The Complete Ascetical Works of St. Alphonsus/Volume 6/The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ/Chapter 4
CHARITY DEALETH NOT PERVERSELY.
(Charitas non agit perperam.)
He that loves Jesus Christ avoids Lukewarmness, and seeks Perfection; the Means of which are: 1. Desire; 2. Resolution; 3. Mental Prayer; 4. Communion; 5. Prayer.
St. Gregory, in his explanation of these words, "dealeth not perversely," says that charity, giving her self up more and more to the love of God, ignores whatever is not right and holy. The Apostle had already written to the same effect, when he calls charity a bond that unites the most perfect virtues together in the soul. Have charity, which is the bond of perfection. And whereas charity delights in perfection, she consequently abhors that lukewarmness with which some persons serve God, to the great risk of losing charity, divine grace, their very soul, and their all.
It must be observed that there are two kinds of tepidity or lukewarmness: the one unavoidable, the other avoidable.
I.—From the lukewarmness that is unavoidable, the saints themselves are not exempt; and this comprises all the failings that are committed by us without full con sent, but merely from our natural frailty. Such are, for example, distractions at prayers, interior disquietudes, useless words, vain curiosity, the wish to appear, tastes in eating and drinking, the movements of concupiscence not instantly repressed, and such like. We ought to avoid these defects as much as we possibly can; but, owing to the weakness of our nature, caused by the infection of sin, it is impossible to avoid them altogether. We ought, indeed, to detest them after committing them, because they are displeasing to God; but, as we remarked in the preceding chapter, we ought to beware of making them a subject of alarm or disquietude. St. Francis de Sales writes as follows: "All such thoughts as create disquietude are not from God, who is the prince of peace; but they proceed always from the devil, or from self-love, or from the good opinion which we have of ourselves." Such thoughts, therefore, as disturb us, must be straightway rejected, and made no account of.
It was said also by the same saint, with regard to indeliberate faults, that as they were involuntarily committed, so are they cancelled involuntarily. An act of sorrow, an act of love, is sufficient to cancel them. The Venerable Sister Mary Crucified, a Benedictine nun, saw once a globe of fire, on which a number of straws were cast, and were all forthwith reduced to ashes. She was given to understand by this figure that one act of divine love, made with fervor, destroys all the defects that we may have in our soul. The same effect is produced by the holy Communion; according to what we find in the Council of Trent, where the Eucharist is called "an antidote by which we are freed from daily faults." Thus the like faults, though they are indeed faults, do not hinder perfection that is, our advancing toward perfection; because in the present life no one attains perfection before he arrives at the kingdom of the blessed.
II. The tepidity, then, that does hinder perfection is that tepidity which is avoidable when a person commits deliberate venial faults; because all these faults committed with open eyes can effectually be avoided by the divine grace, even in the present life. Wherefore St. Teresa said: "May God deliver you from deliberate sin, however small it may be." Such, for example, are wilful untruths, little detractions, imprecations, expressions of anger, derisions of one's neighbor, cutting words, speeches of self-esteem, animosities nourished in the heart, inordinate attachments to persons of a different sex. "These are a sort of worm" (wrote the same saint) "which is not detected before it has eaten into the virtues." Hence, in another place, the saint gave this admonition: "By means of small things the devil goes about making holes for great things to enter."
We should therefore tremble at such deliberate faults; since they cause God to close his hands from bestowing upon us his clearer lights and stronger helps, and they deprive us of spiritual sweetnesses; and the result of them is to make the soul perform all spiritual exercises with great weariness and pain; and so, in course of time, she begins to leave off prayer, Communions, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and novenas; and, in fine, she will probably leave off all, as has not unfrequently been the case with many unhappy souls.
This is the meaning of that threat which our Lord makes to the tepid: Thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot: but because thou art lukewarm … I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth. How wonderful! He says, I would thou wert cold! What! and is it better to be cold, that is, deprived of grace, than to be tepid? Yes, in a certain sense it is better to be cold; because a person who is cold may more easily change his life, being stung by the reproaches of conscience; whereas a tepid person contracts the habit of slumbering on in his faults, without bestowing a thought, or taking any trouble to correct himself; and thus he makes his cure, as it were, desperate. St. Gregory says, "Tepidity, which has cooled down from fervor, is a hopeless state." The Ven. Father Louis da Ponte said that he had committed many defects in the course of his life; but that he never had made a truce with his faults. Some there are who shake hands with their faults, and from that springs their ruin; especially when the fault is accompanied with some passionate attachment of self-esteem, of ambition, of liking to be seen, of heaping up money, of resentment against a neighbor, or of inordinate affection for a per son of different sex. In such cases there is great danger of those hairs, as it were, becoming chains, as St. Francis of Assisi said, which will drag down the soul to hell. At all events, such a soul will never become a saint, and will forfeit that beautiful crown, which God had prepared for her, had she faithfully corresponded to grace. The bird no sooner feels itself loosed from the snare than it immediately flies; the soul, as soon as she is loosed from earthly attachments, immediately flies to God; but while she is bound, though it be but by the slightest thread, it is enough to prevent her from flying to God. Oh, how many spiritual persons there are who do not become saints, because they will not do themselves the violence to break away from certain little attachments!
All the evil arises from the little love they have for Jesus Christ. Those who are puffed up with self-esteem; those who frequently take to heart occurrences that fall out contrary to their wishes; who practise great indulgence towards themselves on account of their health; who keep their heart open to external objects, and the mind always distracted, with an eagerness to listen to, and to know, so many things that have nothing to do with the service of God, but merely serve to gratify private curiosity; who are ready to resent every little inattention from others, and consequently are often troubled, and grow remiss in prayer and recollection. One moment they are all devotion and joy, the next all impatience and melancholy, just as things happen, according to or against their humor; all such persons do not love Jesus Christ, or love him very little, and cast discredit on true devotion.
But suppose any one should find himself sunk in this unhappy state of tepidity, what has he to do? Certainly it is a hard thing for a soul grown lukewarm to resume her ancient fervor; but our Lord has said, that what man cannot do, God can very well do. The things that are impossible with man, are possible with God. Whoever prays and employs the means is sure to accomplish his desire.
Remedies against Lukewarmness.
The means to cast off tepidity, and to tread in the path of perfection, are five in number: 1. The desire of perfection; 2. The resolution to attain it; 3. Mental prayer; 4. Frequent Holy Communion; 5. Prayer.
1. Desire of Perfection.
The first means, then, is the desire of perfection. Pious desires are the wings which lift us up from earth; for, as St. Laurence Justinian says, desire "supplies strength, and renders pain more light:" on the one hand it gives strength to walk towards perfection, and on the other hand it lightens the fatigue of the journey. He who has a real desire of perfection fails not to advance continually towards it; and so advancing, he must finally arrive at it. On the contrary, he who has not the desire of perfection will always go backwards, and always find himself more imperfect than before. St. Augustine says, that "not to go forward in the way of God is to go backward." He that makes no efforts to advance will find himself carried backward by the current of his corrupt nature.
They, then, who say "God does not wish us all to be saints" make a great mistake. Yes, for St. Paul says, This is the Will of God, your sanctification. God wishes all to be saints, and each one according to his state of life: the religious as a religious; the secular as a secular; the priest as a priest; the married as married; the man of business as a man of business; the soldier as a soldier; and so of every other state of life.
Most beautiful, indeed, are the instructions which my great patroness St. Teresa gives on this subject. She says, in one place, "Let us enlarge our thoughts; for hence we shall derive immense good." Elsewhere she says: "We must beware of having poor desires; but rather put our confidence in God, in order that, by forcing ourselves continually onwards, we may by degrees arrive where, by the divine grace, so many saints have arrived." And in confirmation of this she quoted her own experience, having known how courageous souls make considerable progress in a short period of time. "Because," said she, "the Lord takes as much delight in our desires, as if they were put into execution." In another place she says: "Almighty God does not confer extraordinary favors, except where his love has been earnestly sought after." Again, in another passage, she remarks: "God does not fail to repay every good desire even in this life, for he is the friend of generous souls, provided only they do not trust in themselves." This saint herself was endowed with just such a spirit of generosity; so that she once even said to our Lord, that were she to behold others in paradise enjoying him more than herself, she should not care; but were she to behold any one loving him more than she should love him, this she declared she knew not how she could endure.
We must, therefore, have a great courage: The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh him. God is surpassingly good and liberal towards a soul that heartily seeks him. Neither can past sins prove a hindrance to our becoming saints, if we only have the sincere desire to become so. St. Teresa remarks: "The devil strives to make us think it pride to entertain lofty desires, and to wish to imitate the saints; but it is of great service to encourage ourselves with the desire of great things, because, although the soul has not all at once the necessary strength, yet she nevertheless makes a bold fight, and rapidly advances."
The Apostle writes: To them that love God, all things work together unto good. And the gloss or ancient commentary adds "even sins;" even past sins can contribute to our sanctification, inasmuch as the recollection of them keeps us more humble, and more grateful, when we witness the favors which God lavishes upon us, after all our outrages against him. I am capable of nothing (the sinner should say), nor do I deserve anything; I deserve nothing but hell; but I have to deal with a God of infinite bounty, who has promised to listen to all that pray to him. Now, as he has rescued me from a state of damnation, and wishes me to become holy, and now proffers me his help, I can certainly become a saint, not by my own strength, but by the grace of my God, who strengthens me: I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me. When, therefore, we have once good desires, we must take courage, and trusting in God, endeavor to put them in execution; but if afterwards we encounter any obstacle in our spiritual enterprises, let us repose quietly on the will of God. God's will must be preferred before every good desire of our own. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi would sooner have remained void of all perfection than possess it without the will of God.
The second means of perfection is the resolution to belong wholly to God. Many are called to perfection; they are urged on towards it by grace, they conceive a desire of it; but because they never really resolve to acquire it, they live and die in the ill-odor their tepid and imperfect life. The desire of perfection is not enough, if it be not followed up by a stern resolve to attain it. How many souls feed themselves on desires alone, but never make withal one step in the way of God! It is of such desires that the wise man speaks when he says: Desires kill the slothful. The slothful man is ever desiring, but never resolves to take the means suitable to his state of life to become a saint. He says: "Oh, if I were but in solitude, and not in this house! Oh, if I could but go and reside in another monastery, I would give myself entirely up to God!" And meanwhile he cannot support a certain companion; he cannot put up with a word of contradiction; he is dissipated about many useless cares; he commits a thousand faults of gluttony, of curiosity, and of pride; and yet he sighs out to the wind: "Oh, if I had but!" or "Oh, if I could but!" etc. Such desires do more harm than good; because some regale themselves upon them, and in the meantime go on leading a life of imperfection. It was a saying of St. Francis de Sales: "I do not approve of a person who, being engaged in some duty or vocation, stops to sigh for some other kind of life than is compatible with his actual position, or for other exercises unfitted for his present state; for it merely serves to dissipate his heart, and makes him languish in his necessary duties."
We must, therefore, desire perfection, and resolutely take the means towards it. St. Teresa says: "God only looks for one resolution on our part, and will afterwards do all the rest himself: the devil has no fear of irresolute souls." For this reason mental prayer must be used, in order to take the means which lead to perfection. Some make much prayer, but never come to a practical conclusion. The same saint said: "I would rather have a short prayer, which produces great fruits, than a prayer of many years, wherein a soul never gets further than resolving to do something worthy of Almighty God." And elsewhere she says: "I have learned by experience that whoever, at the beginning, brings himself to the resolution of doing some great work, however difficult it may be, if he does so to please God, he has no reason to be afraid."
The first resolution must be to make every effort, and to die rather than commit any deliberate sin whatever, however small it may be. It is true that all our endeavors, without the divine assistance, cannot enable us to vanquish temptations; but God wishes us on our part frequently to use this violence with ourselves, because then he will afterwards supply us with his grace, will succor our weakness, and enable us to gain the victory. This resolution removes from us every obstacle to our going forward, and at the same time gives us great courage, because it affords us an assurance of being in the grace of God. St. Francis de Sales writes: "The best security we can possess in this world of being in the grace of God, consists not indeed in feeling that we have his love, but in a pure and irrevocable abandonment of our entire being into his hands, and in the firm resolution of never consenting to any sin, either great or small." This is what is meant by being of a delicate conscience. Be it observed, that it is one thing to be of a delicate conscience, and another to be of a scrupulous conscience. To be of a delicate conscience is requisite to become a saint; but to be scrupulous is a defect, and does harm; and on this account we must obey our directors, and rise above scruples, which are nothing else but vain and unreasonable alarms.
Hence it is necessary to resolve on choosing the best, not only what is agreeable to God, but what is most agreeable to him, without any reserve. St. Francis de Sales says: "We must start with a strong and constant resolution to give ourselves wholly to God, and protest to him that for the future we wish to be his without any Deserve, and then we must afterwards often renew this same resolution." St. Andrew Avellini made a vow to advance daily in perfection. It is not necessary for every one who wishes to become a saint to make it the matter of a vow; but he must endeavor every day to make some steps forward in perfection. St. Laurence Justinian has written: "When a person is really making way, he feels in himself a continual desire of advancing; and the more he improves in perfection, the more this desire increases; because as his interior light increases each day more and more, he seems to himself always to be wanting in every virtue, and to be doing no good at all; and if, perchance, he is aware of some good he does, it always appears to him very imperfect, and he makes small account of it. The consequence is, he is continually laboring to acquire perfection without ever feeling wearied."
And we must begin quickly, and not wait for the morrow. Who knows whether we shall afterwards find time or not! Ecclesiastes counsels us: Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly. What thou canst do, do it quickly, and defer it not; and he adduces the reason why: For neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge shall be in hell, whither thou art hastening. Because in the next life there is no more time to work, nor free will to merit, nor prudence to do well, nor wisdom or experience to take good counsel by, for after death what is done is done.
A nun of the convent of Torre de Specchi in Rome, whose name was Sister Bonaventura, led a very lukewarm sort of life. There came a religious, Father Lancicius, to give the spiritual exercises to the nuns, and Sister Bonaventura, feeling no inclination to shake off her tepidity, began to listen to the exercises with no good will. But at the very first sermon she was won by divine grace, so that she immediately went to the feet of the Father who preached, and said to him, with a tone of real determination, "Father, I wish to become a saint, and quickly a saint." And, by the assistance of God, she did so; for she lived only eight months after that event, and during that short time she lived and died a saint.
David said: And I said, now have I begun. So likewise exclaimed St. Charles Borromeo: "To-day I begin to serve God." And we should act in the same way as if we had hitherto done no good whatever; for, indeed, all that we do for God is nothing, since we are bound to do it. Let us therefore each day resolve to begin afresh to belong wholly to God. Neither let us stop to observe what or how others do. They who become truly saints are few. St. Bernard says: "One cannot be perfect without being singular." If we would imitate the common run of men, we should always remain imperfect, as for the most part they are. We must overcome all, renounce all, in order to gain all. St. Teresa said: "Because we do not come to the conclusion of giving all our affection to God, so neither does he give all his love to us." Oh, God, how little is all that is given to Jesus Christ, who has given his blood and his life for us! "However much we give," says the same saint, "is but dirt, in comparison of one single drop of blood shed for us by our Blessed Lord." The saints know not how to spare themselves, when there is a question of pleasing a God who gave himself wholly, without reserve, on purpose to oblige us to deny him nothing. St. John Chrysostom wrote: "He gave all to thee, and kept nothing for himself." God has bestowed his entire self upon thee; there is, then, no excuse for thee to behave reservedly with God. He has even died for us all, says the Apostle, in order that each one of us may live only for him who died for us: Christ died for all; that they also who live may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them.
3. Mental Prayer.
The third means of becoming a saint is mental prayer. John Gerson writes: "That he who does not meditate on the eternal truths cannot, without a miracle, lead the life of a Christian. The reason is, because without mental prayer light fails us, and we walk in the dark. The truths of faith are not seen by the eyes of the body, but by the eyes of the mind, when we meditate; he that fails to meditate on them, fails to see them, and therefore walks in the dark; and being in the dark, he easily grows attached to sensible things, for the sake of which he then comes to despise the eternal." St. Teresa wrote as follows to the Bishop of Osma: "Although we seem to discover in ourselves no imperfections; yet, when God opens the eyes of the soul, which he is wont to do in prayer, then they plainly appear." And St. Bernard had before said, that he who does not meditate "does not abhor himself, merely because he does not know himself." "Prayer," says the saint, "regulates the affections, directs the actions," keeps the affections of the soul in order, and directs all our actions to God; but without prayer the affections become attached to the earth, the actions conform them selves to the affections, and in this manner all runs into disorder.
We read of an awful example of this in the life of the Venerable Sister Mary Crucified of Sicily. Whilst this servant of God was praying, she heard a devil making a boast that he had succeeded in withdrawing a religious from the community-prayer; and she saw in spirit, that after this omission the devil tempted her to consent to a grievous sin, and that she was on the point of yielding. She forthwith accosted her, and by a timely admonition prevented her from falling. Abbé Dioclès said, that whoever leaves off prayer "very shortly becomes either a beast or a devil."
He therefore that leaves off prayer will leave off loving Jesus Christ. Prayer is the blessed furnace in which the fire of holy love is enkindled and kept alive: And in my meditation a fire shall flame out. It was said by St. Catharine of Bologna: "The person that foregoes the practice of prayer cuts that string which binds the soul to God." It follows that the devil, finding the soul cold in divine love, will have little difficulty in inducing her to partake of some poisonous fruit or other. St. Teresa said, on the contrary, "Whosoever perseveres in prayer, let him hold for a certainty, that with however many sins the devil may surround him, the Lord will eventually bring him into the haven of salvation." In another place she says, "Whoever halts not in the way of prayer arrives sooner or later." And elsewhere she writes, "that it is on this account that the devil labors so hard to withdraw souls from prayer, because he well knows that he has missed gaining those who faithfully persevere in prayer." Oh, how great are the benefits that flow from prayer! In prayer we conceive holy thoughts, we practise devout affections, we excite great desires, and form efficacious resolutions to give ourselves wholly to God; and thus the soul is led for his sake to sacrifice earthly pleasures and all disorderly appetites. It was said by St. Aloysius Gonzaga: "There will never be much perfection without much prayer." Let him who longs for perfection mark well this notable saying of the saint.
We should not go to prayer in order to taste the sweetness of divine love; whoever prays from such a motive will lose his time, or at least derive little advantage from it. A person should begin to pray solely to please God, that is, solely to learn what the will of God is in his regard, and to beg of him the help to put it in practice. The Venerable Father Antony Torres said: "To carry the cross without consolation makes souls fly to perfection. Prayer unattended with sensible consolations confers greater fruit on the soul. But pitiable is the poor soul that leaves off prayer, because she finds no relish in it." St. Teresa said: "When a soul leaves off prayer, it is as if she cast herself into hell without any need of devils."
It results, too, from the practice of prayer, that a person constantly thinks of God. "The true lover" (says St. Teresa) "is ever mindful of the beloved one. And hence it follows that persons of prayer are always speaking of God, knowing, as they do, how pleasing it is to God that his lovers should delight in conversing about him, and on the love he bears them, and that thus they should endeavor to enkindle it in others." The same saint wrote: "Jesus Christ is always found present at the conversations of the servants of God, and he is very much gratified to be the subject of their delight."
Prayer, again, creates that desire of retiring into solitude, in order to converse alone with God, and to maintain interior recollection in the discharge of necessary external duties; I say necessary, such as the management of one's family, or of the performance of duties required of us by obedience; because a person of prayer must love solitude, and avoid dissipation in superfluous and useless affairs, otherwise he will lose the spirit of recollection, which is a great means of preserving union with God: My sister, my spouse is a garden enclosed. The soul espoused to Jesus Christ must be a garden closed against all creatures, and must not admit into her heart other thoughts, nor other business, but those of God or for God. Hearts thrown open never become saints. The saints, who have to labor in gaining souls to God, do not lose their recollection in the midst of all their labors, either of preaching, confessing, reconciling enemies, or assisting the sick. The same rule holds good with those who have to apply to study. How many from excessive study, and a desire to become learned, become neither holy nor learned, because true learning consists in the science of the saints; that is to say, in knowing how to love Jesus Christ; whereas, on the contrary, divine love brings with it knowledge and every good: All good things came to me together with her. that is, with holy charity. The Venerable John Berchmans had an extraordinary love for study, but by his great virtue he never allowed study to interfere with his spiritual interests. The Apostle exhorts us: Not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety. A priest especially must have knowledge; he must know things, because he has to instruct others in the divine law: For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth. He must have knowledge, but unto sobriety. He that leaves prayer for study shows that in his study he seeks himself, and not God. He that seeks God leaves study (if it be not absolutely necessary), in order not to omit prayer.
Besides, the greatest evil is, that without mental prayer we do not pray at all. I have spoken frequently in my spiritual works of the necessity of prayer, and more especially in a little volume entitled, On Prayer, the great Means, etc.; and in the present chapter also I will briefly say a few other things. It will be sufficient then to quote here the opinion of the Venerable Palafox, Bishop of Osma, in his remarks on the letters of St. Teresa: "How can charity last, unless God grant us perseverance? How will the Lord grant us perseverance unless we ask it of him? And how shall we ask it of him except by prayer? Without prayer there is no communication with God for the preservation of virtue." And so it is, because he that neglects mental prayer sees very little into the wants of his soul, he knows little of the dangers of his salvation, of the means to be used in order to overcome temptations; and so, understanding little of the necessity of prayer, he leaves off praying, and will certainly be lost.
Then as regards subjects for meditation, nothing is more useful than to meditate on the Four Last Things—death, judgment, hell, and heaven; but it is of especial advantage to meditate on death, and to imagine ourselves expiring on the bed of sickness, with the crucifix in our hands, and on the point of entering into eternity. But above all, to one that loves Jesus Christ, and is anxious always to increase in his love, no consideration is more efficacious than that of the Passion of the Redeemer. St. Francis de Sales calls "Mount Calvary the mountain of lovers." All the lovers of Jesus Christ love to abide on this mountain, where no air is breathed but the air of divine love. When we see a God dying for our love, and dying in order to gain our love (He loved us, and delivered Himself up for us), it is impossible not to love him ardently. Such darts of love continually issue forth from the wounds of Christ crucified as pierce even hearts of stone. Oh, happy is he who is ever going during this life to the heights of Calvary! O blessed Mount! O lovely Mount! O beloved Mount! and who shall ever leave thee more! A Mount that sends forth flames to enkindle the souls that perseveringly abide upon thee!
4. Frequent Communion.
The fourth means of perfection, and even of perseverance in the grace of God, is frequently to receive the Holy Communion, of which we have already spoken in the Introduction, §II., page 275, where we affirmed that a soul can do nothing more pleasing to Jesus Christ than to receive him often in the Sacrament of the Altar. St. Teresa said: "There is no better help to perfection than frequent Communion: oh, how admirably does the Lord bring such a soul to perfection!" And she adds, that, ordinarily speaking, they who communicate most frequently are found further advanced in perfection; and that there is greater spirituality in those communities where frequent Communion is the custom. For this reason it is that, as we find declared in a decree of Innocent XI., in 1679, the holy Fathers have so highly extolled, and so much promoted, the practice of frequent and even of daily Communion. Holy Communion, as the Council of Trent tells us, delivers us from daily faults, and preserves us from mortal ones. St. Bernard asserts that Communion represses the movements of anger and incontinence, which are the two passions that most frequently and most violently assail us. St. Thomas says, that Communion defeats the suggestions of the devil. And finally, St. John Chrysostom says, that Communion pours into our souls a great inclination to virtue, and a promptitude to practise it; and at the same time imparts to us a great peace, by which the path of perfection is made very sweet and easy to us. Besides, there is no sacrament so capable of kindling the divine love in souls as the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which Jesus Christ bestows on us his whole self, in order to unite us all to himself by means of holy love. Wherefore the Venerable Father John of Avila said: "Whoever deters souls from frequent Communion does the work of the devil." Yes; for the devil has a great horror of this sacrament, from which souls derive immense strength to advance in divine love.
But the proper preparation is requisite to communicate well The first preparation, or, in other terms, the remote preparation, to be able to go to Communion daily, or several times in the week, is: 1. To keep free from all deliberate affection to sin that is, to sin committed, as we say, with the eyes open. 2. The practice of much mental prayer. 3. The mortification of the senses and of the passions. St. Francis de Sales teaches as follows: "Whoever has overcome the greatest part of his bad inclinations, and has arrived at a notable degree of perfection, can communicate every day." The angelic Doctor St. Thomas says, that any one who knows by experience that his soul derives an increase of divine love from the Holy Communion may communicate daily. Hence Innocent XI., in the above-mentioned decree, said that the greater or less frequency of Holy Communion must rest on the decision of the confessor who ought to be guided in this matter by the profit which he sees accrue to the souls under his direction. In the next place, the proximate preparation for Communion is that which is made on the morning itself of Communion, for which there is need of at least half an hour of mental prayer.
To reap also more abundant fruit from Communion, we must make a long thanksgiving. Father John of Avila said that the time after communion is "a time to gain treasures of graces." St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi used to say that no time can be more calculated to in flame us with divine love than the time immediately after our Communion. And St. Teresa says: "After Communion let us be careful not to lose so good an opportunity of negotiating with God. His divine majesty is not accustomed to pay badly for his lodging, if he meets with a good reception."
There are certain pusillanimous souls, who, on being exhorted to communicate more frequently, reply: "But I am not worthy." But, do you not know, that the more you refrain from Communion, the more unworthy you become of it? Because, deprived of Holy Communion, you will have less strength, and will commit many faults. Well, then, obey your director, and be guided by him: faults do not forbid Holy Communion, when they are not committed with full will; besides, among your failings, the greatest is, not to submit to what your spiritual Father says to you.
"But in my past life I was very bad." And I reply, that you must know, that he who is weakest has most need of the physician and of medicine. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is our physician and medicine as well. St. Ambrose said: "I, who am always sinning, have always need of medicine." You will then say, perhaps: "But my confessor does not tell me to communicate oftener." If, then, he does not tell you to do so, ask his permission to communicate oftener. Should he deny you, obey him; but in the mean time make him the request. "It would seem pride." It would be pride if you were to wish to communicate against his will, but not when you ask his consent with humility. This heavenly bread requires hunger. Jesus loves to be de sired, says a devout author; "He thirsts to be thirsted for." And what a thought is this: "To-day I have communicated, and to-morrow I have to communicate." Oh, how such a reflection keeps the soul attentive to avoid all defects and to do the will of God! "But I have no devotion." If you mean sensible devotion, it is not necessary, neither does God always grant it even to his most beloved souls. It is enough for you to have the devotion of a will determined to belong wholly to God, and to make progress in his divine love. John Gerson says, that he who abstains from Communion because he does not feel that devotion which he would like to feel, acts like a man who does not approach the fire because he does not feel warm.
Alas, my God, how many souls, for want of applying themselves to lead a life of greater recollection and more detachment from earthly things, care not to seek Holy Communion! and this is the true cause of their not wishing to communicate more frequently. They are well aware that to be wishing always to appear, to dress with vanity, to be fond of nice eating and drinking, of bodily comforts, of conversations and amusements, does not harmonize with frequent Communion; they know that more prayer is required, more mortification, as well internal as external, more seclusion; and on this account they are ashamed to approach the altar more frequently. Without doubt, such souls are right to refrain from frequent Communion as long as they find themselves in that unhappy state of lukewarmness; but whoever is called to a more perfect life should lay aside this lukewarmness, if he would not greatly risk his eternal salvation.
It will be found likewise to contribute very much to keep fervor alive in the soul, often to make a spiritual Communion, so much recommended by the Council of Trent, which exhorts all the faithful to practise it. The spiritual Communion, as St. Thomas says, consists in an ardent desire to receive Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrament; and therefore the saints were careful to make it several times in the day. The method of making it is this: "My Jesus, I believe that Thou art really present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love Thee, and I desire Thee; come to my soul. I embrace Thee; and I beseech Thee never to allow me to be separated from Thee again." Or more briefly thus: "My Jesus, come to me; I desire Thee; I embrace Thee; let us remain ever united together." This spiritual Communion maybe practised several times a day: when we make our prayer, when we make our visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and especially when we attend Mass at the moment of the priests Communion. The Dominican Sister Blessed Angela of the Cross said: "If my confessor had not taught me this method of communicating spiritually several times a day, I should not have trusted myself to live."
The fifth and most necessary means for the spiritual life, and for obtaining the love of Jesus Christ, is prayer. In the first place, I say that by this means God convinces us of the great love he bears us. What greater proof of affection can a person give to a friend than to say to him, "My friend, ask anything you like of me, and I will give it you?" Now, this is precisely what our Lord says to us: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find. Wherefore prayer is called all-powerful with God to obtain every blessing: "Prayer, though it is one, can effect all things," as Theodoret says; whoever prays, obtains from God whatever he chooses. The words of David are beautiful: Blessed be God who hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me. Commenting on this passage, St. Augustine says, "As long as thou seest thyself not failing in prayer, be assured that the divine mercy will not fail thee either." And St. John Chrysostom: "We always obtain, even while we are still praying." When we pray to God he grants us the grace we ask for, even before we have ended our petition. If then we are poor, let us blame only ourselves, since we are poor merely because we wish to be poor, and so we are undeserving of pity. What sympathy can there be for a beggar, who, having a very rich master, and one most desirous to provide him with everything if he will only ask for it, nevertheless chooses still to continue in his poverty sooner than ask for what he wants? "Behold," says the Apostle, "our God is ready to enrich all who call upon him:" Rich unto all that call upon Him.
Humble prayer, then, obtains all from God; but we must be persuaded at the same time, that if it be useful, it is no less necessary for our salvation. It is certain that we absolutely require the divine assistance, in order to overcome temptations; and sometimes, in certain more violent assaults, the sufficient grace which God gives to all, might possibly enable us to resist them; but on account of our inclination to evil, it will not ordinarily be sufficient, and we shall stand in need of a special grace. Whoever prays obtains this grace; but whoever prays not, obtains it not, and is lost. And this is more especially the case with regard to the grace of final perseverance, of dying in the grace of God, which is the grace absolutely necessary for our salvation, and without which we should be lost forever. St. Augustine says of this grace, that God only bestows it on those who pray. And this is the reason why so few are saved, because few indeed are mindful to beg of God this grace of perseverance.
In fine, the holy Fathers say, that prayer is necessary for us, not merely as a necessity of precept (so that divines say, that he who neglects for a month to recommend to God the affair of his salvation is not exempt from mortal sin), but also as a necessity of means, which is as much as to say, that whoever does not pray cannot possibly be saved. And the reason of it is, in short, because we can not obtain eternal salvation without the help of divine grace, and this grace Almighty God only accords to those who pray. And because temptations, and the dangers of falling into God's displeasure, continually be set us, so ought our prayers to be continual. Hence St. Thomas declares that continual prayer is necessary for a man to save himself: "Unceasing prayer is necessary to man, that he may enter heaven." And Jesus Christ himself had already said the same thing: We ought always to pray, and not to faint. And afterwards the Apostle: Pray without ceasing. During the interval in which we shall cease to pray, the devil will conquer us. And though the grace of perseverance can in no wise be merited by us, as the Council of Trent teaches us, nevertheless St. Augustine says, "that in a certain sense we can merit it by prayer." The Lord wishes to dispense his grace to us, but he will be entreated first; nay more, as St. Gregory remarks, he wills to be importuned, and in a manner constrained by our prayers: "God wishes to be prayed to, he wishes to be compelled, he wishes to be, as it were, vanquished by our importunity." St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said, "that when we ask graces of God, he not only hears us, but in a certain sense thanks us." Yes, because God, as the infinite goodness, in wishing to pour out himself upon others, has, so to speak, an infinite longing to distribute his gifts; but he wishes to be besought: hence it follows, that when he sees himself entreated by a soul, he receives so much pleasure, that in a certain sense he thanks that soul for it.
Well, then, if we wish to preserve ourselves in the grace of God till death, we must act the mendicant, and keep our mouths open to beg for God's help, always repeating, "My Jesus, mercy; never let me be separated from Thee; O Lord, come to my aid; My God, assist me!" This was the unceasing prayer of the ancient Fathers of the desert: "Incline unto my aid, O God: O Lord, make haste to help me! O Lord, help me, and help me soon; for if Thou delayest Thy assistance, I shall fall and perish!" And this above all must be practised in the moment of temptation; he who acts otherwise is lost.
And let us have a great faith in prayer. God has promised to hear him that prays: Ask, and you shall receive. How can we doubt, says St. Augustine, since God has bound himself by express promise, and cannot fail to grant us the favors we ask of him? "By promising he has made himself our debtor." In recommending our selves to God, we must have a sure confidence that God hears us, and then we shall obtain whatever we want. Behold what Jesus Christ says: All things, whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you.
"But," some one may say, "I am a sinner, and do not deserve to be heard." But Jesus Christ says: Every one that asketh, receiveth. Every one, be he just, or be he a sinner. St. Thomas teaches us that the efficacy of prayer to obtain graces does not depend on our merits, but on the mercy of God, who has promised to hear every one who prays to him. And our Redeemer, in order to re move from us all fear when we pray, said: Amen, amen, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you. As though he would say: Sinners, you have no merits of your own to obtain graces, wherefore do in this manner; when you would obtain graces, ask them of my Father in my name; that is, through my merits and through my love; and then ask as many as you choose, and they shall be granted to you. But let us mark well those words, "In My name;" which signify (as St. Thomas explains it), "in the name of the Saviour;" or, in other words, that the graces which we ask must be graces which regard our eternal salvation; and consequently we must remark that the promise does not regard temporal favors; these our Lord grants, when they are profitable for our eternal welfare; if they would prove otherwise, he refuses them. So that we should always ask for temporal favors, on condition that they will benefit our soul. But should they be spiritual graces, then they require no condition; but with confidence, and a sure confidence, we should say: "Eternal Father, in the name of Jesus Christ deliver me from this temptation: grant me holy perseverance, grant me Thy love, grant me heaven." We can likewise ask these graces of Jesus Christ in his own name; that is, by his merits, since we have his promise also to this effect: If you shall ask Me anything in My name, that I will do.
And whilst we pray to God, let us not forget to recommend ourselves at the same time to Mary, the dispenser of graces. St. Bernard says, that it is Almighty God who bestows the graces; but he bestows them through the hands of Mary: "Let us seek grace, and let us seek it through Mary; because what she seeks she finds, and cannot be refused." If Mary prays for us, we are safe; for every petition of Mary is heard, and she can never meet with a repulse.
Affections and Prayers.
O Jesus, my love, I am determined to love Thee as much as I can, and I wish to become a saint; and I wish to become a saint for this reason, in order to give Thee pleasure, and to love Thee exceedingly in this life and the next! I can do nothing of myself, but Thou canst do all things; and I know that Thou wishest me to become a saint. I see already that by Thy grace my soul sighs only for Thee, and seeks nothing else but Thee. I wish to live no more for myself; Thou desirest me to be wholly Thine, and I desire to be wholly Thine. Come, and unite me to Thyself, and Thyself to me. Thou art infinite goodness; Thou art he who hast loved me so much; Thou art, indeed, too loving and too lovely; how, then, can I love anything but Thee? I prefer Thy love before all the things of this world; Thou art the sole object, the sole end of all my affections. I leave all to be occupied solely in loving Thee, my Redeemer, my Comforter, my hope, my love, and my all. I will not despair of becoming a saint on account of the sins of my past life; for I know, my Jesus, that Thou didst die in order to pardon the truly penitent. I love Thee now with my whole heart, with my whole soul; I love Thee more than myself, and I bewail, above every other evil, ever having had the misfortune to despise Thee, my sovereign good. Now 1 am no longer my own, I am Thine; God of my heart, dispose of me as Thou pleasest. In order to please Thee, I accept of all the tribulations Thou mayest choose to send me sickness, sorrow, troubles, ignominies, poverty, persecution, desolation I accept all to please Thee: in like manner I accept of the death Thou hast decreed for me, with all the anguish and crosses which may accompany it: it is enough if Thou grantest me the grace to love Thee exceedingly. Lend me Thy assistance; give me strength henceforth to compensate, by my love, for all the bitterness that I have caused Thee in past time, O only love of my soul!
O Queen of Heaven, O Mother of God, O great advocate of sinners, I trust in thee!
- "Non agit perperam. Quia (charitas), quæ se in solum Dei amorem dilatat, quidquid a rectitudine discrepat, ignorat."—Mor. l. 10, c. 3.
- "Charitatem habete, quod est vinculum perfectionis."—Col. iii. 14.
- Lettre 51.
- "Antidotum, quo liberemur a culpis quotidianis"
- Way of Perf. ch. 42.
- Inter. Castle, ch. 3.
- Found, ch. 29.
- Neque frigidus es, neque calidus; utinam frigidus esses, aut calidus! sed, quia tepidus es, … incipiam te evomere."—Apoc. iii. 15, 16.
- "Tepor (quia fervore defecit) in desperatione est."—Past. p. 3, adm. 35
- "Quæ impossibilia sunt apud homines, possibilia sunt apud Deum."—Luke, xviii. 27.
- "Vires subministrat, poenam exhibet leviorem."—De Disc. mon. c. 6.
- "Non progredi, jam reverti est."—Ep. 17, E. B. app.
- "Hæc est voluntas Dei, sanctificatio vestra."—1 Thess. iv. 3.
- Life, ch. 13.
- Way of Perf. ch. 35.
- Life, ch. 4.
- Life, ch. 13.
- Rib. l. 4, c. 10.
- "Bonus est Dominus … animæ quærenti illum."—Lam. iii. 25.
- Life, ch. 13.
- "Diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum."—Rom. viii. 28.
- "Etiam peccata."
- "Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat."—Phil. iv. 13.
- "Desideria occidunt pigrum."—Prov. xxi. 25.
- Introd. ch. 37.
- Found. ch. 28.
- Way of Perf. ch. 24
- Life, ch. 39.
- Spirit, ch. 9.
- Love of God, B. 12, ch. 8.
- "Quodcumque facere potest manus tua, instanter operare."—Eccles. ix. 10.
- "Quia nec opus, nec ratio, nec sapientia nec scientia, erunt apud inferos, quo tu properas."—Ibid.
- "Et dixi: Nunc cœpi."—Ps. lxxvi. 11.
- "Perfectum esse non potest nisi singulare."
- Life, ch. 11.
- Ibid. ch. 39.
- "Totum tibi dedit, nihil sibi reliquit."
- "Pro omnibus mortuus est Christus, ut et qui vivunt, jam non sibi vivant, sed ei qui pro ipsis mortuus est."—2 Cor. v. 15.
- De Med. cons. 7.
- Lettre 8.
- "Seipsum non exhorret, quia nec sentit."—De Cons. l. 1, c. 2.
- "Consideratio regit affectus, dirigit actus."—Ibid. c. 7.
- Pall. Hist. laus. c. 98.
- "In meditatione mea exardescet ignis."—Ps. xxxviii. 4.
- Life, ch. 8.
- Ibid. ch. 19.
- Life, ch. 19.
- Found, ch. 5.
- Life, ch. 34.
- "Hortus conclusus, soror mea sponsa."—Cant. iv. 12.
- "Venerunt autem mihi omnia bona pariter cum illa."—Wisd. vii. 11.
- "Non plus sapere, quam oportet sapere, sed sapere ad sobrietatem."—Rom. xii. 3.
- "Labia enim sacerdotis custodient scientiam, et legem requirent ex ore ejus."—Mal. ii. 7.
- Lettre 8.
- "Dilexit nos et tradidit semetipsum pro nobis."—Eph. v. 2.
- In Cœna D. s. 1.
- P. 3, q. 79, a. 6.
- Introd. ch. 20.
- In 4 Sent. d. 12, q. 3, a. 1, s. 2.
- Way of Perfection, ch . 35.
- "Qui semper pecco, semper debeo habere medicum."—De Sacram. l. 4, c. 6.
- Sitit sitiri Deus."—Tetr. Sent. 37.
- Sup. Magn. tr. 9, p. 3.
- Sess. xiii. cap. 8.
- P. 3. q. 79, a. 1.
- "Petite, et dabitur vobis; quærite, et invenietis."—Matt. vii. 7.
- "Oratio cum sit una omnia potest."—Ap. Rodr. p. 1, tr. 5, c. 14; Wisd. vii. 27.
- "Benedictus Deus, qui non amovit orationem meam et misericordiam suam a me."—Ps. lxv. 20.
- "Semper obtinemus, etiam dum adhuc oramus."
- "Dives in omnibus qui invocant ilium."—Rom. x 12.
- De Dono pers. c. 16.
- "Necessaria est homini jugis oratio, ad hoc quod cœlum introeat."—P. 3, q. 39, a. 5.
- " Oportet semper orare, et non deficere."—Luke, xviii. 1.
- "Sine intermissione orate."—1 Thess. v. 17.
- Sess. vi. cap. 13.
- "Hoc Dei donum suppliciter emereri potest."—De Dono pers. c. 6.
- "Vult Deus rogari, vult cogi, vult quadam importunitate vinci."—In Ps. vi. pœn.
- "Deus, in adjutorium meum intende; Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina."—Ps. lxix. 2.
- "Petite, et accipietis."—John, xvi. 24.
- "Promittendo, debitorem se fecit."—Serm. 110, E. B.
- "Omnia quæcumque orantes petitis, credite quia accipietis, et evenient vobis."—Mark, xi. 24.
- "Omnis qui petit, accipit."—Luke, xi. 10.
- "Oratio in impetrando non innititur merito, sed divinæ misericordiæ."—2. 2, q. 178, a. 2.
- "Amen, amen, dico vobis: si quid petieritis Patrem in nomine meo, dabit vobis."—John, xvi. 23.
- "Si quid petieritis me in nomine meo, hoc faciam."—John, xiv. 14.
- "Quæramus gratiam, et per Mariam quæramus; quia, quod quærit, invenit, et frustrari non potest."—De Aquæd.