Love and Silence
by a Carthusian
Introduction to the interior life
Our Lord told us that the kingdom of God is among us (Luke, XVII, 21). Not only among us, but also in our innermost being: He who loves me, will keep my word, and my Father will love him. We will come to him and will establish in him our dwelling place(John, XIV, 23).
Unfortunately, we forget about these truths too often. In the Church there are quite a few souls who force themselves to live morally and try to achieve a certain ideal of moral purity, but how few know how to remain elevated in the faith, sustained by hope and inflamed with charity to participate completely in the life that Jesus wants to impart to us. Divine assistance surrounds and envelops us: from this day forward we have all that is required to begin a sublime intimacy with God. Let us therefore have the will TO LIVE OUR SUPERNATURAL LIFE. We know the principles, and the path is open to us: it is only our own fault for not choosing to take it.
Because one must admit, the children of this world are more clever in their affairs than the children of light (Luke, XVI, 8). In fact, we have received an eternal treasure which we do not know how to appreciate. Nevertheless, we are not excused to exploit this treasure as it suits us when we forget its true worth. Isn’t it our negligence that our Lord addressed when he spoke of the unused talents that the careless servant uselessly hid in the ground (Matth. XXV, 18). Yet Jesus does more than offer us the treasure of his intimate love. He urges us with such insistence that He seems to compel us to accept it. He compels us like the unfortunate cripples who are spoken about in the Gospel, who didn’t even have the liberty to refuse the invitation to the divine banquet: force them to enter (Luke, XIV, 23). Hear this call, and from now on let the prayer of the Church be our prayer: Give us, O Lord, an increase of faith, hope and charity(XIII Sunday after Pentecost).
Let us not be content with a few acts of piety at the beginning and at the end of our days. Such practices do not constitute a real LIFE: life requires permanent, continuous activity.
Our Lord wants to be our life: I am the life(John, XI, 25). Therefore, it is necessary to be attached to God without lapsing. Jesus does not demand such a gesture or such a formula of piety or devotion: He always asks for all our effort and soul so that, in exchange, we may begin our eternal life on earth. Pray to know how to answer Christ’s call and finally breathe pure air, filled with truth and eternal charity.
In order to open the supernatural horizon to the soul, I would like to sketch a simple and practical method of meditation so that during the day continual prayer becomes habitual, as stated in the Gospel: it is always necessary to pray and never to tire(Luke, XVIII, I).
Before describing this method, I will announce the principles that must serve as its base, and after having discussed them, I will show that this doctrine with its consequences is clearly expressed in the Gospel, even in the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
PRINCIPLES OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
The supernatural goal
If we review our past spiritual life honestly, we become surprised, overwhelmed perhaps, at the slowness or the insignificance of our progress. After having made strong efforts, why do we remain sterile? Why must we admit, perhaps after several years of an austere life, the same weaknesses and note the same failures? If we would not have neglected the essential from the beginning, would we still have taken the wrong path?
In fact, there is only one door through which one can enter into the spiritual kingdom. We must overcome difficult obstacles by ourselves as it is in vain that we try to enter His Kingdom through any other way. We are like the clumsy robbers who tried in vain to enter into a well-defended estate by deception: he who enters by any other way is a thief and a bandit (John, X, I). The unique door is Christ. It is our faith in Christ whichCHARITYinvigorates, and which, in strengthening our heart, permits us to come back to love, to burn more intensely and to radiate always more in the image of divine charity.
One must outwardly condemn a vanity of an asceticism, which has no other ideal than the perfection of ‘me’. One could call this type of asceticism ‘egocentric’. The results that it gives are meager, and the fruits that one draws from it are very deceiving: he who has only sown according to man will only harvest that which is human.
Christian asceticism depends entirely on the divine principle, and this same principle inspires, animates and leads it to its conclusion: you will love God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your strength (Deut., VI, 5, and Matth., XXII, 37). This is the summary and essence of the old law. The new law reviews the first and supreme commandment again and explains and promulgates it universally in all its simplicity and divine authority. From the beginning of the spiritual life it is necessary to orient the soul towards the fullness of love, towards God only. To act otherwise is to misunderstand Christianity’s profound purpose. It is to go back to the vain egotism of certain pagan ideals—the stoicism of today and of other times—and a culture that is proud, fierce, and mean-spirited. If we could finally convince ourselves of the truths of our Divine master’s words, without me, you can do nothing(John, XV, 5), our perspective on life would change. If we were imbued with the doctrine contained in these few words: “without me you can do nothing” we would apply ourselves to practice not this or that virtue, but all without exception, knowing that it is God who must be at the same time the motive and goal of all our acts.
But after having done all that is possible—as if success depended only on us—we must remain humble before our progress and confident after our failures. If we know that in ourselves we are nothing, but by Christ, we are all powerful: I am able to do all in Him who strengthens me(Phil., IV, 13), we would no longer be discouraged by our faults or proud of our acts of virtue which only divine grace renders us capable.
Furthermore, when a soul recognizes its nothingness and its complete dependence on God for everything, its weaknesses and failures must no longer be obstacles. Formerly failures manifested everything which did not lead to God, now they are changed into opportunities--they are occasions for the faith to grow by heroic acts, and for trust to triumph: I will willingly glorify myself in my weaknesses, said the Apostle, so that Christ’s strength lives in me(II Cor., XII, 9).
When we truly begin to rely on God and no more on ourselves we advance at a giant’s pace in the path of love. More and more, charity dominates our acts and purifies our intentions in such a way that it quickly permeates our whole life. If we want to be faithful to the Gospel’s precepts, we must force ourselves to act only by motives of faith and charity. Since natural motives do not give supernatural fruits, we will never develop faith and charity if we do not seek, from the beginning, to love these distinct Christian virtues. As St. Paul wrote, if we are unable to pronounce the Lord’s name without grace, how can we hope to attain our supernatural goal by our efforts alone?
Certainly, a determined will is indispensable to reform the old man. But when will the fervor of our will be the most prompt and most efficacious? When it proceeds from reason alone, or when it proceeds from the faith and charity? The response is easy, and it comes to us through reflection. But why then, in the development of our interior life, do we not utilize as much as possible the strength and lights that these theological virtues can give us? From the very beginning, why not take the easy passage to the interior reign, to intimacy with God?
The kingdom of Christ is open to us. Moreover, it is the formal desire of Our Lord to see us enter there: live in me, and I live in you(John, XIV, 25).
Starting today let us surrender ourselves to His call. Let us begin to live by faith: the just man lives by faith(Rom., I, 17).
The life of faith
In effect, what is important above all else IS TO BELIEVE. Believe in the reality of the Divine, present all around us and in us; raise our activity of the will and intelligence to the true level of life which God asks of us. This act of faith, which transforms our human destiny and elevates us, has natural costs; it requires a heroism of which we would be incapable if God hadn’t already anticipated and supported our efforts. Not having the means to produce this first act by ourselves, we imitate the prayer of the cripple’s father: Father, help my unbelief(Mark, IX, 24).
It is faith which gives us confidence in divine promises: I will espouse thee to me in faith (Osee, II, 20). It allows us to walk in the shadows of death: we walk by faith(II Cor., V, 7). From our beginning until our end, we must follow this path, and we must be careful not to abandon it by being satisfied with inspirations, which come easily—because they are too human--yet are not slow to mislead us by their superficiality.
The faith is a severe guide, but also infallible; it ignores concessions and calculations; it doesn’t gauge the obstacles. Behind the veil of appearances it knows the eternal truth, the victory of Jesus: our faith is the victory which conquers the world (I John, V, 4). It hopes in spite of all human factors which try to slow down or exhaust our momentum, as the Apostle said of the Patriarch Abraham: he did not hesitate, he took strength in the faith, he hoped against all hope(Rom., IV, 18-20).
The whole teaching of our Lord is based on the faith. To doubt is to weaken: thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt? (Matt., XIV, 31). It is the faith, which gives salvation. Our Lord even attributes to the faith the miracles that He worked in those He healed. A grain of faith suffices to transform the world supernaturally: if you had the faith like a grain of mustard seed. . . (Luke, XIII, 6).
May these lines be written at the beginning of this essay to mark the boundary which it is important to cross over with determination and simplicity if we want to follow Our Lord. IT IS NECESSARY TO LEARN TO COUNT ON GOD.
In these few pages, I would like to outline the essential elements of the interior life by indicating a simple and practical method of meditation based on the faith. In fact, the faith, as I will show, is the motive of this life. When divine grace has consummated his work in us, it is still with this same supernatural certainty which, having invaded our whole soul, will make it a temple of love. According to St. Paul: faith, which worketh by charity (Gal., V, 6) and Christ will dwell by faith in your hearts and will make known to us the supreme charity of God, which surpasses all knowledge(Eph., III, 17).
First, let us briefly review the great truths which we must use as a point of departure.
The natural presence of God in all things
First of all to better understand the supernatural presence of God, let us remember that God is present naturally. God is everywhere. Too often we forget this simple truth. However, if we think of it more often, it can give new orientation to our life.
We tire our imagination sometimes to represent a God far away, and our prayer life suffers from it. God is a spirit, a spirit not limited in one place, but which penetrates all things. Thus the true adorers adore God ‘in spirit and in truth’. Remember the Apostle’s words: it is in Him that we have life, motion and being (Acts, XVII, 28). From the beginning of our spiritual life, we begin slowly to open our eyes to this great truth. If we make alive the thought of God’s immediate and universal presence in us, the result will be marvelous. Previously, reason, even with regards to all supernatural revelation, tells us that God knows us, sees us perfectly and without end, because He knows and sees all things: where can I go to escape your spirit, where can I go to flee, to withdraw from your face? If I raise myself just to the heavens, I will find You; if I descend to the Land of the Dead, You are there . . .(Ps. CXXXVIII).
God waits not only for a simple gaze, but He commands and directs all that we do. It is He who allows us to want as well as to realize (Phil., II, 13). If He weren’t present in me, I would not be even capable to lift my little finger. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that isn’t submitted to His action: not even sin. In acts of sin, God is there, God gives the power to do and exercise the act. Only the depravity of our will does not come from God. Because He is the first and total cause, we can never do the slightest act without Him. If it were otherwise, God would no longer be God. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the utter most parts of the sea: even there also shall your hand lead me; and your hand shall hold me(Ps. CXXXVIII).
Furthermore, it is not sufficient that God governs the creature and that He directs our activity. Being the singular and sovereign principle of all humans, it is necessary that He supports them in existence and continues to give all that they are at every instant. If the Divine act ceased for a second, the universe and we would vanish like a dream. When we have realized the necessity of the Divine act, preserving that which has been created, we find a great singularity in the smallest of objects, because it is the All-Powerful, and Him alone who, present in the tiniest of creatures, sustains it outside of its nothingness.
It seems that shadows are the vaguest of realities: our shadow is nothing in comparison to ourselves. But in comparison to God, who is present in us, we have still less reality. Next to the divine reality, we are not even shadows.
The supernatural presence of God in souls
God is therefore present in a stone, and He gives, by His direct action, that which it is: a stone. But God, in His infinite Goodness, wanted to create beings “in His image and likeness”, who, elevated by grace, are a lot closer to Him than the inferior creations to whom He only imparts a natural being. God is pure spirit. Therefore, He has intelligence and will. He created humans in His image who also have intelligence and will so that He could, not only be present in them like other creations, but impart to them that which He is by elevating them to the supernatural order by grace.
Thus God is present in physical things, and He gives them their physical being; from an absolute generosity, He wanted to be present in rational creatures in such a way that He not only imparted a natural being, but through Him his being, which made them like Him.
God was not obligated to give Himself in this way. But He is Goodness itself, and the good looks to extend itself (He, as goodness, diffuses himself). God is like a fire which can not restrain itself and must spread itself to all that is combustible: our God is a fire which consumes (Deut., IV, 24). Our Lord came to strike this fire on Earth: And the Word was made flesh. We know why! I came to throw fire on earth, and what did I desire, but that it burn (Luke, XII, 49). He suffered for us to obtain grace and for us to become susceptible to be set on fire by the flames of this divine fire. We will be prepared to be set on fire with the divine life when we have taken away all obstacles from the divine action. The largest of these obstacles is sin: If someone loves me, he will keep my commandments, we will come to him, and will make our house in him(John, XIV, 23).
Our Lord has not only put us in contact with the life of the Father, but He wanted to stay among us, in the Holy Eucharist and increase this life by Holy Communion: no one can come to the Father but by me (John, XIV, 6). Jesus is the path, and the only path. The desire to attain divine life without Him would be a presumption and an illusion. The more we are nourished by the love of his holy Humanity, the more we will have meditated on his examples, the more his divine life will also increase in us: I have come so that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly(John, X, 10).
Mortal sin deprives the soul of this presence
We are destined for the most profound intimacy with God. As soon as God raised our first parents to the supernatural order, the union of man and His Creator was established. But, Adam and Eve rebelled against God in sin, and the union with Heaven and Earth was broken. It was necessary for a God-man to repair this rupture, and now by the Passion and merits of Our Lord, we are able once again to be the sons of God and to live the Divine life.
We have received this life by baptism, and unfortunately if we have lost it, Our Lord returns it to us by reviving us in His precious blood by Holy absolution. Therefore, let us understand the importance of the fleeing from sin. This flight from sin is about not losing the most precious gift that was given to men: if you knew the gift of God(John, IV, 10). May Our Lord’s words to the Samaritan not become a reproach for us.
Because sin removes the divine life from us, all misfortune united is nothing in comparison to a single sin. Let us recognize the reality of sin to understand its horror. What Christian would be bold enough to enter secretly into a church, violate the Tabernacle and take out the Ciborium and throw it to the ground and profane the holy Pieces. Would we do this? Would we have the audacity? No! Even the most indifferent Christian would not dare to commit this sacrilege to the body of Our Lord. But then, what do we do by sin? We uproot God from our heart and deliver it to the control of the Devil.
How is God supernaturally present in us?
We know that God is one in nature and three in person. From all eternity, the Father begets the Son--his alter ego, his perfect image. He did not beget Him IN THE PAST; this act takes place in the eternal present. He perpetuates Himself even now;CONTINUALLY THE FATHER BEGETS THE SON. And the Father contemplates His divine and coeternal son; the Son loves the Father and, by this gaze of love that they exchange in the simplicity of the divine essence, they breathe forth the Holy Ghost.
In the condition that we are in the state of grace, the divine life, which will be the substance of our heavenly happiness, is already imparted to our souls. Truly,EVEN IN THIS MOMENT,the Father begets the Son in our souls; at every moment both produce in us the Holy Ghost.
Until today have we thought enough about these sublime truths?
We wear scapulars, medals and relics. It is quite right that we wear these treasures. But we carry in us the living God, the Heaven, the unique goal of all things, the supreme Reality, and we do not think of it . . . ! We would not want to leave without our rosary in our pocket, yet we lose sight of the Holy of holies that we wear in us . . .! Truly we are Christophanes and Deifiers in the strictest sense of the word. With this in mind, recall the words of St. Leon: O Christian, realize your dignity!
From these simple reflections, an important conclusion becomes clear: isn’t it evident that if the divine inhabitance--the presence of God in ourselves--played in our lives the role which it should play, our lives would be totally changed and transformed?
Maintain God’s supernatural presence by faith, hope and charity
How do we get there?
God wouldn’t be Goodness and infinite Wisdom, if in seeking and requiring our intimacy, he didn’t give us at the same time the means to communicate with Him. The ways which we can be absolutely sure, and will permit us to enter into immediate contact with God are the theological virtues and the gifts that they give.
By faith, we adhere to the truth of the divine life, which is proposed to us. By charity, this life becomes us. By hope, we are certain, with the help of grace, to live it always more and to obtain from it the immutable possession in heaven.
This is the essential of all solid and profound prayer. In place of scattering our meditation on such or such a point, philosophizing on God or increasing our efforts of reason, will and imagination in order to form pictures or represent scenes, we are able to go to God in the simplicity of our heart: search for it in the simplicity of heart(Wisdom, 1, 1).
It is Our Lord, himself, who invites us: be simple like doves(Matth., X, 16). Man is a complicated being, unfortunately, it seems that he works still even harder to complicate his relations with God. God, by contrast, is absolute simplicity. The more complicated we are, the more we are alienated from God; when we become simple, we are able to draw closer to him.
We have seen that God, our Father, is present in us. When a child talks to his father, does he use a correspondence manual or an etiquette book? No, the child simply speaks, not looking for complete sentences, not stopping himself to insure that he is polite. Do the same with our heavenly Father. Our Lord said to us: if you do not become as little children, you will not enter the Heavenly Kingdom(Matth., XVIII, 3).
Is a mother tired of hearing her child tell her, “mommy, I love you?” It is the same with our Lord: the more our prayer is childlike, the more it pleases God. Because it is He who chose, among others, the name of Father. It is the Holy Ghost who cries in us: Abba, Father(Gal., IV, 6). It is also He who put in our mouth the inspired words of Holy Scripture and the liturgical texts.
Then what should our prayer be? It should be totally simple, as simple as possible. One should kneel and make with all his heart acts of faith, hope and charity. There is not a more sure, more elevated or more beneficial method of meditation.
METHOD OF PRAYER
Act of Faith
My God, I believe that you are here present in me, a poor nothing. If I wasn’t a poor nothing . . .! but I have offended You; I have rebelled against You. I am therefore below nothing . . . the animals have not dishonored You like I have, and yet You lower yourself to stay in me . . . ! I should be crushed, and I am still puffed up with pride, full of self-love . . . My God, despite all, I adore You present in me . . . I believe firmly that you are present in me, and by your grace, I want to acquire a faith so great and strong that I could no longer let myself be absorbed by another thing than You. Like the blind man in Scripture, I will say: Lord, let me see . . . make the scales fall from my eyes, heal my blindness, amaze me so that, by the light of your presence, I see You in all, and all in You . . .
Act of Hope
My God, I hope in You, You, infinite Goodness, who wants to dwell in me . . . But how do I dare to hope in You, me, the most miserable being, the most sullied and the most ungracious? Without a doubt I should say like St. Peter: leave me, Lord, because I am a sinful man . . .
And no, my God! I know that You have come to earth, and that You have said that you did not come for the just alone, who don’t need a Savior, but for sinners. This is precisely why I claim the title of sinner, and it is BECAUSE I am a sinner, that I will hope in You . . .
And I don’t stop myself at a simple hope, but I have CERTITUDE that You are, that You will be and that You will always dwell with me and in me, as Saint Paul said: if God is with us, who will be against us? . . . I am sure that neither death nor life . . . nor any creature could separate God’s love from us who is in Christ Jesus(Rom., VIII, 31 and 38).
From now on, my God, I have confidence in You. I don’t fear anything anymore: the World, Hell and the Flesh can rebel against me . . . it doesn’t matter, because You are with me. You are my Emmanuel, “the God with us”; my all, Deus meus omnia. . .
Act of charity
My God how may I say that I love you, I who has offended You so much? If I imagined my life as a line, it should be a straight line and continue with pure love for You, my God, because You have created me to love You . . . But, well I know of only a few instances, rare and infrequent, when I was consecrated to your love. And still! . . . three quarters of the most generous acts and the most pure sentiments are devoured by vanity and the quest of myself. What ingratitude towards You who has sought me with your love . . . !
But today I surrender myself, my God I cry: Lord, you have conquered! You have died by love for me . . . ! At least, I will live by love for You; and if I am unable to say that I love You, at least I want to love You . . .
The acts of these three theological virtues do not exclude other development in the soul’s sentiments towards God. For instance, one is able to develop humility, confidence, abandonment, and adoration . . . all that is necessary for us to acquire virtues and lessen our faults. In any case, one can not develop the habit of seriously speaking with God without a real progress in the spiritual life.
If one is well disposed and prays with an abandoned heart, nothing should stop you from passing meditation time in making these acts. Having done so, one will have made an excellent prayer.
If, by contrast, we stay dry and cold, after having made an act of faith, hope and charity, and one no longer finds the words, open a book and use the text to fuel your conversation with God.
In order that you continue to truly meditate, one should not read quickly page after page, but stop at each sentence, and make your addresses to God alive and personal, while dedicating yourself “You are my God! . . . and I am your creature! . . . ”
For instance, if we read: “OUR LORD SUFFERED FOR MEN.” One should quickly translate: “You, my God, You have suffered for me . . . ”. By orienting our thoughts permits in this way, we are able to make us considerations not in the abstract, but in speaking with God: my God, what fire of Love is yours! . . . Who are You, You who have descended from Heaven . . . what have you suffered . . . and how, and for whom . . .?
“You, my God, You were incarnated to suffer . . . to suffer without limit for my ungrateful self . . . and You have died praying for me and asking your heavenly Father to pardon me . . .! And me! Although I know quite well that I merit to suffer a thousand times more, I can not bear the smallest difficulty . . .
“No, from now on I will no longer be cold and indifferent towards You. I will continually listen to your cry: “I thirst!” You will suffer thirst, physical thirst, this is true, because of the torments that I have inflicted on You by my sins. But especially thirst of love because until now I have not given myself as you have desired . . . From this day forth my resolution will be to give You love and nothing but love. All that I do today will be done in union with You, and for love of You . . .”
The role of imagination
Perhaps one will object that this method eliminates the role of the imagination too much. Actually, we want to decrease its role.
The work of the imagination is purely a human activity; therefore, it isn’t a prayer. And this is the first reason to limit it.
Without a doubt, under the influence of grace, this inferior activity may be elevated and directed towards a supernatural goal. Nevertheless, it remains that the imagination, like all sensory faculties, exhausts itself very quickly and loses its focus. To construct and maintain the imagination’s representations is too tiring to be able to prolong it in a continual fashion. Therefore it is necessary to avoid including it as an important or essential element of our prayer. Because prayer must become, according to the evangelical precept, simple and constant.
Moreover, the imagination doesn’t know how to attain realities that are accessible only through a pure faith. The imagination only plays with the shadows of invisible realities, whereas the theological virtues substantially unite us to them.
Is this to say that all images should be excluded from prayer? No, because this is impossible; but it is better that one use images only when it is necessary and not any more.
For example, if we want to meditate on the Passion of Our Lord, firstly, we look for Him in ourselves: we address ourselves to Him as PRESENT IN OURSELVES, through his Divinity. The imagination, with the help of a crucifix, for example, can help us to imagine what He suffered for us on the Cross. But we must not forget that He is in our heart.
Limiting the use of our imagination will not diminish at all the vivacity and vigor of our sentiments for Our Lord. On the contrary, it is a pure faith, which gives these sentiments their life and profundity, because here is what it teaches us: as our actual sin truly tormented Our Lord in his Passion, our acts of love truly consoled him.
What encouragement for a fervent soul to know that it can, by acts of charity, console the agonizing Christ, who was abandoned by all in the Garden of Gethsemani! There is nothing to imagine about this. This is the sublime reality of faith.
The conclusion of prayer
From our meditations and conferences, we should always take care to arrive at the conclusion: God is all, and we are NOTHING, “My God, You are an infinite Being, and I am nothing. You are Beauty, and me, ugliness and misery. You are Holiness, and I am sin.”
Little by little, one will be able to put oneself in this state of compunction, which is the foundation of every serious, interior life. It is necessary that we finally understand that we are totally incapable to do good and that the only way to live is to act only for God and by God.
Therefore, starting from the beginning of the day, we should resolve at each mediation to maintain throughout the day the presence of God in ourselves and to do this simple act often: return to our inner self and praise God there by an act of faith, hope and charity. This method will permit us to escape sin steadfastly and progress in virtue with assurance.
By repeating these essential morning acts during the day, we will develop the spirit of prayer in us. St. John’s words will become a bright headlight in our life: God is charity, and he who remains in charity, remains in God and God in him (I John, IV, 16). As a consequence, one will realize what the same Apostle said: He who lives in God doesn’t sin(I John, III, 9).
It is easy to escape life’s preoccupations from time to time in order to unite oneself to God: it is good for me to unite myself to God (Ps. LXXXII, 28). I may speak to Him at each moment. I don’t even need words to express my thoughts. A moment’s look or a quick glance to the interior suffices. Thus, one will slowly create an interior solitude where he will be able to loan an ear to the Beloved’s voice. As He himself says: I will lead her into solitude and I will speak to her heart(Osee, II, 14).
I take care to listen with a fidelity always more generous than He wants from me: I will listen to what is said in me my Lord(Ps. LXXXIV, 9). In difficult moments, I will seek close refuge to Him. I will find light in Him and with Him I will share my joys. In a word, it is He who will occupy the first place in my thoughts and acts. My life, which until now had been egocentric, will no longer have its reason for being except in Him.
I will do all this without violence and contention. The repetition of supernatural acts disposes the growth for supernatural habits. Therefore, if I want to reach the point of continually living by faith, hope and charity, I can do nothing but devote myself to accomplishing these supernatural acts. And as sure as God calls me to intimacy with him: my delights are being with the children of men(Prov., VIII, 31), I will not waste any time in arriving there as soon as possible.
The goal of prayer life
I have found my ideal. I know where I want, where I may and where I must go. Before I lived without knowing my goal, and any trouble of my road tired and discouraged me. Now I know my goal and nothing will stop me. Before I found God in the depths of my heart, I didn’t have any peace. I have found Him who loves my soul. I know it, and I will no longer leave it (Cant., III, 4). Love has given me wings: love is strong like death (Cant., VIII,6). I no longer fear difficulties: I am able to do all in Him who strengthensme (Phil., IV, 13).
If I review my past life, and if I make the effort to be sincere with myself, I must admit that my spiritual life lacked the ideal, and it is the true cause of the little progress that I have accomplished.
I did not understand how Our Lord desires souls and searches after them: souls give themselves to Him so that He may give to souls. The degree of intimacy to which he invites us will be reached in proportion to our generosity in responding to grace. He does not want to pose restrictions on his love, yet He wants to give himself entirely. He is thirsty to possess souls completely. But souls are afraid of Him because of the consequences of this intimacy, which requires large sacrifices from man.
From now on, I will be frank with myself. I know that God wants to invade my being entirely and definitively, and that He predestined me to become conformed to the image of Jesus. He wants me to become his son by adoption. I also know that He will not stop himself because of my indignity. And who is able to believe himself worthy of such kindness? He who says that he no longer sins is a liar(John, I, 10).
Furthermore, it isn’t DESPITE our indignity that God seeks us, but it is BECAUSE our indignity that he wants to glorify himself in us. If an artist knows how to make a masterpiece, his work is more praiseworthy if he uses poor materials. It is this also truth that Our Lord wished us to understand in his Gospel, when he spoke the parables of the prodigal son and the lost sheep. There is more joy in heaven for a single converted sinner than for the perseverance of a crowd of just.
If, therefore, I decided not to follow this ideal now, I am obliged, in all my acts, to admit that I am nothing and that I am unable to do anything alone. On the other hand, God is all. He can do all, and want to do all for me provided that I make a total gift of myself to Him.
Obstacles changed into opportunities
From now on what I previously considered to be obstacles to my spiritual growth will now help me to become more spiritual: temptations, distractions, interior and exterior difficulties. Until now all this has stopped and discouraged me. From now on all this will serve me as a springboard to elevate me towards God in disengaging myself from the creature. I will no longer see but an urgent invitation to unite myself more to my God by an act of faith, trust, love and abandonment. The wearisome things will be grace because they force me to leave myself and live only in God.
If, until now, eagerness and preoccupation dominated my life, I will now live in a spirit of confidence and abandonment. Before nothing troubled me as much as my failures and weaknesses; from now on I will glorify myself in them: therefore, I prefer most willingly to glorify myself in my weakness, so that Christ’s power lives in me(II Cor., XII, 9). I make use of them to make Christ live in me. I will do this always by the same process: at the expense of my natural being, I will consolidate the contract with God by faith, hope and charity. Christ must grow, and I must disappear: it is necessary that He grow and I diminish (John, III, 30). He increases in so far as I disappear.
Little by little, I will thus dominate the contingencies, and all my former adversaries will aid me in the future to reach my ideal. I will place more and more my faculties and all my being at the disposition of God, and his voice will speak more clearly in me.
Thus, I hope that one day, by an inexpressible grace, the fusion of my soul in God will be realized: my soul has liquefied itself(Cant., V, 6). I will not rest before having attained this goal which I will try never to forget. All lost moments will be repaired by an augmentation of fervor. The faith will fortify itself and hope will become more sure and charity more ardent.
Application to the practical life
How do we begin to prolong our meditation in such a way that it lasts throughout the day?
Before each of our actions, and sometimes even during the action, one should become recollected. Thus, for example, in pronouncing the DEUS, IN ADJUTORIUM MEUM INTENDE of the Divine Office, we look to the interior to find the divine guest. And we should do the same at each Doxology, and each GLORIA PATRI . . . of the office or the rosary. By renewing this act, we develop the habit of praising God, who is present in our soul. Thus, we hope to arrive at a day when we no longer forget who is carried in us.
The examination of conscience should consist of reviewing the day which passed in our memory peacefully, so to assure ourselves that we have not been negligent, and that we have not lost view of our Beloved during too long a time. And we will confirm that these are precisely the moments where the union with God was broken and are marked by failures.
When we have a conference, it will suffice from time to time, it may be only in the time to turn a page, to turn our attention to the center of our soul and maintain contact with God.
In moments of rest, during the walk for instance, one must not lose the interior life. We should do acts to rediscover or guard this union, and we will remain in the divine atmosphere by simple intimacy. We will be with God like we are with a very dear friend: we don’t continually exchange words, but we are happy to know and sense that He is next to us—this suffices.
If we find ourselves in certain moments where we know that we should honor God, we should honor Him with even more intensity.
While grace continues to work in us, which we favor for own good, we will try as hard as possible to develop this life in us by the means that are at our disposition. For example, by conferences and study we try to deepen our knowledge of the Church’s doctrine, especially in all that concerns the divine life’s adoptive call to our souls.
And finally and above all, one should use, with their entire fervor and also as often as possible, the sacraments—the means to excellence. In effect, it is by Our Lord’s holy Humanity that we are able to expect his Divinity. No one goes to the Father without having gone through the incarnate Son.
In a mysterious way, He purifies us by Absolution. And by the Holy Eucharist, He plunges us deeper and deeper into His Divinity, by nourishing us by his Humanity. We should continue to communicate even when the holy pieces are no longer present in us because the grace that we receive does not expire in a quarter of an hour. Our prayer should be like those pilgrims on the road to Emmaus: Stay with us, Lord(Luke, XXIV, 29). Thus, Holy Communion becomes an inexhaustible source in our interior life and his effect, which lasts our entire day, will be loved with a renewed fervor.
Let us put ourselves completely in the hands of the Holy Virgin. She will produce in us her Son, and She will make it increase until this unity is consummated.
The Gospel’s Spirituality
The spirituality for which we have given principles and outlined its development isn’t new, and we have no pretension to present it as such. On the contrary, in reading the Gospel, I would like one to understand that it is the worn path made by Our Lord himself.
In general, when we speak about the Christian religion and especially of the interior life, we emphasis the work and obligations that it entails. Unfortunately, we hear little about the treasures of beauty and joy that God reserves for faithful souls on earth.
It seems to us that beside OUR DUTIES, it is natural to consider our supernatural GIFTS. In comparison to what God gives us—Himself, his eternal and joyous life—what He asks in exchange is only to possess that which we are: very little. This divine contract is clearly expressed in the Holy Gospel. However, many spiritual authors barely mention the riches which Christ promised to us in His generosity, thereby failing to emphasize the true nature of our relationship with God.
The demands of the Gospel
Without a doubt, one must die to self. This is necessary condition in order to arrive at this union. The Old Testament has already made this known: no one can see God without dying to himself(Exodus, XXXIII). Our Lord affirms this with a terrible force. The requirements of love are merciless. He demands a total sacrifice from men, which no wise doctor would dare to require.
If you do not do penance, you will not die(Luke, XIII, 3). If someone wants to be my disciple, let him renounce himself and pick up his cross daily and follow me (Matth., XVI, 24). He who does not hate his father and his mother . . . as well as his own life, he can not be my disciple (Luke, XIV, 26).
The advice of the most rigorous ascetics do nothing but repeat reproaches. If you want to follow Jesus, one must make a total and bloody immolation of all our being. The smallest restriction, the smallest calculated movement suffices to thwart Our Lord’s desires, because He has in abomination the reserve of the holocaust (Is., LXI, 6). He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is unworthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke, IX, 62). Because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth(Apoc., III, 16).
Christ’s last words
The precepts and crucial advice to die to self is presented with such force, yet they constitute but one side, the negative side, of Our Lord’s doctrine. If we want to know his thoughts fully, one must reread the entire fourth Gospel. In fact, in the Synoptics the Savior expresses himself more in symbols. It is in Saint John (XIV-XVII) that Our Lord explicitly declares the design of his love, and makes us understand why He requires from us, with such rigor, the sacrifice of our miserable life: it is so He can substitute our life with His divine life.
We know enough to meditate on these pages, which constitute the spiritual testament of Our Lord. They really appear insignificant to a large part of spiritual authors: the Gospel is, from all ascetic books, the most severe and the most imperial; but it is also the most audacious, more certain and more generous in his invitation to the supernatural life, and in the promises of intimacy with God than all the treaties on mystical prayer.
In St. John’s four chapters, Our Lord announces to us his intention to reveal to us the supreme secret of his doctrine, and no longer to speak in enigmas and figures; and his disciples, finally, understood Him: now You no longer speak to us in paraboles, but openly(XVI, 29). Therefore, we should consider the discourse after the Last Supper and the priest’s Prayer as the summary of all Our Lord’s teaching.
The necessity of penance and mortification is indicated in some verses that recall the exhortations developed in other Gospels. There is nothing of love without faithfulness to the precepts that we have cited before. One can not pretend to follow Jesus, to be his friend, if one refuses to carry his cross: if you love me, keep my commandments (XIV, 15). He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he whom I love (XIV, 21). You are my friends, if you do what I command you to do(XV, 14).
Obedience to the commandments is the sign which separates the chosen disciples from the world: Lord, how is it that You have manifested Yourself to us, and not to the world? And Jesus responded: if someone loves me, he will observe my commandments . . .(XIV, 22). And these words are sufficient for the condemnation of the world.
Our Lord doesn’t hide from the Apostles the sufferings and contradictions which wait for them in the path of renouncement: if you had been of the world, the world would have love for that which belongs to it, but because you are not of the world, it hates you (XV, 19). I gave them your word, and the world hated them: because they are not of the world, as I also am not of the world (XVII, 14). You will cry and wail, and the world will be in joy (XVI, 20). You will have great tribulations in the world, but have courage, I have conquered the world(XVI, 33).
The Gospel’s promises
But obedience and patience are not goals in themselves. Art for art is an unacceptable formula. Because nothing is created for its own end, and it is the same with virtue. Virtue for virtue is at the same time a paltry and discouraging idea because it is impossible to realize. He who leaves the world for the paltry joy of believing himself perfect or who struggles against the world to feel as a triumphant conqueror for his own esteem will never attain anything but an illusory nobility. He will, however, find again and again the same difficulties that he struggled to conquer.
Our Lord wants us to make our heart empty so that He can fill it up with the divine. This purification is always incomplete if it doesn’t end in fullness, the same is true with the divine life which will blossom in us in so far as we make the effort to detach ourselves from created things. This dying to self and the life in God is inseparable. The one without the other aborts life.
Let us listen to Christ’s promises to those who have kept his word: promises that He wants to accomplish in each of us, and that He yearns to realize with a divine impatience.
He, who loves me, will love my Father, and I will love him, and I will make it known to him. We will come to him, and We will make in him our dwelling (XIV, 21-23). Then you know that I am in my Father, and You in Me and Me in you (XIV, 20). I will pray to my Father, and He will give a Consoler, who will live in you for eternity . . . the Spirit of truth . . . He will live with you and will be in you(XIV, 16-17).
This mutual habitation, this fusion, this “stupefying intimacy” with Three Divine Persons, this is the superior goal that one must recognize from the beginning of the spiritual life. Such is the desire, and the will, of Our Lord. It is not sufficient only to push souls TOWARDS a celestial ideal, one must make them enter INTO the Kingdom of god and make them understand that He is, from the beginning their heritage: the kingdom of God is in you (Luke, XVII, 21).
Outside of a life united to Our Lord, and communion with the Father and the Spirit, which is the consequence of a life united to Jesus, there is not a profound spiritual life, nor a veritable supernatural fecundity.
Dwell in Me and Me in You . . . You can not bring forth fruit if you do not dwell united to Me . . . he who dwells in Me brings forth a lot of fruit because without Me you can do nothing (XV, 4-5).
If someone doesn’t live in Me, he will be rejected, and will be thrown into the fire . . . but if you live in Me, all that you could ask, you will obtain, such is the glory of my Father(XV, 6-8).
Silent prayer from souls united to Our Lord and living his life is a sovereign power: then you will ask me for nothing more . . . the Father will give you all that you ask for in my name (XVI, 23). I will no longer pray more to the Father for you, because the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and you have believed that I have come from God(XVI, 27).
The soul who opens himself to the divine Word, who welcomes Him, as did the holy Virgin Mary, will become like her, a throne of Wisdom. Our Lord makes explicit to the soul where He wants to live with the Father and the Holy Ghost, this promise is a gift, unknown to the world: the Holy Ghost will teach us in all things, and you will call to mine all that I have told you (Acts XVI, 26). I will not call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master does; but I will call you friends, because of all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you (XV, 15). When the Spirit of Truth will come, he will teach you total truth(XVI, 13).
The eternal life is the knowledge which has begun here: it is from You to know the eternal life, You, the only God, and He whom You have sent (XVII, 3). Because it is not a theoretical or abstract science; but a lived wisdom, full of love, radiating with charity, of mercy and mildness. The torrent of divine love floods an attentive and faithful soul to compel it towards its source and infinitely spread itself to souls. When this love becomes more generous and intense the soul is enriched with the most profound knowledge, which makes charity grow in return: dwell in my love (XV, 9). He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and I will make myself known to him(IV, 21).
When the intelligence and will are thus purified, their order is restored, and the soul is trained in the divine life, it finally knows true joy. I told you these things so that My joy is in you, and your joy will be perfect . . . your sadness will change into joy and no one will take away your joy (XVI, 20-22). I told you these things so that you have peace in Me . . . I leave you My peace, I give you my peace . . .(XVI, 33; XIV, 27).
A soul that is totally God-centered, enlightened in simplicity and possessing profound confidence, enjoys its fulfillment in the words of the important prayer: that you all be one, like You, my Father, You are in Me, and Me in you! That they will also be in us! I give them the glory that I received from You, so that being consummated in unity the world knows that You have loved them like You have loved me(XVII, 21-23).
For the lay brothers on the Sunday in the Octave of the Purification
On the day of the purification, we meditated on this mystery, but it seems to me that we can do it again. We can see the humility of Mary about which we have spoken to you, and we can also see in that the Purification is a feast of light, which demonstrates the relation that the Church wanted to establish between the words of Simeon and the benediction of the fire. Today we want to remember today a mystery more profound and see in the Purification the vocational feast of the Holy Virgin. First of all, let us remember that we know from Scripture what Mary did on this day. She arrived before the temple, a young mother of sixteen years, perhaps, enveloped in her veils, under which she hide the Child Jesus. Saint Joseph, her spouse and guardian, accompanied her carrying a cage with two turtledoves in it and five pieces of silver in a purse. Are we able to imitate his recollection or imagine his thoughts! Before the temple square, she gave one turtledove to the priest, then she was asperged with lustral water. She advanced a few steps to offer the five pieces of silver and the second turtledove. Finally, she entered into the temple, and in the presence of the Father, towards whom she held her CHILD—the son of God and his Son. And in this little being, she knows that all of humanity is contained: all the efforts, the sufferings and the joys of Christians are already in the heart of Jesus, and Mary offers to the Father all the children that she will have. Without a doubt she thinks of it, she knows that her act has an infinite value. Already at this time, she loves us in her virginal heart and offers us to the Father.
In reality all of our life must be a preparation of ourselves to be offered in this way. All our actions and our thoughts must be such that the Holy Virgin can present them to God.
The first condition to come to this sublime offering is to lead a pure and blameless life. For us, Carthusians, this rectitude is evident in the path traced by the rule. It is a great advantage to lead a simple life like ours, where the difficulties, intrigues and ambitions which trouble the hearts of the people who live in the world don’t have any place in our life. Our life is like the unleavened bread, all pure and white, which the priest is going to consecrate. A Carthusian who simply does his duties is ready to make this offering and this consecration.
The second condition is the solitude of the heart. Our heart is a temple larger that of Jerusalem. We must be alone in the temple with God and the Holy Virgin: because this does not trouble the solitude with God, but it assures it. It is necessary that a great calm and silence reign: no noise and especially no dissention. If we are displeased with a superior and our brothers, if we pass judgement on another, and if we are interiors are busy with complaining, at comparing situations and men, then the temple of our heart is not peaceful, and the offering that we make and what we could make can not take place. One must not be concerned with his own problems nor not preoccupy his heart with another’s worries--neither with curiosity or impatience. Assuredly, we must regret our sins, and especially do all that is possible to become better each day, but the thought of our imperfections must not preoccupy us: it is God about whom we must think, and not about ourselves. We congratulate ourselves for something, and then we worry about something else: if we occupy ourselves with such things for a length of time, Mary can not exercise her virginal vocation in us.
Thus solitude of the heart achieved in this way is very close to total abandonment. The third condition is that the soul must become an acceptable offering to God in the hands of Mary. In requiring us to make such a gift of our worries and in remitting to her for all things, we attain the indifference of a child. The Gospel orders us to do this with such force that He appears timid in these human words. Have no worries for tomorrow (Matth., VI, 4), nor for your food, clothing or health (Matth., V, 28 and 31; Luke, XII, 22). Be like the birds and flowers, who are left only to the hand of God and that they strive towards perfection (Matth., VI, 28). Do not look behind you either and do not lose your time in considering your acts of the past (Luke, IX, 62). You should let your right hand ignore what your left hand does(Matth., VI, 3). Finally, Saint Peter, in chapter five of his first letter, summarizes this teaching in one order: throw all your worries to God. Notice that he uses the word throw which conjures up powerful images of giving oneself totally to God.
Let us put ourselves back again, eyes closed, between the hands of the Holy Virgin so that she will take from us our worries and offer them to God. Are we in spiritual joy and kindness, close our eyes, pretend in our behavior to ignore it; are we in sadness and abandonment, close our eyes again and let us know how to abandon ourselves. Do not ask if someone appreciates us, this does not concern the soul whose eyes are clearly closed. Have no judgement on the perfection or imperfection of our brothers: again this is something better to leave to Mary--O my dear Brothers, he who abandons himself in this manner, I can assure him that the Holy Virgin will not delay in taking you in her arms and raise you up to the Father. The art for passing from this world into God is to know how to close one’s eyes and place ourselves in the supervision of Mary.
However, one must not believe that abandonment opposes generosity. He who has sincerely abandoned himself is docile under the inspirations of grace. He possesses what the abbot Saint Cyran called flexibility in the hands of God. The child lets himself easily be led by his mother. The three conditions of Marian sacrifice that I have enumerated: recollection, abandonment and generosity, always go together and are truly inseparable.
This is how we will prepare ourselves to be offered by Mary in the temple: faithful, peaceful, simple and confident, blind like someone becomes when too much light is in their eyes. Then she will carry us, and every act offered by her to the Father will be of infinite value. There are no longer small things for a soul so abandoned: slicing bread, pealing apples, sweeping stairs, singing canticles. All is immense because it is in the hands of Mary. We can also say, without contradicting ourselves, that for an abandoned soul, there are no longer large things: what appeared as a mountain, an enormous obstacle to one who guides himself and carries his worries himself, is an insignificant accident for an abandoned soul. This person doesn’t hold me in esteem, this one recognizes me as a poor man and takes me for a scoundrel: a man who rules himself frustrates himself. How does one justify himself? A new zeal for justice and truth—or a miserable lie is at work again. Mary’s child perceives it just barely. This is not his affair: he holds his eyes closed and, keeps his hand in the hand of his mother, letting her direct him where it pleases her. As before she soon lifts us in her arms, and we see no longer what appeared so terrible to others. In effect, we are lifted from between two fires. It is similar to an army attacking at the same time in front and behind. But for us, it is the fire of love, which assails us on both sides: before us, the face of the Father, the Holy Trinity that waits for us, and behind us, the virginal love of Mary who offers us to God. The spiritual life consists precisely of the directing, lifting up and carrying of ourselves by these maternal hands to be presented to the Most High.
It is a sweet thing to feel abandoned in such pure hands: one is sure not to get off track due to the assurance that this purity gives. And these hands have the power to purify us. We have already proposed this interpretation on the solemnity of the octave: it is the feast of the purification of humanity. Mary didn’t need to be purified, but we all needed it to receive Jesus, the light of the Father. In effect, only a pure crystal allows its clarity to be penetrated. Thus Mary went to the temple, not for herself, but in our place, in our name. She did this so her virginal purity could be imparted to us, and allow us to receive Jesus. This is why we see the Immaculate humbly kneeled before the temple square; and the priest who asperged her with glimmering water was surprised without a doubt by this mother, nearly a child, whose face was more clear and pure than daybreak. He had to have stopped himself, hesitating, guessing perhaps that this water was not destined for Mary, but she sprinkled it on all of humanity, prostrate in the darkness, eager for forgiveness.
Thus Mary wanted to impart some of her grace and open her immaculate heart to us.
Finally, she lifts us up in her arms, and we are then face to face with the Father. He looks at us without cease, and we look at him. This face to face is the highest form of the interior life; this is how St. Paul described heaven: we will no longer see him, he said, in the mirror of creatures, but face to face.
When we live under his glance, all that we do is illuminated. All becomes more clear and transparent. From the moment a bad thought comes to us, anger for example, spite, vengeance, the darkness extends itself, we are no longer under the glance of God. Scripture often employs this expression: Ambulavit coram Deo. He will always make his way under the eyes of the Most High, to perceive the clarity and beauty of a life truly offered to God.
But we also look at him: he reveals his image, which is that of love. We no longer have fear. We are no longer obliged to turn away our eyes as we did before the Holy Virgin purified us. We look at God in front of us. The glance of God, and the glance of the soul cross and establish themselves in an eternal unity.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The Cross is the sign of the divine sacrifice and the reconciliation of heaven and earth. It is also a symbol of this union which charity realizes between us, like Our Lord who asked on the eve of the passion that he wanted to undergo so we could be consummed in unity: ut sint ipsi consummati in unum.
This communion between us can be realized only by progress in our spiritual life and by turning away from all that hinders a unified life with God. In effect, for a man who is in the state of grace God does not cease to be present and act. Yet this reality only gives a partial and imperfect means in the conscience. It is a means more incomplete and deficient for the exterior. Therefore, each human creature is an enigma, a divine word veiled and visible only by flesh, language and action. The work of the individual consists of deciphering these enigmas and refinding the literal sense under the stammering and troubled expression. If we are more faithful to the life of grace in us, each soul where this life is present pleases us, and it is a source of peace and happiness. The recollected life and spiritual joy does more than make us benevolent and forbearing: it creates and speaks in our spirit a just agreement, which permits him to vibrate in harmony with the divine everywhere where he wants to. It is God himself, living in us, which finds God in our neighbor and smiles at him.
By conversation and action, men try to leave their solitude, and they try to establish friendships between them. For us Carthusians, the external relations are reduced to a very small amount, but they are not suppressed: the wisdom gained from secular experiences shows the necessity for some recreation, which allow us to avoid living as strangers, applying ourselves to maintain good relations with delicacy. But this is not done without effort, because as much as we are justly turned towards the exterior, we our words and actions are from the lowest part of the divine truth in us. This is a poor translation, and it separates us more often than it brings us close together. Worldly men, this is to say superficial—and we are worldly also, in so far as we are superficial—can not understand this because there is something lacking in the interior life. If we want to keep the heritage of peace and joy that Our Lord left us, if we want to save the spiritual friendship between us, we must forget ourselves and refind ourselves in God: because it is in himself alone that creatures truly come together and unite themselves.
In fact, an important point to remember is the difference between the essential and accidental. We have said that a good will and the life of grace, which is essential, can manifest itself in a soul in a number of ways. There is a life of faith and love joined with all the Church of Christ, there is another part of enthusiasm, particular preferences, accidentals, which can be legitimate and beneficial for each soul, but to want to impose on all, to be indignant about what a lot do not share is an error of judgement, and for charity the consequences are ruinous. To misplace the accent is to disrupt the harmony. The proper interior attitude of the soul, resolutely turned to the divine center, is asked for a lot of sacrifices. It is necessary that he give up many personal and sensible satisfactions. In responding to the Carthusian vocation, we have renounced human tenderness, and maintaining this renouncement is a condition for the religious friendship, because it is a condition for the interior life. But this is not only all passionate sentiments which must be excluded with rigor, it is all attachment to our individual tastes, even the spiritual in appearance, if we enclose ourselves in a narrow circle and do not let grace invade us with the liberty that God requires, and that he wants to maintain between him and us in solitude. When it is about to express the spirit of our vocation and make precise the conditions in which we must live it so that we are in communion with the divine. One should always return to the practice of solitude and silence. A certain capacity of interior and exterior silence is required so that a soul may be recollected and rediscover itself in the hearts of Jesus and Mary. This conversation without words, this friendship in detachment of all that is not of God is a very elevated and sweet thing that we must precisely guard. May the Cross and the sign of the Cross be for us a constant invitation to come back to the hearth of eternal charity, without limiting to our sacrifices. Amen!
The birth of the Holy Virgin
Hortus conclusus, soror mea sponsa,
hortus conclusus, fons signatus.
My sister, my spouse, is a garden
enclosed, a fountain sealed up.
Canticles of Canticles
To be a contemplative is to receive the divine Word, conceive it spiritually and have no more than a single life with him. Therefore, the Holy Virgin is the model of contemplatives. She is the mother of truth and of beautiful love. We should imitate her as generous and faithful sons.
Each of these symbols which illustrates for us the mystery of Mary’s mission is also the symbol of the soul which loves and possesses God in interior solitude: Tower of ivory, House of gold, sealed Fountain, Mirror of Justice, Ark of alliance . . . –the virtues of the Holy Virgin, the gifts which she manifests and the gifts which she radiates, are extraordinary virtues, and they are the conditions and privileges of the contemplative life.
In the hymn that we sing at vespers for each of her feasts, the Holy Virgin distinguishes herself from all women by her gentleness. Although God made all virgins and mothers to be gentle and this is in itself strength and power, Mary, who is the new and spiritual Eve, possesses it the most magnificently.
We have said that gentleness is the summary of all Christian virtues: it is made especially from patience, benevolence, respect and kindness to all souls, and the same for all creatures, because a gentle person is gentle towards things as well as towards men.
Being gentle is the foundation of submitting to God’s will in all things—a tender consent to all that is; it is also the first required attitude for him who desires to be purified, and release his interior eye. The contemplative life does not exist without a terrific amount of patience. Light only penetrates peaceful souls: tranquillity is the first required disposition so that the profoundness of the spirit may become transparent. The art of contemplating divine things is the art of being calm.—gentleness also comes from indulgence, mercy and a lucidity which makes one see each creature in the divine clarity, not hindering reasons to have confidence and to love. St. John of the Cross strongly stated how benevolence is indispensable for all interior progress. Our vocation must be truly virginal and Marian: the Holy Virgin didn’t have to condemn the world as this goes against her gentleness: thus it is the same for a contemplative soul, whose mission isn’t to be a judge of men, but to be with God.
Purity is another virtue that establishes Mary in us and absolutely must be emphasized above everything else. The Holy Virgin is like an incarnation of purity, and is so intimately linked with the gift of wisdom that one can recognize it as the essential virtue for contemplatives. It is not only about moving away from the sins of the flesh, but for the delicateness of a spirit to guard himself for the most elevated joys. To be pure is to know how to establish and maintain the soul’s solitude with God and reconstruct an interior Eden. We know that Holy Virgin is prefigured in the earthly Paradise, reserved inaccessible for centuries, as a place of delight without stain and without conflict where will be placed the new Adam. This figure also describes the contemplative soul who is, a closed garden where immediate happiness reigns in receiving the divine word in recollection comparable to him who reigned in the immaculate nature in the dawning of the world. From our first moments there be nothing nor anyone between God and the soul except this virginal liberty: thus this new creature produces itself and repeats itself without end: the generation in us of the Man-God. How may we practically conclude on the likenesses that must create in our souls to that of or Mother.-- We must make resolution to close ourselves off from foreign preoccupations, and we will draw from meditations the most profound sources from our being, we keep watch over ourselves like Mary for the most beautiful joy--and we preserve this joy by suffering, separations, and fears, so that it attains plenitude and spreads itself, Comforter.--and rejoins finally to the joy of God who will appear like a singular reality when the image of this world will have passed.
Veni, Soror mea sponsa . . .
Ecce quasi aurora consurgens.
Come, my sister, my spouse . . .
Here is like an aurora
Canticles of Canticles
The Holy Virgin is compared to a daybreak in the Canticle because she is the principle of the new creation. With her Immaculate Conception, the history of man rebegins and is clear once again: it is the intact material, perfectly pure and docile, from which the New Adam will be made--and ourselves with him, if we want ourselves to be recreated. Because the Holy Virgin expects nothing but our good will and a truly filial abandonment without limit so she may wash us in her innocence. For us to be delivered to her gaze, which it is described in the Canticle as a lake: oculi tui sicut piscinaein Hesebon, a perfectly clear water where we are absolutely relieved of ourselves so we may be inundated with the divine life.
Under the regime of grace--this grace of which Mary is full and she dispenses her maternal love at will--the recompense is thus given before the merit, the richness and the happiness are thrown away before the trail. In effect, this precedes from a New World properly divine. Men are incapable of this liberty because they are not sources of good, but apprehensive and fearful depositors: in the education of our children, in our commerce and our justice, we put the conditions and menaces of the chastisement first: one doesn’t come to terms with the price until after having obtained the effort, in exchange for services or guarantees.--but with God, it is different, from the time the sinner calls on God, he justly receives that which has no price, the heritage of the divine Blood and the son’s rank. His heart is delivered by Christ’s victory, filled with this pure triumph, and it is then armed with nobility and joy that he is invited to combat, which he must give at his turn, work and pain, according to his strength. Such is the government of the Kingdom of God, the prudence of the Holy Virgin, the economy of the House of Gold. The divine paths are different from ours, even if we do not often understand them. We do not dare believe in this dignity, in this liberty that we are offered, and we nearly distrust the generosity of God. The moment we abuse inferior things we ignore his essential presents. And the lack of faith and confidence paralyzes us. We haven’t any strength on the indirect path where we try to make our way: because timidity and anguish suffocate the best in man. Therefore, let us open our eyes and our heart in a perfect solitude with God, recollect ourselves and take conscience of that which he gives us, and that which he is for us. Our courage, our patience can only be solid if one and the other proceeds from a profound happiness.
It seems sometimes that we fear to recognize holiness, as if it is only about good material, of which a man is deprived because another possesses it. But this way of thinking completing ignores the reality in question. He who is given to the Saints, and first of all to Mary, is given to each of us. Thus it is there necessary of good religious, because their source is infinite and immediate and their essence is charity: those who receive them only do it by not holding them back there anymore, in transmitting them without holding anything back.
Let us surround ourselves with the privileges of Mary which she offers us in plenty: Venite et comedite, amici, inebriamini, Carissimi!, let us surround ourselves with God and her, our Mother and our sister.
The birth of Our Lord is the renewing of creation. The fathers of the Church compared the God-Child, under the three veils of the maternal breast, the grotto and the night, to the hidden seed where there is a sort of new bloosoming for the entire world. In fact, all life begins in secret, enveloped first in mystery and silence. And our Lord is Life itself: Ego sum vita: we do not know how to meditate enough on this name, so rich in meaning, that He himself is given.
The life that He imparts isn’t one of nature, but of grace. Nevertheless the first is the image of the second, and it blossoms from other. All life is graciously given: life is, in the living being, the first pure gift, that nothing can prepare or merit. And yet, it is not in vain that the supernatural life is called grace: it is lived by excellence, gushing out more intimately, a gift more pure and more unexpected than that found in nature: in effect, it is participation in the divine privileges, which no created intelligence could ever know. Having the spirit of grace, the spirit of divine freedom: in the fashion of receiving, it makes us welcome without hesitation that which God gives us without calculation; in the means of giving the divine abundance of this living water and impart it to everyone, drinking it with all one’s heart.
Grace blossoms in all Christians by recollection and prayer; in us grace must do it especially under the form of the interior life. The interior also is the character for all life. Unanimated prayer is only a surface activity: it resists only the shocks from the exterior, whereas the living discerns and utilizes what is convenient for them: an interior principle directs their economy and their belief. The spiritual life is more capable and powerful yet; there is nothing from which it can not take profit: the faithful soul finds its good in each event, the principle more profound than that of the natural life permits him to fortify and edify himself to the contact of things. If it isn’t as such for each of us, if good accidents trouble us and disorient us, this is precisely that we are not as interior as we should be: it is necessary to descend to the most secret of ourselves, recollect ourselves patiently and refind, in solitude with God, this divine address, this mysterious strength, grace which again, we know harmoniously assimilates, without exception, that which we are able to do and that which we encircle.
Finally, the life of grace, the interior life, develops in us, under the contemplative form.--to describe the alliance and fusion between man with his God, we express ourselves, it seems, in the most simple fashion, and we have a formula of value more general in speaking of the life of love and union. Thus the contemplative life is well named, yet to express the ideal of charity particularly direct and disinterested. The contemplative, in effect, is the act of the soul which forgets itself, immobile, before all things the most beautiful than itself. (Such is the nature of admiration, the power of contemplated beauty, which relieves us from what we are, and renders us indifferent to ourselves. The act of contemplative charity is simpler and more immediate. Here again we can remark the continuity of conduct from nature and grace: all life is love and all love forgets oneself, it consists of losing oneself in looking for a higher value: everywhere in nature, life doesn’t perpetuate itself but by an immolation of individuals, sacrificed to each generation so that the flame that they have received and always lives. But in the area of grace it is by excellence that this abnegation is necessary and that it is happy: Qui perdiderit animan suam. . . The soul has a gift to forget itself more perfectly than any other thing. It has, if it wants, the transparence of a mirror absolutely clear: it can, not having any shape of its own reflect the divine Infinite in all its profoundness. To remain focused on God in this way, in calmness and peaceful recollection is the source of all true wisdom: we will not be masters of ourselves, we will not have justice and veritable prudence if, by an audacious and pure welcome, we let God do His will—to let Him be in us as He wants to be.
May Mary, in which this Epiphany is also the feast, Mary full of grace, the most interior, the most secret of Virgins, and the soul also the most free from herself, in simple admiration of God, teach us to receive, love, and contemplate like her.