Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur, 1950
Part II PRACTICES OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION
The Divine Master's ProgramIV --- IN CHRIST-LIKE FASHION
41. But mere suffering is not enough. For even the devil and the world have their martyrs. We must suffer and bear our crosses in the footsteps of Jesus. Let him follow Me: this means that we must bear our crosses as Jesus bore His. To help you do this, I suggest the following rules:
FOURTEEN RULES TO FOLLOW IN CARRYING ONE'S CROSS
42. First. Do not, deliberately and through your own fault, procure crosses for yourself. You must not do evil in order to bring about good. You should never try to bring discredit upon yourself by doing things improperly, unless you have a special inspiration from on high. Strive rather to imitate Jesus Christ, Who did all things well (Mark 7, 37), not out of self-love or vainglory, but to please God and to win over His fellow-men. Even though you do the best you can in the performance of your duty, you will still have to contend with contradiction, persecution and contempt which Divine Providence will send you against your will and without your choice.
43. Second. Should your neighbor be scandalized, although without reason, at any action of yours which in itself is neither good nor bad, then, for the sake of charity, refrain from it, to avoid the scandal of the weak. This heroic act of charity will be of much greater worth than the thing you were doing or intended to do.
If, however, you are doing some beneficial or necessary thing for others and were unreasonably disapproved by a hypocrite or prejudiced person, then refer the matter to a prudent adviser, letting him judge of its expedience and necessity. Should his decision be favorable, you have only to continue and let these others talk, provided they take no means to prevent you. Under such circumstances, you have our Lord's answer to His disciples when they informed Him that Scribes and Pharisees were scandalized at His words and deeds: "Let them alone; they are blind." (Matt. 15, 14).
44. Third. Certain holy and distinguished persons have been asking for and seeking, or even, by eccentricities, bringing upon themselves, crosses, disdain and humiliation. Let us simply adore and admire the extraordinary workings of the Holy Spirit in these souls. Let us humble ourselves in the presence of this sublime virtue, without making any attempt to reach such heights, for compared with these racing eagles and roaring lions we are simply fledglings and cubs.
45. Fourth. You can nevertheless and even should ask for the wisdom of the Cross, that sapid, experimental knowledge of the truth which, in the light of faith, shows us the deepest mysteries, among others the mystery of the Cross. But this can be had only by dint of hard toil, profound humiliation and fervent prayer. If you need that perfect spirit (Ps. 50, 14) which enables us to bear the heaviest crosses with courage -- that sweet, kindly spirit (Luke 11, 13) which enables us to relish in the higher part of the soul things that are bitter and repulsive -- that wholesome, upright spirit (Ps. 50, 12) which seeks God and God alone -- that all-embracing knowledge of the Cross -briefly that infinite treasure which gives the soul that knows how to make good use of it a share in the friendship of God (Wisdom 7, 14) ask for this wisdom, ask for it constantly, fervently, without hesitation or fear of not obtaining it. You will certainly obtain it and then see clearly, in the light of your own experience, how it is possible to desire, seek and relish the Cross.
46. Fifth. If, inadvertently, you blunder into a cross, or even if you do so through your own fault, forthwith humble yourselves interiorly under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5-6), but do not worry over it. You might say to yourself: "Lord, there is another trick of my trade. "If the mistake you made was sinful, accept the humiliation you suffer as punishment. But if it was not sinful, then humbly accept it in expiation of your pride. Often, actually very often, God allows His greatest servants, those who are far advanced in grace, to make the most humiliating mistakes. This humbles them in their own eyes and in the eyes of their fellow men. It prevents them from seeing and taking pride in the graces God bestows on them or in the good deeds they do, so that, as the Holy Ghost declares: "no flesh should glory in the sight of God" (1 Cor. 1, 29).
47. Sixth. Be fully persuaded that through the sin of Adam and through our own actual sins everything within ourselves is vitiated, not only the senses of the body but even the powers of the soul. So much so that as soon as the mind, thus vitiated, takes delight in pouring over some gift received from God, then the gift itself, or the act or the grace is tarnished and vitiated and God no longer favors it with His divine regard. Since looks and thoughts of the human mind can spoil man's best actions and God's choicest gifts, what about the acts which proceed from man's own will and which are more corrupt than the acts of the mind?
So we need not wonder, when God hides His own within the shadow of His countenance (Ps. 30, 21), that they may not be defiled by the regards of their fellow men or by their own self-consciousness. What does not this jealous God allow and do to keep them hidden! How often He humiliates them! Into how many faults He permits them to fall! How often He allows them to be tempted as St. Paul was tempted (2 Cor. 12, 7)! In what a state of uncertainty, perplexity and darkness he leaves them! How wonderful God is in His saints, and in the means He takes to lead them to humility and holiness!
48. Seventh. Be careful not to imitate proud self-centered zealots. Do not think that your crosses are tremendous, that they are tests of your fidelity to God and tokens of God's extraordinary love for you. This gesture has its source in spiritual pride. It is a snare quite subtle and beguiling but full of venom. You ought to acknowledge, first, that you are so proud and sensitive that you magnify straws into rafters, scratches into deep wounds, rats into elephants, a meaningless word, a mere nothing, in truth, into an outrageous, treasonable insult. Second, you should acknowledge that the crosses God sends you are really and truly loving punishments for your sins, and not special marks of God's benevolence. Third, you must admit that He is infinitely lenient when He sends you some cross or humiliation, in comparison with the number and atrocity of your sins. For these sins should be considered in the light of the holiness of a God Whom you have offended and Who can tolerate nothing that is defiled; in the light of a God dying and weighted down with sorrow at the sight of your sins; in the light of an everlasting hell which you have deserved a thousand times, perhaps a hundred thousand times. Fourth, you should admit that the patience you put into suffering is more tinged than you think with natural human motives. You have only to note your little self-indulgences, your skillful seeking for sympathy, these confidences you so naturally make to friends or perhaps to your spiritual director, your quick, clever excuses, the murmurings or rather the detractions so neatly worded, so charitably spoken against those who have injured you, the exquisite delight you take in dwelling on your misfortunes and that belief so characteristic of Lucifer, that you are somebody (Acts 8, 9), and so forth. Why I should never finish if I were to point out ail the ways and by-ways human nature takes, even in its sufferings.
49. Eighth. Take advantage of your sufferings and more so of the small ones than of the great. God considers not so much what we suffer as how we suffer. To suffer much, yet badly, is to suffer like reprobates. To suffer much, even bravely, but for a wicked cause, is to suffer as a martyr of the devil. To suffer much or little for the sake of God is to suffer like Saints.
If it be right to say that we can choose our crosses, this is particularly true of the little and obscure ones as compared with the huge, conspicuous ones, for proud human nature would likely ask and seek for the huge, conspicuous crosses even to the point of preferring them and embracing them. But to choose small, unnoticeable crosses and to carry them cheerfully requires the power of a special grace and unshakable fidelity to God. Do then as the storekeeper does with his merchandise: make a profit on every article; suffer not the loss of the tiniest fragment of the true Cross. It may be only the sting of a fly or the point of a pin that annoys you, it may be the little eccentricities of a neighbor, some unintentional slight, the insignificant loss of a penny, some little restlessness of soul, a slight physical weakness, a light pain in your limbs. Make a profit on every article as the grocer does, and you will soon become wealthy in God, as the grocer does in money, by adding penny to penny in his till. When you meet with the least contradiction, simply say: "Blessed be God! My God I thank you." Then treasure up in the till of God's memory the cross which has just given you a profit. Think no more of it, except to say: "Many thanks!" or, "Be merciful!"
50. Ninth. The love you are told to have for the Cross is not sensible love, for this would be impossible to human nature.
It is important to note the three kinds of love: sensible love, rational love and love that is faithful and supreme; in other words, the love that springs from the lower part of man, the flesh; the love that springs from the superior part, his reason; and the love that springs from the supreme part of man, from the summit of his soul, which is the intellect enlightened by faith.
51. God does not ask you to love the Cross with the will of the flesh. Since the flesh is the subject of evil and corruption, all that proceeds from it is evil and it cannot, of itself, submit to the will of God and His crucifying law. It was this aspect of His human nature which Our Lord referred to when He cried out, in the Garden of Olives: "Father, . . . not My will but Thine be done." (Luke 22, 42). If the lower powers of Our Lord's human nature, though holy, could not love the Cross without interruption, then, with still greater reason will our human nature, which is very much vitiated, repel it. At times like many of the saints, we too may experience a feeling of even sensible joy in our sufferings, but that joy does not come from the flesh though it is in the flesh. It flows from our superior powers, so completely filled with the divine joy of the Holy Ghost, that it spreads to our lower powers. Thus a person who is undergoing the most unbearable torture is able to say: "My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God" (Ps. 83, 3).
52. There is another love for the Cross which I call rational, since it springs from the higher part of man, his reason. This love is wholly spiritual. Since it arises from the knowledge of the happiness there is in suffering for God, it can be and really is perceived by the soul. It also gives the soul inward strength and joy. Though this rational and perceptible joy is beneficial, even very beneficial, it is not an indispensable part of joyous, divine suffering.
53. This is why there is another love, which the masters of the spiritual life call the love of the summit and highest point of the soul and which the philosophers call the love of the intellect. When we possess this love, even though we experience no sensible joy or rational pleasure, we love and relish, in the light of pure faith, the cross we must bear, even though the lower part of our nature may often be in a state of warfare and alarm and may moan and groan, weep and sigh for relief; and thus we repeat with Jesus Christ: "Father . . . not My will but Thine be done" (Luke 22, 42), or with the Blessed Virgin: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Thy word" (Luke 1, 38).
It is with one of these two higher loves that we should accept and love our cross.
54. Tenth. Be resolved then, dear Friends of the Cross, to suffer every kind of cross without excepting or choosing any: all poverty, all injustice, all temporal loss, all illness, all humiliation, all contradiction all calumny, all spiritual dryness, all desolation, all interior and exterior trials. Keep saying: "My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready" (Ps. 56, 8). Be ready to be forsaken by men and angels and, seemingly, by God Himself. Be ready to be persecuted, envied, betrayed, calumniated, discredited and forsaken by everyone. Be ready to undergo hunger, thirst, poverty, nakedness, exile, imprisonment, the gallows and all kinds of torture, even though you are innocent of everything with which you may be charged. What if you were cast out of your own home like Job and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary; thrown, like this saint, into the mire; or dragged upon a manure pile like Job, malodorous and covered with ulcers, without anyone to bandage your wounds, without a morsel of bread, never refused to a horse or a dog? Add to these dreadful misfortunes all the temptations with which God allows the devil to prey upon you, without pouring into your soul the least feeling of consolation.
Firmly believe that this is the summit of divine glory and real happiness for a true, perfect Friend of the Cross.
55. Eleventh For proper suffering, form the pious habit of considering four things:
First, the Eye of God. God is like a great king, who from the height of a tower observes with satisfaction his soldier in the midst of the battle and praises his valor. What is it on earth that attracts God's attention? Kings and emperors on their thrones? He often looks at them with nothing but contempt. Brilliant victories of a nation's armies, precious stones, any such things that are great in the sight of men? "What is great to men is an abomination before God" (Luke 16, 15). What then does God look upon with pleasure and delight? What is He asking the Angels about, and even the devils? It is about the man who is fighting for Him against riches, against the world, hell and himself, the man who is cheerfully carrying his cross. Hast thou not seen upon earth that great wonder which the heavens consider with admiration? said the Lord to Satan; "hast thou considered My servant Job" (Job 2, 3) who is suffering for Me?
56. Second, the Hand of God. Every disorder in nature, from the greatest to the smallest, is the work of His almighty Hand. The Hand that devastates an army of a hundred thousand (4 Kings 19, 35) will make a leaf drop from a tree and a hair fall from your head (Luke 21, 18). The Hand that was laid so heavily upon Job is particularly light when it touches you with some little trial. This Hand fashions day and night, sun and darkness, good and evil. God permits the sin which provokes you; He is not the cause of its malice, although He does allow the act.
If anyone, then, treats you as Semei treated King David (2 Kings 16, 5-11), loading you with insults and casting stones at you, say to yourself: "I must not mind; I must not take revenge for this is an ordinance of God. I know that I have deserved every abuse and it is only right that God punish me. Desist, my hands, and strike not; desist, my tongue, and speak not; the person who injures me by word or deed is an ambassador, mercifully sent by God to punish me as His love alone knows how. Let us not incur His justice by assuming His right to vengeance. Let us not despise His mercy by resisting the affectionate strokes of His lash, lest, for His vengeance, He should remand us to the rigorous justice of eternity. "
Consider how God bears you up with one Hand, of infinite power and wisdom, while with the other He chastises you. With the one He deals out death, while with the other He dispenses life. He humbles you and raises you up. With both arms, He reaches sweetly and mightily (Wisdom 8, 1) from the beginning of your life to its end. Sweetly: by not allowing you to be tempted or afflicted beyond your strength. Mightily: by favoring you with a powerful grace, proportioned to the vehemence and duration of your temptation or affliction. Mightily: --- and the spirit of His holy Church bears witness --- "He is your stay on the brink of a precipice, your guide along a misleading road, your shade in the scorching heat, your raiment in the pouring rain or the biting cold. He is your conveyance when you are utterly exhausted, your help in adversity, your staff on the slippery way. He is your port of refuge when, in the throes of a tempest, you are threatened with ruin and shipwreck."
57. Third, consider the Wounds and Sorrows of our crucified Jesus. Hear what He Himself has to say: "All ye that pass along the thorny and crucifying way I had to follow, look and see. Look with the eyes of your body; look with the eye of contemplation, and see if your poverty, nakedness, disgrace, sorrow, desolation are like unto Mine. Behold Me, innocent as I am, then will you complain, you who are guilty" (Lam. 1, 12).
The Holy Ghost tells us, by the mouth of the Apostles, that we should keep our eyes on Jesus Crucified (Gal. 3, 1) and arm ourselves with this thought of Him (1 Pet. 4, 1) which is our most powerful and most penetrating weapon against all our enemies. When you are assailed by poverty, disrepute, sorrow, temptation or any other cross, arm yourselves with this shield, this breastplate, this helmet, this two-edged sword (Eph. 6, 12-18), that is, with the thought of Jesus crucified. There is the solution to your every problem, the means you have to vanquish all your enemies.
58. Fourth, lift up your eyes, behold the beautiful crown that awaits you in Heaven if you carry your cross as you should. That was the reward which kept patriarchs and prophets strong in faith under persecution. It gave heart to the Apostles and martyrs in their labors and torments. Patriarchs used to say as Moses had said: "We would rather be afflicted with the people of God, " so as to enjoy eternal happiness with Him, "than to have the pleasure of sin for a short time (Heb. 11, 25-26). The prophets repeated David's words: "We suffer great persecutions on account of the reward" (Ps. 68, 8118, 112). The Apostles and martyrs voiced the sentiments of St. Paul "We are, as it were, men appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men, " by our sufferings "being made the off-scouring of the world," (1 Cor. 4, 9-13), "by reason of the exceeding and eternal weight of glory, which this momentary and light tribulation worketh in us" (2 Cor. 4, 17).
Let us see and listen to the angels right above us: "Be careful not to forfeit the crown that is set aside for you if you bravely bear the cross that is given you. If you do not bear it well, someone will bear it in your stead and will take your crown. All the saints warn us: fight courageously, suffer patiently and you will be given an everlasting kingdom." Let us hear Jesus: "To him only will I give My reward who shall suffer and overcome through patience" (Apoc. 2, 6; 11, 17; 3, 5; 21, 7).
Let us lower our eyes and see the place we deserve, the place that awaits us in hell in the company of the wicked thief and the reprobate, if we go through suffering as they did, resentful and bent on revenge. Let us exclaim after St. Augustine: "Burn, O Lord, cut, carve divide in this world, in punishment for my sins, provided Thou pardon them in eternity."
59. Twelfth. Never murmur or deliberately complain about any created thing that God may use to afflict you. It is important to note the three kinds of complaints that may arise when misfortune assails you. The first is natural and involuntary. This happens when the human body moans and groans, sobs and sighs and weeps. If, as I said, the higher point of the soul submits to the will of God, there is no sin. The second is rational. Such is the case when we complain and disclose our hardship to some superior or physician who is able to remedy it. This complaint may be an imperfection, if too eagerly made, but it is no sin. The third is sinful. This happens when a person complains of others either to rid himself of the suffering they cause him, or to take revenge. Or else when he willfully complains about the sorrow he must bear and shows signs of grief and impatience.
60. Thirteenth. Whenever you are given a cross, be sure to embrace it with humility and gratitude. If God, in His infinite goodness, favors you with a cross of some importance, be sure to thank him in a special way and have others join you in thanking him. Do as that poor woman did who, through an unjust lawsuit, lost everything she owned. She immediately offered the last few pennies she had, to have a Mass said in thanksgiving to Almighty God for the good fortune that had come to her.
61. Fourteenth. If you wish to be worthy of the best crosses, those that are not of your choice, then, with the help of a prudent director, take on some that are voluntary.
Suppose you have a piece of furniture that you do not need but prize. Give it to some poor person, and say to yourself: "Why should I have things I do not need, when Jesus is destitute?"
Do you dislike certain kinds of food, the practice of some particular virtue, or some offensive odor? Taste this food, practice this virtue, endure this odor, conquer yourself.
Is your affection for some person or thing too ardent and tender? Keep away, deprive yourself, break away from things that appeal to you.
Have you that natural tendency to see and be seen, to be doing things or going some place? Mind your eyes and hold your tongue, stop right where you are and keep to yourself.
Do you feel a natural aversion to some person or thing? Rise above self by keeping near them.62. If you are truly Friends of the Cross, then, without your knowing it, love, which is always ingenious, will discover thousands of little crosses to enrich you. Then you need not fear self-conceit which often accompanies the patient endurance of conspicuous crosses and since you have been faithful in a few things, the Lord will keep His promise and set you over many things (Matt. 25, 21, 23): over many graces He will grant you; over many crosses He will send you; over much glory He will prepare for you.
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