The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 15. The Fourth
Privilege of Virtue:
We might regard charity, or the love of God, as the fourth privilege of virtue, particularly as the Apostle accounts it the first-fruit of the Holy Ghost; but our intention being at present to treat more of the rewards of virtue than of virtue itself, we shall devote this chapter to the consolations of the Holy Ghost, and refer to another pan the consideration of charity, the most noble of virtues.
This fourth privilege of virtue is the effect of that divine light of which we spoke in the preceding chapter.
This is the teaching of David when he says, "Light is risen to the just, and joy to the right of heart." (Ps. 96: 11). The Holy Scriptures furnish abundant proof of this truth. If the path of virtue, O deluded sinner, be as sad and difficult as you represent it, what does the Psalmist mean when he exclaims, "O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord, which thou hast hidden for them that fear thee!" (Ps. 30: 20). And again: "My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall be delighted in his salvation. All my bones [that is, all the powers of my soul] shall say: Lord, who is like to thee?" (Ps. 34: 9-10).
Do not these texts clearly tell us of the joy with which the souls of the just overflow, which penetrates even to the flesh, and which so inebriates man's whole being that he breaks forth into transports of holy joy? What earthly pleasure can be compared to this? What peace, what love, what delight can equal that of which Thou, O my God, art the inexhaustible source? "The voice of rejoicing and of salvation," continues the prophet, "is in the tabernacles of the just." (Ps. 117:15). Yes, only just souls know true joy, true peace, true consolation.
"Let the just feast and rejoice before God, and be delighted with gladness." (Ps. 67:4). "They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house, and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure." (Ps. 35:9). Could the prophet more powerfully express the strength and sweetness of these consolations? They shall be inebriated, he tells us; for as a man overcome by the fumes of wine is insensible to all outward objects, so the just, who are filled with the wine of heavenly consolations, are dead to the things of this world.
"Blessed is the people," he further says, "that knoweth jubilation." (Ps. 88:16). Many would perhaps have said, "Blessed are they who abound in wealth, who are protected by strong walls, and who possess valiant soldiers to defend them!" But David, who had all these, esteemed only that people happy who knew by experience what it was to rejoice in God with that joy of spirit which, according to St. Gregory, cannot find expression in words or actions. Happy are they who are sufficiently advanced in love for God to know this jubilation! It is a knowledge which Plato, with all his wisdom, and Demosthenes, with all his eloquence, could never attain. Since, then, God is the author of this joy, how great must be its strength and sweetness! For if His arm be so terrible when stretched forth to chastise, it is equally tender when extended to caress.
We are told that St. Ephrem was frequently so overcome with the strength of this divine sweetness that he was forced to cry out, "Withdraw from me a little, O Lord, for my body faints under the weight of Thy delights!" (St. John Climachus). Oh! Unspeakable Goodness! Oh! Sovereign Sweetness, communicating Thyself so prodigally to Thy creatures that the human heart cannot contain the effusions of Thy infinite love! In this inebriation of heavenly sweetness the troubles and trials of the world are forgotten, and the soul is strengthened and elevated to joys beyond the power of her natural faculties.
Just as water under the action of fire loses its property of heaviness, and rises in imitation, as it were, of the element by which it is moved, so the soul inflamed with the fire of divine love soars to Heaven, the source of this flame, and burns with desire for the object of her love. "Tell my beloved," she cries, "that I languish with love." (Cant. 5:8). These joys, which are the portion of the just in this world, need not excite our wonder, if we consider all that God endured in His Passion. All His sufferings and ignominies were for the sinner as well as for the just. Hence, if He endured so much for the sinner, what will He not do for the happiness of faithful souls?
The devotion and fidelity of the just still further enable us to form some conception of the ardor with which God promotes their happiness. Look into their hearts, and you will find there not a thought or desire which is not for Him whose glory is the end of all their actions; that they spare no sacrifice to serve Him who is continually giving them proofs of His love. If, therefore, frail and inconstant man be capable of such devotedness, what will God not do for him? Isaias, and after him St. Paul, tells us that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him." (Is. 64:4 and 1Cor. 2:9).
We could cite many other passages from Scripture in proof of this truth, particularly from the Canticle of Canticles, where these divine consolations are represented, sometimes under the figure of generous wine which rejoices the heart of man, or as milk sweeter than honey, containing all strength, and filling the soul with life and joy. But what we have said will suffice to prove to you the joys which are reserved for the good, and how far these heavenly consolations exceed the pleasures of this world. For what comparison can there be between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial? How can the happiness afforded by a creature be compared to that which is given by the Creator? That it is particularly in prayer that just souls enjoy these divine consolations is a truth we now wish to prove.
God Himself tells us, "The children of the stranger that adhere to the Lord, to worship him, and to love his name, to be his servants; every one that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, and that holdeth fast my covenant, I will bring them into my holy mount, and will make them joyful in my house of prayer." (Is. 56:6-7).
Hence St. Lawrence Justinian tells us that the hearts of the just are inflamed in prayer with love for their Creator; that they are frequently raised above themselves and transported in spirit to the abode of the angels, where, in the presence of their God, they unite their praise to that of the celestial choirs. They weep and rejoice, for the sighs of their exile mingle with the anticipations of their blessed country. They feast, but are never filled. They drink, but are never satisfied. They unceasingly long to be transformed into Thee, O Lord, whom they contemplate with faith, whom they adore with humility, whom they seek with desire, whom they possess and enjoy through love.
The powers of their mind are inadequate to comprehend this happiness, which penetrates their whole being, yet they tremble to lose it. Even as Jacob wrestled with the angel, so do their hearts struggle to retain this divine sweetness amid the turmoil and trouble of this world, crying out with the Apostle, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." (Matt. 17:4).
When inflamed with this divine fire, the soul longs to be freed from her prison of clay. She waters her bread with her tears, that the hour of her deliverance may not be delayed. She mourns that she has learned so late the enjoyment of these treasures which God has prepared for all men. She longs to proclaim them in public places, crying to the deluded victims of this world, "O unhappy people, senseless men! Whither are you hastening? What is the object of your search? Why will you not seek happiness at its source? Taste and see that the Lord is sweet; blessed is the man that hopeth in him." (Ps. 33:9).
O Lord, "What have I in heaven, and besides thee what do I desire upon earth? For thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away; thou are the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever." (Ps. 72:25-26).
You will probably tell me that these consolations are reserved for those who are already advanced in virtue. No doubt these intimate joys of the soul are known only to more perfect souls, yet the Divine Master grants even beginners ineffable rewards. The happiness of the prodigal, the rejoicing and feasting which resound in his father's house, are an image of the spiritual joy which the soul experiences when she is released from the slavery of the evil one and made an honored child of Christ.It is very evident that man, bound by the chains of the flesh and the allurements of the world, could not trample pleasure underfoot and resolutely enter the path of virtue, did not God accord him favors which sweeten all his sacrifices. Therefore, when a soul is resolved to turn to God, He smooths the way for her, and removes many obstacles that might cause her to lose courage and fall back.
This is what God did for the children of Israel when He led them out of the land of Egypt: "When Pharao had sent out the people, the Lord led them not by way of the land of the Philistines, which is near, thinking lest perhaps they would repent, if they should see wars arise against them, and would return into Egypt." (Ex. 13:17).
This same Providence, which guided the Israelites, continues daily to manifest like care for the faithful, bringing them out of the slavery of the world and leading them to the conquest of Heaven, the true promised land.
We find still another figure of this truth in the Old Testament, where God commanded the first and the last days of the week to be observed with particular solemnity, thus teaching us that He rejoices with His children in the beginning as well as in the consummation of their perfection. Those who are entering the path of virtue are treated by God with the tenderness and consideration which are shown to children. The affection of a mother for her younger sons is not greater than that which she bears those of riper years, yet she tenderly carries the little ones in her arms, and leaves the older ones to walk by themselves. The latter are sometimes obliged to earn their food before it is given them, while the little ones not only receive it unsolicited, but are tenderly fed. This is a faint image of the loving care with which God surrounds those who are beginning to serve Him.
It is no argument against this truth that you do not experience these divine consolations when you think of God. Food is tasteless to a disordered palate, and for a soul vitiated by sin and sensual affections this heavenly manna has no relish. Cleanse your soul with the tears of repentance and then "taste and see that the Lord is sweet." [Prov. 33: 9]
What are all the pleasures of this world compared to these ineffable consolations? Why will you not begin to be happy from this moment? "O man!" says Richard of St. Victor, quoting the words of the Gospel, "since Paradise may be thine, why dost thou not sell all thy possessions to purchase this pearl of great price?"
Dear Christian, delay not an affair so important. Every moment is worth more to you than all the riches of the universe. Even though you attain this heavenly treasure, you will never cease to lament the time you have lost, and to cry out with St. Augustine, "Too late have I known Thee , too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new!" This illustrious penitent, though he unceasingly lamented the lateness of his conversion, gave himself to God with all his heart, and therefore, won an immortal crown. Imitate him, and thus avoid the unhappy lot of lamenting not only the delay of your conversion, but even the loss of your crown.