"Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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John Nicholas Grou, S.J. 

 

SPIRITUAL MAXIMS (cont)

 

by John Nicholas Grou, S.J.

Eleventh Maxim: A childlike spirit

Treat God as a child treats his Father

It would seem that nothing should be easier or more common for Christians than to look upon God as their Father, and act towards Him with simplicity, confidence and abandonment. It is the very spirit of the New Law, and is what distinguishes it from the Old. One of the fundamental dogmas of our faith is that God the Father has adopted us in His Son Jesus Christ, and raised us up to the supernatural state of His children, whereby we are made heirs, indeed, of God and joint heirs with Christ; [60] an inheritance which gives us a right to heaven as our home and to the eternal possession of God. This title, child of God, presupposes and recalls to our minds the chief objects of our faith, is the foundation of our hope, and the paramount motive of our love.

Yet nothing is rarer among Christians than this filial disposition towards God; almost all are more inclined to fear than to love Him. They find it exceedingly difficult to have a complete trust in Him, to the extent of abandoning themselves totally to His divine Providence. What is so little known, and even less practised in the spiritual life and most difficult to human nature, is the casting of all our care upon Him, in the firm faith that nothing can be ordained by His Providence that will not work for our good, unless we ourselves place some obstacle in the way. [61]

This all comes from self-love which would persuade us that our interests are only safe so long as we have the control of them in our own hands. We cannot make up our minds to entrust them to God, and, in all that concerns us, to look upon Him as a Father, no matter how much our love is put to the test. We are ready to trust Him when He indulges us, sends us consolations and gives us all we ask. But when, to teach us to love and serve Him for His sake and not for our own, as such a Father deserves to be loved, He withdraws the comforts we have abused, refuses what would harm us, and offers us what is for our good but which we do not want, then we no longer think of Him as a Father but as a harsh task-master. His demands are distasteful to us and we are ready at any moment to quit His service. Even our spiritual director has the greatest difficulty to restrain us when he takes God's part against us.

Yet it is nevertheless true that God never shows Himself more truly a Father than in the trials He sends us. His crosses are the most precious favours He could bestow on us in this life, and the heavier the burden He lays upon those who have given themselves to Him, the more is it a proof of the love He bears them. Was not Our Lord the well-beloved Son, in Whom the Father was well pleased? [62] Yet how did He treat Him, from His birth to His last sigh upon the Cross? Was He less His Father when He gave Him up into the hands of wicked men; when to all appearances He forsook Him on the Cross, and suffered Him to die tortured and in shame? Surely not! And it may truly be said that if Calvary was the scene of Christ's love for His Father, it was no less the clearest demonstration of the Father's love for His Son. Judge by the consequences. All the glory and power and blessing which Our Lord possesses as man, He owes to the Cross. Did He not Himself say: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory? I His Father required that temporary proof of obedience at His hands, that He in turn might give Him an eternal proof of the magnificence of His reward.

With the example of Our Lord, then, before our eyes, never let us think that God is not acting as our Father when He asks sacrifices of us that are painful to nature; when, having asked and received our consent, He takes us at our word, and exacts the fulfilment of our promise. It is true that the Face He turns to us then may seem severe, and it is His justice rather than His love that we see; but never was He more our Father, never were the marks of His love more apparent to the eyes of faith.

Consider also the upbringing of a child. While weak and tender, he is nursed, carried, petted, indulged and soothed. But as he grows older, he is placed under a rule; he is obliged to do things which are unpleasant, and of which he does not as yet see the use. He is broken in to obedience and habituated to control his desiresand follow the guidance of reason. When necessary, he is treated severely and chastised. Why? Solely in order to draw out his powers, to make a man of him, and to prepare him for a useful and happy life in the future, according to his state in life.

In the same manner does God act towards His children. He intends them for citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. When they begin to give themselves up to Him, He makes the greatest allowances for their weakness. He lavishes sweetness and consolations upon them, in order to win their hearts. He makes all things easy to them. He removes temptations, pleases them and, as it were, makes Himself a child with them. But as they grow stronger and are capable of receiving solid lessons in the interior life, He adopts another plan. He attacks nature, pursues all its defects and vicious propensities, sparing none. He prescribes difficult duties, and requires their fulfilment with extreme severity. The language of grace is no longer tender and persuasive: it is strong, imperious, even threatening; the least resistance is rigourously punished. He proportions the exercises, the trials and temptations that He sends, to their strength and state. The more He has endowed them with powers natural and supernatural, the more He demands of them, until they are moulded to all the virtues, and have passed through all the degrees of holiness. When they have reached that point of perfection to which He desires to bring them, when they have become worthy of Him, then their spiritual education is complete, and He removes them to His kingdom, where He crowns their struggles and their obedience, making them everlastingly partakers of His glory and bliss.

Thus the interior life throughout its whole course is nothing other than an education divine and paternal, inspired and ruled by love. God, on His side, fulfils perfectly the role of a Father, Whose desire is to make us happy. Let us, then, on our part, do all He expects of us as His children.

Once again, let us take children as our pattern. What are the feelings that a well-disposed child entertains for his father? In the first place, great simplicity, ingenuousness and candour. A child has no notion of concealing or dissimulating with his father. He opens his heart to him, tells him all he feels, and that is how we should act towards God. In fear, joy or sorrow, we should go to Him with the candour and simplicity of children. He knows better than we do what is passing in us, but He likes us to speak to Him about it. He wants to be our confidant and friend. Do not be afraid, then, to address Him sometimes with loving reproaches: such holy liberty pleases Him; nothing displeases Him more than cold reserve.

The next thing noticeable in a child is his trust. Timid and distrustful where others are concerned, in his father he places unbounded confidence. He knows that his father loves him; that he cares for him, toils for him, plans for him, and has no other aim but his happiness. And so he neither cares nor troubles himself about his own welfare, but leaves all to his father, who provides for his wants, even for his innocent pleasures, forestalls his slightest wishes, and reads them in his eyes. He is persuaded that the advice, the lessons, the corrections of his father, the various tasks he imposes, the severity he uses towards him, even what seems to be hurtful, have no other object than his true happiness. He knows this, not by reasoning, but by instinct and experience.

If only we had the same confidence in our heavenly Father, Who is worthy of it infinitely more than any earthly father! If only we would make over to His Divine Providence the care of our spiritual interests; confide to His grace far more than to our own efforts our spiritual welfare and perfection. If only we were deeply convinced that God does all things and ordains all things for our good; that His precepts which act as a curb to our passions, the duties that seem so painful, the evils and afflictions He permits, the hidden dispositions by which He disturbs our plans and cuts across our undertakings, the very faults and falls He refuses to prevent in order that we may be humble and mistrust ourselves, are permitted solely with a view to our eternal good--if, I say, we believed these things, how God would be glorified by our trust, and what intimate care, what loving attentions would not our confidence draw down upon us.

St. Paul lays it down as an axiom of the spiritual life that all things--without exception -- work together unto good to them that love God. [63] What does loving God mean, save looking upon Him as a Father, speaking to Him, relying upon Him for everything, acting and cooperating with His grace, and, having done on our part all that He expects of us, trusting solely to His love and mercy? O filial trust! What anxiety you would spare Christians who sincerely desire their salvation, and how you would assure it much better than all the sufferings of mind that self-love brings in its train! Leave to your heavenly Father the direction of your inner life, follow quietly the attraction of grace, consult His holy will in all things, oppose it in nothing. For the rest, pay no heed to your foolish questionings, calm your imagination, and despise the vain fears that would weaken your trust in Him. This is the way to heaven, and if you meet with difficulties on the way, they come from you, not from God.

Obedience is another characteristic of a child's disposition: an obedience altogether founded on love, not arising from fear as is the servile obedience of slaves, nor dictated by a mercenary self- interest. An obedience which embraces without reserve its Father's will, not considering whether the carrying out of that will is easy or difficult, pleasant or otherwise. An obedience generous, prompt and courageous, neither complaining nor excusing itself, finding its reward in the joy of having done its duty in pleasing a Father it loves and respects. Is it thus that most Christians obey God? I doubt it: and why?

It is because for the most part they forget that God is their Father. They look upon Him in quite another light. Some fear damnation more than they desire their salvation. They are moved more by the thought of the pains of hell than by that of the joys of heaven. Fear is at the root of their obedience. They regard God as a harsh master, and a severe judge.

Now fear has the power to keep us from evil, but not to lead us to good. It is a curb, not a spur. It is the beginning, but only the beginning, of wisdom. [64] God does not mean us to stop there. From fear we ought to pass on to love; indeed, we are not fearing God when we only fear His chastisements, and we do not obey Him according to His will when we yield only to His warnings. So that this obedience is equally imperfect in its motive. It permits the whole weight of the yoke to be felt, but does not remove from the heart a secret longing to be rid of it. It limits itself to the letter of the law, and, as men naturally interpret the law in their own favour, its obligations are often imperfectly fulfilled

Others do, indeed, consider God as their rewarder. They serve Him from a motive of hope, but they care less for Himself than for the good things He promises. They hope, that is, for the possession of God, but less for His sake than for their own happiness. In other words, self is uppermost in their minds and they barely pay attention to anything else.

This motive is not bad, since it incites to well doing, but it is not pure enough, and if their obedience has no other stay, it will be weak and hesitating, and often fretful. True faith, which is evidenced by love, has very little influence on their conduct. The present good and evil counts with them as much as the good to come. And that is why they find it so difficult to practise virtue, which consists principally in mistrusting the pleasant things of this world, and accepting the unpleasant. We may indeed fear for them when certain temptations come upon them, which only the love of God can enable them to overcome.

It is not in fear, then, nor in self-interest, but in love that we shall find the deep principle of the obedience which is due to God, and nothing will inspire us with that love more than the role of Father which God has deigned to assume for our sakes. When, having meditated on this Name so tender and on the dispositions it presupposes in God in my regard, I consider that from all eternity He has loved me, not merely as His creature but as His child; that He has gone so far as to tell us in the Sacred Word that, even if a mother should forget the child of her womb, yet will He never forget us; [65] when I realize that He has raised us to be His sons by adoption, [66] destined to be associated with His divine Son in His heavenly inheritance and to share in His eternal beatitude; when I consider, above all, the marvellous plan of His paternal love and what it cost the Son to raise me to that divine adoption, and the inestimable graces which accompanied and have followed that amazing gift: what, I say, can I refuse to such a Father, Whose only motive in all He asks of me is the love He bears me, and the good He wills to bestow upon me?

What can I see in His law but the loveliest and most just of duties, namely to love Him; for in this consists the whole of His law. [67] How can I regard this as a yoke or a burden? Sweet, indeed, is His yoke and His burden light; [68] and never will I regret having taken them upon me. My endeavour, then, shall be to love this kindest of Fathers in gratitude for His love for me; and to prove my love for Him by an obedience which I shall regard as my greatest joy. So, too, my greatest sorrow would be not to love Him, and to disobey Him in the least thing.

Nor will I limit myself to the performance of those things which He commands under pain of His displeasure. I shall study to do what pleases Him. The least sign He gives me shall be a law to me, and I will try to refuse Him nothing, complain of nothing, and submit with joy to all, even to the most painful dispensations of His Providence. For His name of Father always bids me look upon them as marks of His love, and trials of mine. Thus Job felt, when in the depth of his afflictions he cried: If we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil? [69] And: Although He should kill me, yet will I trust Him. [70] And again: May this be my comfort, that afflicting me with sorrow, He spare not: nor I contradict the words of the Holy One. [71] So far should a Christian carry his confidence and submission towards such a Father.

How weak is human respect when it attacks a heart full of filial love. The attractions and seductions of the world do not interest the true child of God. He neither fears its threats nor its ridicule. He holds up his head and boldly declares his mind, when His Father's honour is at stake. If he hides himself from the sight of men, he does so through humility, never through weakness. He does nothing to draw attention to himself, and cares not whether he is seen or not seen, praised or blamed, esteemed or contemned. To him the world is as though it were not. In company or alone, his eyes are always fixed on his Father, and his concerns are with Him alone. How should he trouble himself about pleasing the world, when he does not wish to please even himself? He dreads nothing so much as having to think of himself; he does all he can to forget himself, and would shrink from diminishing his Father's glory by anything approaching self-complacency. And if by chance he should do so from time to time, he deeply regrets it as a real fault.

The delicacy of his love goes further still. Content to please God, he is in no way eager for his love to be recognized. He neglects nothing whereby he may be acceptable in God's sight, but asks for no sign of assurance that he is so. He knows that self- love would rest satisfied with such an assurance, and his love for God would suffer accordingly.  

 
   
 
60. Rom. viii. 17
61. Cf. Ps. liv. 23
62. Matt. iii. 17
63. Cf. Rom. viii. 28
64. Cf. Ecclus. I. 16
65. Cf. Isaias xlix. 15
66. Cf. Rom. xiii. 10
67. Cf Gal. iv. 5
68. Cf. Matt. xi. 30
69. Job. ii. 10
70. Job. xiii. 15
71. Job vi. 10