CONTAINING VARIOUS INSTRUCTIONS FOR ELEVATING THE SOUL TO GOD BY PRAYER AND THE SACRAMENTS.
OF THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER.
PRAYER places our understanding in the brightness and light of God, and exposes our will to the heat of heavenly love. There is nothing that so effectually purges our understanding from its ignorance, or our will from its depraved affections, as prayer. It is the water of benediction, which makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish, which washes our souls from their imperfections, and quenches the thirst of passion in our hearts.
But, above all, I recommend to you mental prayer, or the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which has for its object the life and passion of our Lord. By making him the frequent subject of your meditation, your whole soul will be replenished with him; you will imbibe his spirit, and frame all your actions according to the model of his. As he is the light of the world, it is then in him, by him, and for him, that we ought to acquire lustre, and be enlightened. He is the tree of desire, under whose shadow we ought to refresh ourselves. He is the living fountain of Jacob, in which we may wash away all our stains. In fine, as little children, by hearing their mothers talk, lisp at first, and learn at length to speak their language, so we, by keeping close to our Saviour, by meditation and observing his words, actions, and affections, shall, by the help of his grace, learn to speak, to act, and to will like him. Here we must stop, Philothea, as we cannot find access to God the Father, but through this gate; for, as the mirror could never terminate our sight, if the back of it were not tinned or leaded, so we could never contemplate the divinity in this world, had we not been united to the sacred humanity of our Saviour, whose life and death is the most delightful, sweet, and profitable object we can select for our ordinary meditation. It is not without reason that our Saviour called himself the bread that came down from heaven; for, as bread is to be eaten with all sorts of meat, so our Saviour should be the subject of our meditation, consideration, and imitation, in all our prayers and actions. His life and death have been for this purpose disposed and distributed into distinct points, by several authors. Those whom I recommend to you are, St. Bonaventure, Bellintani, Bruno, Capilia, Granada, and Du Pont.
Employ an hour every day, before dinner, in this spiritual exercise, or, if convenient, early in the morning, when your mind will he less distracted, and more fresh after the repose of the night; but see that you extend it not beyond an hour, except with the advice of your spiritual director.
If you could perform this exercise in the church, it would be the most proper and commodious place possible, because neither father nor mother, wife nor husband, nor any one else, could well prevent, you from spending one hour in the church; whereas, being, perhaps, under their subjection, you could not promise yourself so much leisure at home.
Begin all your prayers, whether mental or vocal, with a lively sense of the presence of God. By attending strictly to this rule, you will soon become sensible of its salutary effects.
If you follow my advice, Philothea, you will say your Pater, Ave, and Credo in Latin; but at the same time learn perfectly to comprehend the meaning of the words in your native tongue, that, whilst you unite with the faithful in prayer, in the common language of the Church, you may at the same time relish the delicious sense of those holy and admirable prayers. Pray with your attention fixed, and your affections excited by the sense of the words; pray deliberately and from your heart; for, believe me, only one Our Father, said with feeling and affection, is of infinitely more worth and value than ever so great a number run over in haste.
The recitation of the Beads or Rosary, is a most profitable way of praying, provided you know how to say them properly; to this end, procure one of those little books which teach the manner of reciting them. It is good also, to say the litanies of our Lord Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and of the Saints, and other vocal prayers, which may be found in approved manuals. If, however, you have the gift of mental prayer, you should always give it the preference, so that if, either through multiplicity of business, or some other cause, you cannot say your vocal prayers, you must not be troubled on that account, but rest contended with saying, either before or after your meditation, the Pater, Ave, and Credo.
If, whilst at vocal prayer, you feel your heart inclined to mental prayer, refuse not the invitation, but let your mind turn gently that way, without being concerned at not finishing the vocal prayers you purpose to say; for the choice you have made is more pleasing to God, and more profitable to your soul; with this exception however, that if you are bound to say the office of the Church, you must fulfill your obligation.
Should it happen, through a pressure of business, or some accidental cause, that your morning should pass away without allowing you leisure for the exercise of mental prayer, endeavor to repair this loss at some remote hour after dinner; because by doing it immediately after, before digestion is advanced, besides being heavy and drowsy, you will injure your health.
But if, in the whole course of the day, you can find no leisure for this heavenly exercise, you may in some measure make amends by multiplying your ejaculatory prayers, reading some book of devotion, or performing some penance, which may prevent the ill consequences attending this failure; and make a firm resolution to repair your loss the following day.
A SHORT METHOD FOR MEDITATION; AND FIRST OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD, WHICH IS THE FIRST POINT OF THE PREPARATION.
BUT perhaps, Philothea, you know not how to pray mentally, for it is a thing with which few in our age are so happy as to be acquainted. I therefore present you with the following short and plain method, till, by custom, or reading some of the good books which have been composed on this subject, you may be more fully instructed.
I shall begin with the preparation, which consists in placing yourself in the presence of God, and imploring his assistance. Now, to assist you to place yourself in the presence of God, I shall set before you four principal means. The first consists in a lively and attentive apprehension of his presence, in all things and in every place; for there is not a place in the world in which he is not truly present; so that as birds, wherever they fly, always meet with the air, so we, wherever we go, or wherever we are, shall always find God present.
Every one acknowledges this truth; but few consider it with a lively attention. Blind men, who see not their prince, though present among them, behave themselves, nevertheless, with respect, when they are told of his presence; but the fact is, because they see him not, they easily forget that he is present, and, having forgotten it, they still more easily lose their respect for him. Alas, Philothea, we do not see God, who is present with us; and, though faith assures us of his presence, yet, not beholding him with our eyes, we too often forget him, and behave ourselves as though he were at a distance from us; for, although we well know that he is present in all things, yet, not reflecting on it, we act as if we knew it not. Therefore, before prayer, we must always excite in our souls a lively apprehension of the presence of God, such as David conceived when he exclaimed: "If I ascend up into heaven, O my God, thou art there; if I descend into hell, thou art there!"-Ps. csxxviii. And thus we should use the words of Jacob, who having seen the sacred ladder, said: "Oh, how terrible is this place! Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not."- Gen. xxxviii., meaning that he did not reflect on his presence, for he could not be ignorant that God was present everywhere. When, therefore, you come to prayer, you must say with your whole heart, and in your heart: "O my heart! be attentive, for God is truly here."
The second means to place yourself in his sacred presence, is to reflect that God is not only in the place in which you are, but that he is, in a most particular manner, in your heart; nay, in the very centre of your spirit, which he enlivens and animates by his divine presence, being there as the heart of your heart, and the spirit of your spirit; for, as the soul, being diffused through the whole body, is present in every part thereof, and yet resides in a special manner in the heart, so likewise God is present to all things, yet he resides in a more particular manner in our spirit; for which reason David calls him, "the God of his heart."-Ps. lxsii. And St. Paul says, "that it is in God we live, and we move, and we are."-Acts xvii. In consideration, therefore, of this truth, excite in your heart a profound reverence towards God, who is there so intimately present.
A third means is to consider our Saviour in his humanity looking down from heaven on all mankind, but especially on Christians, who are his children; and more particularly on such as are at prayer, whose actions and behavior he minutely observes. This is by no means a mere flight of the imagination, but a most certain truth; for although we see him not, yet it is true that he beholds us from above. It was thus that St. Stephen saw him at the time of his martyrdom So that we may truly say with the Spouse: "Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices." Cantic. ii.
A fourth method consists in making use of the imagination, by representing to ourselves our Saviour in his sacred humanity, as if he were near us, as we sometimes imagine a friend to he present, saying, "Methinks I see him," or something of the kind. But when you are before the Blessed Sacrament, this presence is real and not imaginary, since we must consider the species and appearance of bread only as a tapestry behind which our Lord, being really present, observes us, though we cannot actually see him. Employ then some of these four means of placing yourself in the presence of God before prayer, not all at once, but one at a time, in as concise and simple a manner as possible.
OF INVOCATION, THE SECOND POINT OF THE PREPARATION.
BEING sensible that you are in the presence of God, prostrate yourself before him with the most profound reverence, acknowledging yourself unworthy to appear before so sovereign a majesty; yet knowing that it is his divine will that you should do so, implore his grace to serve and worship him in this meditation. For this end you may use some short and inflamed aspirations, such as these words of David: "Cast me not, O God! away from thy face; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant, and I will consider the wondrous things of thy law. Give me understanding, and I will search thy law, and I will keep it with my whole heart. I am thy servant; give me understanding." -Ps. c. viii. I would also advise you to invoke your guardian angel, as well as the holy saints who were concerned in the mystery on which you meditate. For example, in meditating on the death of our Lord, you may invoke the Blessed Virgin, St. John, St. Mary Magdalen, and the good thief, begging that the holy affections which they then conceived may be communicated to you. Also, in meditating on your own death you may invoke your good angel, who will then be with you, beseeching him to inspire you with proper considerations; and so of other mysteries.
OF THE THIRD POINT OF PREPARATION, WHICH CONSISTS IN PROPOSING THE SUBJECT OF THE MYSTERY ON WHICH WE INTEND TO MEDITATE.
AFTER these two general points of the preparation, there remains a third, which is not common to every kind of meditation, and which consists in representing to your imagination the whole of the mystery on which you desire to meditate, as if it really passed in your presence. For example, if you meditate on the crucifixion of our Lord, imagine that you are on Mount Calvary, and that you there behold and hear all that was done or said at the time of our Lord's passion; or, if you prefer it, imagine that they are crucifying our Saviour in the very place in which you are, in the manner described by the holy evangelists.
The same rule is to be observed when you meditate on death, or hell, or any mystery in which visible and sensible objects form a part of the subject; but as to other mysteries, such, for example, as relate to the greatness of God, the excellency of virtue, the end for which we were created, etc., which are invisible things, we cannot make use of the imagination. We may, it is true, use some similitude or comparison to assist us in the consideration of these subjects, but this is attended with some difficulty; and my intention is to instruct you in so plain and easy a manner, that your mind may be at perfect ease. By means of the imagination we confine our mind within the mystery on which we meditate, that it may not ramble to and fro, just as we shut up a bird in a cage, or tie a hawk by her leash, that she may rest on the hand. Some may perhaps tell you that it is better to use the simple thought of faith, and to conceive the subject in a manner altogether mental and spiritual in the representation of these mysteries, or else to imagine that the things take place in your own soul. But this method is too subtile for beginners; therefore, until it shall please God to raise you higher, I advise you, Philothea, to remain in the low valley which I have shown you.
OF CONSIDERATIONS WHICH FORM THE SECOND PART OF MEDITATION.
AFTER the act of the imagination follows meditation, or the act of the understanding, which consists in making reflections and considerations, in order to raise up our affections to God and heavenly things. Hence meditation must not be confounded with study or other thoughts or reflections which have not the love of God or our spiritual welfare for their object; but something else, as, for example, to acquire learning and knowledge, to write or dispute. Having, then, as I have already said, confined your mind within the limits of the subject on which you desire to meditate, either by means of the imagination, if the matter be sensible, or otherwise by a simple proposal of it, begin to form considerations on it according to the models I have proposed to you in the foregoing meditations. Should you relish the fruit of any one of them, occupy yourself without going further, like the bees, who never quit the flower so long as they can extract any honey from it. But if, upon trial, you succeed not with one consideration, according to your wishes, proceed to another, calmly, tranquilly, without hurrying yourself or fatiguing your mind.
OF AFFECTIONS AND RESOLUTIONS, THE THIRD PART OF MEDITATION.
MEDITATION produces pious motions in the will, or affective part of our soul, such as the love of God and our neighbor; a desire of heaven and eternal glory; zeal for the salvation of souls; imitation of the life of our Lord; compassion, admiration, joy; the fear of God's displeasure, of judgment, and of hell; hatred of sin, confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, and confusion for the sins of our past life. In these affections our hearts should expand as much as possible. You will be greatly assisted in this part of meditation by reading, the preface to the first volume of the meditations of Dom Andrew Capilia, where he shows the manner of forming these affections, as Father Arias does more at large in his second part of his treatise on prayer.
Yet you must not, however, Philothea, dwell upon these general reflections without determining to reduce them to special and particular resolutions. For example: the first word that our Lord spoke on the cross will doubtless excite in your soul a desire to pardon and love your enemies. But this will avail you little if you add not to the desire a practical resolution saying: "Well, then, I will not hereafter be offended at what this or that person may say of me, nor resent any affront he may offer me; but, on the contrary, I will embrace every opportunity to gain his affection, and to appease him.” By this means, Philothea, you will correct your faults in a short time; whereas by affections only, your amendment will be but slow, and attended with great difficulty.
OF THE CONCLUSION AND SPIRITUAL NOSEGAY.
LAST of all, we must conclude our meditation by forming three acts, which must be done with the utmost humility. The first is to return thanks to God for the good affections and resolutions with which he has inspired us, and for his goodness and mercy, which we have discovered in the mystery of the meditation. The second is to offer our affections and resolutions to his goodness and mercy, in union with the death, the blood, and the virtues of his Divine Son. The third is to conjure God to communicate to us the graces and virtues of his Son; and to bless our affections and resolutions, that we may faithfully reduce them to practice. We then pray for the Church, our pastors, friends, and others, imploring for that end the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, and of the angels and saints; and, lastly, as I have already observed, we conclude by saying Our Father, and Hail Mary, which are the general and necessary prayers of all the faithful.
Besides all this, as I have already told you, you must gather a little nosegay of devotion. One who has been walking in a beautiful garden, departs not willingly without gathering a few flowers to smell during the remainder of the day; thus ought we, when our soul has been entertaining itself by meditating on some mystery, to select one, or two, or three of those points in which we have found most relish, and which are most proper for our advancement, to think frequently on them, and smell them as it were spiritually during the course of the day. This is to be done in the place in which we have been meditating, either remaining there in silence, or walking by ourselves for some time after.
CERTAIN PROFITABLE ADVICES ON THE SUBJECT OF MEDITATION
ABOVE all things, Philothea, when you rise from meditation, remember the resolutions you have taken, and, as the occasion offers, carefully reduce them to practice that very day. This is the great fruit of meditation, without which it is not only unprofitable, but frequently hurtful; for virtues meditated upon, and not practised, often puff up the spirit, and make us imagine that we really are such as we resolve to be, which doubtless is true, when our resolutions are lively and solid; now they are not so, but, on the contrary, vain and dangerous when they are not reduced to practice. We must, therefore, by all means, seek every occasion, little or great, of putting them in execution. For example: if I have resolved by mildness to gain the hearts of such as offend me, I will seek this very day an opportunity to meet them, and salute them kindly; or, if I should not meet them, at least to speak well of them, and pray to God in their behalf.
After prayer, be careful not to agitate your heart, lest you spill the precious balm it has received. My meaning is, that you must, for some time, if possible, remain in silence, and gently remove your heart from prayer to your other employments; retaining, as long as you can, a feeling of the affections which you have conceived. A man who has received some precious liquor in a vase of porcelain, in carrying it home walks gently, not looking aside, but generally before him, for fear of stumbling, and sometimes upon his dish, for fear of spilling the liquor. Thus ought you to act when you finish your meditation; suffer nothing to distract you, but look forward with caution; or, to speak more plainly, should you meet with any one with whom you are obliged to enter into conversation, there is no other remedy but to watch over your heart, that as little of the liquor of holy prayer as possible may be spilt on the occasion.
You must even accustom yourself to know how to pass from prayer to those occupations which your state of life lawfully requires, though ever so foreign from the affections which you have received in prayer. Thus the Lawyer must learn to pass from prayer to pleading; the merchant, to commerce; and the married woman, to the care of her family, with so much ease and tranquility that their minds may not be disturbed; for, since prayer and the duties of your state of life are both in conformity with the will of God, you must learn to pass from the one to the other in the spirit of humility and devotion.
You must also know that it may sometimes happen that immediately after the preparation, you will feel your affections moved towards God. In this case, Philothea, you must yield to the attraction, and cease to follow the method I have before given; for, although, generally speaking consideration precedes affections and resolutions, when the Holy Ghost gives you the latter before the former, you must not then seek the former, since it is used for no other purpose than to excite the latter. In a word, whenever affections present themselves, we must expand our hearts to make room for them, whether they come before or after considerations; and, although I have placed them after the considerations, I have done so merely to distinguish more plainly the parts of prayer, for otherwise it is a general rule never to restrain the affections, but to let them have their free course whenever they present themselves. This must be observed even with respect to thanksgiving, oblation, and petition, which may likewise be used in the midst of the considerations, for they must be restrained no more than the other affections; though afterwards, for the conclusion of the meditation, they must be repeated. But as for resolutions, they are always to be made after the affections, and immediately before the conclusion of the whole meditation; because, as in these we represent to ourselves particular and familiar objects, they would put us in danger of distractions should we mingle them with our affections.
While we are forming our affections and resolutions it is advisable to use colloquies, and to speak, sometimes to our Lord, sometimes to the angels and the persons represented in the mysteries; to the saints, to ourselves, to our own heart, to sinners, and even to insensible creatures; after the example of David in his psalms, and of other saints in their prayers and meditations.
OF THE DRYNESS WHICH WE SOMETIMES EXPERIENCE IN MEDITATION.
SHOULD it happen, Philothea, that you feel no relish or comfort in meditation, I conjure you not to disturb yourself on that account; but sometimes open the door of your heart to vocal prayer, complain of yourself to our Lord, confess your unworthiness, and beseech him to assist you. Kiss your crucifix if you have it at hand, saying to him those words of Jacob, "I will not let thee go, O Lord I till thou hast given me thy blessing," or those of the Cananean woman, "Yea, Lord! I am a dog; but yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
At other times, take up some spiritual book, and read it with attention till your affections are moved, or endeavor to excite fervor in your heart by some posture of exterior devotion, such as prostrating yourself on the ground, crossing your hands before your breast, or embracing a crucifix; provided you be alone or in some private place. But if, after all, you should receive no comfort, be not disturbed, no matter how excessive the dryness may be; but continue to remain in a devout posture in the presence of God. How many courtiers enter a hundred times a year into the prince's presence-chamber without hopes of speaking to him, but merely to be seen by him, and to pay him their homage. So ought we, my dear Philothea, to come to holy prayer, purely and merely to pay our homage, and testify our fidelity to God. Should it please his divine Majesty to speak to us and entertain himself with us by his holy inspirations and interior consolation; it would certainly be an honor above our merits, and the source of the sweetest consolation; but should it not please him to grant us this favor, but leave us without taking any more notice of us than as if we were not in his presence, we must not therefore depart, but continue with respect and devotion in presence of his adorable Majesty. Observing our diligence, our patience, and perseverance, he will, when we come again before him, favor us with his consolations, and make us experience the sweetness of his holy prayer. Yet, if he should not do so, let us assure ourselves, Philothea, that we are highly honored by being permitted to appear in his presence.
OF THE MORNING EXERCISE.
BESIDES your daily meditation, and the vocal prayers which you ought to say once every day, there are five other shorter exercises which are, as it were, branches of the principal prayer; the first is morning prayer, intended as a general preparation to all the actions of the day, which may be made in the following manner.
1. Adore God most profoundly, and return him thanks for having preserved you from the dangers of the night; and if, during the course of it, you have committed any sin, implore his pardon.
2. Consider that the present day is given you in order that you may gain the future day of eternity; make a firm purpose, therefore, to employ it well with this intention.
3. Foresee in what business or conversation you will probably be engaged; what opportunities you will have to serve God; to what temptations of offending him you will be exposed, either by anger, by vanity, or any other irregularity, and prepare yourself by a firm resolution to make the best use of those means which shall be offered you to serve God, and advance in devotion; as also, on the other hand, dispose yourself carefully to avoid, resist, and overcome whatever may present itself that is prejudicial to your salvation and the glory of God. Now, it is not sufficient to make this resolution unless you also prepare the means of reducing it to practice. For example: if I foresee that I am to treat of any business with one that is passionate, and easily provoked to anger, I will not only resolve to refrain from giving him any offence, but will also prepare words of meekness to prevent his anger, or use the assistance of some person that may keep him in temper. If I foresee that I shall have an opportunity of visiting some sick person, I will determine the hour of the visit, the comforts and assistances I may afford him; and so of the rest.
4. This done, humble yourself in the presence of God, acknowledging that, of yourself, you are incapable of executing your resolutions, either to avoid evil, or to do good; and, as if you held your heart in your hands, offer it, together with all your good designs, to his divine Majesty, beseeching him to take it under his protection, and so to strengthen it that it may proceed prosperously in his service, using these or the like words interiorly: "Behold, O Lord! this poor, miserable heart of mine, which, through thy goodness, has conceived many good affections, but which, alas! is of itself so weak and wretched, that it is incapable of executing the good which it desires, unless thou impart to it thy heavenly blessing, which for this end I humbly beg of thee, O merciful Father! through the merits of the passion of thy Son, to whose honor I consecrate this day, and all the remaining days of my life." Then invoke the Blessed Virgin, your good angel, and the saints, that they may all assist you by their intercession.
But all these spiritual acts must be made briefly and fervently, and before you depart from your chamber, if it be possible, that by means of this prayer, all that you are to do throughout the whole day may be sanctified by the blessing of God; and I beg of you, Philothea, never to omit this exercise.
OF THE EVENING EXERCISE, AND THE EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE.
AS before dinner you have made a spiritual repast by means of meditation, so before supper, you must make a devout spiritual collation. Take then some little opportunity, before supper, to prostrate yourself before God, and recollect yourself in the presence of Jesus Christ crucified, whom you may represent to yourself by a single consideration, and an interior glance of the eye, and rekindle in your heart the fire of your morning meditation by some lively aspirations, some acts of humility and love which you will make towards this divine Saviour of your soul; or else, by repeating the points of your morning meditation which affected you most, or by exciting yourself up to devotion by some new spiritual subject, as you may prefer.
As to the examination of conscience, which must be always made before you retire to rest, every one knows how it is to he performed.
1. We give thanks to God for having preserved us during the day past.
2. We examine how we have behaved ourselves throughout the whole course of it; and to do this more easily, we may consider where we have been, with whom, and in what business we, have been employed.
3. If we find that we have done any good, we must thank God for it; or if, on the other hand, we have done any evil, whether in thought, word, or deed, we must ask pardon of his divine Majesty, firmly resolving to confess it at the first opportunity, and to avoid it for the future.
4. We afterwards recommend to the protection of divine Providence our soul and body, the Holy Church, together with our parents and friends; and, finally, we beg the Blessed Virgin, our angel guardian, and all the saints, to watch over us and pray for us; and thus, with the blessing of God, we go to take that rest which his will has appointed for us.
This exercise, as well as that of the morning, must never be forgotten; since by that you open the windows of your soul to the Sun of Justice; and by this you close them against the darkness of hell.
OF SPIRITUAL RECOLLECTION.
IT is to this point, my dear Philothea, that I wish to draw your particular attention, since in it consists one of the most assured means of your spiritual advancement.
Recollect as often as you can, in the course of the day, by any of the four ways I have marked out for you, that you stand in the presence of God; observe what he does, and what you are doing, and you shall find his eyes perpetually fixed upon you with an inconceivable love. Then say to him: "O my God! why do I not turn my eyes towards thee, as thou always lookest on me? Why dost thou think incessantly on me, O my Lord? and why do I so seldom think of thee? Where are we, O my soul? Our true place of rest is God, and where do we find ourselves?"
As birds have their nests on trees, to which they occasionally retire, and the deer, bushes and thickets, in which they conceal themselves and enjoy the cool shade in the heat of summer, so shall we, Philothea, choose some place every day, either on Mount Calvary, or in the wounds of our Lord, or in some other place near him, as a retreat to which we may occasionally retire to refresh and recreate ourselves amidst our exterior occupations; and there, as in a stronghold, defend ourselves against temptations. Blessed is he that can say with truth to our Lord: "Thou art my place of strength and my refuge, my defence from storms, and my shadow from the heat."-Ps. lxx. 3; Isai. xxv. 4.
Remember then, Philothea, to retire occasionally into the solitude of your heart while you are outwardly engaged in business or conversation. This mental solitude cannot be prevented by the multitude of those who surround you; for, as they are not about your heart, but your body, your heart may remain in the presence of God alone. This was the exercise which the holy King David practised amidst his various occupations, as he testifies in the following, as well as in several other places of his psalms: "O Lord! as for me, I am always with thee. I beheld the Lord always before me. I have lifted up my eyes to thee, O my God! who dwellest in heaven. My eyes are always toward God." And indeed our occupations are seldom so serious as to prevent us from withdrawing our heart occasionally from them, in order to retire into this divine solitude.
When the parents of St. Catharine of Sienna had deprived her of the opportunity of a place, and of leisure to pray and meditate, our Lord directed her, by his inspirations, to make a little interior oratory within her soul, into which, retiring mentally, she might, amidst her exterior occupations, enjoy this holy spiritual solitude; and when the world afterwards assaulted her, she received no inconvenience from it, because, as she said, she had shut herself up in her interior closet, where she comforted herself with her heavenly Spouse. From her own experience of the utility of this exercise, she afterwards counselled her spiritual children to practise it.
Withdraw, then, your thoughts, from time to time, into your heart, where, separated from all men, you may familiarly treat with God on the affairs of your soul. Say with David: "I watched and am become like a pelican of the wilderness. I am like a night raven in the house. I have watched, and am become as a sparrow, all alone on the house-top."-Ps. cl. These words not only inform us that this great king spent some solitary hours in the contemplation of spiritual things, but they also point out, in a mystical sense, three excellent retreats or hermitages, in which we may imitate the solitude of our Saviour, who on Mount Calvary was likened to the pelican of the wilderness, which nourishes and gives life to her young ones with her own blood; in his nativity, in a desolate stable, to the night raven in a ruinous building, mourning and weeping for our offences and sins; and, at his accession, to the sparrow flying up to heaven, which is, as it were, the house-top of the world. In these three solitudes we may make our spiritual retreats, even amidst the turmoils of our exterior employments. Blessed Elzear, Count of Arian in Provence, having been long absent from his devout and chaste Delphina, she sent an express to him to inquire after his health, by whom he returned this answer: "I am very well, my dear spouse; but if you desire to see me, seek me in the wound of the side of our sweet Saviour; for, as it is there only that I dwell, it is there that you shall find me; if you seek me elsewhere, you will search in vain." This was a Christian nobleman indeed.
OF ASPIRATIONS, EJACULATORY PRAYERS, AND GOOD THOUGHTS.
WE retire into God because we aspire to him; and we aspire to him that we may retire into him, so that aspirations to God, and spiritual retirement are the mutual support of each other, and both proceed from the same source, viz., devout and pious thoughts.
Make, then, Philothea, frequent aspirations to God by short but ardent motions of your heart; admire his beauty; implore his assistance; cast yourself in spirit at the foot of the cross; adore his goodness; converse with him frequently on the affairs of your salvation; present your soul to him a thousand times a day; contemplate his clemency and his sweetness; stretch out your hand to him, as a little child to his father, that he may conduct you; place him in your bosom, like a fragrant nosegay; plant him in your soul, like a standard, and make a thousand different motions of your heart, to enkindle and excite within yourself a passionate and tender affection for your divine Spouse. Ejaculatory prayer was strenuously recommended by the great St. Austin to the devout Lady Proba. Philothea, our mind, by habituating itself thus privately to the company and familiarity of our God, will be altogether perfumed with his perfections. Now there is no difficulty in this exercise, as it may be intermixed with our other occupations, without any inconvenience whatever, since in these spiritual and interior aspirations we only make short deviations, which, instead of preventing, rather assist us in the pursuit of the object which we have in view. The pilgrim, though he stops to take a little wine to refresh himself, interrupts not his journey by doing so, but, on the contrary, acquires new strength to finish it with more ease and expedition, resting only that he may afterwards proceed the faster.
Many have collected a store of vocal aspirations, which may be very profitable; but I would advise you not to confine yourself to any set form of words, but to pronounce, either with your heart or mouth, such as love, without any study, shall suggest to you; for it will furnish you with as many as you can desire. It is true there are certain words which have a peculiar force to satisfy the heart in this respect. Such as the aspirations interspersed so copiously throughout the Psalms of David; the frequent invocations of the name of Jesus; the ejaculations of love expressed in the Canticles, etc. Spiritual songs will also answer the same purpose when sung with attention.
They who love with a human and natural affection have their thoughts and hearts incessantly engaged by the object of their passion, and their mouth ever employed in its praise. When absent, they lose no opportunity of testifying their affection by letters, and meet not a tree, on the bark of which they do not inscribe the name of their beloved. Thus, such as truly love God can never cease to think on him, breathe for him, aspire to him, and speak of him; and, were it possible, they would engrave the sacred name of Jesus on the breasts of all mankind.
To this all things invite them, as there is no creature that does not declare to them the praises of their beloved; and as St. Austin says, after St. Anthony, everything in the world addresses them in a silent, yet very intelligible language, in favor of their love. All things excite them to good thoughts, which give birth to many animated motions and aspirations of the soul to God. Behold some examples.
St. Gregory Nazianzen, walking on the seashore, observed how the waves, advancing upon the beach, left behind them shells and little periwinkles, stalks of weeds, small oysters, and the like, which the sea had cast upon the shore, and then, returning, with other waves, took part of them back, and swallowed them up again, whilst the adjoining rocks continued firm and immovable, though the billows beat against them with so much violence. Upon which he made this salutary reflection: that feeble souls, like shells and stalks of weeds, suffer themselves to be borne away, sometimes by affliction, and at other times by consolation, at the mercy of the inconstant billows of fortune; but that courageous souls continue firm and unmoved under all kinds of storms; and from this thought he proceeded to those aspirations of David (Ps. lxviii.): "Save me, O God! for the waters are come in even unto my soul. O Lord! deliver me out of these deep waters; I am come into the depth of the sea, and a tempest hath overwhelmed me:" for at that time he was in affliction for the unhappy usurpation of his bishopric attempted by Maxmius.
St. Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspa, being present at a general assembly of the Roman nobility, when Theodoric, king of the Goths, made an oration to them, and beholding the splendor of so many great lords, ranked each according to his quality, exclaimed: "O God! how glorious and beautiful must the heavenly Jerusalem be, since earthly Rome appears in so much pomp! for, if in this world the lovers of vanity be permitted to shine so bright, what must that glory be which is reserved in the next world for the lovers and contemplators of verity!"
St. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, by whose birth our mountains have been highly honored, was admirable in the application of good thoughts. As this holy prelate was proceeding on a journey, a hare pursued by hounds ran under his horse, as to a place of refuge, suggested by the imminent danger of death; whilst the hounds, barking around, durst not attempt to violate the sanctuary to which their prey had taken recourse. A sight so very extraordinary made the whole company burst into a fit of laughter; but the saint, weeping and sighing, cried out: "Alas! you laugh, but the poor beast does not laugh; the enemies of the soul, after hunting and driving her on, through various turnings and windings, into every kind of sin, lie in wait for her at the narrow passage of death, to catch and devour her; but she, being terrified, looks for succor and refuge on every side; and if she find none, her enemies mock and deride her." When the saint had thus spoken, he rode on sighing.
Constantine the Great wrote with respect to St. Anthony; at which the religious about him being greatly surprised, "Why," said he "are you astonished that a king should write to a man? Be astonished rather that the eternal God has written his law to mortal men; nay, more, has spoken to them by word of mouth, in the person of his Son."
St. Francis seeing a sheep alone amidst a flock of goats, "Observe,'' said he to his companion, "the poor sheep, how mild it is amidst the goats; our blessed Lord walked thus meekly and humbly among the Pharisees." At another time, seeing a. lamb devoured by a hog, "Ah! little lamb," said he, weeping, "in how lively a manner dost thou represent the death of my Saviour!"
The illustrious St. Francis Borgia, while yet duke of Gandia, frequently recreated himself in hawking; during this amusement he was accustomed to make a thousand devout reflections. "I admired," said he, afterwards, "how the falcons come to hand, suffer themselves to be hooded and to be tied to the perch; and that men are so rebellious to the voice of God."
The great St. Basil said, that the rose in the midst of thorns makes this remonstrance to men: "That which is most agreeable in this world, O ye mortals! is mingled with sorrow: nothing here is pure; regret always follows mirth; widowhood, marriage; care, fruitfulness; and ignominy, glory. Expense follows honor; loathing comes after delight; and sickness after health. The rose is a fair flower," said this holy man, "yet it makes me sorrowful, reminding me of my sin, for which the earth has been condemned to bring forth thorns."
A devout soul, standing over a brook on a very clear night, and seeing the heavens and stars therein represented exclaimed, "O my God! these very stars which I now behold shall be one day beneath my feet, when thou shalt have lodged me in thy celestial tabernacles; and as the stars of heaven are here represented, even so are the men of this earth represented in the living fountain of divine charity." Another, seeing a river flowing swiftly along, cried out, "My soul shall never be at rest, till she be swallowed up in the sea of the divinity, her original source." St. Francisca, contemplating a pleasant brook, upon the hank of which she was kneeling at her prayers, being rapt into an ecstasy, often repeated these words, "The grace of my God flows thus gently and sweetly, like this little stream." Another, looking on the trees in bloom, sighed and said, "Ah! why am I alone without blossom in the garden of the Church!" Another, seeing little chickens gathered together under the hen said, "Preserve us, O Lord! continually under the shadow of thy wings." Another, looking upon the flower called Heliotropium, which turns to the sun, "When shall the time come," said he, "O my God! that my soul shall faithfully follow the attractions of Thy goodness?" And seeing the flowers called pansies, which are beautiful, but without fragrance, "Ah!" said he, "such are my conceptions, fair in appearance, but of no effect, producing nothing."
Behold, Philothea, how one may extract good thoughts and holy aspirations from everything that presents itself amidst the variety of this mortal life! Unhappy they who withdraw the creatures from their Creator, to make them the instrument of sin; and thrice happy they that turn the creatures to the glory of their Creator, and employ them to the honor of his sovereign Majesty. As St. Gregory Nazianzen says, "I am wont to refer all things to my spiritual profit." Read the devout epitaph of St. Paula, composed by St. Jerome. How agreeable to behold it interspersed with those aspirations and holy thoughts, which she was accustomed to draw from occurrences of every nature!
Now, as the great work of devotion consists in the exercise of spiritual recollection and ejaculatory prayers, the want of all other prayers may be supplied by them; but the loss of these can scarcely be repaired by any other means. Without them we cannot lead a good, active life, much less a contemplative one. Without them repose would be but idleness and labor vexation. Wherefore, I conjure you to embrace this, exercise your whole heart, without ever desisting from its practice.
OF THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF MASS, AND HOW WE OUGHT TO HEAR IT.
HITHERTO I have said nothing of the most holy, sacred, and august sacrament and sacrifice of the Mass; the centre of the Christian religion, the heart of devotion, and the soul of piety; a mystery so ineffable as to comprise within itself the abyss of divine charity; a mystery in which God communicates himself really to us, and in a special manner replenishes our souls with spiritual graces and favors.
2. When prayer, O Philothea! is united to this divine sacrifice, it becomes so unspeakably efficacious as to cause the soul to overflow, as it were, with heavenly consolations. Here she reclines upon her well-beloved, who fills her with so much spiritual sweetness, that she resembles, as it is said in the canticles, a pillar of smoke, proceeding from a fire of aromatic wood, from myrrh and frankincense, and from all the powders of the perfumer.
3. Endeavor, therefore, to assist at Mass every day, that you may jointly, with the priest, offer up the holy sacrifice of your Redeemer, to God his Father, for yourself and the whole Church. "The angels," says St. John Chrysostom, "always attend in great numbers to honor this adorable mystery"; and we, by associating ourselves to them, with one and the same intention, cannot but receive many favorable influences from so holy a society. The choirs of the Church triumphant and those of the Church militant unite themselves to our Lord in this divine action, that with him, in him, and through him, they may ravish the heart of God the Father, and make his mercy all our own. Oh, what a happiness it is to a soul devoutly to contribute her affections for obtaining so precious and desirable a treasure!
4. Should some indispensable business prevent you from assisting in person at the celebration of this sovereign sacrifice, endeavor at least to assist at it by a spiritual presence, uniting your intention with that of all the faithful; and using the same interior acts of devotion in your closet that you would use in some church represented to your imagination.
5. Now, to hear Mass in a proper manner, either really or mentally, 1. From the beginning, till the priest goes up to the altar, make with him your preparation, which consists in placing yourself in the presence of God, acknowledging your unworthiness and begging pardon for your sins. 2. From the time he goes up to the altar till the Gospel, consider the birth and the life of our Lord, by a simple and general consideration. 3. From the Gospel till after the Creed, consider the preaching of our Saviour, and protest that you resolve to live and die in the faith and obedience of his holy word, and in, the communion of the holy Catholic Church. From the Creed to the Pater Noster apply your heart to the mysteries of the passion and death of our Redeemer, essentially represented in this holy sacrifice, and which, with the priest and the rest of the people, you must offer to the; honor of God the Father, and for your salvation. 5. From the Pater Noster to the Communion, strive to excite a thousand desires in your heart, ardently wishing to be forever united to our Saviour by everlasting love.
6. From the Communion till the end, return thanks to Jesus Christ for his incarnation, life, passion, and death; as well as for the love he testifies to us in this holy sacrifice; conjuring him to be forever merciful to you; to your parents and friends, and to the whole Church; and finally, humbling yourself with your whole heart, receive devoutly the benediction which our Lord gives you through the ministry of his officer, the officiating priest.
But should you prefer, during Mass, to meditate on the mystery you proposed for your consideration on that day, it is not necessary that you should divert your thoughts to make all these particular acts but, at the beginning, direct your intention to adore, and offer up this holy sacrifice, by the exercise of your meditations and prayer; for in all meditations the aforesaid acts may be found either expressly or tacitly and equivalently.
OF VESPERS, AND OTHER PUBLIC EXERCISES.
BESIDES hearing Mass on Sundays and holidays, you ought also, Philothea, to be present at Vespers and the other public offices of the Church as far as your convenience will permit. For, as these days are dedicated to God, we ought to perform more acts to his honor and glory on them than on other days. By this means you will experience the sweetness of devotion, as St. Austin did, who testifies in his confessions, that hearing the divine office in the beginning of his conversion, his heart melted into tenderness, and his eyes into tears of piety. And, indeed, to speak once for all, there is always more benefit and comfort to be derived from the public offices of the Church than from private devotions, God having ordained that communion of prayers should always have the preference.
Enter, then, willingly into the confraternities of the place in which you reside, and especially those whose exercises are most productive of fruit and edification, as in so doing you practise a sort of obedience acceptable to God; for, although these confraternities are not commanded, they are nevertheless recommended by the Church, which, to testify her approbation of them, grants indulgences and other privileges to such as enter them. Besides, it is always very laudable to concur and cooperate with many in their good designs; for, although we might perform as good exercises alone as in the company of a confraternity, and perhaps take more pleasure in performing them in private, yet God is more glorified by the union and contribution we make of our good works with those of our brethren and neighbors.
I say the same of all kinds of public prayers and devotions, which we should countenance as much as possible with our good example, for the edification of our neighbor, and our affection for the glory of God and the common intention.
OF THE HONOR AND INVOCATION OF SAINTS.
SINCE God often sends us inspirations by his angels, we also ought frequently to send back our inspirations to him by the same messengers. The holy souls of the deceased, who dwell in heaven with the angels, and, as our Saviour says, are equal and like to the angels, Luke xv. 36, do also the same office of inspiring us, and interceding for us by their holy prayers. O my Philothea! let us then join our hearts with these heavenly spirits, and happy souls; and as the young nightingales learn to sing in company of the old, so, by the holy association we make with the saints, we shall learn to pray and to sing the divine praises in a much better manner. "I will sing praises to thee, O Lord," says David, "in the sight of the angels." Psalms cxxxvii. 2.
Honor, reverence, love, and respect in a special manner, the sacred and glorious Virgin Mary, she being the mother of our sovereign Lord, and consequently our mother. Let us run, then, to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her bosom with a perfect confidence, at all times, and in all occurrences. Let us call upon this dear Mother; let us invoke her motherly love; and, endeavoring to imitate her virtues, let us bear a true filial affection towards her.
Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for, without being seen, they are at present with you. Always bear a particular love and reverence towards the angel of the diocese wherein you dwell, and of the persons with whom you live: but especially towards your own angel guardian. Address yourself often to them, honor and praise them, and make use of their assistance and succor in all your affairs, spiritual or temporal, that they may cooperate with your intentions.
The great Peter Faber, the first priest, the first preacher, and the first proposer of divinity in the Holy Society of Jesus, and the companion of St. Ignatius, its founder, returning from Germany, where he had done great service to the glory of our Lord, and traveling through this diocese, the place of his birth, related, that having passed through many heretical places, he had received innumerable consolations from the guardian angels of the several parishes, and that on repeated occasions he had received the most sensible and convincing proofs of their protection. Sometimes they preserved him from the ambush of his enemies, at other times they rendered several souls more mild, and tractable to receive from him the doctrine of salvation: this he related with so much earnestness, that a gentlewoman then very young, who heard it from his own mouth, related it but four years ago, that is to say, about threescore years after he had told it, with an extraordinary feeling. I had the consolation last year to consecrate an altar on the spot where God was pleased this blessed man should be born, in a little village called Vilaret, amidst our most craggy mountains.
Choose some particular saint or saints, whose lives may please you most, and whom you can best imitate, and in whose intercession you may have a particular confidence. The saint, whose name you bear, is already assigned you, from your baptism.
HOW WE OUGHT TO HEAR AND READ THE WORD OF GOD.
LISTEN with devotion to the word of God, whether you hear it in familiar conversation, with your spiritual friends, or in a sermon. Make all the profit of it you possibly can, and suffer it not to fall to the ground, but receive it into your heart as a precious balm; imitating the most holy Virgin, who carefully preserved in her heart all the words which were spoken in praise of her Son. Remember that our Lord gathers up the words we speak to him in our prayers, according as we gather up those he speaketh to us by preaching.
Always have at hand some approved book of devotion; such as the spiritual works of St. Bonaventure, of Gerson, of Denis, the Carthusian, of Louis Blosius, of Granada, of Stella, of Arias, of Pihelle, of Dupont, of Avilla, the Spiritual Combat, St. Austin's Confessions, St. Jerome's Epistles, etc., etc., and read a little in them with as much devotion, every day, as if you were reading a letter, which those saints had sent you from heaven to show you the way, and encourage you to come thither. Read, also, the histories and lives of the saints, in which, as in a looking-glass, you may behold the portraiture of a Christian life, and accommodate their actions to your state of life; for, although several actions of the saints cannot absolutely be imitated by such as live in the midst of the world, yet they may, in some degree, be followed. For example, we may imitate the solitude of St. Paul, the first hermit, in our spiritual and real retirements, of which we shall hereafter speak, and have already spoken; the extreme poverty of St. Francis, by the practices of poverty, and so of the rest. It is true, there are some of their histories that give more light for the conduct of our lives than others, such as the life of the blessed mother Teresa, the lives of the first Jesuits, that of St. Charles Borromeus, archbishop of Milan; of St. Lewis; of St. Bernard; the Chronicles of St. Francis; and several others. There are others again, which contain more matter of admiration than of imitation; as the life of St. Mary of Egypt, of St. Simeon Stylites, of the two St. Catharines of Sienna and of Genoa, of St. Angela, and the like; which, nevertheless, fail not, in general, to give us a great relish for the love of God.
HOW WE OUGHT TO RECEIVE INSPIRATIONS.
BY inspirations are meant all those interior attractions, motions, reproaches and remorses, lights and conceptions, which God excites in us, preventing our hearts with his blessings, through his fatherly care and love, in order to awaken, stimulate, urge, and attract us to the practice of every virtue; to heavenly love; to good resolutions; and, in a word, to everything that may help us on our way to eternal happiness. This is what the Spouse calls knocking at the door, and speaking to the heart of his spouse; awaking her when she sleeps; calling after her when she is absent; inviting her to gather apples and flowers in his garden; to sing and to cause her sweet voice to sound in his ears.
That you may the more perfectly comprehend me, I must use a comparison. Marriage should be preceded by three circumstances with relation to the lady who is to be married: first, the person is proposed to her; secondly, she entertains the proposition; thirdly, she gives her consent. In like manner, when God intends doing us some act of great charity, or through our means to some other person; at first, he proposes it by inspiration; secondly, we are pleased with it; and thirdly, we give our full consent to it. For, as there are three steps by which we descend to the commission of sin, viz., temptation, delectation, and consent; so there are also three steps by which we ascend to the practice of virtue: inspiration, which is opposite to temptation; the delectation conceived in the inspiration, which is opposite to the delectation in the temptation; and the consent to the inspiration, which is opposite to the consent given to the temptation.
Now, though the inspiration should continue during our whole life, yet we could not render ourselves pleasing to God if we took no pleasure in it; on the contrary, he would be offended with us, as he was with the Israelites, whose conversion he had been soliciting very nearly forty years. (Ps. xlv.) During this time they would give no ear to him, and he swore in his wrath that they should never enter into his rest. In like manner, the gentleman that had for a long time served a young lady would be very much disobliged, if, after all his attentions, she would not hearken to the marriage he desired.
By the pleasure we take in inspirations we not only show a disposition to glorify God, but begin already to please his divine Majesty. For although this delight is not an entire consent, yet it is a certain disposition towards it, and if it be a good sign to take pleasure in hearing the word of God, which is an exterior inspiration, it must also, no doubt, be a good thing and pleasing to God, to take delight in his internal aspirations. Of this kind of pleasure the sacred spouse speaks, Cant. v. 6: "My soul melted when my beloved spoke." Thus the gentleman is already well pleased with the lady whom he serves, and esteems himself favored when he sees her take delight in his service.
But, after all, it is the consent which perfects the virtuous act. For, if after receiving and taking pleasure in the inspiration, we nevertheless refuse our consent, we show ourselves extremely ungrateful, and highly offend his divine Majesty, by our contempt of his favors. Thus it happened to the spouse, for though the sweet voice of her beloved had touched her heart with a holy pleasure, yet she would not open to him the door, but excused herself by a frivolous excuse, with which her spouse, being justly displeased, went his way and left her. Thus, if the gentleman, who after having for a long time paid his addresses to a lady, and made his service agreeable to her, is at last shaken off and spurned, would he not have much more reason for discontent than if his suit had never been favored with any encouragement?
Resolve, then, Philothea, to accept with cordiality all the inspirations it shall please God to send you; and when they come receive them as ambassadors sent by the King of heaven, who desires to enter into a contract of marriage with you. Attend calmly to his propositions, think of the love with which you are inspired, cherish the holy inspiration, and consent to the holy motion, with an entire, a loving and a permanent consent; for, by this means, God, whom you cannot oblige, will hold himself greatly obliged to your good will. But before you consent to inspirations in things that are of great importance, or that are out of the ordinary way, always consult your spiritual guide, that he may examine whether the inspiration be true or false, lest you should be deceived; because the enemy, seeing a soul ready to consent to inspirations, often proposes false ones to deceive her, which he can never do, so long as she with humility obeys her conductor.
The consent being given, you must diligently procure the effects, and hasten to put the inspiration into execution, which is the height of true virtue; for to have the consent within the heart without producing its effects would be like planting a vine and not intending it should bring forth fruit.
Now, what contributes wonderfully to all this is the practice of the morning exercise, and of those spiritual retirements above recommended, as by these means we prepare ourselves to do what is good, not only by a general, but also by a particular, preparation.
OF HOLY CONFESSION.
OUR Saviour has left the holy sacrament of penance and confession to his Church, that in it we might cleanse ourselves from all our iniquities, as often as we should be defiled by them. Never suffer your heart then, O Philothea! to remain long infected with sin, since you have so easy a remedy at hand. As the lioness, having been with the leopard, runs in haste to wash herself, and get rid of the stench which the meeting has left, lest the lion should be offended and provoked; so the soul, which has consented to sin, ought to conceive a horror of herself, and cleanse herself as quickly as possible, out of the respect she ought to bear to the divine Majesty, who incessantly beholds her. Alas, why should we die a spiritual death, since we have so sovereign a remedy at hand!
Confess yourself humbly and devoutly once every week, and always, if possible, before you communicate, although your conscience should not reproach you with the guilt of mortal sin, for by confession you not only receive absolution from the venial sins you confess, but likewise strength to avoid them, light to discern them well, and grace to repair all the damage you may have sustained by them. You will also practise the virtues of humility, obedience, sincerity, charity; nay, in a word, in this one act of confession you shall exercise more virtues than in any other whatsoever.
How small soever may be the sins which you confess, you must always conceive a sincere sorrow for them, and make a firm resolution never to commit them for the time to come. Many who confess their venial sins merely out of custom, and for the sake of order, without any thought of amendment, continue, by this means, their whole lifetime, under the guilt of these sins, and thus lose several spiritual advantages. If, then, you confess that you have spoken some word that was not proper, or that you have played excessively, repent, and form a determined resolution to amend; for it is an abuse to confess any kind of sin, whether mortal or venial, without a will to be delivered from it, since confession was instituted for no other end.
Make no superfluous accusations, such as these: I have not loved God as much as I ought; I have not prayed with as much devotion as I ought; I have not cherished my neighbor as I ought; I have not received the sacraments with as great reverence as I ought, etc., etc.; for in saving this you will say nothing that can make your confessor understand the state of your conscience, since all the saints in heaven and on earth might say the same thing if they were to come to confession. Examine, then, what particular reason you may have to make these accusations; and when you have discovered it accuse yourself sincerely and distinctly. For example, you accuse yourself, that you have not loved your neighbor as much as you ought; perhaps, because having seen some poor person in distress, whom you might easily have assisted, you took no notice of him. In this case, you should have said, "Having seen a poor man in necessity, I did not assist him as I might have done," through negligence, hard-heartedness, contempt, or according to whatever you may discover to have been the occasion of this fault. You must not accuse yourself either of not having prayed to God with as much devotion as you ought; but if you have admitted any voluntary distraction, or neglected to choose a proper place, or time, or posture, requisite for engaging your attention in prayer, accuse yourself of it with simplicity, without those general allegations which signify nothing in confession.
Content not yourself with confessing your venial sins, merely as to the fact, but accuse yourself also of the motive which induced you to commit them. For example, be not content to say you have told a lie, without prejudice to any person; but also declare whether it was vainglory, to praise or to excuse yourself, or whether in jest or through obstinacy. If you have sinned in play, express whether it was from the desire of gain or from the pleasure of conversation, and so of the rest. Tell, also, how long a time you have continued in your sin; for the length of time is an aggravation of the evil, there being a great difference betwixt a vain thought that has slipped into the soul for a quarter of an hour, and one which she has entertained for the space of two or three days. We must, then, tell the fact, the motive, and the continuance of our sins. For though we are not bound to declare venial sins, nor absolutely obliged to confess them, yet those who desire to cleanse their souls perfectly, and attain to holy devotion, must be careful to make their spiritual physician acquainted with the evil of which they desired to be cured, no matter how small it may be.
Fail not, then, to tell what is requisite, that he may perfectly comprehend the nature of your offence. For example, a man with whom I am displeased speaks a light word to me in jest, and I put myself into a passion, whereas, if another, more agreeable to me, had said something more harsh, I should have taken it in good heart; in this case I would not fail to say, I have spoken angry words against a certain person, and been affronted at some things he said to me, not so much on account of the words, as of my dislike to him. Moreover, if, to make the matter more clear, it was necessary to express what the words were, I think it advisable to declare them, as by doing so, you not only discover the sin, but also your evil inclinations, customs, habits, and other roots of the sin, by means of which your confessor acquires a more perfect knowledge of the heart he treats with, and of the most proper remedies to he applied. But you must always conceal the person who has had any part in your sin, as much as lies in your power.
Be upon your guard against a number of sins which are apt to conceal themselves and reign insensibly in the soul. In order that you may confess them and be able to free yourself of them, read attentively the 6th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 35th, and 36th chapters of the third part, and the 7th chapter of the fourth part.
Change not easily your confessor, but, having made choice of one, continue, from time to time, to give him an account of the state of your conscience, with candor and sincerity, at least once every month or every two months. Let him also know the state of your inclinations, though you may not have sinned by them; for instance, if you should be tormented with sadness or with melancholy, or if you should be inclined to mirth, or to the desires of acquiring worldly goods and such like inclinations.
OF FREQUENT COMMUNION.
IT is said that Mithridates, king of Pontus, having invented the mithridate, so strengthened his body by the frequent use of it, that afterwards, endeavoring to poison himself to avoid falling under the servitude of the Romans he could not effect his object. To the end that we should live forever, our Saviour has instituted the most venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, which contains really his flesh and his blood. Whoever, therefore, frequently eateth of this food, with devotion, so effectually confirmeth the health of his soul that it is almost impossible he should he poisoned by any kind of evil affection; for we cannot be nourished with this flesh of life, and at the same time live with the affections of death. Thus, as men dwelling in the terrestrial paradise might have avoided corporal death by feeding on the fruit of the tree of life which God had planted therein, so they may also avoid spiritual death by feeding on this sacrament of life. If the most tender fruits, and such as are most subject to corruption, as cherries, strawberries, and apricots, can be easily preserved the whole year with sugar or honey, why should not our hearts, however frail and weak, be preserved from the corruption of sin, when seasoned and sweetened with the incorruptible flesh and blood of the Son of God! O Philothea! what reply shall reprobate Christians be able to make, when the just Judge shall upbraid them with their folly, or rather madness, in having involved themselves in eternal death, since it was so easy to have maintained themselves in spiritual life and health, by feeding on his body, which he has left them with that intention? Miserable wretches! will he say, why did you die, having the fruit and the food of life at your command?
"To receive the Holy Communion every day," says St. Augustine, "I neither recommend nor discourage; but to communicate every Sunday, I persuade and exhort every one, provided his soul he without any affection to sin." With the same holy doctor of the Church, I neither absolutely condemn nor approve of the practice of communicating daily, but leave it to the discretion of the ghostly father of him that would be directed in this point. As the dispositions required for daily communion ought to be the most exquisite, it is not prudent to recommend it generally to all; and as these dispositions may be found perfect in many holy souls, it is not advisable to dissuade generally from it, but it is better to leave it to be regulated by the consideration of the inward state of each individual. Wherefore, as it would be imprudent to advise every one, without distinction, to frequent communion, so it would be imprudent also to blame any one for it, especially if he followed the advice of a prudent director. When daily communion was objected against St. Catharine of Sienna, she returned this modest and graceful answer: "Since St. Austin blamed it not, I pray do not you blame it, and I shall be content."
But as St. Austin, Philothea, strenuously exhorts us to communicate every Sunday, comply with his advice as far as you may be able. For, since I suppose you have no affection to either mortal or venial sin, you are in that disposition which St. Austin requires; yea, and in a more excellent degree, since you have not only an aversion to commit sin, but you do not even retain in you an affection to sin; so that, should your confessor think it proper, you may profitably communicate still more frequently than every Sunday.
However, many lawful impediments may occur, not perhaps on your own part, but on the part of those with whom you live, which may occasion a discreet guide to advise you not to communicate so often. For example: if you live in a state of subjection to persons who are so ill instructed, or so capricious as to be troubled or disquieted to see you communicate so frequently, it would, in such a case, be advisable to condescend to their humor and receive holy communion but once a fortnight; but this is to be understood, when you can by no other means remove the difficulty. As there can be no general rule prescribed in this case, we must act according to the advice of our spiritual director; though I may say, with assurance, that the distance between the times of communicating, for such as desire to serve God devoutly should not exceed a month.
If you act with prudence, neither father, mother, husband, nor wife, will prevent you from communicating often; for if, on the day of your communion, you are not less diligent in the discharge of your duties, but acquit yourself of them with more cheerfulness and alacrity, however irksome they may be, there is no likelihood that any person will seek to prevent you from an exercise in which no kind of inconvenience is found. But if the spirit of those with whom you live is so perverse and unreasonable as to give you trouble on this account, as I have said already, your director will advise you to use some condescension.
I must say a word to married people. In the old law, God disapproved that creditors should exact their debts on festival days, but he never disapproved that debtors should pay what they owed to such as exacted it. It is an indecency, though not a great sin, to solicit the payment of the marriage debt on the day of communion; but it is not indecent, but rather meritorious, to pay it. Wherefore no one ought to be debarred from the communion for paying this debt, if otherwise their devotion incite them to desire it. The primitive Christians communicated every day, although married, and blessed with a generation of children; whence I infer frequent communion is by no means inconsistent with the state of a parent, husband or wife, provided the party that communicates be prudent and discreet. As for bodily diseases, there are none which can be a lawful impediment to this holy devotion, excepting that which provokes to frequent vomiting.
To communicate every eight days, it is requisite that one should be free from mortal sin, and any affection to venial sin, and have, moreover, a great desire of communicating; but to communicate every day, it is necessary we should overcome the greatest part of our evil inclinations, and that it should be by the advice of our spiritual director.
HOW WE OUGHT TO COMMUNICATE.
PREPARE yourself for Holy Communion the evening before by many ejaculations of love, retiring earlier, that you may rise sooner in the morning. Should you awake in the night, raise your heart to God immediately, and make some ardent aspirations, in order to prepare your soul for the reception of her Spouse, who, being awake whilst you were asleep, prepares a thousand graces and favors for you, if, on your part, you are disposed to receive them. In the morning rise up with alacrity to enjoy the happiness you hope for; and, having confessed, go with a great, but humble confidence, to receive this heavenly food, which nourishes your soul to immortality; and after repeating thrice, "Lord, I am not worthy," etc., cease to move your head or your lips to pray, or to sigh, but opening your mouth gently and moderately, and lifting up your head as much as is necessary, that the priest may see what he is about, full of faith, hope, and charity, receive him, in whom, by whom, and for whom, you believe, hope, and whom you love. O Philothea! represent to yourself, that as the bee, after gathering from the flowers the dew of heaven, and the choicest juice of the earth, reducing them into honey, carries it into her hive, so the priest, having taken from the altar the Saviour of the world, the true Son of God, who, as the dew, is descended from heaven, and the true Son of the Virgin, who, as a flower is sprung from the earth of our humanity, puts him as delicious food into your mouth and body.
Having received him in your breast, excite your heart to do homage to the author of your salvation; treat with him concerning your internal affairs; consider that he has taken up his abode within you for your happiness; make him, then, as welcome as you possibly can, and conduct yourself in such a manner as to make it appear by all your actions that God is with you.
But when you cannot enjoy the benefit of really communicating at the holy mass, communicate, at least, spiritually, uniting yourself by an ardent desire to this life-giving flesh of our Saviour.
Your principal intention in communicating should be to advance in virtue, to strengthen yourself in the love of God, and to receive comfort from this love; for you must receive through love that which love alone caused to be given to you. You cannot consider our Saviour in an action, either more full of love or more tender than this, in which he annihilates himself, or, as we may more properly say, changes himself into food, that so he may penetrate our souls and unite himself most intimately to the heart and to the body of his faithful.
If worldlings ask you why you communicate so often, tell them it is to learn to love God, to purify yourself from your imperfections, to be delivered from your miseries, to be comforted in your afflictions, and supported in your weaknesses. Tell them that two sorts of persons ought to communicate frequently: the perfect, because, being well disposed, they would be greatly to blame not to approach to the source and fountain of perfection, and the imperfect, to the end that they may be able to aspire to perfection; the strong, lest they should become weak; and the weak, that they may become strong; the sick, that they may be restored to health; and the healthy, lest they should fall into sickness; that for your part, being imperfect, weak, and sick, you have need to communicate frequently with Him who is your perfection, your strength, and your physician. Tell them that those who have not many worldly affairs to look after ought to communicate often, because they have leisure; that those who have much business on hand should also communicate often, for he who labors much and is loaded with pains ought to eat solid food, and that frequently. Tell them that you receive the holy sacrament to learn to receive it well; because one hardly performs an action well which he does not often practise.
Communicate frequently, then Philothea, and as frequently as you can, with the advice of your ghostly father; and, believe me, as hares in our mountains become white in winter, because they neither see nor eat anything but snow, so, by approaching to, and eating beauty, purity, and goodness itself, in this divine sacrament, you will be come altogether fair, pure, and virtuous.