The Life of Nature and the Life of Grace
TAKEN FROM HOLY COMMUNION
by St. Peter Julian Eymard
Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1940
Hoc sentite in vobis quod et in Christo Jesu.
For let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
THE life of love is nothing but the life of Jesus in us and its arch-enemy is love of self. Thus we have two lives in us, the one natural, the other supernatural. If we wish to belong to our Lord, the latter must triumph, and the former be vanquished; it must be changed, transformed into a Divine life, the life of faith which animates the just. Justus meus ex fide vivit. 1 --- "But my just man liveth by faith." Let us see what the natural life is. Then we will compare it with the life of Jesus in us and shall see the necessity we are under to live with Jesus in order that we may live by Him.
THE LAW of the natural life is the spirit of self, the personal spirit. Its motto is, Everything for self; its means of action are those furnished by human knowledge; its lights, those of natural reason; its end, self and present enjoyment.
The law of the supernatural life, on the contrary, is the spirit of faith; its means, the grace of Jesus Christ and His law; its end, the glory of God. Saint Augustine expresses it thus: "Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self." 2
The natural life insinuates itself into piety, into the cloister; it is everywhere. You may recognize it by the following characteristics.
1. It turns supernatural actions so far as it can into natural ones. We begin them for God; we finish them for ourselves. We let our aim be deflected, our intention vitiated. Our actions are not full, not finished in the sight of God. Non invenio opera tua plena coram Deo Meo. 3 --- "I find not thy works full before my God." Thus it is the intention that makes an action natural or supernatural. Done for God, it is holy, Divine; done for ourselves, it is without merit for Heaven and ends with us.
2. It brings down to the plane of the purely natural the Christian and religious virtues. We may practice all the moral virtues and not have one that counts in the eyes of God. That is a truth proved by experience. What a misfortune! For want of the supernatural, our virtues are vitiated and made barren. They have not been united to the celestial Vine, without Whose sap of life we can bear no fruit for Heaven.
3. The natural life shows itself when we seek only honor, sweetness, glory in our graces of piety and vocation, and refuse the sacrifices they place before us and demand of us.
4. We make our love for Jesus Christ purely natural if we love Him for ourselves; if we love Him in that which flatters and glorifies us and not in that which humbles us and keeps us in the shade; if it is ourselves we love in Him.
5. We let the natural life creep even into Communion if, instead of seeking in this heavenly Bread the strength and virtue It contains, we want to taste only its sweetness, peace, and joy.
Natura callida est ... et se semper pro fine habet. 4 --- "Nature is crafty ...and always proposeth self as her end."
How terrible is this power we have of diminishing and degrading the gifts of God! Of making His supernatural and Divine graces natural, useless, or of little fruit! How recognize this natural life in oneself? By its principles, its determining motive. For whom and why do you act?
But I admit that it is difficult. Natura callida est. Self-love is crafty and hides its game. It conceals itself, disguises itself under the appearance of good, lets us see only the good side of its action; for in all we do there is usually a good and a bad side. Passione interdum movemur et zelum putamus. 5 --- "Often we are moved by passion and mistake it for zeal." We think we are acting from pure and disinterested zeal, when we are moved by the passion of self-love.
In practice, it is nature's rule to seek herself in everything, to incline to self-gratification. By that trait you will recognize her. You will also know her by the end she has in view, which is to be at ease and depend on no one. She does things quickly to be rid of them and likes to do only what pleases her.
The Saint, the supernatural man, is austere in the fulfillment of his duty and not always congenial. His constant struggle against himself makes him hard toward himself and sometimes toward others.
The natural Christian, on the other hand, is pleasant, honest, obliging. He has suited his virtues to the natural life and he makes them contribute to his pleasure. He only adopts from them what will make him attractive to others.
So there is the enemy, the natural life! It is a thief, a Dalila, a demon. It finds ways to make a Divine life human and a life of faith natural, to substitute self-love for love of God, and to exchange Heaven for earth!
WE MUST therefore in judgment, action, affection, and in all states of the soul adopt the supernatural life of Jesus.
1. The thoughts of the natural man are inspired and directed by self-interest; for every natural idea has its source in self-love, which acts only in the interest of the passions.
The supernatural man, on the contrary, thinks in God: "What does Jesus Christ think of this or of that?" And He conforms his thought to that of his Master. His thought is directed by the grace of God; he has a Divine instinct which enables him to recognize earthly and natural ideas; he sees into them and defeats them. If, for a time, he is misled by them, they cause him suffering and spiritual confusion, which warns him to lift his heart to God: Quae sursum sunt sapite. 6 --- "Mind the things that are above."
2. The judgment of the natural man is influenced by his own interests, by self-love, by considerations of comfort and sensual pleasure. He either rejects or struggles against whatever would demand self-denial; or else he appears indifferent to it.
The spiritual man forms his judgment by Jesus Christ, either from His expressed words or from the example He has given us. When these two voices are silent, he follows the grace given him at the moment. Sicut audio, judico. 7 --- " As I hear, so I judge," said our Lord. And that is the rule which must guide the judgment of the spiritual man. So will he judge well, having Jesus Christ as his light; he will desire only the glory of God and the accomplishment of His will in all things. Et judicium meum justum est; quia non quaero voluntatem meam, sed voluntatem ejus, qui misit me. 8 --- "And My judgment is just; because I seek not My Own will, but the will of Him that sent Me."
3. The natural man, in his conduct, will consent to nothing but what appeals to him. --- Is there any profit in this for me? He wants present enjoyment, seeks pleasure even while working.
The spiritual man performs his actions not for himself but for God. He is not absorbed in the act itself but looks beyond to God, intent only on the supernatural and Divine purpose which makes him act. He does not stop at the act itself but at its goal, which is God. Therefore he is always free in his actions; he undertakes them or he gives them up, the Divine will alone deciding at a given moment what he is to do. He is attached to God alone and he finds Him in everything.
Moreover, he knows by instinct how best to please God. When two ways of acting lie before him, and he is free to choose either one, oh, how quickly he sees which would be preferable and more acceptable to God!
4. Lastly, the natural man clings servilely to the spiritual states which appeal to him. If he finds peace in prayer, he will not quit it even to answer the call of obedience or of charity. It is the same with the other states of soul or of life in which he finds himself. In order to remain at ease, he rejects all that is opposed to his natural good. But whatever he does, and in spite of himself, he is always in a turmoil, because God will not permit him to find peace and joy in the consummation of his earthly aims.
The spiritual man finds all the states in which God puts him desirable, and he draws good from all. He knows how to find in them the grace, virtue, and glory of God. In a word, he lives by Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ is his Divine means of life.
MOREOVER, and better still, he lives with Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ; he is in a life association with Him. This is a perfect partnership in which are found the characteristics of every honorable association.
1. The members of this association must be honorable. Jesus Christ, certainly, is honorable, let us say rather, adorable. But we, ah, what title have we? Jesus Christ will be content with the state of grace. Provided we are pure and free from all grossness, that will make amends for everything else; for the state of grace, by making us children of God and temples of the Holy Ghost, unites us to Jesus Christ as His members. It permits Him to labor within us and use us as His own members for His great work. But what a misfortune it would be, were we to be sullied by mortal sin! Then the association would be broken off, for our honor would be lost. Jesus could have no fellowship with us!
Venial sin does not entirely break off this association, but it makes it imperfect and languishing. It impedes Jesus Christ, weakens the bond of mutual union. Oh, then let us remain pure always, free even from venial faults! And that is easy, since we can purify ourselves from them by acts of love or by use of the sacramentals. The greater our purity is, the more honorable we are and the more intimate is our intercourse with Jesus. The closeness of union with our Lord depends on the degree of purity we possess.
2. The members of this association must contribute to a common fund.
Jesus Christ contributes all He has and all He is; all the treasures of His grace and glory, in a word, Himself, God.
We must contribute all we have received in Baptism, all the riches of sanctifying grace, and the gratuitous and glorious gifts bestowed upon us by the Holy Ghost upon taking possession of our soul; we must give in addition all the knowledge, virtue, and merits we have acquired, everything.
But, as a guarantee of the perpetuation of our association, we shall touch neither capital nor profits until the dissolution of the association at our death; we shall never take back anything we have given. Let us often examine ourselves on this point. Some give more, others less. The religious gives his liberty, renounces the possession of temporal goods, and also the love of any creature, even for God. He receives, consequently, a greater share of the gain. Whatever we may have contributed, let us be faithful in never taking it back, even the smallest part.
3. Lastly, each member owes his personal, disinterested, and devoted co-operation to the common endeavor. We give our labor and trouble. Jesus Christ labors also in us and by us. It is He Who sustains and directs us; without Him we could do nothing. Let us be as faithful and as willing as He to labor in the common cause, the glory of His Father; let us never fail Him, and He will never abandon us. See how He describes His action in us: He calls Himself the sap of the vine; and He gives to each of us, who are the branches, vigor and fruitfulness.
Even more, He assures us that, if we will enter into this union with Him, He will do everything we ask of His Father: Quodcumque petieritis Patrem in nomine mea, hoc faciam: ut glorificetur Pater in Filio. 9 --- "Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My name, that will I do; that the Father may I be glorified in the Son."
Finally, He entreats us to abide in His love, as He abides in His Father's love, wherein He does all the works He sees Him do. To abide in His love is to participate, therefore, in His power of action; it is to act by Him and in Him; and then what shall we not accomplish? Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat. 10 --- "I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me." We shall be able to do all things in this Divine center which communicates to us its infinite power.
1. Hebr. 10:38.
2. Saint Augustine, The City of God, Bk. XIV. Ch. XXVIII.
3. Apoc. 3:2.
4. Imitation, Bk. III, Ch. LIV, No.7.
5. Imitation, Bk. II, Ch. V, No. 1.
6. Col. 3:2.
7. John 5:30.
9. Jobn 14:13.
10. Phil. 4:13.