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OF THE VARIOUS DEGREES OF THE HOLY UNION WHICH IS MADE IN PRAYER.
Sometimes the union is made without our co-operation, save only by a simple following (suite), permitting ourselves to be united to the divine goodness without resistance, as a little child, in love with its mother's breasts, and yet so feeble that it cannot move itself towards them, nor cleave to them when there; only it is—Ah! so happy, to be taken and drawn within its mother's arms, and to be pressed by her to her bosom.
Sometimes we seem to begin to join and fasten ourselves to God before he joins himself to us, because we feel the action of the union on our part, without perceiving what God is doing on his side, who, however, there is no doubt, always acts first on us, though we do not always perceive his action: for unless he united himself to us we should never unite ourselves to him; he always chooses and lays hold of us, before we choose or lay hold of him. But when, following his imperceptible attractions, we begin to unite ourselves to him, he sometimes makes the continuation of our union, assisting our weakness, and joining himself perceptibly to us, insomuch that we feel him enter and penetrate our hearts with an incomparable sweetness. And sometimes also, as he drew us insensibly to the union, he continues insensibly to aid and assist us. And we know not indeed how so great a union is made, yet know we well that our forces are not able to make it, wherefore we justly argue that some secret power is working insensibly in us: as skippers with a cargo of iron perceiving their ships move apace with a very light breeze, know that they are near mountains of loadstone, which draw them imperceptibly, and thus they perceive a sensible and perceptible advancement caused by an insensible and imperceptible means. For so when we see our spirit unite itself ever closer and closer to God, during the little efforts which our will makes, we rightly judge that we have too little wind to sail so fast, and that it must needs be that the loadstone of our souls draws us by the secret influence of his grace: which he would leave imperceptible, that it may be more admirable, and that undistracted by the sense of his drawings, we may with more purity and simplicity be occupied in uniting ourselves to his goodness.
Sometimes this union is made so insensibly that our heart neither perceives the divine operation in her, nor yet her own co-operation, but finds simply the union itself insensibly effected, like Jacob, who found himself married to Lia without thinking of it: or rather, like another Samson, but more happy, the heart finds itself netted and tied in the bands of holy union, without having ever perceived it.
At other times we feel the embraces, the union being made by sensible actions as well on God's side, as on ours.
Sometimes the union is made by the will only, and in the will only; and sometimes the understanding has its part therein, because the will draws it after it and applies it to its object, making it take a special pleasure in being fastened down to the consideration thereof; as we see that love causes in our corporal eyes a profound and special attention, to rivet them on the sight of what we love.
Sometimes this union is made by all the faculties of the soul, which gather about the will, not to be united to God themselves, not being all capable of it, but to give more convenience to the will to make its union; for if the other faculties were applied each to its proper object, the soul working in them, could not so perfectly give herself to the action by which the union with God is made. Such is the variety of unions.
Look at S. Martial (for he was, they say, the blessed child mentioned in S. Mark): Our Saviour took him, lifted him up, and held him for a good while in his arms. O lovely little Martial, how happy thou art to be laid hold of, taken up and carried, to be united, joined and clasped to the heavenly bosom of our Saviour, and kissed with his sacred mouth, without any co-operation of thine, save that thou didst not resist the receiving of those divine caresses! On the contrary, S. Simeon embraces our Saviour, and clasps him to his bosom, our Saviour giving no sign of co-operating in this union, though, as the holy Church sings: "The old man carried the child, but the child was governing the old man." S. Bonaventure, touched with a holy humility, did not only not unite himself to our Saviour, but withdrew himself from his real presence, that is, from the holy sacrament of the altar, when, hearing Mass one day, our Saviour came to unite himself with him, bringing him his holy sacrament. But this union being made,—Ah! Theotimus, think with what fervour this holy soul locked his Saviour in his heart! On the contrary S. Catharine of Siena ardently desiring our Saviour in the holy communion, pressing and advancing her soul and affection towards him—he came and joined himself unto her, entering into her mouth with a thousand benedictions. So that our Saviour began the union with S. Bonaventure, and S. Catharine seemed to begin that which she had with her Saviour. The sacred spouse in the Canticles speaks as having practised both sorts of unions. I to my beloved, and his turning is towards me:320320Cant. vii. 10. which is as much as if she had said: I am united to my dear love, and he likewise turns towards me, to the end that uniting himself more and more unto me he may become wholly mine. A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, he shall abide between my breasts.321321Cant. i. 12. My soul, says David, hath stuck close to thee: thy right hand hath received me.322322Ps. lxii. 9. But in another place she confesses that she is first taken, saying: My beloved to me and I to him.323323Cant. ii. 16. We make a holy union, by which he joins himself to me and I join myself to him. And yet to show that the whole union is ever made by God's grace, which draws us unto it, and by its attractions moves our soul and animates the movement of our union towards him, she cries out, as being wholly powerless: Draw me: yet to testify that she will not let herself be drawn as a stone or a galley-slave, but that on her side she will concur and will mingle her feeble movements with the mighty drawings of her lover: We will run after thee, she says, to the odour of thy ointments.324324Cant. i. 3. And to make it known that if she is strongly drawn by the will, all the powers of the soul will make towards the union: Draw me, says she, and we will run; the spouse draws but one, and many run to the union. It is the will only that God desires, but all the other powers run after it to be united to God with it.
To this union the divine Shepherd of souls provoked his dear Sulamitess. Put me, says he, as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm.325325Cant. viii. 6. To impress properly a signet upon wax, one not only applies it, but presses it hard down: so he desires that we should be united unto him by a union so strict and close, that we should remain marked with his seal.
The charity of Christ presses us.3263262 Cor. v. 14. O God! what an example of excellent union! He was united to our human nature by grace, as a vine to its elm, to make it in some sort participate in his fruit; but seeing this union undone by Adam's sin, he made another more close and pressing union in the Incarnation, whereby human nature remains for ever joined in personal unity to the Divinity; and to the end that not human nature only, but that every man might be intimately united with his goodness, he instituted the Sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, in which every one may participate, to unite his Saviour to himself really and by way of food. Theotimus, this sacramental union urges and aids us towards the spiritual, of which we speak.
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