Sign of the Spirit of Jesus
TAKEN FROM HOLY COMMUNION
by St. Peter Julian Eymard
Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1940
Semper mortificationem Jesu in corpore nostro circumferentes, ut et vita Jesu manifestetur in corporibus nostris.
Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.
(2 Cor. 4:10.)
OUR Lord came to heal us and give us a more abundant life. We are sick by nature, having within us the germ of every spiritual malady. We can fall into sin without the action of the devil, we have power of ourselves to be lost forever. The devil tempts us, true, but he usually tempts us through our own nature. He is in connivance with our enemies within, has spies in the citadel; he awakes a secret sympathy. The evil tendencies of Original Sin remain in us and exercise more or less influence over us according as we oppose to them a lesser or greater degree of purity and strength. But temptations do not always depend absolutely on us.
Beside those to which we ourselves give occasion, there are temptations which arise from the circumstances in which we live, others which come from the devil, and others still which God Himself sometimes expressly allows. It does not depend on us not to be tempted. Thence this principle: We must be made whole spiritually and filled with a superabundant life so that we shall be able to resist and struggle without exhaustion; our greatest danger lies in being serenely sure of ourselves. At the very moment we are congratulating ourselves on being forgiven and in the state of grace, we fall again.
But in order to be healed and possess true life, we must take to ourselves the spirit of our Lord and live by His love. His love is life; His spirit becomes the guide of our actions and sentiments. This spirit is mortification, mortification either from penance or from love. All else is falsehood and flattery. Search the life of our Lord; on every page you will find mortification, mortification of body, abnegation, desolation, opposition. Mortification is the essence of our Lord's life and, consequently, of Christianity. To love is good, but love shows itself in sacrifice and suffering.
MORTIFICATION will heal my sick body, which carries every malady within it. This body is deeply wounded and no longer has its former strength; every movement it makes is a step toward death and decomposition; the blood itself is only corruption.
How shall health and strength be restored to this decay? The ancients said, by temperance; the Gospel says, by mortification; and that is indeed the life of the body. People without faith who want to prolong their life follow reason and are sober. How cowardly we should be if we had not the courage to do by faith and grace what they do from love of life!
Even those who by the rules of their state lead a frugal life, as do religious, will find it very easy to mingle the spirit of penance with their poor viands. And that is necessary for all. We are not free from daily faults and, besides, we have to make reparations for the sins of others. Let us mortify ourselves then, not so much in the matter of quantity as in that of quality and taste. We are not secure from temptations to gluttony. Were we unable to find opportunities for mortification, we should not have the spirit of penance nor, in consequence, the spirit of Jesus Christ. Our body is in a fever; it is not so feeble an enemy; it communicates the fever to our soul. We must break this fever by contrary measures, and the true remedy is mortification, which cools our humors, that is, our passions, and makes them orderly.
The only way to subdue the body is to enchain it. It grumbles against letting itself be fettered, but one can do it. Alas, the soul is in the power of the body, which entices it by the sensual appetites. The soul's difficulty comes most of all from things outside with which it has contact only through the body. These distractions, which make peace and reflection impossible, come only from what one has seen; and imagination, a bodily faculty, is but a miserable and lying painter. The more absorbed one is in some holy action, the more abominable are the things pictured by this traitor who has gone over to Satan. One is less tempted in one's own habitation than when one is in God's presence. For then the mind is not so recollected and is not tormenting the senses by its attempt to govern them. Thus there are some who complain, and not without reason, that they have but to begin to pray, and they are assailed by temptation. Evidently our evil nature makes more desperate assaults at such times in order to retain its empire over us.
For this reason we must keep watch over our external senses. The evil thought or imagination which does not depend on an impure object seen in the past will not last long; but if the eye has taken pleasure in looking upon such an object, the imagination will reproduce it again and again until our memory of it has passed away. That will take months, perhaps years; witness Saint Jerome, who was troubled by the recollection of the festivals of pagan Rome even after long years passed in the most austere penances.
Let us remember that if we do not govern our eyes, we shall not be able to govern our thoughts. The soul in solitude is hardly ever tempted by itself. It has in it, to be sure, the fire of Original Sin, but its means for evil are in the senses; the body is its docile worker of evil. We see proof of this in the little child who does not yet feel our temptations because its senses are not yet open to evil. What must we do then? See without seeing, look without looking, and if an image has been engraved in the imagination, it must be effaced by entire forgetfulness. The heart may be good, but the senses turn it whither they will. Even a child, who sees without understanding, will, if it looks long at something evil, feel the memory of it awaken in later years; all its immodest looks will return to its imagination to torment it. Let us therefore shut our eyes and our ears as it were with thorns, which by sharply wounding our flesh will prevent our feeling the impure fires of passion. If this be done, temptations will only increase our purity. The heart of man follows the direction of his thought. If the mind, which draws the material for all its concepts from the imagination, belongs to God, then the heart also will love God; but if the mind belongs to the world, the heart again will follow its lead.
This mortification, the object of which is to avoid sin, is of value; justice and salvation demand it of us. But if we expect to rest securely in it, we invite defeat. We have promised to do more, that is, to attain to the mortification practiced by Jesus Christ. We must mortify ourselves to please Him, even though justice should not require it of us; we must mortify ourselves because He Himself did so to please His Father. That is the true mortification which must inspire our entire life and become the law thereof. Examine any of our Lord's virtues; they all bear the imprint of penance; and if you will not go that far, you miss the very heart of virtue, in which is all its strength. Try to be humble, recollected, or pious without mortification, and you will be wasting your time. God lets every virtue cost us something. Perhaps you do not feel this sacrifice today to any extent. The good God wants to draw you by sweetness, as we do children. But wait till tomorrow! It is the very nature of grace to crucify. You do not suffer? Then you do not receive your graces from Calvary, their one true source? Love of God is nothing but sacrifice. And oh, how far it goes! It is something to mortify one's senses; but to mortify the inner self, that is the consummation of the penitential spirit of Jesus in the soul.
IF OUR crown were to be composed solely of our external sacrifices, it would be very poor; our life is so short! But the soul labors much more actively than the body, and the good God, Who wants to make us gain immense sums of merit, so that He may give to us an immensity of glory, gives us the means to sacrifice ourselves in every thought and affection. This is a perpetual movement toward God, and if we were very faithful to His inspiration and His call, we should see that the sacrifices He asks of us are innumerable and that they change every moment of the day. He does not ask that we translate into external action all the inspirations to self-sacrifice which He gives us; He desires only that we accept them with our will and be ready to put them into practice if He should require it. This means we must not be attached to one particular spiritual state more than to another, but must bring our will into harmony with the will of God, willing only what He wills, everything He wills.
When one enjoys God, one would like to do so always. But that is not the plan of the good God. One must know how to give up enjoyment and take up the cross. Remember the lesson of Tabor. Many there are who would serve God solely to enjoy the happiness that goes with serving Him. If they do not enjoy the time of adoration, they complain and say: "I do not know how to pray." That is not true; you are sensual, that is all! To be sensual in their love of God is the great defect of pious souls. When He gives you joy, profit by it; there is nothing better, but do not cling to it. If He treats you sternly, humble yourself and do not be discouraged; one must love God more than His gifts. You must make that maxim the rule and principle of your conduct. When Saint Paul, made weary of life by the infernal temptations which assailed him, besought God to deliver him from them, the Lord replied: "No, My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity." 1 This answer consoled and strengthened the Apostle and caused him later to say: "I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation." 2 So, lasting joy is found in tribulation and interior mortification, not in consolation, however spiritual it be. The rule is that the penitent soul alone enjoys God; for the soul that is obedient to God in all things exacts obedience from the body, which is the only way it can be at peace. The act of penance is hardly finished before this peace is felt in the heart. God gives it according to the measure of our mortification. The mortification of penance, satisfaction for sin, restores peace to the conscience; it is the result of appeasing Divine justice. The mortification of penance and love gives joy, a holy peace, sweetness, unction, a something I know not what that transports the soul and ravishes it away, that spiritualizes the body itself to such a degree that the soul forgets it is prisoned therein and takes flight to God in ecstasy. This we know by the example of the Saints. Make trial of what I tell you, that is, that peace of soul is in proportion to self-mortification; and if you arrive at the practice of virtue in enjoyment and self-gratification, you may disprove my words! Look at the Martyrs, jubilant and singing hymns of joy in the midst of the most frightful torments. Did they not feel the pain? Yes, certainly; but the inner fire of their love was stronger than the flames which were consuming their bodies.
Let us not forget that mortification is the true way to holiness. God asks nothing of us but that we empty our heart; He keeps for Himself the right to fill it. Dilata cor tuum et implebo illud. 3 ---- "Open thy heart wide, and I will fill it." Self-love is simply concentrating on self, being full of self, and holiness is only a matter of self-mortification.
But that costs us dear? ---- Doubtless; but peace is the reward of this war against nature. God cannot give us His peace without it; He would only delude us. When the spirit of penance has made us a little stronger, and we love Him for Himself rather than for His gifts, then He will give us His peace.
Let us then accept God's way. Our Lord would like to find entrance into us by His true spirit, the spirit of mortification. Continually He presents Himself, waiting with Divine patience. But finding no place for Himself beneath our roof, and all our doors closed to Him, He goes away again, unable to do anything with us, so full of self are we and so sensual in both our external and our spiritual life.
1. 2 Cor. 12:9.
2. 2 Cor. 7:4.
3. Cf. Ps. 58:11.
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