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OF THE FIRST SENTIMENTS OF LOVE WHICH DIVINE INSPIRATIONS CAUSE IN THE SOUL BEFORE SHE HAS FAITH.
The wind that raises the apodes blows first upon their feathers, as the parts most light and most susceptible of its agitation, by which it gives the beginning of motion to their wings, extending and displaying them in such sort that they give a hold by which to seize the bird and waft it into the air. And if they, thus raised, do contribute the motion of their wings to that of the wind, the same wind that took them will still aid them more and more to fly with ease. Even so, my dear Theotimus, when the inspiration, as a sacred gale, comes to blow us forward into the air of holy love, it first takes our will, and by the sentiment of some heavenly delectation it moves it, extending and unfolding the natural inclination which the will has to good, so that this same inclination serves as a hold by which to seize our spirit. And all this, as I have said, is done in us without us, for it is the divine favour that prevents us in this sort. But if our will thus holily prevented, perceiving the wings of her inclination moved, displayed, extended, stirred, and agitated, by this heavenly wind, contributes, be it never so little, its consent—Ah! how happy it is, Theotimus. The same favourable inspiration which has seized us, mingling its action with our consent, animating our feeble motions with its vigour, and vivifying our weak cooperation by the power of its operation, will aid, conduct, and accompany us, from love to love, even unto the act of most holy faith requisite for our conversion.
True God! Theotimus, what a consolation it is to consider the secret method by which the Holy Ghost pours into our hearts the first rays and feelings of his light and vital heat! O Jesus! how delightful a pleasure it is to see celestial love, which is the sun of virtues, as little by little with a progress which insensibly becomes sensible, it displays its light upon a soul, and stops not till it has it all covered with the splendour of its presence, giving it at last the perfect beauty of love's day! O how cheerful, beautiful, sweet and agreeable this daybreak is! Nevertheless true it is that break of day is either not day, or if it be day, it is but a beginning day, a rising of the day, and rather the infancy of the day than the day itself. In like manner without doubt these motions of love which forerun the act of faith required for our justification are either not love properly speaking, or but a beginning and imperfect love. They are the first verdant buds which the soul, warmed with the heavenly sun, begins, as a mystical tree, to put forth in springtime, rather presages of fruit than fruit itself.
S. Pachomius then a young soldier and without knowledge of God, enrolled under the colours of the army which Constantine had levied against the tyrant Maxentius, came, with the troop to which he belonged, to lodge nigh a little town not far distant from Thebes, where he, and indeed the whole army, were in extreme want of victuals. The inhabitants of the little town having understood this, being by good fortune of the faithful of Jesus Christ, and consequently friendly and charitable to their neighbours, immediately succoured the soldiers in their necessities, but with such care, courtesy and love, that Pachomius was struck with admiration thereat, and asking what nation it was that was so good, amiable and gracious, it was answered him that they were Christians; and inquiring again what law and manner of life were theirs, he learned that they believed in Jesus Christ the only Son of God, and did good to all sorts of people, with a firm hope of receiving from God himself an ample recompense. Alas! Theotimus, the poor Pachomius, though of a good natural disposition, was as yet asleep in the bed of his infidelity, and behold how upon a sudden God was present at the gate of his heart, and by the good example of these Christians, as by a sweet voice, he calls him, awakens him, and gives him the first feelings of the vital heat of his love. For scarcely had he heard, as I have said, of the sweet law of Our Saviour, than, all filled with a new light and interior consolation, having retired apart, and mused for a space, he lifted up his hands towards heaven, and with a profound sigh he said: Lord God, who hast made heaven and earth, if thou deign to cast thine eyes upon my baseness and misery, and to give me the knowledge of thy divinity, I promise to serve thee, and obey thy commandments all the days of my life! After this prayer and promise, the love of the true good and of piety so increased in him, that he ceased not to practise a thousand thousand acts of virtue.
Methinks I see in this example a nightingale which, awaking at the peep of day, begins to stir, and to stretch itself, unfold its plumes, skip from branch to branch in its grove, and little by little warble out its delicious wood-music. For did you not note, how the good example of the charitable Christians excited and awakened with a sudden start the blessed Pachomius? Truly this astonished admiration he had was nothing else than his awakening, in which God touched him, as the sun touches the earth, with a ray of his brightness, which filled him with a great feeling of spiritual pleasure. For which cause Pachomius shakes himself loose from distractions, to the end he may with more attention and facility gather together and relish the grace he has received, withdrawing himself to think thereupon. Then he extends his heart and hands towards heaven, whither the inspiration is drawing him, and beginning to display the wings of his affections, flying between diffidence of himself, and confidence in God, he entones in a humbly amorous air the canticle of his conversion. He first testifies that he already knows one only God Creator of heaven and earth: but withal he knows that he does not yet know him sufficiently to serve him as he ought, and therefore he petitions that a more perfect knowledge may be imparted to him, that thereby he may come to the perfect service of his divine majesty.
Behold, therefore, I pray you, Theotimus, how gently God moves, strengthening by little and little the grace of his inspiration in consenting hearts, drawing them after him, as it were step by step, upon this Jacob's ladder. But what are his drawings? The first, by which he prevents and awakens us, is done by him in us and without our action; all the others are also done by him and in us, but not without our action. Draw me: says the sacred spouse, we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments,101101Cant. i. 3. that is, begin thou first: I cannot awake of myself, I cannot move unless thou move me; but when thou shalt once have given motion, then, O dear spouse of my heart, we run, we two, thou runnest before me drawing me ever forward, and, as for me, I will follow thee in thy course consenting to thy drawing. But let no one think that thou draggest me after thee like a forced slave, or a lifeless wagon. Ah! no, thou drawest me by the odour of thy ointments; though I follow thee, it is not that thou trailest me but that thou enticest me; thy drawing is mighty, but not violent, since its whole force lies in its sweetness. Perfumes have no other force to draw men to follow them than their sweetness, and sweetness—how could it draw but sweetly and delightfully?
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