"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it."

St Philip Neri

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"For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?"

Thomas á Kempis

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"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 33


Introduction

1. For a better understanding of both what we have said and will say, it should be known that God's gaze produces four goods in the soul: It cleanses, endows with grace, enriches, and illumines, like the sun that dries and provides warmth and beauty and splendor when it pours down its rays.

After God places these three last kinds of good in the soul, he no longer remembers her former ugliness and sin, as he declares through Ezekiel [Ez. 18:22], for on account of these goods she is very agreeable to him. And once he has blotted out this sin and ugliness, he no longer reproaches her for it, or fails to impart more favors, since he never judges a thing twice [Na. 1:9].

Yet even though God forgets evil and sin once it is pardoned, the soul should not become oblivious of her former sins. As the Wise Man says: Be not without fear for sin forgiven [Ecclus. 5:5]. There are three reasons she should not forget her sins: first, so as always to have a motive against presumption; second, to have cause for rendering thanks; third, to incite herself to greater confidence, for if while in sin the soul received so much good from God, how many more remarkable favors will she be able to hope for now that God has placed her in his love, outside of sin?

2. Remembering here all these mercies and aware that she has been placed with so much dignity close to the Bridegroom, she rejoices immeasurably in the delight of thanksgiving and love. The memory of that former state, so unsightly and abject, notably promotes this gratitude and love. She was not only unprepared for and unworthy of God's gaze, but she did not even deserve that he pronounce her name, as he says through David [Ps. 16:4]. Conscious that in herself there is no reason, or possibility of a reason, why God should look at and exalt her, but that this reason is only in God, in his mere will and beautiful grace, she ascribes her misery to herself, and all her good possessions to the Beloved. Aware that through them she now merits what previously she did not, she takes courage and becomes bold to request the continuation of the divine spiritual union in which he will go on multiplying his favors in her. She declares all this in this stanza:

Do not despise me;
for if, before, you found me dark,
now truly you can look at me
since you have looked
and left in me grace and beauty.

Commentary

3. Taking courage and appraising herself by the tokens and value she has from her Beloved and observing that since they belong to him she deserves esteem on their account - although in herself she is of small value and merits no esteem - the bride dares to tell her Beloved not to consider her any longer of little account and not to despise her. If she previously merited this treatment because of the ugliness of her faults and the lowliness of her nature, now, after he has looked at her the first time, by which he arrayed her in his grace and clothed her in his beauty, he can easily look at her the second time and many more times, making this grace and beauty grow. Now there is reason enough for him to look at her, if we consider that he looked at her when she did not have these qualities, or merit that he do so.

Do not despise me;

4. The soul does not declare this out of a desire to be held in high regard (on the contrary, those with a genuine love of God greatly esteem and rejoice in being hated and reviled because they are aware that of themselves they deserve nothing else), but because of the gifts and graces of God that she possesses, as she points out in saying:

for if, before, you found me dark,

5. That is, if before you graciously looked on me, you found in me the unsightliness of sins and imperfections and the lowness of the natural condition.

now truly you can look at me

since you have looked

6. Since you have looked (rubbed out this dark and wretched color of sin that made me unsightly), in which you bestowed grace on me the first time, "now truly you can look at me." That is, now I can indeed be seen, and I merit being seen by receiving more grace from your eyes. The first time you not only rubbed out the dark color with those eyes, but you made me worthy to be seen since you looked with love.

and left in me grace and beauty.

7. The soul's affirmation in the two preceding verses explains what St. John states in his Gospel, that God gives grace for grace [Jn. 1:16], because when God beholds the soul made attractive through grace, he is impelled to grant her more grace, for he dwells within her well pleased with her. Knowing this, Moses begged God for more grace, desiring to oblige him by the grace he had already received from him: You say that you know me by name and I have found grace before you; if, therefore, I have found grace in your sight, show me your face that I might know you and find grace in your sight [Ex. 33:12-13].

Because this grace exalts, honors, and beautifies her in his sight, God loves her ineffably. If prior to her being in grace, he loved her only on account of himself, now that she is in grace he loves her not only on account of himself but also on account of herself. And thus enamored by means of the effects and works of grace, or without them, he ever continues to communicate more love and more graces. And as he continues to honor and exalt her, he becomes continually more captivated by and enamored of her. God manifests this in speaking to his friend Jacob through Isaiah: Since you have become honorable and glorious in my sight, I have loved you [Is. 43:4]. In other words, after I had turned my eyes toward you, thus giving you grace and making you glorious and worthy of honor and my presence, you merited the grace of more of my favors.

The bride in the Song of Songs explains the same thing, saying: I am dark but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem; wherefore the King has loved me and brought me to his inner chamber [Sg. 1:4-5]. This is like saying: Souls, you who do not know of or recognize these favors, do not marvel that the heavenly King has granted such admirable ones as even to bring me to his inner love. For though of myself I am dark, he so frequently fixed his eyes on me, after having looked at me the first time, that he was not satisfied until he had espoused me to himself and brought me to the inner chamber of his love.

8. Who can express how much God exalts the soul that pleases him? It is impossible to do so, nor can this even be imagined, for after all, he does this as God, to show who he is. One can only explain something of it through that characteristic God has of giving more to whoever has more. And his gifts are multiplied in proportion to what the soul possesses, as the Gospel makes clear: To those who have, more will be given until they abound; and from those who have not, even what they have shall be taken from them [Mt. 13:12; Lk. 19:26]. Thus the money of the servant who did not stand in the lord's good graces was taken from him and given to the servant who had the most money of all those who pleased the lord [Lk. 19:24].

God gathers together in the one who is his closest friend the best and principal goods of his house, of both the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. He makes arrangements so that these goods will give more honor and glory to his friend, who becomes like a brilliant light absorbing in itself countless fainter lights. God also declared this, according to the spiritual sense, in the passage of Isaiah, quoted above, when he spoke to Jacob: I am your Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt for your propitiation, Ethiopia and Saba for you, and I will give men for you and people for your soul [Is. 43:3-4].

9. Now, my God, you can easily look on and bear high esteem for the soul you behold, for by your look you present her with valuables and jewels and then esteem her and are captivated. After you have looked at her she no longer merits that you look at her only once, but that you look at her often. The Holy Spirit observes in the Book of Esther: Worthy of such honor is the one whom the king honors [Est. 6:11].
 

 
   
 
   
   
   
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