BY THOMAS A KEMPIS
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1941
CHAPTER 20: OF THE LOVE OF SOLITUDE AND SILENCE
SEEK a convenient time to attend to thyself; and reflect often upon the benefits of God to thee.
Let curiosities alone.
Read such matters as may produce compunction rather than give occupation.
If thou wilt withdraw from superfluous talking, and idle visitings, and from hearing new things and rumors, thou wilt find time sufficient and proper to spend in good meditations.
The greatest Saints shunned the company of men when they crowd, and chose rather to live unto God in secret.
2. As often as I have been amongst men, said one, I have returned less a man. This we too often experience when we talk long.
It is easier to keep silence altogether than not to fall into excess in speaking.
It is easier to keep retired at home than to be enough upon one's guard abroad.
He, therefore, who aims at inward and spiritual things, must, with Jesus, turn aside from the crowd.
No man can safely appear in public but he who loves seclusion.
No man can safely speak but he who loves silence.
No man can safely be a superior but he who loves to live in subjection.
No man can safely command but he who hath learned how to obey well.
3. No man can rejoice securely but he who hath the testimony of a good conscience within.
Yet even the security of the Saints was always full of the fear of God.
Neither were they the less careful and humble in themselves, because they shone with great virtues and grace.
But the security of the wicked ariseth from their pride and presumption, and in the end turns to their own deception.
Never promise thyself security in this life, however good a religious or devout a solitary thou mayst seem to be.
4. Oftentimes the highest in men's estimation have been in the greater danger, by reason of their too much confidence.
And hence it is more useful for many not to be wholly without temptations, but to be very often assaulted, lest they be too secure, lest perhaps they be lifted up into pride, and even turn aside, with too little restraint, after exterior consolations.
Oh, how good a conscience would he keep who should never seek transitory joys, and never busy himself about the world!
Oh, how great peace and tranquillity would he have who should cut off all vain solicitude, and think only of the things of God and his salvation, and place his whole hope in God!
5. No one is worthy of heavenly consolation who hath not diligently exercised himself in holy compunction.
If thou wouldst feel compunction to thy very heart, enter into thy chamber and shut out the tumult of the world: as it is written: "Be sorry in your beds."
Thou wilt find in thy cell what thou wilt too often lose abroad.
The cell continually dwelt in, groweth sweet; but ill guarded, it begetteth weariness.
If, in the beginning of thy religious life, thou dwell in it and keep it well, it will be to thee afterwards as a dear friend and most delightful solace.
6. In silence and quiet the devout soul maketh progress, and learneth the hidden things of Scripture.
There she findeth floods of tears, wherein each night she may wash and be cleansed; and so become the more familiar with her Creator, the further she dwelleth from all the tumult of the world.
For who so withdraweth himself from acquaintances and friends, to him will God, with His holy Angels, draw near.
Better is it to lie hid and take diligent care of thyself, than, neglecting thyself, to work miracles.
It is praiseworthy for a religious but seldom to go abroad, to shun being seen, and to have no wish to see men.
7. Why dost thou wish to see what it is not lawful for thee to have? The world passeth away and its concupiscence.
The longings of sense draw thee to roam abroad; but when the hour hath passed away, what dost thou bring back with thee but a weight upon thy conscience, and a dissipated heart?
Oftentimes a joyous going abroad begetteth a sorrowful return home: and a merry evening maketh a sorrowful morning.
So all carnal joys enter pleasantly; but at the end bring remorse and death.
8. What canst thou see elsewhere that thou dost not see here? Behold the heavens, and the earth, and all the elements; for out of these are all things made.
9. What canst thou see anywhere that can last long under the sun?
Thou trustest that perchance thou wilt be satisfied; but thou wilt never be able to reach it.
If thou couldst see all things at once before thee, what would it be but an empty vision?
Lift up thine eyes to God on high, and pray for thy sins and negligences.
Leave vain things to vain people; look thou to those things which God hath commanded thee.
Shut thy door upon thee, and call unto thee Jesus thy beloved.
Stay with Him in thy cell; for nowhere else shalt thou find so great peace.
If thou hadst never left it, nor hearkened to any rumors, thou wouldst have remained longer in happy peace. But the moment thou delightest to give ear to novelty, thou must suffer from thence disquietude of heart.
EXTERIOR retirement is not sufficient to engage and satisfy a heart which would really withdraw itself from creatures to be occupied with itself alone; but interior retirement is likewise necessary, which is a spirit of recollection and prayer. A soul which is separated from all the amusements of the senses, seeks and finds in God that pure satisfaction which it can never meet with in creatures. A respectful and frequent remembrance of the presence of God occupies the mind, and an ardent desire of pleasing Him and of becoming worthy of His love engages the heart. It is absorbed in Him alone: all things else dwindle into nothing. It buries itself in its dear solitude, and dies to itself and all things in God: it breathes only His love, it forgets all to remember only Him; penetrated with grief for its infidelities, it mourns incessantly in His presence; it sighs continually for the pleasure of seeing and possessing Him in Heaven; it nourishes itself with reading good books, and with the exercise of prayer; it is never tired of treating with God on the affairs of salvation, at least it humbly supports the irksomeness it may experience; and with a view of honoring His sovereign dominion by the complete destruction of sin in itself, it renounces all desire of finding any other satisfaction than that of pleasing Him.
O MY God, when will silence, retirement, and prayer, become the occupations of my soul, as they are now frequently the objects of my desires? How am I wearied with saying so much and yet doing so little for Thee! Come, Jesus, come, Thou, the only object of my love, the center and supreme happiness of my soul! Come, and impress my mind with such a lively conviction of Thy presence that all within me may yield to its influence. Come, Lord, and speak to my heart, communicate to it Thy holy will, and mercifully work within it both to will and to do according to Thy good pleasure. Alas! How long shall my exile be prolonged? When shall the veil be removed which separates time from eternity? When shall I see that which I now believe? When shall I find what I seek? When shall I possess what I love, which is Thyself, O my God! Grant, O Jesus, that these holy desires with which Thou now inspirest me, may be followed by that eternal happiness which I hope for from Thine infinite mercy. Amen.