Chapter VI. Of our Actual and Ornamental Preparation to the Reception of the Blessed Sacrament. Section III. Of an actual Supply to be made of such Actions and Degrees of Good,
as are wanting against a Communion Day.
1. IF, on a communion-day, we need very much examination, we can make but little supply of those many defects, which it is likely a diligent inquiry will discover: and, therefore, it is highly advisable, that as we ought to repent every day, and not put it all off till the day of our communion or our death; so we should, every day, examine ourselves, at the shutting in of the day, or at our going to bed: for so St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, St. Anthony, and St. Austin, St. Ephraim, and St. Dorotheas, do advise. [Serm. 1, de instit. Monach. Serm. de poenit. in illud Psalmi 'In Cubilibus vestris compungimini,' lib. 1. homil. 44.] Others advise that it be done twice every day; and, indeed, the oftener we recollect ourselves; 1. the more weaknesses we shall observe; and 2. the more faults correct; and 3. watch the better; and 4. repent the more perfectly; and 5. offend less; and 6. be more prepared for death; and 1. be more humble; and 8. with ease prevent the contracting of evil habits; and 9. interrupt the union of little sins into a chain of death; and 10. more readily prevail upon our passions; and 11. better understand ourselves; and 13. more frequently converse with God; and 13 oftener pray; and 14. have a more heavenly conversation; and, in fine, 15. be more fitted for a frequent and a holy communion.
2. The end of examination is, 1. That we grieve for all our sins: 2. That we resolve to amend all: 3. That we actually watch and pray against all.--Therefore, it is necessary, that, when we have examined against a communion-day; 1. We always do actions of contrition for every thing we have observed to be amiss; 2. That we renew our resolutions of better obedience; 3. And that we pray for particular strength against our failings.
3. He that would communicate with fruit, must so have ordered his examinations, that he must not always be in the same method. He must not always be walking with a candle in his hands, and prying into corners; but they must be swept and garnished, and be kept clean and adorned. His examinations must be made full and thoroughly, and be productive of inferior resolutions, and must pass on to rules and exercises of caution. That is, 1. We must consider where we fail oftenest: 2. From what principle this default comes: 3. What are the best remedies: 4. We must pass on to the real and vigorous use of them; and when the case is thus stated and drawn into rules and resolutions of acting them, we are only to take care we do so, and, every day, examine whether we have or no. But we must not at all dwell in this relative and preparatory and ministering duty. But if we find that we have reason to do so, let us be sure that something is amiss; we have played the hypocrites, and done the work of the Lord negligently or falsely.
4. If any passion be the daily exercise or temptation of our life, let us be careful to put the greatest distress upon that, and, therefore, against a communion-day, do something in defiance and diminution of that; chastise it, if it hath prevailed; reinforce thy resolutions against it; examine all thy aids, see what hath been prosperous, and pursue that point, arid if thou hast not at all prevailed, then know, all is not well; for he communicates without fruit, who makes no progressions in his mortifications and conquest over his passions. It may be, we shall be long exercised with the remains of the Canaanites: for it is in the matter of passions as Seneca said of vices; "We fight against them, not to conquer them entirely, but that they may not conquer us;" not to kill them, but to bring them under command; and unless we do that, we cannot be sure that we are in the state of grace, and, therefore, cannot tell if we do, or do not, worthily communicate. [Pugnamus, non ut penitus vincamus, sed ne vincamur.] For, by all the exterior actions of our life, we cannot so well tell how it is with us, as by the observation of our affections and passions, our wills and our desires. "For I can command my foot, and it must obey; and my hand, and it cannot resist; but when I bid my appetite obey, or my anger be still, or my will not to desire, I find it very often to rebel against my word, and against God's word." [S. Aug. lib. viii. Confess, c. 9.] Therefore, let us be sure to take some effective course with the appetite, and place our guards upon the inward man; and, upon our preparation-days, do some violence to our lusts and secret desires, by holy resolutions, and severe purposes, and rules of caution, and by designing a course of spiritual arts and exercises, for the reducing them to reason and obedience: something that may be remembered; and something that will be done. But to this, let this caution be added; that of all things in the world, we be careful of relapses into our old follies or infirmities: for if things do not succeed well afterwards, they were not well ordered at first.
5. Upon our communion-days, and days of preparation, let us endeavour to stir up every grace, which we are to exercise in our conversation; and thrust ourselves forward in zeal of those graces; that we begin to amend our lukewarm-ness, and repair our sins of omission. For this is a day of sacrifice; and every sacrifice must be consumed by fire; and, therefore, now is the day of improvement, and the proper season for the zeal of duty. And if, upon the solemn day of the soul, we do not take care of omissions, and repair the great and little forgetfulnesses and omissions of duty, and pass from the infirmities of a man to the affections of a saint,--we may, all our lifetime, abide in-a state of lukewarmness, disimprovement, and indifference. To this purpose,
6. Compare day with day, week with week, communion with communion, time with time, duty with duty: and see if you can observe any advantage, any ground gotten of a passion; any further degree of the spirit of mortification: any new permanent fires of devotion; for by volatile, sudden, and transient flames, we can never guess steadily: but be sure never to think you are at all improved, unless you observe your defects to be, 1. fewer: 2. or lighter: or, 3. at least, not to be the same, but of another kind and instance, against which you had not made particular provisions formerly; but now, upon this new observation and experience, you must.
7. Upon, or against, a communion day, endeavour to put your soul into that order and state of good things, as if that day you were to die: and consider, that unless you dare die upon that day, if God should call you, there is but little reason you should dare to receive the sacrament of life, or the ministry of death. He that communicates worthily, is justified from sins; and to him death can have no sting, to whom the sacrament brings life and health; and, therefore, let every one that is to communicate, place himself, by meditation, in the gates of death,--and suppose himself seated before the tribunal of God's judgment, and see whether he can reasonably hope that his sins are pardoned, and cured, and extinguished; and then if you judge righteous judgment, you will soon find what pinches most; what makes you most afraid; what was most criminal, or what is least mortified: and so you will learn to make provisions accordingly.
8. If you find any thing yet amiss, or too suspicious, or remaining to evil purposes, the relics of the scattered enemy after a war, resolve to use some general instrument of piety or repentance, that may, by being useful in all the parts of your life and conversation, meet with every straggling irregularity, and, by perpetuity and assiduous force, clear the coast. 1. Resolve to have the presence of God frequently in your thought. 2. Or endeavour and resolve to bring it to pass, to have so great a dread and reverence of God, that you may be more ashamed, and really troubled and confounded to sin in the presence of God, than in the sight and observation of the best and severest man. 3. Or else resolve to punish thyself with some proportionable affliction of the body or spirit for every irregularity or return of undecency in that instance, in which thou settest thyself to mortify any one especial passion or temptation. Or 4. firmly to purpose in every thing which is not well, not to stay a minute, but to repent instantly of it, severely to condemn it, and to do something at the first opportunity for amends. Or 5. to resolve against an instance of infirmity for some short, sure, and conquerable periods of time: as if you be given to be prating, resolve to be silent, or to speak nothing but what is pertinent for a day; or, for a day, not to be angry; and then, sometimes, for two days; and so diet your weak soul with little portions of food, till it be able to take in and digest a full meal. Or 6. meditate often, every day, of death, or the day of judgment. By these and the like instruments, it will happen to the remains of sin, as it did to the Egyptians; what is left by the hail, the caterpillar will destroy; and what the caterpillar leaves, the locusts will eat. These instruments will eat the remains of sin, as the poor gather up the gleanings after the carts, in harvest.
9. But if, at any communion, and in the use of these advices, you do not perceive any sensible progression in the spirit of mortification or devotion, then be sure to be ashamed, and to be humbled for thy indisposition and slow progression in the discipline of Christ: and if thou beest humbled truly for thy want of improvement, it is certain thou hast improved. And if you come with fear and trembling, it is very probable you will come in the spirit of repentance and devotion.
These exercises and measures will not seem many, long, and tedious as the rules of art, if we consider that all are not to be used at all times, nor by every person; but are instruments fitted to several necessities, and useful when they can do good, and to be used no longer. For he that uses these, or any the like advices by way of solemnity, and in periodical returns, will still think fit to use them at every communion, as long as he lives; but he that uses them as he should, that is, to effect the work of reformation upon his soul, may lay them all aside, according as his work is done. But if we would, every day, do something of this; if we would, every day, prepare for the day of death, or, which is of a like consideration, for the day of our communion; if we would, every night, examine our past day, and set our things in order; if we would have a perpetual intercourse and conversation with God; or, which is better than all examinations in the world, if we should actually attend to what we do, and consider every action, and speak so little, that we might consider it; we should find that, upon the day of our communion, we should have nothing to do but the third particular, that is, 'The Offices of Prayer and Eucharist,' and to renew our graces by prayer and exercises of devotion.