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The Security of Contemplatives Lies in Their Not Ascending to High Things if Our Lord Does Not Raise Them. The Sacred Humanity Must Be the Road to the Highest Contemplation. A Delusion in Which the Saint Was Once Entangled.
1. There is one thing I should like to say—I think it important: and if you, my father, approve, it will serve for a lesson that possibly may be necessary; for in some books on prayer the writers say that the soul, though it cannot in its own strength attain to this state,—because it is altogether a supernatural work wrought in it by our Lord,—may nevertheless succeed, by lifting up the spirit above all created things, and raising it upwards in humility, after some years spent in a purgative life, and advancing in the illuminative. I do not very well know what they mean by illuminative: I understand it to mean the life of those who are making progress. And they advise us much to withdraw from all bodily imagination, and draw near to the contemplation of the Divinity; for they say that those who have advanced so far would be embarrassed or hindered in their way to the highest contemplation, if they regarded even the Sacred Humanity itself.306306 See Inner Fortress, vi. 7, § 4. They defend their opinion307307 This opinion is supposed to be justified by the words of St. Thomas, 3 Sent. dist. 22, qu. 3, art. 1, ad quintum. "Corporalis præsentia Christi in duobus poterat esse nociva. Primo, quantum ad fidem, quia videntes Eum in forma in qua erat minor Patre, non ita de facili crederent Eum æqualem Patri, ut dicit glossa super Joannem. Secundo, quantum ad dilectionem, quia Eum non solum spiritualiter, sed etiam carnaliter diligeremus, conversantes cum Ipso corporaliter, et hoc est de imperfectione dilectionis." by bringing forward the words308308 St. John xvi. 7: "Expedit vobis ut Ego vadam; si enim non abiero, Paracletus non veniet ad vos." of our Lord to the Apostles, concerning the coming of the Holy Ghost; I mean that Coming which was after the Ascension. If the Apostles had believed, as they believed after the Coming of the Holy Ghost, that He is both God and Man, His bodily Presence would, in my opinion, have been no hindrance; for those words were not said to the Mother of God, though she loved Him more than all.309309 This sentence is in the margin of the original MS., not in the text, but in the handwriting of the Saint (De la Fuente). They think that, as this work of contemplation is wholly spiritual, any bodily object whatever can disturb or hinder it. They say that the contemplative should regard himself as being within a definite space, God everywhere around, and himself absorbed in Him. This is what we should aim at.
2. This seems to me right enough now and then; but to withdraw altogether from Christ, and to compare His divine Body with our miseries or with any created thing whatever, is what I cannot endure. May God help me to explain myself! I am not contradicting them on this point, for they are learned and spiritual persons, understanding what they say: God, too, is guiding souls by many ways and methods, as He has guided mine. It is of my own soul that I wish to speak now,—I do not intermeddle with others,—and of the danger I was in because I would comply with the directions I was reading. I can well believe that he who has attained to union, and advances no further,—that is, to raptures, visions, and other graces of God given to souls,—will consider that opinion to be best, as I did myself: and if I had continued in it, I
believe I should never have reached the state I am in now. I hold it to be a delusion: still, it may be that it is I who am deluded. But I will tell you what happened to me.
3. As I had no director, I used to read these books, where, by little and little, I thought I might understand something. I found out afterwards that, if our Lord had not shown me the way, I should have learned but little from books; for I understood really nothing till His Majesty made me learn by experience: neither did I know what I was doing. So, in the beginning, when I attained to some degree of supernatural prayer,—I speak of the prayer of quiet,—I laboured to remove from myself every thought of bodily objects; but I did not dare to lift up my soul, for that I saw would be presumption in me, who was always so wicked. I thought, however, that I had a sense of the presence of God: this was true, and I contrived to be in a state of recollection before Him. This method of prayer is full of sweetness, if God helps us in it, and the joy of it is great. And so, because I was conscious of the profit and delight which this way furnished me, no one could have brought me back to the contemplation of the Sacred Humanity; for that seemed to me to be a real hindrance to prayer.
4. O Lord of my soul, and my Good! Jesus Christ crucified! I never think of this opinion, which I then held, without pain; I believe it was an act of high treason, though done in ignorance. Hitherto, I had been all my life long so devout to the Sacred Humanity—for this happened but lately; I mean by lately, that it was before our Lord gave me the grace of raptures and visions. I did not continue long of this opinion,310310 "I mean by lately . . . and visions" is in the margin of the MS., but in the handwriting of the Saint (De la Fuente). and so I returned to my habit of delighting in our Lord, particularly at Communion. I wish I could have His picture and image always before my eyes, since I
cannot have Him graven in my soul as deeply as I wish.
5. Is it possible, O my Lord, that I could have had the thought, if only for an hour, that Thou couldst be a hindrance to my greatest good? Whence are all my blessings? are they not from Thee? I will not think that I was blamable, for I was very sorry for it, and it was certainly done in ignorance. And so it pleased Thee, in Thy goodness, to succour me, by sending me one who has delivered me from this delusion; and afterwards by showing Thyself to me so many times, as I shall relate hereafter,311311 Ch. xxviii. § 4. that I might clearly perceive how great my delusion was, and also tell it to many persons; which I have done, as well as describe it as I am doing now. I believe myself that this is the reason why so many souls, after advancing to the prayer of union, make no further progress, and do not attain to very great liberty of spirit.
6. It seems to me, that there are two considerations on which I may ground this opinion. Perhaps I am saying nothing to the purpose, yet what I say is the result of experience; for my soul was in a very evil plight, till our Lord enlightened it: all its joys were but sips; and when it had come forth therefrom, it never found itself in that company which afterwards it had in trials and temptations.
7. The first consideration is this: there is a little absence of humility—so secret and so hidden, that we do not observe it. Who is there so proud and wretched as I, that, even after labouring all his life in penances and prayers and persecutions, can possibly imagine himself not to be exceedingly rich, most abundantly rewarded, when our Lord permits him to stand with St. John at the foot of the cross? I know not into whose head it could have entered to be not satisfied with this, unless it be mine, which has gone wrong in every way where it should have gone right onwards.
8. Then, if our constitution—or perhaps sickness—will not permit us always to think of His Passion, because it is so painful, who is to hinder us from thinking of Him risen from the grave, seeing that we have Him so near us in the Sacrament, where he is glorified, and where we shall not see Him in His great weariness—scourged, streaming with blood, faint by the way, persecuted by those to whom He had done good, and not believed in by the Apostles? Certainly it is not always that one can bear to meditate on sufferings so great as were those He underwent. Behold Him here, before His ascension into heaven, without pain, all-glorious, giving strength to some and courage to others. In the most Holy Sacrament, He is our companion, as if it was not in His power to withdraw Himself for a moment from us. And yet it was in my power to withdraw from Thee, O my Lord, that I might serve Thee better! It may be that I knew Thee not when I sinned against Thee; but how could I, having once known Thee, ever think I should gain more in this way? O Lord, what an evil way I took! and I was going out of the way, if Thou hadst not brought me back to it. When I see Thee near me, I see all good things together. No trial befalls me that is not easy to bear, when I think of Thee standing before those who judged Thee.
9. With so good a Friend and Captain ever present, Himself the first to suffer, everything can be borne. He helps, He strengthens, He never fails, He is the true Friend. I see clearly, and since then have always seen, that if we are to please God, and if He is to give us His great graces, everything must pass through the hands of His most Sacred Humanity, in whom His Majesty said that He is well pleased.312312 St. Matt. iii. 17: "Hic est Filius Meus dilectus, in quo Mihi complacui." I know this by repeated experience: our Lord has told it me. I have seen clearly that this is the door313313 St. John x. 7, 9: "Ego sum ostium." by which we are to enter, if we would have His supreme Majesty reveal to us His great secrets.
10. So, then, I would have your reverence seek no other way, even if you were arrived at the highest contemplation. This way is safe. Our Lord is He by whom all good things come to us; He will teach you. Consider His life; that is the best example. What more can we want than so good a Friend at our side, who will not forsake us when we are in trouble and distress, as they do who belong to this world! Blessed is he who truly loves Him, and who always has Him near him! Let us consider the glorious St. Paul, who seems as if Jesus was never absent from his lips, as if he had Him deep down in his heart. After I had heard this of some great Saints given to contemplation, I considered the matter carefully; and I see that they walked in no other way. St. Francis with the stigmata proves it, St. Antony of Padua with the Infant Jesus; St. Bernard rejoiced in the Sacred Humanity; so did St. Catherine of Siena, and many others, as your reverence knows better than I do.
11. This withdrawing from bodily objects must no doubt be good, seeing that it is recommended by persons who are so spiritual; but, in my opinion, it ought to be done only when the soul has made very great progress; for until then it is clear that the Creator must be sought for through His creatures. All this depends on the grace which our Lord distributes to every soul. I do not intermeddle here. What I would say is, that the most Sacred Humanity of Christ is not to be counted among the objects from which we have to withdraw. Let this be clearly understood. I wish I knew how to explain it.314314 See St. John of the Cross, Mount Carmel, bk. iii. ch. i. p. 212.
12. When God suspends all the powers of the soul,—as we see He does in the states of prayer already described,—it is clear that, whether we wish it or not, this presence is withdrawn. Be it so, then. The loss is a blessed one, because it takes place in order that we may have a deeper fruition of what we seem to have lost; for at that moment the whole soul is occupied in loving Him whom the understanding has toiled to know; and it loves what it has not comprehended, and rejoices in what it could not have rejoiced in so well, if it had not lost itself, in order, as I am saying, to gain itself the more. But that we should carefully and laboriously accustom ourselves not to strive with all our might to have always—and please God it be always!—the most Sacred Humanity before our eyes,—this, I say, is what seems to me not to be right: it is making the soul, as they say, to walk in the air; for it has nothing to rest on, how full soever of God it may think itself to be.
13. It is a great matter for us to have our Lord before us as Man while we are living and in the flesh. This is that other inconvenience which I say must be met with. The first—I have already begun to describe it—is a little failure in humility, in that the soul desires to rise of itself before our Lord raises it, and is not satisfied with meditation on so excellent a subject,—seeking to be Mary before it has laboured with Martha. If our Lord will have a soul to be Mary, even on the first day, there is nothing to be afraid of; but we must not be self-invited guests, as I think I said on another occasion.315315 Ch. xii. §§ 5, 7. This little mote of want of humility, though in appearance a mere nothing, does a great deal of harm to those who wish to advance in contemplation.
14. I now come back to the second consideration. We are not angels, for we have a body; to seek to make ourselves angels while we are on the earth, and so much on the earth as I was, is an act of folly. In general, our thoughts must have something to rest on, though the soul may go forth out of itself now and then, or it may be very often so full of God as to be in need of no created thing by the help of which it may recollect itself. But this is not so common a case; for when we have many things to do, when we are persecuted and in trouble, when we cannot have much rest, and when we have our seasons of dryness, Christ is our best Friend; for we regard Him as Man, and behold Him faint and in trouble, and He is our Companion; and when we shall have accustomed ourselves in this way, it is very easy to find Him near us, although there will be occasions from time to time when we can do neither the one nor the other.
15. For this end, that is useful which I spoke of before:316316 Ch. xv. § 21. we must not show ourselves as labouring after spiritual consolations; come what may, to embrace the cross is the great thing. The Lord of all consolation was Himself forsaken: they left Him alone in His sorrows. Do not let us forsake Him; for His hand will help us to rise more than any efforts we can make; and He will withdraw Himself when He sees it be expedient for us, and when He pleaseth will also draw the soul forth out of itself, as I said before.317317 Ch. xx. § 2.
16. God is greatly pleased when He beholds a soul in its humility making His Son a Mediator between itself and Him, and yet loving Him so much as to confess its own unworthiness, even when He would raise it up to the highest contemplation, and saying with St. Peter:318318 St. Luke v. 8: "Exi a me, quia homo peccator sum, Domine." "Go Thou away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man." I know this by experience: it was thus that God directed my soul. Others may walk, as I said before,319319 Ch. xii. § 6. by another and a shorter road. What I have understood of the matter is this: that the whole foundation of prayer must be laid in humility, and that the more a soul humbles itself in prayer, the more God lifts it up. I do not remember that He ever showed me any of those marvellous mercies, of which I shall speak hereafter,320320 Ch. xxviii. at any other time than when I was as one brought to nothing,321321 Psalm lxxii. 22: "Et ego ad nihilum redactus sum, et nescivi." by seeing how wicked I was. Moreover, His Majesty contrived to make me understand matters that helped me to know myself, but which I could never have even imagined of myself.
17. I believe myself that if a soul makes any efforts of its own to further itself in the way of the prayer of union, and though it may seem to make immediate progress, it will quickly fall back, because the foundations were not duly laid. I fear, too, that such a soul will never attain to true poverty of spirit, which consists in seeking consolation or sweetness, not in prayer,—the consolations of the earth are already abandoned,—but rather in sorrows, for the love of Him who always lived in sorrows Himself;322322 Isaias liii 3: "Virum dolorum, et scientem infirmitatem." and in being calm in the midst of sorrows and aridities. Though the soul may feel it in some measure, there is no disquiet, nor any of that pain which some persons suffer, who, if they are not always labouring with the understanding and with a sense of devotion, think everything lost,—as if their efforts merited so great a blessing!
18. I am not saying that men should not seek to be devout, nor that they should not stand with great reverence in the presence of God, but only that they are not to vex themselves if they cannot find even one good thought, as I said in another place;323323 Ch. xi. § 15. for we are unprofitable servants.324324 St. Luke xvii. 10: "Servi inutiles sumus." What do we think we can do? Our Lord grant that we understand this, and that we may be those little asses who drive the windlass I spoke of:325325 Ch. xi. § 11. these, though their eyes are bandaged, and they do not understand what they are doing, yet draw up more water than the gardener can draw with all his efforts. We must walk in liberty on this road, committing ourselves into the hands of God. If it be His Majesty's good pleasure to raise us and place us among His chamberlains and secret councillors, we must go willingly; if not, we must serve Him in the lower offices of His house, and not sit down on the upper seats.326326 St. Luke xiv. 8: "Non discumbas in primo loco." See Way of Perfection, ch. xxvi. § 1; but ch. xvii. of the old editions. As I have sometimes said,327327 Ch. xi. § 23, ch. xviii. § 6. God is more careful of us than we are ourselves, and knows what each one of us is fit for.
19. What use is there in governing oneself by oneself, when the whole will has been given up to God? I think this less endurable now than in the first state of prayer, and it does much greater harm; for these blessings are supernatural. If a man has a bad voice, let him force himself ever so much to sing, he will never improve it; but if God gives him a good voice, he has no need to try it twice. Let us, then, pray Him always to show His mercy upon us, with a submissive spirit, yet trusting in the goodness of God. And now that the soul is permitted to sit at the feet of Christ, let it contrive not to quit its place, but keep it anyhow. Let it follow the example of the Magdalene; and when it shall be strong enough, God will lead it into the wilderness.328328 Os. ii. 14: "Ducam eam in solitudinem."
20. You, then, my father, must be content with this until you meet with some one of more experience and better knowledge than I am. If you see people who are beginning to taste of God, do not trust them if they think that they advance more, and have a deeper fruition of God, when they make efforts of their own. Oh, when God wills it, how He discovers Himself without these little efforts of ours! We may do what we like, but He throws the spirit into a trance as easily as a giant takes up a straw; no resistance is possible. What a thing to believe, that God will wait till the toad shall fly of itself, when He has already willed it should do so! Well, it seems to me still more difficult and hard for our spirit to rise upwards, if God does not raise it, seeing that it is burdened with earth, and hindered in a thousand ways. Its willingness to rise is of no service to it; for, though an aptness for flying be more natural to it than to a toad, yet is it so sunk in the mire as to have lost it by its own fault.
21. I come, then, to this conclusion: whenever we think of Christ, we should remind ourselves of the love that made Him bestow so many graces upon us, and also how great that love is which our Lord God has shown us, in giving us such a pledge of the love He bears us; for love draws forth love. And though we are only at the very beginning, and exceedingly wicked, yet let us always labour to keep this in view, and stir ourselves up to love; for if once our Lord grants us this grace, of having this love imprinted in our hearts, everything will be easy, and we shall do great things in a very short time, and with very little labour. May His Majesty give us that love,—He knows the great need we have of it,—for the sake of that love which He bore us, and of His glorious Son, to whom it cost so much to make it known to us! Amen.
22. There is one thing I should like to ask you, my father. How is it that, when our Lord begins to bestow upon a soul a grace so great as this of perfect contemplation, it is not, as it ought to be, perfect at once? Certainly, it seems it should be so; for he who receives a grace so great ought never more to seek consolations on earth. How is it, I ask, that a soul which has ecstasies and so far is more accustomed to receive graces, should yet seem to bring forth fruits still higher and higher,—and the more so, the more it is detached,—when our Lord might have sanctified it at once, the moment He came near it? How is it, I ask again, that the same Lord brings it to the perfection of virtue only in the course of time? I should be glad to learn the reason, for I know it not. I do know, however, that in the beginning, when a trance lasts only the twinkling of an eye, and is almost imperceptible but for the effects it produces, the degree of strength which God then gives is very different from that which He gives when this grace is a trance of longer duration.
23. Very often, when thinking of this, have I imagined the reason might be, that the soul does not despise itself all at once, till our Lord instructs it by degrees, and makes it resolute, and gives it the strength of manhood, so that it may trample utterly upon everything. He gave this strength to the Magdalene in a moment. He gives the same grace to others, according to the measure of their abandonment of themselves into the hands of His Majesty, that He may do with them as He will. We never thoroughly believe that God rewards a hundredfold even in this life.329329 St. Matt. xix. 29: "Qui reliquerit domum, . . . centuplum accipiet."
24. I also thought of this comparison: supposing grace given to those who are far advanced to be the same with that given to those who are but beginners, we may then liken it to a certain food of which many persons partake: they who eat a little retain the savour of it for a moment, they who eat more are nourished by it, but those who eat much receive life and strength. Now, the soul may eat so frequently and so abundantly of this food of life as to have no pleasure in eating any other food, because it sees how much good it derives from it. Its taste is now so formed upon it, that it would rather not live than have to eat any other food; for all food but this has no other effect than to take away the sweet savour which this good food leaves behind.
25. Further, the conversation of good people does not profit us in one day as much as it does in many; and we may converse with them long enough to become like them, by the grace of God. In short, the whole matter is as His Majesty wills. He gives His grace to whom He pleases; but much depends on this: he who begins to receive this grace must make a firm resolution to detach himself from all things, and esteem this grace according to reason.
26. It seems also to me as if His Majesty were going about to try those who love Him,—now one, now another,—revealing Himself in supreme joy, so as to quicken our belief, if it should be dead, in what He will give us, saying, Behold! this is but a drop of the immense sea of blessings; for He leaves nothing undone for those He loves; and as He sees them receive it, so He gives, and He gives Himself. He loves those who love Him. Oh, how dear He is!—how good a Friend! O my soul's Lord, who can find words to describe what Thou givest to those who trust in Thee, and what they lose who come to this state, and yet dwell in themselves! Oh, let not this be so, O my Lord! for Thou doest more than this when Thou comest to a lodging so mean as mine. Blessed be Thou for ever and ever!
27. I now humbly ask you, my father, if you mean to discuss what I have written on prayer with spiritual persons, to see that they are so really; for if they be persons who know only one way, or who have stood still midway, they will not be able to understand the matter. There are also some whom God leads at once by the highest way; these think that others might advance in the same manner—quiet the understanding, and make bodily objects none of their means; but these people will remain dry as a stick. Others, also, there are who, having for a moment attained to the prayer of quiet, think forthwith that, as they have had the one, so they may have the other. These instead of advancing, go back, as I said before.330330 Ch. xii. § 5. So, throughout, experience and discretion are necessary. May our Lord, of His goodness, bestow them on us!
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