"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."

St Louis Bertrand

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"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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"Lord, take from me everything that hinders me from going to You. give me all that will lead me to You. Take me from myself and give me to Yourself."

St Nicholas Flue

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John Nicholas Grou, S.J. 

 

SPIRITUAL MAXIMS (cont)

 

by John Nicholas Grou, S.J.

Fifth Maxim: Devotion to Our Lord

Keep close to Our Lord in His mysteries, and draw the purest love from His salutary wounds

Christ is the centre, not only of our religion, but of our spiritual life. By whatever path the soul may be led, active, passive, ordinary or extraordinary, He is the one guide and pattern, the chief subject of its meditation and contemplation, the object of its affection, the goal of its course. He is its physician, shepherd, and king; He is its food and delight. And there is no other Name under heaven given to men, whereby they may be saved, [16] or come to perfection.

Therefore, it is both absurd and impious to imagine that there can be any prayer from which the humanity of Our Lord may or ought to be excluded, as an object not sufficiently sublime. Such an idea can be nothing but an illusion of the devil. Contemplate the perfections of God, if you are drawn to do so: lose yourself, if you will, in the Divine Essence; nothing is more licit or praiseworthy, provided grace gives wings to the flight and humility is the companion of that sublime contemplation. But never fancy that it is a lower course to look and gaze upon the Saviour, whenever He presents Himself to your mind. Such an error is the effect of a false spirituality and of a refined pride, and whether we are aware of it or not leads directly to disorders of the flesh, by which intellectual pride is almost invariably punished.

Know, then, that as long as the soul has free use of its faculties, whether in meditation or in simple contemplation, it is primarily to Our Lord that we must turn. Pure contemplation, in which the understanding alone is exercised upon an entirely spiritual subject, is too high for weak minds like ours, encumbered with a weight of flesh, and subjected in many ways to material things. For some, it is less a prayer than an intellectual speculation. With others, it is a matter of the imagination, in which they lose sight both of God and of themselves. Why, the very seraphim cover themselves with their wings in the presence of the Divine Majesty, and we would dare to raise our eyes and gaze thereon!

Besides, this contemplation is too bare and dry for the heart, which finds no nourishment therein. The abstract consideration of infinite perfection contains nothing to stimulate us to virtue, or sustain and encourage us when low. The repose obtained by this supposed prayer is a false one, and dangerously near to Quietism. It leaves the soul dry, cold, full of self-esteem, disdain for others, distaste and contempt for vocal prayer (which in our weakness we need), and for the common practices of piety, charity and humility, and indifferent even to the most august and holy of the sacraments.

If the powers of the soul are bound in time of prayer, then it is possible that we may not be able to think of Our Lord, or of any other subject. God, desiring to humble the mind, to subdue our natural activity and root out from our heart its immoderate love of sensible consolations, sometimes leaves the soul for years in a void, during which neither Our Lord nor any other distinct object is presented to it.

However, in the first place, this is not the act of the soul itself, but a sort of martyrdom in which it acquiesces because such is the will of God. And when, during this fearful nudity, Our Lord occasionally reveals Himself, with what joy does not the soul welcome Him and converse with Him, during the brief moments of His stay!

How happy when I find at last,
How joyous when I hold Him fast!

But equally, what anguish does not the soul experience, when it is plunged once more into the night of its own nothingness.

In the second place, the soul thus treated endeavours to make up during the day for the loss from which it suffers in time of prayer. It thirsts to be joined in Holy Communion to Him Who, in these seasons of dearth, is its only stay, its only food. It spends itself in holy ejaculations; it invents divers practices whereby to invoke and adore Him throughout the day in His various mysteries. It seeks Him in spiritual reading, visits Him in His holy House, turns to Him for grace, and has recourse to Him in temptation. There is no soul, really and truly interior, whether passive or not, but strives to live in Him and by Him and for Him, and to have for Him a deep and continuous love.

How could it be otherwise? God the Father gave Him to us for this very purpose. He became man in order to unite us with Himself. Sin had separated God and man too widely; Christ assumed our nature in order to repair that separation. No man cometh to the Father, but by Me, He said. [17] No man abideth in the Father, but by Him. To forget for one instant that sacred humanity would be to sever our sole link with the adorable Trinity. How can one conceive that the Father, Who draws us to His incarnate Son, could ever wish to see us in a state of prayer in which it would be an imperfection to think of that Son, or wherein it would be necessary to separate His humanity from His divinity, and neglect the one in order to occupy oneself with the other. The mere thought of such a thing would be both absurd and blasphemous.

St. Paul was not only an interior man, but in the passive state: bound, as he himself says, by the Holy Spirit, [18] Who in a sovereign manner was the guide of all his thoughts, his feelings, his words, and of all he wrote; indeed, of the whole course of his apostolic work. Can one doubt that he was in the passive way to an extraordinary degree, in view of what he tells us of the greatness of his revelations, the humiliating temptations to which he was subject in order to keep him humble, and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which he possessed in such plenitude? [19] Yet his epistles are full of Christ; he speaks of nothing else, and with what transports of gratitude and love! The mere mention of the divine Name is enough to send him into such raptures that his words cannot contain his thoughts, and pile up their images in the liveliest disorder and embarrassment, in their endeavour to express the sublimity of his supernatural enthusiasm. Again and again, he urges the faithful to study Christ, to imitate Christ, to 'put on' Christ, [20] to do all and suffer all in the name of Christ. [21]

He invites the faithful to be followers of him as he is of Christ. [22] He affirms that he fills up in his person what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ; [23] that is, by his labours and sufferings, he applies to himself the merits of the Passion of his divine Master. He assures us that he carries the marks of Jesus in his body; [24] and, finally, as though unable to say more, he declares that he no longer lives, but that Christ lives in him. [25]

And what am I to say of St. John, the beloved disciple who, as the eagle dares to gaze with open eyes upon the sun, contemplated the eternal generation of the Word in the bosom of the Father? Not only literally, as at the Last Supper, but continuously throughout his life, he leant upon the bosom of the Saviour. And who ever reached a higher state of contemplation, or led a more interior life? And what is his Gospel but the most sublime and touching exposition in its simplicity of Jesus in His divine nature, of all that He longs to be to us and wants us to be to Him; as well as of the most intimate desires of His Sacred Heart, both for the glory of the Father and the salvation of men? What are his epistles but a tender exhortation for all men to love Christ, and to love one another even as He has loved us? [26] What is the Apocalypse but a prophetic description of Christ, here below in His Church, and hereafter in the elect, washed and purified in His blood, [27] and of His temporal and eternal triumph over His enemies? The apostle was drawing near the end of his life and was consummated in the most perfect union with his Master, when the Holy Spirit dictated to him these divine words. Dare one, in view of this, say that there is a kind of prayer so high that the sacred Humanity has no place in it? With what horror would not St. John have received and rejected so detestable a proposition.

Among the saints, men and women, ancient and modern, were assuredly a great number of contemplatives, who followed either the active or passive way. But where will one find any to whom Christ and His mysteries were not at once the centre and foundation of their prayer; and who in their writings have not urged Our Lord as the unique Way that leads to perfection? There are none; there never have been, and there never will be.

You, then, who aspire to the interior life, that is to a life of genuine piety, enter, as the author of the Imitation counsels, into the hidden life of Jesus. Study to know Him well, to make His most intimate thoughts your thoughts. Let this knowledge be the constant subject of your prayers, your reading and meditation; refer everything to it as to its centre and term. You will never exhaust it: you will not even fathom its depths. The saints have ever discovered new treasures in the measure in which they advanced, and all have admitted that the little they knew was nothing to what they longed to know.

But it is not enough to study Christ: we must stir our hearts to love him, for the love of God and the love of God made man are one and the same thing. Let this love be the food of your soul; let it be the object of all your spiritual exercises, in order that you may grow in that love from day to day. If any man love not Our Lord Jesus Christ, says St. Paul, let him be anathema. [28] To love Him in a half-hearted manner is to be but a poor Christian. The true Christian longs and strives to love Him more and more, knowing that He can never be loved as He deserves to be loved, or in the measure of His love for us.

But to love Him without imitating Him would be both vain and sterile. Therefore, be imitators of Christ. He is our model, perfect in every detail: a model for all states and for all conditions. To all men, in every conceivable circumstance, Christ in His mysteries, His virtues and in His doctrine, gives us the examples and lessons He proposes for our imitation. His teaching furnishes us with the most powerful motives, whilst His grace and the sacraments provide us with the most efficacious means.

But above all, meditate on His Passion; cling to His Passion. Reproduce in your own life those virtues of which His Passion presents the most living picture.

Seek in your prayers to draw love from His salutary wounds, above all from His pierced Heart. Remember that His sacred Passion is the foundation of the whole of our faith: that He came on earth to die upon the Cross; that it was by this sacrifice He made satisfaction to the Father and expiation for our sins; opened heaven to us and merited all the graces that will bring us there. Remember that the sublime sacrifice of our altars, which is the central act of our faith, is but the memorial, the renewal and extension of the sacrifice of Calvary. Remember, too, that it was He Himself Who committed to priests and laity the duty to offer His Body and receive It as food, in memory of His crucified love for men.

The crucifix is, and always will be, the dearest book of devout souls. It speaks to the senses, to the mind and to the heart. No other language is so eloquent or so touching. It is within the understanding of the most simple and ignorant, yet is, at the same time, above the comprehension of the greatest intellect and the highest learning. It says all, teaches all, answers all. It provokes the greatest efforts, consoles and sustains in times of the most bitter sorrow, and changes the very bitterness into sweetness.

The crucifix invites sinners to do penance, causing them to realize all the malice and enormity of their crimes. It reproaches them with as much gentleness as force; offers them the remedy, assures them of pardon, and excites in their hearts feelings of contrition as loving as they are sincere. It encourages the just, making the way to virtue easy. It persuades them to renounce and fight their passions, rendering them deaf to the cries of self- love, which dreads poverty, suffering and the afflictions that mortify the mind and flesh. Above all, it humiliates and destroys human pride, the source of all vice and sin.

The crucifix draws us to a state of recollection and prayer, to the interior life. It speaks to us of gentleness, patience, pardon for injuries done to us, love for our enemies, charity towards our brethren, even to the offering of our lives for them. It provokes us to love God by revealing to us the extent of His love for us, and how truly He merits to be loved in return. It impels us to submission and to the perfect conformity of our will with the divine will, whatever the cost, and to confidence and abandonment in times of the greatest desolation. In a word, it engages us to the practice of virtue and the avoidance of vice, in a way so gentle and persuasive that it is impossible to refuse.

Devout soul, do you desire to attain to union with God, to receive the precious gift of His continual presence which makes all labour light? Then spend some time every day before the crucifix. Take no other subject for your meditation. Gaze at it, hold it in your hands, pray to Jesus hanging on the Cross, and ask Him to be your master and director. Bid your mind be silent in His presence; let your heart alone speak. Tenderly kiss His hands and feet, press your lips to the wound in His sacred side. Your soul will be moved, and torrents of grace will flow into it, and with joy you will draw waters out of the wells of salvation. [29] You will run in the way of the commandments, [30] for the Cross contains them all.

Say not that the sight of the crucifix does you no good; that it leaves your heart cold and insensible; that, however much you try to express your love, you have no words wherewith to do so. If you cannot speak, you can listen. Stay silently and humbly at your Saviour's feet. If you persevere, He will not fail to instruct, nourish and fortify you. And if you feel nothing of this at the time, you will perceive it in your conduct, in the gradual change in your disposition. We are impatient, and our senses cry out to be satisfied, and, for this reason, we abandon the most profitable practices just because they do not succeed immediately. Persevere, I say. You have greatly abused the love of Jesus, let Him now try yours a little. He will crown your perseverance with success, and the gift of prayer will be your reward.

Our Lord's Passion has always been the particular devotion of those saints who have been renowned for their hidden life. Such were St. Bernard, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Gertrude, St. Teresa and many others. And any numbers have written on the subject. Yet if these great mystics tell us that there are states in which one loses sight of Our Lord, they will always add that these experiences are the expression of stages in Christ's own life, and that it is He Who impresses on the soul His own dispositions as He grew from childhood to His death. Step by step Jesus leads us to pass through these various stages, commencing with sensible joys, and passing to exterior and inner sufferings both of body and soul; humiliations, contradictions, calumnies and persecutions on the part of others; temptations on the part of the devil, and trials and interior aridity on the part of God.

During these trials, we do not see that it is Our Lord Who is crucifying us, for that would be too great a consolation. For our own good, it is essential that we should be unaware of His part in all this, if we are to exercise our faith and trust and so reap the full benefit of our sacrifice. When Jesus thus hides Himself from us, we suffer more, it is true, but we merit more. And should we have to pass the whole of our life in darkness and aridity, our trust and obedience will grow all the stronger.

Thus we are never more truly and intimately united with Our Lord than when there seems to be a thick veil between Him and our soul, which we would like to lift but cannot. It is in this sense solely that we must understand all approved spiritual writers who have treated of this matter, and it would be a grave injustice to accuse them of any kind of Quietism.

What I have written regarding Our Lord applies also to Our Lady and the saints. All devotion to the saints has its source in the love of Christ, sole author of their sanctity, and always brings us back to Him, no matter at what degree of sanctity we have arrived. To want to do away with such devotion, even temporarily, under whatever pretext, would be gravely wrong.

And who would dream of suggesting that there is any way of prayer, in which we can afford to do without Mary; wherein the thought of her virtues and greatness would be a hindrance? Is it not through her that we approach the Son, even as it is through the Son that we go to the Father? Is she not most intimately connected with the three Persons of the most adorable Trinity? Do not all aspects of our faith lead us to be in touch with her? Is she not the channel of graces, and is not hers the most powerful mediation that one could employ with her Son?

If, then, in times of darkness, trouble and desolation, we are deprived of the consciousness of Mary's most powerful aid in time of prayer, it is for the same reason that we are deprived of the sense of Our Lord's own closeness. But just as it is then that Jesus, all unknown to us, draws ever closer to us, so it is then that He communicates to us a deeper and more tender love for His Mother. And in any case, the deprivation I speak of does not prevent us in our morning and evening prayers, and during the course of the day, addressing our devotions to Mary, and honouring her in various ways.

And so it is with the other saints, with whom as with the angels we ought to hold a holy commerce. We should always have the intention of honouring them and praying to them, whatever our state. Indeed, the higher our state, the greater our love for them will grow, although we may not always be free to think of them or invoke them. Yet, short of a special suspension of our faculties on God's part, I doubt if a day passes, when we are not able to pay them at least something of the devotion due to them.  

 
   
 
15. Phil. iv. 7
16. Cf. Acts iv. 12
17. John xiv
18. Acts xx. 22
19. 1Cor. xii. 2 ff
20. Rom. xiii. 14
21. Col. iii. 17
22. I Cor. iv. 17 and xi. 1
23. Col. i. 24
24. Gal. vi. 17
25. Gal. ii. 20
26. I John iv. 11
27. Apoc i. 5
28. I Cor. xvi. 22
29. cf Isaias xii. 3.
30. Cf. Ps. cxviii. 32