CONTAINING COUNSELS AND PRACTICES FOR RENEWING AND CONFIRMING THE SOUL IN DEVOTION.
|I.||It is well yearly to renew Good Resolutions by means of the following Exercises . . . 346|
|II.||Meditation on the Benefit conferred on us by God in calling us to His Service . . . 348|
|III.||Examination of the Soul as to its Progress in the Devout Life . . . 351|
|IV.||Examination of the Soul's Condition as regards God . . . 354|
|V.||Examination of your Condition as regards yourself . . . 357|
|VI.||Examination of the Soul's Condition as regards our Neighbour . . . 358|
|VII.||Examination as to the Affections of the Soul . . . 359|
|VIII.||The Affections to be excited after such Examination . . . 361|
|IX.||Reflections suitable to the renewal of Good Resolutions . . . 362|
|X.||First Consideration--Of the Worth of Souls . . . 363|
|XI.||Second Consideration--On the Excellence of Virtue . . . 364|
|XII.||The Example of the Saints . . . 366|
|XIII.||The Love which Jesus Christ bears to us . . . 367|
|XIV.||The Eternal Love of God for us . . . 369|
|XV.||General Affections which should result from these Considerations, and Conclusion of the Exercise . . . 370|
|XVI.||The Impressions which should remain after this Exercise . . . 372|
|XVII.||An Answer to Two Objections which may be made to this Book . . . 373|
|XVIII.||Three Important and Final Counsels . . . 375|
It is well yearly to renew Good Resolutions by means of the following Exercises.
THE first point in these exercises is to appreciate their importance. Our earthly nature easily falls away from its higher tone by reason of the frailty and evil tendency of the flesh, oppressing and dragging down the soul, unless it is constantly rising up by means of a vigorous resolution, just as a bird would speedily fall to the ground if it did not maintain its flight by repeated strokes of its wings. In order to this, my daughter, you need frequently to reiterate the good resolutions you have made to serve God, for fear that, failing to do so, you fall away, not only to your former condition, but lower still; since it is a characteristic of all spiritual falls that they invariably throw us lower than we were at the beginning. There is no clock, (347) however good, but must be continually wound up; and moreover, during the course of each year it will need taking to pieces, to cleanse away the rust which clogs it, to straighten bent works, and renew such as are worn. Even so, any one who really cares for his heart's devotion will wind it up to God night and morning, and examine into its condition, correcting and improving it; and at least once a year he will take the works to pieces and examine them carefully;--I mean his affections and passions,--so as to repair whatever may be amiss. And just as the clockmaker applies a delicate oil to all the wheels and springs of a clock, so that it may work properly and be less liable to rust, so the devout soul, after thus taking the works of his heart to pieces, will lubricate them with the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. These exercises will repair the waste caused by time, will kindle your heart, revive your good resolutions, and cause the graces of your mind to flourish anew. The early Christians observed some such practice on the Anniversary of our Lord's Baptism, when, as S. Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzen, tells us, they renewed the profession and promises made in that Sacrament. It were well to do the like, my child, making due and earnest preparation, and setting very seriously to work.
Having then chosen a suitable time, according to the advice of your spiritual father, and having retired somewhat more than usual into a literal and spiritual solitude, make one, two, or three meditations on the following points, according to the method I set before you in Part II.
Meditation on the Benefit conferred on us by God in calling us to His Service.
1. CONSIDER the points on which you are about to renew your resolutions. Firstly, that you have forsaken, rejected, detested and renounced all mortal sin for ever. Secondly, that you have dedicated and consecrated your soul, heart and body, with everything appertaining thereto, to the Service and Love of God. Thirdly, that if you should unhappily fall into any sin, you would forthwith rise up again, with the help of God's Grace. Are not these worthy, right, noble resolutions? Consider well within your soul how holy, reasonable and desirable an act it is to renew them. 2. Consider to Whom you make these promises; for if a deliberate promise made to (349) men is strictly binding, how much more those which we make to God. "My heart is inditing of a good matter. I will not forget Thee," David cried out. (a) 3. Consider before Whom you promised. It was before the whole Court of Heaven. The Blessed Virgin, S. Joseph, your Guardian Angel, S. Louis, the whole Company of the Blessed, were looking on with joy and approbation, beholding, with love unspeakable, your heart cast at your Saviour's Feet and dedicated to His Service. That act of yours called forth special delight in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and it will now be renewed if you on your part heartily renew your good resolutions. 4. Consider how you were led to make those resolutions. How good and gracious God was then to you! Did He not draw you by the tender wiles of His Holy Spirit? Were not the sails by which your little bark was wafted into the haven of safety those of love and charity? Did not God lure you on with His Heavenly Sweetness, by Sacraments, prayer, and pious books? Ah, my child, while you slept God watched over you with His boundless Love, and breathed thoughts of peace into your heart! 5. Consider when God led you to these important resolutions. It was in the flower of (350) your life, and how great the blessing of learning early what we can never know soon enough. S. Augustine, who acquired that knowledge when he was thirty years old, exclaimed, "Oh, Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new, too late I loved Thee! Thou wert within and I abroad: Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee." (b) Even so you may say, "Oh, Blessedness of ancient days, wherefore did I not appreciate Thee sooner!" You were not yet worthy of it, and yet God gave you such grace in your youth;--therefore say with David, "Thou, O God, hast taught me from my youth up until now; therefore will I tell of Thy wondrous works." (c) Or if you who read should not have known Him till old age, bethink you how great His Grace in calling you after you had wasted so many years; how gracious the Mercy which drove you from your evil courses before the hour of death, which, had it found you unchanged, must have brought you eternal woe. Consider the results of this call; you will surely find a change for the better, comparing what you are with what you were. Is it not a blessing to know how to talk with God in prayer, to desire to love Him, to have stilled and subdued sundry passions which disturbed you, to have conquered sundry sins and (351) perplexities, and to have received so many more Communions than formerly, thereby being united to the Great Source of all eternal grace? Are not all these things exceeding blessings? Weigh them, my child, in the balances of the sanctuary, for it is God's Right Hand which has done all this: "The Right Hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence, the Right Hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord" (d) with heart, lips and deeds. After dwelling upon all these considerations, which will kindle abundance of lively affections in you, you should conclude simply with an act of thanksgiving, and a hearty prayer that they may bring forth fruit, leaving off with great humility and trust in God, and reserving the final results of your resolution till after the second point of this spiritual exercise.
a. Ps. xlv. 1.; xliv. 18.
b. Conf., Oxf. Trans. bk. x. p. 203.
c. Ps. lxxi. 15.
d. Ps. cxviii. 16, 17.
Examination of the Soul as to its Progress in the Devout Life.
THIS second point is somewhat lengthy, and I would begin by saying that there (352) is no need for you to carry it out all at once. Divide it by taking your conduct towards God at one time, all that concerns yourself another time, all that concerns your neighbour, and fourthly, the examination of your passions. It is neither necessary nor expedient that you make it upon your knees, always excepting the beginning and the end, which includes the affections. The other points of self-examination you may make profitably when out walking, or better still, in bed, that is, if you can keep wide awake and free from drowsiness; but to do this you must read them over carefully beforehand. Anyhow, it is desirable to go through this second point in three days and two nights at the most, taking that season which you can best manage; for if you go through it at too distant intervals you will lose the depth of impression which ought to be made by this spiritual exercise. After each point of examination observe wherein you have failed, and what is lacking to you, and in what you have chiefly failed, so that you may be able to explain your troubles, get counsel and comfort, and make fresh resolutions. It is not necessary entirely to shun all society on the days you select for this work, but you must contrive a certain amount of retirement, especially in the evening, so as to get to bed somewhat earlier than usual, with a view to that rest, bodily and (353) mental, which is so important for serious thought. And during the day make frequent aspirations to Our Lord, Our Lady, the Angels, and all the Heavenly Jerusalem. Everything must be done with a heart full of God's Love, and an earnest desire for spiritual perfection. To begin this examination,-- 1. Place yourself in the Presence of God. 2. Invoke the Holy Spirit, and ask light of Him, so that you may know yourself, as S. Augustine did, crying out, "Lord, teach me to know Thee, and to know myself;" and S. Francis, who asked, "Who art Thou, Lord, and who am I?" Resolve not to note any progress with any self-satisfaction or self-glorification, but give the glory to God Alone, and thank Him duly for it. Resolve, too, that if you should seem to yourself to have made but little progress, or even to have gone back, that you will not be discouraged thereby, nor grow cool or indolent in the matter; but that, on the contrary, you will take fresh pains to humble yourself and conquer your faults, with God's Help. Then go on to examine quietly and patiently how you have conducted yourself towards God, your neighbour and yourself, up to the present time.
Examination of the Soul's Condition as regards God.
1. WHAT is the aspect of your heart with respect to mortal sin? Are you firmly resolved never to commit it, let come what may? And have you kept that resolution from the time you first made it? Therein lies the foundation of the spiritual life.
2. What is your position with respect to the Commandments of God? Are they acceptable, light and easy to you? He who has a good digestion and healthy appetite likes good food, and turns away from that which is bad.
3. How do you stand as regards venial sins? No one can help committing some such occasionally; but are there none to which you have any special tendency, or worse still, any actual liking and clinging?
4. With respect to spiritual exercises--do you like and value them? or do they weary and vex you? To which do you feel most or least disposed, hearing or reading God's Word, meditating upon it, calling upon God, Confession, preparing for Communion and communicating, controlling your inclinations, etc.? What of all these is most repugnant to you? And if you (355) find that your heart is not disposed to any of these things, examine into the cause, find out whence the disinclination comes.
5. With respect to God Himself--does your heart delight in thinking of God, does it crave after the sweetness thereof? "I remembered Thine everlasting judgments, O Lord, and received comfort," says David. (a) Do you feel a certain readiness to love Him, and a definite inclination to enjoy His Love? Do you take pleasure in dwelling upon the Immensity, the Goodness, the Tenderness of God? When you are immersed in the occupations and vanities of this world, does the thought of God come across you as a welcome thing? do you accept it gladly, and yield yourself up to it, and your heart turn with a sort of yearning to Him? There are souls that do so.
6. If a wife has been long separated from her husband, so soon as she sees him returning, and hears his voice, however cumbered she may be with business, or forcibly hindered by the pressure of circumstances, her heart knows no restraint, but turns at once from all else to think upon him she loves. So it is with souls which really love God, however engrossed they may be; when the thought of Him is brought before them, they forget all else for joy at feeling (356) His Dear Presence nigh, and this is a very good sign.
7. With respect to Jesus Christ as God and Man--how does your heart draw to Him? Honey bees seek their delight in their honey, but wasps hover over stinking carrion. Even so pious souls draw all their joy from Jesus Christ, and love Him with an exceeding sweet Love, but those who are careless find their pleasure in worldly vanities.
8. With respect to Our Lady, the Saints, and your Guardian Angel--do you love them well? Do you rejoice in the sense of their guardianship? Do you take pleasure in their lives, their pictures, their memories?
9. As to your tongue--how do you speak of God? Do you take pleasure in speaking His Praise, and singing His Glory in psalms and hymns?
10. As to actions--have you God's visible glory at heart, and do you delight in doing whatever you can to honour Him? Those who love God will love to adorn and beautify His House. Are you conscious of having ever given up anything you liked, or of renouncing anything for God's Sake? for it is a good sign when we deprive ourselves of something we care for on behalf of those we love. What have you ever given up for the Love of God?
a. Ps. cxix. 52.
Examination of your Condition as regards yourself.
1. HOW do you love yourself? Is it a love which concerns this life chiefly? If so, you will desire to abide here for ever, and you will diligently seek your worldly establishment,--but if the love you bear yourself has a heavenward tendency, you will long, or, at all events you will be ready to go hence whensoever it may please our Lord.
2. Is your love of yourself well regulated? for nothing is more ruinous than an inordinate love of self. A well-regulated love implies greater care for the soul than for the body; more eagerness in seeking after holiness than aught else; a greater value for heavenly glory than for any mean earthly honour. A well regulated heart much oftener asks itself, "What will the angels say if I follow this or that line of conduct?" than what will men say.
3. What manner of love do you bear to your own heart? Are you willing to minister to it in its maladies? for indeed you are bound to succour it, and seek help for it when harassed by passion, and to leave all else till that is done.
4. What do you imagine yourself worth in (358) God's Sight? Nothing, doubtless, nor is there any great humility in the fly which confesses it is nought, as compared with a mountain, or a drop of water, which knows itself to be nothing compared with the sea, or a cornflower, or a spark, as compared with the sun. But humility consists in not esteeming ourselves above other men, and in not seeking to be esteemed above them. How is it with you in this respect?
5. In speech--do you never boast in any way? Do you never indulge in self-flattery when speaking of yourself?
6. In deed--do you indulge in anything prejudicial to your health,--I mean useless idle pleasures, unprofitable night-watches, and the like?
Examination of the Soul's Condition as regards our Neighbour.
HUSBAND and wife are bound to love one another with a tender, abiding, restful love, and this tie stands foremost by God's order and Will. And I say the same with respect to children and all near relations, as also friends in their respective degrees. But, generally speaking, how is it with you as concerning (359) your neighbour? Do you love him cordially, and for God's Sake? In order to answer this fairly, you must call to mind sundry disagreeable, annoying people, for it is in such cases that we really practise the Love of God with respect to our neighbours, and still more towards them that do us wrong, either by word or deed. Examine whether your heart is thoroughly clear as regards all such, and whether it costs you a great effort to love them. Are you quick to speak ill of your neighbours, especially of such as do not love you? Do you act unkindly in any way, directly or indirectly, towards them? A very little honest self-dealing will enable you to find this out.
Examination as to the Affectations of the Soul.
I HAVE dwelt thus at length on these points, on a due examination of which all true knowledge of our spiritual progress rests; as to an examination of sins, that rather pertains to the confessions of those who are not eager to advance. But it is well to take ourselves to task soberly concerning these different matters, investigating how we have been going on since we (360) made good resolutions concerning them, and what notable faults we have committed. But the summary of all is to examine into our passions; and if you are worried by so detailed an investigation as that already suggested, you may make a briefer inquiry as to what you have been, and how you have acted, in some such manner as this:-- In your love of God, your neighbour, and yourself. In hatred for the sin which is in yourself, for the sin which you find in others, since you ought to desire the extirpation of both; in your desires concerning riches, pleasure, and honour. In fear of the perils of sin, and of the loss of this world's goods; we fear the one too much and the other too little. In hope, fixed overmuch it may be on things of this world and the creature; too little on God and things eternal. In sadness, whether it be excessive concerning unimportant matters. In gladness, whether it be excessive concerning unworthy objects. In short, examine what attachments hinder your spiritual life, what passions engross it, and what chiefly attracts you. It is by testing the passions of the soul, one by one, that we ascertain our spiritual condition, (361) just as one who plays the lute tries every string, touching those which are discordant, either raising or lowering them. Thus having tried our soul as to love, hate, desire, fear, hope, sadness and joy, if we find our strings out of tune for the melody we wish to raise, which is God's Glory, we must tune them afresh with the help of His Grace, and the counsel of our spiritual father.
The Affections to be excited after such Examination.
WHEN you have quietly gone through each point of this examination, and have ascertained your own position, you will excite certain feelings and affections in your heart. Thank God for such amendment, however slight, as you may have found in yourself, confessing that it is the work of His Mercy Alone in you. Humble yourself deeply before God, confessing that if your progress has been but small, it is your own fault, for not having corresponded faithfully, bravely and continually to the inspirations and lights which He has given you in prayer or otherwise. Promise to praise Him for ever for the graces (362) He has granted to you, and because He has led you against your will to make even this small progress. Ask forgiveness for the disloyalty and faithlessness with which you have answered Him. Offer your whole heart to Him that He Alone may rule therein. Entreat Him to keep you faithful to Himself. Ponder over the examples of the Saints, the Blessed Virgin, your guardian Angel and patron Saint, S. Joseph, etc.
Reflections suitable to the renewal of Good Resolutions.
AFTER you have made this self-examination, and having conferred with some holy director as to your shortcomings and their remedies, you will do well to pursue the following considerations, taking one daily as a meditation, and giving to it the time usually so spent; always making the same preparation and kindling the same affections as you learnt to use before meditating in Part I. Above all, placing yourself in the Presence of God, and earnestly asking His Grace to confirm you and keep you stedfast in His Holy Love and Service.
First Consideration--of the Worth of Souls.
CONSIDER how noble and excellent a thing your soul is, endowed with understanding, capable of knowing, not merely this visible world around us, but Angels and Paradise, of knowing that there is an All-Mighty, All-Merciful, Ineffable God; of knowing that eternity lies before you, and of knowing what is necessary in order so to live in this visible world as to attain to fellowship with those Angels in Paradise, and the eternal fruition of God. Yet more;---your soul is possessed of a noble will, capable of loving God, irresistibly drawn to that love; your heart is full of generous enthusiasm, and can no more find rest in any earthly creation, or in aught save God, than the bee can find honey on a dunghill, or in aught save flowers. Let your mind boldly review the wild earthly pleasures which once filled your heart, and see whether they did not abound in uneasiness and doubts, in painful thoughts and uncomfortable cares, amid which your troubled heart was miserable. When the heart of man seeks the creature, it goes to work eagerly, expecting to satisfy its cravings; (364) but directly it obtains what it sought, it finds a blank, and dissatisfied, begins to seek anew; for God will not suffer our hearts to find any rest, like the dove going forth from Noah's ark, until it returns to God, whence it came. Surely this is a most striking natural beauty in our heart;--why should we constrain it against its will to seek creature love? In some such wise might you address your soul: "You are capable of realising a longing after God, why should you trifle with anything lower? you can live for eternity, why should you stop short in time? One of the sorrows of the prodigal son was, that, when he might have been living in plenty at his father's table, he had brought himself to share the swine's husks. My soul, you are made for God, woe be to you if you stop short in anything short of Him!" Lift up your soul with thoughts such as these, convince it that it is eternal, and worthy of eternity; fill it with courage in this pursuit.
Second Consideration--on the Excellence of Virtue.
CONSIDER that nothing save holiness and devotion can satisfy your soul in this (365) world: behold how gracious they are; draw a contrast between each virtue and its opposite vice; how gracious patience is compared with vengeance; gentleness compared with anger; humility with pride and arrogance; liberality with avarice; charity with envy; sobriety with unsteadiness. It is one charm of all virtues that they fill the soul with untold sweetness after being practised, whereas vice leaves it harassed and ill at ease. Who would not speedily set to work and obtain such sweetness? In the matter of evil, he who has a little is not contented, and he who has much is discontented; but he who has a little virtue is gladsome, and his gladness is for ever greater as he goes on. O devout life! you are indeed lovely, sweet and pleasant; you can soften sorrows and sweeten consolations; without you good becomes evil, pleasure is marred by anxiety and distress: verily whoso knows what you are may well say with the woman of Samaria, "Lord, give me this water," (a) an aspiration often uttered by Saint Theresa and Saint Catherine of Genoa.
a. S. John iv. 15.
The Example of the Saints.
CONSIDER the example of the Saints on all sides, what have they not done in order to love God and lead a devout life? Call to mind the Martyrs in their invincible firmness, and the tortures they endured in order to maintain their resolutions; remember the matrons and maidens, whiter than lilies in their purity, ruddier than the rose in their love, who at every age, from childhood upward, bore all manner of martyrdom sooner than forsake their resolutions, not only such as concerned their profession of faith, but that of devotion; some dying rather than lose their virginity, others rather than cease their works of mercy to the sick and sorrowful. Truly the frail sex has set forth no small courage in such ways. Consider all the Saintly Confessors, how heartily they despised the world, and how they stood by their resolutions, taken unreservedly and kept inviolably. Remember what S. Augustine says of his mother Monica, of her determination to serve God in her married life and in her widowhood; and S. Jerome and his beloved (367) daughter S. Paula amid so many changes and chances. What may we not achieve with such patterns before our eyes? They were but what we are, they wrought for the same God, seeking the same graces; why may not we do as much in our own state of life, and according to our several vocations, on behalf of our most cherished resolutions and holy profession of faith?
The Love which Jesus Christ bears to us.
CONSIDER the Love with which our Dear Lord Jesus Christ bore so much in this world, especially in the Garden of Olives and on Mount Calvary; that Love bore you in mind, and through all those pains and toils He obtained your good resolutions for you, as also all that is needful to maintain, foster, strengthen and consummate those resolutions. How precious must the resolutions be which are the fruits of our Lord's Passion! and how dear to my heart, since they were dear to that of Jesus! Saviour of my soul, Thou didst die to win them for me; grant me grace sooner to die than forget them. Be sure, my daughter, that the Heart of our (368) most Dear Lord beheld you from the tree of the Cross and loved you, and by that Love He won for you all good things which you were ever to have, and amongst them your good resolutions. Of a truth we have all reason like Jeremiah to confess that the Lord knew us, and called us by our name or ever we were born, (a) the more that His Divine Goodness in its Love and Mercy made ready all things, general and individual, which could promote our salvation, and among them our resolutions. A woman with child makes ready for the babe she expects, prepares its cradle, its swaddling clothes and its nurse; even so our Lord, while hanging on His Cross, prepared all that you could need for your happiness, all the means, the graces, the leadings, by which He leads your soul onwards towards perfection. Surely we ought ever to remember this, and ask fervently: Is it possible that I was loved, and loved so tenderly by my Saviour, that He should have thought of me individually, and in all these details by which He has drawn me to Himself? With what love and gratitude ought I to use all He has given me? The Loving Heart of my God thought of my soul, loved it, and prepared endless means to promote its salvation, even as though there were no other (369) soul on earth of which He thought; just as the sun shines on each spot of earth as brightly as though it shone nowhere else, but reserved all its brightness for that alone. So Our Dear Lord thought and cared for every one of His children as though none other existed. "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me," (b) S. Paul says, as though he meant, "for me alone, as if there were none but me He cared for." Let this be graven in your soul, my child, the better to cherish and foster your good resolutions, which are so precious to the Heart of Jesus.
a. Jer. i. 5.
b. Gal. ii. 20.
The Eternal Love of God for us.
CONSIDER the Eternal Love God has borne you, in that, even before our Lord Jesus Christ became Man and suffered on the Cross for you, His Divine Majesty designed your existence and loved you. When did He begin to love you? When He began to be God, and that was never, for He ever was, without beginning and without end. Even so He always loved you from eternity, and therefore He made ready all the graces and gifts with which He has (370) endowed you. He says by His prophet, "I have loved thee" (and it is YOU that He means) "with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." (a) And amid these drawings of His Love He led you to make these resolutions to serve Him. What must resolutions be which God has foreseen, pondered, dwelt upon from all eternity? how dear and precious to us! Surely we should be ready to suffer anything whatsoever rather than let go one particle of the same. The whole world is not worth one soul, and the soul is worth but little without its good resolutions.
a. Jer. xxxi. 3.
General Affections which should result from these Considerations, and Conclusion of the Exercise.
O PRECIOUS resolutions! ye are as the lovely tree of life planted by God's Own Hand in the midst of my heart, a tree which my Saviour has watered with His Blood. Rather would I die a thousand deaths than suffer any blast of wind to root you up--neither vanity, nor pleasure, nor wealth, nor sorrows shall ever overthrow my intentions. Lord, Thou hast planted and nurtured this (371) tree in Thy Bosom, but how many souls there are which have not been thus favoured, how can I ever sufficiently acknowledge Thy Mercy? Blessed and holy resolutions, if I do but keep you, you will keep me! if you live in my soul, my soul will live in you. Live ever, then, ye resolutions, which have an eternity of your own in God's Mercy, live ever in me, and may I never forsake you. Next, you must particularise the necessary means for maintaining your good resolutions, determining to use them diligently,--such as frequency in prayer, in Sacraments, in good works; the amendment of the faults you have already discovered, cutting off occasions of sin, and following out carefully all the advice given you with this view. Then, take breath as it were in a renewed profession of your resolutions, and, as though you held your heart in your hands,--dedicate, consecrate, sacrifice, immolate it to God, vowing never to recall it, but leave it for ever in His Right Hand of Majesty, prepared everywhere and in all things to obey His Commands. Ask God to renew your will, to bless your renewed resolutions and to strengthen them. While your heart is thus roused and excited, hasten to your spiritual father, accuse yourself of any faults which you have discovered since you made your general confession, and (372) receive absolution as you did at the first. Make your protest and sign it in his presence, and then lose no time in uniting your renewed heart to its Creator and Saviour, in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The Impressions which should remain after this Exercise.
ON the day you make this renewal of your resolutions, and on those immediately following, you should often repeat with heart and voice the earnest words of S. Paul, S. Augustine, S. Catherine of Genoa, and others like-minded, "I am not mine own, whether I live or whether I die, I am the Lord's. There is no longer any me or mine, my 'me' is Jesus, my 'mine' is to be His. Thou world, wilt ever be thyself, and hitherto I have been myself, but henceforth I will be so no more." We shall indeed not be ourselves any more, for our heart will be changed, and the world which has so often deceived us will in its turn be deceived in us; our change will be so gradual that the world will still suppose us to be Esau, while really we are Jacob.
All our devout exercises must sink into the heart, and when we come forth from our meditation and retirement it behoves us to tread warily in business or society, lest the wine of our good resolutions be heedlessly spilt; rather let it soak in and penetrate every faculty of the soul, but quietly, and without bodily or mental excitement.
An Answer to Two Objections which may be made to this Book.
THE world will tell you, my child, that all these counsels and practices are so numerous, that anybody who tries to heed them can pay no attention to anything else. Verily, my dear daughter, if we did nothing else we should not be far wrong, since we should be doing all that we ought to do in this world. But you see the fallacy? If all these exercises were to be performed every day they would undoubtedly fill up all our time, but it is only necessary to use them according to time and place as they are wanted. What a quantity of laws there are in our civil codes and digests! But they are only called into use from time to (374) time, as circumstances arise, not every day. Besides, for that matter, David, king as he was, and involved in a multiplicity of complicated affairs, fulfilled more religious duties than those which I have suggested; and S. Louis, a monarch unrivalled in time of peace or war, who was most diligent in the administration of justice and in ruling his country, nevertheless was wont to hear two masses daily, to say vespers and compline with his chaplain, and to make his meditation daily. He used to visit the hospitals every Friday, was regular at confession, took the discipline, often attended sermons and spiritual conferences, and withal he never lost any opportunity of promoting the public welfare, and his court was more flourishing and notable than that of any of his predecessors. Be bold and resolute then in performing the spiritual exercises I have set before you, and God will give you time and strength for all other duties, yea, even if He were to cause the sun to stand still, as He did in Joshua's time. (a) We are sure always to do enough when God works with us. Moreover, the world will say that I take it for granted that those I address have the gift of mental prayer, which nevertheless every one does not possess, and that consequently this book (375) will not be of use to all. Doubtless it is true that I have assumed this, and it is also true that every one has not the gift of mental prayer, but it is a gift which almost every one can obtain, even the most ignorant, provided they are under a good director, and will take as much pains as the thing deserves to acquire it. And if there are any altogether devoid of this gift (which I believe will very rarely be the case), a wise spiritual father will easily teach them how to supply the deficiency, by reading or listening to the meditations and considerations supplied in this book or elsewhere.
a. Josh. x. 12, 13.
Three Important and Final Counsels.
ON the first day of every month renew the resolution given in Part I. after meditation, and make continual protestation of your intention to keep it, saying with David, "I will never forget Thy Commandments, for with them Thou hast quickened me." (a) And whenever you feel any deterioration in your spiritual condition, take out your protest, and prostrating yourself in a humble spirit, renew it heartily, and you will assuredly find great relief.
Make open profession of your desire to be devout; I will not say to be devout, but to desire it; and do not be ashamed of the ordinary, needful actions which lead us on in the Love of God. Acknowledge boldly that you try to meditate, that you would rather die than commit a mortal sin; that you frequent the Sacraments, and follow the advice of your director (although for various reasons it may not be necessary to mention his name). This open confession that you intend to serve God, and that you have devoted yourself deliberately and heartily to His Holy Love, is very acceptable to His Divine Majesty, for He would not have any of us ashamed of Him or of His Cross. Moreover, it cuts at the root of many a hindrance which the world tries to throw in our way, and so to say, commits us to the pursuit of holiness. The philosophers of old used to give themselves out as such, in order to be left unmolested in their philosophic life; and we ought to let it be known that we aim at devotion in order that we may be suffered to live devoutly. And if any one affirms that you can live a devout life without following all these practices and counsels, do not deny it, but answer meekly that your infirmity is great, and needs more help and support than many others may require.
Finally, my beloved child, I intreat you by all that is sacred in heaven and in earth, by your own Baptism, by the breast which Jesus sucked, by the tender Heart with which He loves you, and by the bowels of compassion in which you hope--be stedfast and persevere in this most blessed undertaking to live a devout life. Our days pass away, death is at hand. "The trumpet sounds a recall," says S. Gregory Nazianzen, "in order that every one may make ready, for Judgment is near." When S. Symphorian was led to his martyrdom, his mother cried out to him, "My son, my son, remember life eternal, look to Heaven, behold Him Who reigns there; for the brief course of this life will soon be ended." Even so would I say to you: Look to Heaven, and do not lose it for earth; look at Hell, and do not plunge therein for the sake of this passing life; look at Jesus Christ, and do not deny Him for the world's sake; amid if the devout life sometimes seems hard and dull, join in Saint Francis' song, --
"Tanto `e il bene ch' io aspetto Ch' ogni pena m' e diletto." These are the words of Saint Francis d'Assisi, which S. Francis de Sales renders-- "A cause des biens que j'attends, Les travaux me sont passe-temps."
"So vast the joys that I await, No earthly travail seemeth great."
Glory be to Jesus, to Whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, now and ever, and to all Eternity. Amen.
(a) Ps. cxix. 93.
Introduction to the Devout Life
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