Imitation of Christ- OF THE WANT OF ALL CONSOLATION
IT is not hard to despise all human consolation when we have Divine.
But it is much, and very much, to be able to forego all comfort, both human and Divine, and to be willing to bear this interior banishment for God's honor, and to seek one's self in nothing, nor to think of one's own merit.
What so great thing is it if thou be cheerful and devout when grace comes? This hour is desirable to all.
He rides pleasantly enough who is carried by the grace of God.
And what wonder if he feel no weight who is borne up by the Almighty, and led on by the Sovereign Guide.
2. We love to have something to comfort us, and it is with difficulty that a man can put off himself.
The holy Martyr, Lawrence, with his priest, overcame the world, because he despised whatever seemed delightful in this world; and for the love of Christ he suffered the high priest of God, Sixtus, whom he exceedingly loved, to be taken away from him.
He overcame, therefore, the love of man by the love of the Creator; and instead of the consolation he had in man, he made choice rather of God's good pleasure.
So do thou also learn to part with an intimate and beloved friend for the love of God. And take it not to heart when thou art forsaken by a friend, knowing that at last we must all be separated one from another.
3. A man must have a great and a long conflict within himself before he can learn fully to overcome himself, and to direct his whole affection towards God.
When a man stands upon himself, he easily inclines after human consolations.
But a true lover of Christ, and a diligent pursuer of virtue, does not fall back upon comforts, nor seek such sensible delights, but rather prefers hard exercises, and to sustain severe labors for Christ.
4. Therefore, when God gives spiritual consolation, receive it with thanksgiving; but know that it is God's free gift, and no merit of thine.
Be not lifted up, be not overjoyed, nor vainly presume, but rather be the more humble for this gift, more cautious, too, and fearful in all thine actions; for that hour will pass away, and temptation follow.
When consolation shall be taken away from thee, do not presently despair, but with humility and patience await the heavenly visitation, since God is able to restore to thee more abundant consolation.
This is no new nor strange occurrence to those who have known the way of God; for among the great Saints and ancient Prophets there has often been this kind of vicissitude.
5. Hence there was one who, when grace was with him, exclaimed: "I said in my abundance, I shall not be moved forever."
But when grace was withdrawn, he tells what he experienced in himself, saying: "Thou hast turned away Thy face from me, and I became troubled."
Yet even then he despaireth not, but more earnestly prayeth to the Lord, and saith: "Unto Thee, O Lord, will I cry, and to my God will I make supplication."
At length he receiveth the fruit of his prayer, and witnesseth that he was heard, saying: "The Lord hath heard, and hath had mercy on me: the Lord hath become my helper."
But in what way? "Thou hast turned," he saith, "my mourning into joy, and Thou hast encompassed me with gladness."
If it hath been thus with great Saints, we that are weak and poor must not be discouraged if we are sometimes fervent, sometimes cold, because the Spirit cometh and goeth according to His Own good pleasure.
Wherefore holy Job saith: "Thou visitest him early in the morning, and on a sudden Thou triest him."
6. Wherein, then, can I hope, or in what must I put my trust, but in God's great mercy alone, and in the hope of heavenly grace?
For whether I have with me good men, or devout brethren, or faithful friends, or holy books, or beautiful treatises, or sweet canticles and hymns, all these help but little, give me but little relish, when I am forsaken by grace and left in my own poverty.
At such a time there is no better remedy than patience, and denying of myself according to the will of God.
7. I never found anyone so religious and devout as not sometimes to experience a withdrawal of grace, or feel a diminution of fervor.
No Saint was ever so sublimely rapt and illuminated as not to be tempted sooner or later.
For he is not worthy the sublime contemplation of God, who has not, for God's sake, been exercised with some tribulation.
For preceding temptation is usually a sign of ensuing consolation.
For heavenly comfort is promised to such as have been proved by temptation.
"To him that shall overcome," saith the Lord, "I will give to eat of the tree of life."
8. Now Divine consolation is given, that a man may the better be able to support adversities.
And temptation followeth, that he may not be elated by the good.
The devil sleepeth not, neither is the flesh yet dead; therefore thou must not cease to prepare thyself for the battle; for on the right hand and on the left are enemies that never rest.
As we approach to God by faith, and not by the senses, and as faith of itself is dry and obscure, we must not be surprised if we sometimes experience dryness and desolation, and at other times consolation and joy. All consists in receiving consolation with humility, and in supporting desolation with fortitude and courage. "Silver and gold," says the Wise Man, "are tried in the fire;" and souls, before they can become worthy of being admitted to an intimate friendship with God, are tried in the furnace of the most painful and humiliating tribulations. Humble, then, thy heart, under the all-powerful hand of God, and bear with patience the trials of the Lord, Who, by the temptations which we resist, makes us little, humble, and dependent upon Him, and would have us, in imitation of the holy Martyrs, love Him in suffering, suffer in loving Him, and honor His greatness by our entire destruction of self-love.
HOW happy are we, O Jesus, when we experience no pleasure nor satisfaction but in Thee! But how much more so when, although we receive neither consolation, nor delight, nor sensible gratification in Thy service, we still, in spite of all disgust, persevere in our spiritual exercises faithful to Thy grace. It is thus, O God, we prove that we love Thee for Thyself; that we seek not human comfort, but to please Thee; and that, dying to self-satisfaction, which is the natural life of the heart, we make it our delight to please Thee, and our true satisfaction to sacrifice our own for Thy love. It is just, O Lord, that I should prefer Thy holy will to my own inclinations, and that I should serve Thee more for Thyself than from any selfish motive. This I desire, O Jesus; but do Thou give me courage to accomplish it, and grant that henceforth I may prefer submission to Thy good pleasure before every other consolation. Amen.