countenance that his friend, surprised at so great and sudden a change, could not refrain from gently reproaching him with the answer he had a little before given him, to which Geoffry replied, "If I told thee before, that I should never more be joyful, I now assure thee that I shall never more be sorrowful."
Such was the issue of the temptation of this devout person. But observe, in this relation, dear Philothea, 1. That God commonly grants some foretaste of heavenly delight to such as enter into his service, in order to withdraw them from earthly pleasures, and encourage them in the pursuit of divine love; as a mother who, to allure her little infant to her breasts, puts honey upon them. 2. That, according to the secret designs of his providence, he is pleased to withhold from us the milk and honey of consolation, that, by weaning us in this manner, we may learn to feed on the more dry and solid bread of a vigorous devotion, exercised under the trials of disgust and spiritual dryness. 3. That, as violent temptations frequently arise during this desolating avidity, we must resolutely fight against them, since they proceed not from God; but, nevertheless, we must patiently suffer the avidity itself, since God has ordained it for the exercise of our virtue. 4. That we must never lose courage amidst those interior pains and conflicts, nor say with good Geoffry, "I shall never more be joyful"; for in the midst of the darkness of the night we must look for the return of daylight: and, again, in the fairest spiritual weather we must not say, I shall never more be sorrowful; for, as the wise man says, "In the day of good things be not unmindful of evils." Eccles. xi, 27. We must hope in the midst of afflictions, and fear in the midst of prosperity; and on both occasions we must always humble ourselves. 5. That it is a sovereign remedy to discover our evil to some spiritual friend, who may be able to give us comfort.
I think it necessary to observe, Philothea, that in these conflicts God and our spiritual enemy have contrary designs. Our good God seeks to conduct us to perfect purity of heart, to an entire renunciation of self-interest in what relates to his service and to an absolute self-denial; whereas our internal foe endeavors, by these severe trials, to discourage us from the practice of prayer, and entice us back to sensual pleasures, that by thus making us troublesome to ourselves and to others he may discredit holy devotion. But, provided you observe the lessons I have given you, you will, amidst these interior afflictions, rapidly advance in the way of perfection. I cannot, however, dismiss this important subject without adding a few words more.
It sometimes happens that spiritual dryness proceeds from an indisposition of body, as when, through an excess of watching, labor, or fasting, we find ourselves oppressed by fatigue, drowsiness, lassitude, and the like infirmities, which, though they depend on the body, yet are calculated to incommode the spirit also, on account of the intimate connection that subsists between both. Now, on such occasions, we must never omit to perform several acts of virtue with the superior parts of our souls and the force of our will. For although our whole soul seems to be asleep, and overwhelmed with drowsiness and fatigue, yet the actions of the superior part cease not to be very acceptable to God; and we may say at the same time, with the sacred Spouse, "I sleep, and my heart watches." Cant. v. 2. For, as I have observed before, though there is less satisfaction in this manner of performing our spiritual exercises, yet there is more merit and virtue. Now, the remedy on such occasion is to recruit the strength and vigor of our body by some kind of lawful recreation. So St. Francis ordained that his religious should use such moderation in their labors as not to oppress the fervor of their spirits.
As I am speaking of this glorious father, I must not forget to tell you that he himself was once assaulted by so deep a melancholy of spirit that he could not help showing it in his behavior; for if he desired to converse with his religious he was unable; if he withdrew himself from them it was worse; abstinence and corporal mortification oppressed him, and prayer gave him no relief. He continued two years in this manner, so that he seemed to be quite abandoned by God; but at length, after he had humbly suffered this violent storm, our Saviour, in an instant, restored him to a happy tranquillity. If, therefore, the greatest servants of God are subject to these shocks, how can we be astonished if they sometimes happen to us?