The Holy Priest
Milwaukee, WI: The Young Churchman, 1899. 176 pp.
The Grace of Sanctity.
THE notes of holiness by which the soul is united to God reveal themselves in knowledge and love. The holy soul knows and loves God: he knows and does not love himself. Sin is to him an odious thing, and, as long as he vigorously hates it, he has little to fear from it; on the contrary, this hatred promotes the love of God. But graces should not be confused with gifts. Gifts are natural endowments which, when sanctified by religious motives, promote efficiency in the cause of Christ. But graces are the product of the rule of the Holy Spirit in the inner man, giving beauty and strength to character. Men with strong inherent and acquired gifts, but sluggish spiritual development, make slight impress on others for good, although they may cause much noise in the world for a time. Spiritual men who seek the virtues of religion with diligence are the men of influence, whatever their gifts. The former are "babes in Christ," unable to help themselves or do much for others. S. Paul, when he arose to a nobler development, said, "When I became a man I put away childish things."
WHEN the Holy Spirit draws near to the interior life of a priest who hungers after righteousness, and whose prayer has long been, "O, for a closer walk with God!" there follows such a sense of the Divine, such an awe of the Person of God, that his former reverence appears to have been cold and mechanical. A new experience begins in which his whole being is more and more pervaded, consciously, with apprehension of the glory, beauty, and benignity of God. Increase of reverence is one of the first fruits of a more earnest spiritual life, and this is not surprising when we consider that holiness is not only God's approach to man, but man's to God. How beautiful is the definition of reverence which the late Bishop Thorold (a man of profound devotion) has given us. He says:
"Reverenceif we may venture, though with much diffidence, to define itis the habitual, almost instinctive recognition of a goodness which it cannot emulate; of a wisdom which it cannot fathom; of an Almighty Power which fills the soul with unspeakable awe, yet of a love which in its inexpressible tenderness passeth knowledge. It is the strongest as well as the deepest souls that are fullest of reverence. It is also they who know most and love best who are readiest to say
"Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell,
That mind and will, according well,
May make one music as before,
"Reverence, in a sentence, is created and sustained by the constant thought of God, which helps us not so much to go in and out of His presence as ever to stand in it, with heart and mind and feet and eyes veiled, lest His glory smite them. Reverence, which, while it restrains the lips, feeds the fire within of holy and even rapturous meditation, is slow to promise, but does not perform less for its not promising, and invisibly moulds the highest and finest type of character the Church can ever see on earth."
Our Lord has not left us in doubt as to the place which reverence occupies in the estimation of His Father, for, in describing the proper attitude of spiritual men in His presence, He says that the true worshippers worship Him in spirit and in truth, and adds, "The Father seeketh such to worship Him." He waits not for their devout approach, but goes forth to find them. He is quick to perceive and glad to accept their homage, for reverence brings with it so much. It gathers all the virtues into a synthesis of awe, prostrate before the throne. It is truth offering the sacrifice of the spirit, it is humility in the dust, it is love gazing upward, it is penitence making the sign of the cross, it is faith singing its ter sanctus, it is hope adoring with joy unspeakable.
The spirit of reverence throws its peculiar charm over the person of the devout priest. Such men make us think of heaven. An outward serenity, a quiet dignity, attends them. We feel that it is the sign of much interior communion with God, and that their self-repression of manner evidences a purpose diligently to fill themselves with the spirit of holy fear.
The soul which is suffused with reverence will not lack in penitence, for the two are closely allied. There are favored moments of adoration in which the faculties, oblivious of themselves, become absorbed in contemplation; but usually, when the glory of the Divine prostrates the soul in awe, it is overwhelmed with its own unworthiness.
It is appalling to consider what power has been given to the free will of man. It possesses the power to choose God and lose itself in His will; but it also has the power to deny God, oppose His counsels, overturn His purposes, and brush away His commandments, yea, His very mercies, like cobwebs. It would seem that the simple possession of such a power ought to drive man in terror from the exercise of it in opposition to God, and lead him to hedge himself about with obstacles, thickly planted and barbed, to restrain his liberty. That must he do sooner or later, or plead with his God to do it. O, my God, who hast permitted me to acquire this execrable freedom, as the penalty of my rebellion, I am resolved that it shall become as odious in my sight as it is in Thine!
Just consider the infamy of it! Man is created in the image of God, and endowed with every virtue, natural and supernatural. That he may be like God, he is enriched with reason and intelligence; but as it is not possible that intelligence should exist without will, and as will must of necessity be free, he is also endowed with free will. In all this, the Creator proposes to people this planet with an order of beings who shall serve Him in purity and holiness forever, not by compulsion, but as the free homage of their wills. And what happens? The created will takes issue with its Creator, adopts the policy of Satan, and thwarts the counsels of infinite wisdom.
There is a height, and depth of unrevealed, possibly unrevealable, mystery in the divine attitude towards sin. How mercy and righteousness could kiss each other in that terrible hour, how forbearance could stay the hand of retribution, and how the promise of life could make speed to reach the ear which deserved to hear the sentence of death, we may never know, and the mystery is still repeating itself every day; but we do know, and therein do rejoice with joy unspeakable, that there came at once an economy of forbearance, and to the fallen race of mankind was given the opportunity of repentance.
And repentancewhat is it but the response which the soul makes when it comes to see how fearfully the will has prostituted its power and abused its liberty by antagonizing God ? In dismay and self-loathing, it recoils from the abuse of a God-implanted faculty, rebels against the tyranny, and turns again to God with a broken heart.
Penitence is: (1), internal, and (2), external.
Internally, it accentuates the voice of conscience, and silences the whispers of self-love. It reveals the disastrous effects of sin upon the will, which began in freedom, but ended in slavery; and shows how, having become the servant of sin, it is no longer capable of right choices. It brings out sin's sinfulness in such hideous relief that pride is leveled to the dust. There would be little dearth of humility in the world, could our first experiences of inward penitence be perpetuated.
External penitence is the outward expression of the rankling sorrow of the soul. The two are a unit. It would be an error to think that penitence consists exclusively of sighs and tears, of penances and austerities; but it is not possible to feel real contrition in the inward man without its getting utterance, and without some outward form of self-contempt and punishment.
All penitence, whether within or outward, is a work rather than a sentiment; indeed, a priest seeking intimacy of relation with God shall long since have discovered that true conversion to God necessitates the substitution of the practical in place of the sentimental. Penitence in the inner man is contrition, which includes self-condemnation, humiliation, and compunction, in varying degrees in different persons. In its outward expression, it comprises self-examination and confession, and there are three tests of sincerity, which are no more practical in their nature than the contrition which precedes them. (1). Reparation, or restitution, is the method by which the penitent rights wrongs, or makes amends, or satisfies the claim of conscience. (2). By renunciation he expresses his horror of sin as it has been his reigning sovereign; abjures his allegiance, and abandons particular offences which have tripped him up. (3). By resolution he firmly pledges himself to live conformably to the commands of his Merciful God.
Penitence may be occasioned variously, but its chief exciting cause is the conviction of God's love. We have before mentioned the difficulty of gaining this conviction in a degree so strong that it shall become the motive of action. One reason is that there is nothing in us, by nature, upon which God can look with complacency; and another is that by sins we become positively offensive to Him, and we know it. Nevertheless, He loves us as objects of pity, and as His own dear children, and it is this parental aspect of His love which most beautifies and ennobles it.
Now, when the heart perceives how the will has dishonored its Maker and cast His will to the winds, it does not stop to dwell upon the horrible nature of sin, but presses on to consider against whom it has sinnedthe One Being in the universe whom we can justly call an almighty friend, One who loves us with an infinite love, who is father as well as friend, and is not willing that any should perish. Then it is that God's love melts the soul into self-contempt, and then comes all that poignancy of remorse which gives the Christian life its sombre hue. Even the smile of heaven in absolution cannot hinder many a secret tear over past sins; for penitence, though it may weep its way to the mercy-seat, cannot obscure the memory. Nor would the holy priest wish to be exempted from sorrows so sacred and medicinal, for he knows full well that a heart not broken by penitence day by day must suffer a diminishing perception of the great love; while he also knows how strongly an abiding penitence, internally felt and outwardly expressed, inclines to prayer and self-denial, promotes humility, gives fresh capacity for sacramental grace, and strengthens the soul to gaze more fondly upon the ineffable beauty of God.
But a well-developed penitence embraces more than remembered or present sins. There is the interior possibility of future sin. The holy priest is more suspicious of himself the nearer he approaches God. He realizes that spiritual adversaries have a terrible ally in the still unvanquished concupiscence of his heart, which is the fuel of sin. His penitence cannot unmake the pastits record is irrevocable. But he can do more with respect to future possibilitieshe can forearm himself against the evil day, and double his hourly watch upon the heart; he can multiply his self-surrenders to God's keeping power, judiciously practise disciplines, and keep his whole being under the pure light of that love divine which is so much stronger than the dying shadows of sin in the sanctified breast.
Christian people may be divided into two classesthose who have repented, and those who do repent; by which we mean that some remember the time when they repented and some do not remember the time when they did not repent. Continuous penitence at every stage and under every experience of the Christian life is the ordinary state of a growing soul. By the very necessity of his purpose to secure union with God by charity, the priest repeats conviction and conversion day after day until contrition becomes his habitual state within, and its outward pains his daily practice. What was, at first beginning, a task and a trial, now spreads its sombre but sacred veil over the soul without the conjuration of a special need or emergency, but spontaneously and easily. And this is a certain sign that compunction is genuine, and that contrition has matured into habit. Would the holy priest be assured that he has passed out of casual into habitual penitence?he has only to ascertain by observation of his soul whether its action is quiet, like a flowing river, unforced, spontaneous, simple, and childlike.
III.THE VALUE OF MAN.
Of all the surprises which come to a priest in the processes of sanctification, none is greater than the lesson of his own relative importance and value with respect to God and his fellow men.
Should we catch some glimpses of his inner estate and hear some whispers of his self-contempt, we would know how lowly he appears in his own eyes, and how impossible it would be to convince him that his penitence and self-depreciation are too abject. In truth they are not too abjectthey stand for realities. With photographic accuracy they represent him as he is, not as he once fancied himself to be, not as our flattering judgment accounts him to be, not as popular opinion measures him, but as he knows himself to be by many infallible proofs, brought to light in the presence of the Holy One. O, how the little lamps of his former conceit paled their ineffectual fires when the Sun of righteousness arose and he came out into its light!
There are three antecedent propositions, with which a priest must be, as it were, saturated, before he can make any progress in that line of ascension which begins with self-sufficiency and ends at the blessed heights of humility.
First, that God is the primary and only positive good, and that as His combined attributes constitute a splendor of perfection purer than mankind's noblest conceptions of Him, He is to be desired above everything, and to be loved more than anythingadored, loved, desired for His own sake, without consideration of benefits. At first the priest perceived Him as light forcing its way through "a horror of darkness;" but there came a time, a "morning without clouds" (perhaps at a moment when he was standing at the altar), when God shined out of Zion the perfection of beauty, and thereafter the spiritual life was less a consideration of personal safety than of the declarative glory of this wonderful Being. God was seen to be All in all, and the larger vision brought with it such a sense of His glory and beauty that the mind was overwhelmed, the heart melted, the will prostrate with awe, and the passions washed to the color of snow. Then it became evident that to love God, one must love Him not because He is "my God," but because He is Himself. It is not a defect to love Him on account of benefits bestowed, but the highest form of love is attained when love forgets itself in adoration, and pours out its affection for God-in-Himself. Then choosing Him as its chief good and only end, the soul sings its daily song of triumph"whom have I in the heavens but Thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee."
Second, that fallen man as a moral being does not stand in a relation of intrinsic value to God. In the mere scale of being, leaving out the question of merit, he is the mote, the atom. Consider the insignificance of one man among millions of men. Consider that he who thinks himself to be something was nothing a century ago, and will be nothing a century hence. In vain shall "mossy marbles" buffet remorseless time in their effort to prolong the memory of him. Consider that he shares with the highest creatures their insignificance, for even angels charge themselves with folly in the presence of God. But consider man as wanting in merit. One person may be better or worse than another, as we judge men, but how these moral variations shade off into nothingness before the spotless purity of God! How contemptible, also, in that presence appear those estimates of value which we pass upon ourselves when measured by the human standard! But how hard to put ourselves under that higher standard, which cuts up pride by the roots and requires penance! Alas, how many evade these severities altogether! And how many who have traversed the via dolorosa of spiritual self-knowledge in part, shrink from the final stages of the journey! He stops short of God who will not see himself as he is. But if his determined will press on, the priest is drawn closer to the center of spiritual light, the sense of moral insignificance increases, and the soul discovers a new and deeper meaning in the words when, with the jubilant Church, it sings, "For Thou only art holy."
His true measurement is thus revealed to the priest who diligently seeks God. Nothing that grace bestows does he reckon to his own account, and, therefore, no attainment impairs this low estimate of his value. On the contrary, as the soul advances toward God, sin appears more black and inexcusable than ever. There are no penitent tears so bitter as those of the saints.
Third, that whatever is indispensable to the remedial union of man with God must come from above. Nature has lost her power of recuperation. The will is like a bird whose wing is brokenit can no longer soar, but lies prone upon the earth, and will fly no more if some pitying hand heal not its hurt. "Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave Himself for us." He came down from above, and with Him came all the virtues of the sanctified life. They are a donation from the supernatural world; infused, not natural; not old qualities burnished up, but new qualities poured in, and both old and new so fused together that they operate as one principle of action. The ordinary natural virtues are acquired in the use of natural forces, but the virtues which are of grace do not have their fountain in us at all; they are, as it were, angels of God descending into receptive hearts to rule, purify, and perfect the baptismal life. With them comes sufficient grace for the needs of to-day, and with them, as a possibility, every degree of sanctity in this life, and the beatific vision in heaven at last.
IV.THE HELP OF GOD.
These three antecedent propositions do not lead to a conclusion very flattering to the pride of the natural heart; but there are other hearts to whom they are sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, for the simple reason that they accord with the truths of experience, and point the way to a state in which, by the alchemy of grace, the base metal of their nothingness is changed into precious gold. The conclusion to which they lead is that man's extremity is God's opportunity, and that the only remaining competence of nature is to seek His help.
The inability of man to restore the old order of union which was lost by sin once confessed, he must look to God, who wills not that any creature shall miss his end. This sense of sinking helplessly away from God puts an awful vehemence into the prayer for mercy and interposition, and happy is he whose prayers never lose that urgent tone! The priest who knows his need, "ever facing eastward amid the whirl of life," resolves to throw himself upon the arm of strength; and this he accomplishes when by intention and act he surrenders himself wholly into the custody of that arm.
There is nothing more beautiful in man, more pleasing to God, more fruitful of supernatural results, than the surrender of nature to grace. For when nature gives up its old contention, grace at once establishes the kingdom of heaven within; and the will, supernaturally strengthened, begins to repeat itself, so converting acts into habits, and bringing about self-abandonment as the predominant state of the will. Thus the soul acquires perfect confidence in God's wisdom and love, and a pure preference for Him above all thingsabove self, above cherished ties, above the most fascinating attractions of life. This is the triumph of faith, for it sees the invisible things to be the real things.
In this habit of self-abandonment, there is nothing against manhood, if the priest be really seeking God's help. Even in earthly affairs, men do not hesitate to commit their persons and most precious interests into the hands of other men. Duplicity and fraud do not put a quietus upon credit; men will still trust each other. It is intolerable the timidity souls show about committing themselves into the keeping of the only Truth, the only Love, the only Strength, as though He were deficient in wisdom or trustworthiness, or as though it would be to Him a pleasure to dishonor the faith of His children.
Nor is this entire abandonment either repugnant to the reason or debilitating to the will of the holy priest.
It does not work contrary to personality, but rather ennobles and invigorates it. Nor is it the death of the will, except as to its independent action, but it endows it with the life which it originally enjoyed, and restores it to that relation of union with God which its independent action severed. By no means does it end probation, but it increases the chances of final victory. It is not irrevocablesin may at any moment repeal the solemn vow. It does not justify any relaxation of other spiritual duties nor exempt from the conflicts of the Christian life. It is not the subtle arcanum of some mysterious cult. In its essence, nothing could be more simple, for it means no more than this, "I wish nothing but what God wishes; my will is dead."
Self-abandonment into the keeping hands of God is the highest act of homage which a creature can pay to his Creator. It is the perfection of human worship. It is the nearest approach man can make to the adoration of the angels.
It is simple obedience to the command, "My son, give Me thine heart."
What virtue could be more perfect an imitation of our Lord? It is the repetition of His Own act and words, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit."
By its very nature it is inconsistent with reservations. The holy priest cannot keep back part of the price, unless he wishes to vitiate the whole surrender. God will not accept the half of a throne.
The soul which has acquired this habit of submission makes nothing of the possible consequences. When he hands over his will to God, whose care is so paternal, whose consolations are as sweet as His disciplines are severe, he awaits with calm mind whatever God may ordain. In the surrender, he has made no terms, has asked no concessions, and now, if God wisely send trials and evils for the soul's profit, he takes what befalls him, as content with darkness as with light. It will sometimes be hard, very hard, to drink the bitter cup. It will appear as if no strength were left, and as if the will must succumb through the weakness of the flesh, but the tried heart remembers Gethsemane, and says the prayer that was offered there, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done."
Finally, this submission forbids a return to natural activitythat is, to independency upon God in the use of the powers of body, mind, and spirit. There is always a hidden force of treason in the heart seeking to win him over to the old renounced Adamic methods and miseries, and inviting him to act in his own strength; but he has learned that his strength is weakness and that a reversion to nature's resources can only involve him in misery and unrest. "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements?" For misery and unrest are the only reward with which nature can crown the treason of the soul.
It is evident from what has gone before that humility must be the foundation of every virtue and the real strength of a priest who would discharge the obligation of holiness.
"The world," that is, the great community of natural men, look at this enviable attainment with contempt, or, if they affect to speak in its praise, it is only as blind bards sing of the stars. Really, they do not love it, for they do not practise it; and how can they, without sacrificing their pride and conceit? Not practising it, they do not understand it. They cannot comprehend how a man can honestly deem himself entitled to a seat in "the lowest room;" how he can form the habit of esteeming all others better than himself; how he can look up to the most sinful and learn something from the very outcasts; how he can see nothing in them, according to their circumstances and opportunities, worse than he can see in himself, according to his. Judging one's self in the order of nature, humility seems to be unreasonable, strained, unmanlike. But, judging according to the order of grace, in which God takes the place which nature denies .Him, and man renounces the place which nature usurps, humility is the very queen of graces.
The holy priest dwelling much in the presence of God, which is the true school of humility, has learned a great lesson; he has learned that humility is to pride as "Hyperion to a satyr" and that humility is beautiful because it is truethat is, it sees and feels the state of man to be literally what it appears to be to the infallible Eye.
Humility may almost be said to be God's favorite among the virtues. How abundant are His appreciations of its beauty! And why does He admire humility? Because He abhors unreality, and humility is the opposite of pride, pride being the very essence of falseness, since it misrepresents the state of man as God sees him. All pride is of the nature of an overvaluation of one's selfit seeks to make us pass for a thousand times more than we are worth, an exaggeration without reason or justice. Vain-glory is an excessive desire to be praised and esteemed of others; covetousness is a greed of gaining more than self needs; lust is a desire for sinful self-gratification; anger is self's passionate resentment; gluttony is unrestricted self-indulgence; sloth is selfish fondness for inactivityand the end of all these is death. Let unbridled egoism have its way, and no room is left for God, nor has God any place for it save its own place. But a man's value is according to his humility. It is his humility which acknowledges that we are what we are, and that He is what He is, that He is All in all, and we as nothing before Him. Humility is truth.
Humility, more than any other spiritual virtue, brings with it the blessing of inward peace. The soul that no longer staggers under the burden of self-love walks softly before the Lord, and instinctively rises above vicissitudes. His is the serenity of pure faith, and all things work for his good. He is content to accept reverses, for he gets nothing that he has not deserved; whatever advancement comes to him is the gratuitous gift of mercy; and there is nothing that men know by the name of trouble so strong as to banish the quietness and confidence of his heart.
There is no mystery here. The reason why things ruffle, annoy, and anger, is not because others are hostile or unreasonable or mean or false, in word or deed, but because the nerve of pride is painfully sensitive to the least touch. But humility accepts every offence or injury without irritation, seeing it to be a just penalty for sin, and rejoicing in it as an occasion by which it can attest its love for God. The very peace of God rules in such a heart. The proud are "like the troubled sea when it cannot rest." Of humility it may be said, "Behold, I will extend to her peace like a river."
VI.WALKING IN THE STEPS OF CHRIST.
By humility, more than by any other grace, the holy priest walks in the blessed steps of his Master. "Learn of Me," said the Lord, "for I am meek and lowly of heart." Again, He said, "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." Which words, reflecting the very mind of heaven, set forth three points of utmost value.
1. Our Lord does not condemn inequalities of condition or position, for there are necessary distinctions in the spheres of domestic, civil, and religious life; nor does He frown upon an honorable ambition to quit one's self well in the fields of earthly effort. Spiritual lowliness is entirely practicable in the highest ranks of culture, wealth, or station. But our Lord does not regard any condition, high or low, as of intrinsic value irrespective of the possession of a humble spirit. The test of greatness, from His point of view, is a glad recognition of the fact that all men are equal as to the claims of charity, and that the law of brotherhood is universal which says, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ," in the spirit of unselfish and self-forgetful regard for their interests, without pride, vainglory, or hypocrisy. No man is truly great who is not the servant of his kind through love. Pride makes pigmies of the mightiest.
2. Our Lord is the exemplification of His law. Feeling within Himself the immeasurable force and joy of a meek and lowly heart, He would grave it on our minds that He, who is "the Son of man," the flower of humanity, the perfect expression of the Divine ideal of man, the incarnate Word who knew no sin, "dissolved, as it were, His greatness to reduce it to the form and figure of our littleness;" and took upon Him the form of a servant. He did that!
3. His exemplification of humility was to the intent that we might follow it, though in truth we can follow it only afar off. "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." "If I then your Lord and Master have washed your feet; ye ought also to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you."
It is, then, by humility chiefly that the holy priest can reproduce Christ in the world. He girds himself with the same towel which Jesus wore when He washed the disciples' feet. When pleasure tempts him to shirk or neglect duty, he remembers that "even Christ pleased not Himself." In the hour of unjust accusation, he thinks of whom it was written, "The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on Me." How holy is his opportunity to come into near fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, to bear the cross, to welcome privation, to make nothing of the penalties of not conforming to the world, to renounce every thing that would impede his work and labor of love, and never to regret his sacrifices! Who can describe the satisfaction that must flow from these close imitations of Christ, sharing with Him His views of life and His method of living, loving what He loved, and despising what He despised, preferring what He preferred, and honoring the Father whom He honored!
Without presuming upon his steadfastness, he strives to glow more and more with the love of his vocation, which calls on him to have the same mind which was in Christ Jesus, and although he may never have to meet the terrible opportunity so to humble himself as to "become obedient to death" for Christ's sake, he joyfully crucifies the suggestions of ambition, the sensitiveness of self-love, and the arrogance of pride. And O, the sweetness of his daily companionship with Jesus! His participation in the life of the Meek and Lowly One, how it turns impulse into serenity, and tones down asperities into gentleness! To maintain and increase his share in the humility of the Son of God, he willingly sacrifices gifts, endures disciplines, accepts sufferings, and counts his richest gain but loss if he may say of his will, It is dead! and of his life, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
When a priest finds how substantial are the joys of humility, it is not difficult to learn to love it. Where it repels others, it attracts him. He prefers to walk in the steps of Jesus who loved to abase Himself, and who endured the cross, despising the shame of it. To love humility in the presence of his Saviourit were hard not to love it; but he will not think the lowly lesson fully learned until he can honestly love humility in his relations with others, and increase his store of inward happiness by esteeming them to be better than himself, and by taking more pleasure in serving them than in receiving service from them.
O, that the "self-complacent intellectualism, fast losing itself in rationalism, agnosticism, and atheistic pessimism," which infects modern thought and weakens or blights the faith of many priests, might flee the "dank tarn" of nature, rise to the pure ether of a Christ-resembling spirituality, and give to the Church the needed blessing of a priesthood that shall exemplify lowliness of spirit and the "sweet reasonableness" of broken pride and conquered self-conceit!
VII.METHODS OF CULTIVATING HUMILITY.
As we study the life of a holy priest it becomes evident that his humility, of which he is so unconscious, came as to its human occasions by effort and conflict. Every virtue begins with infancy, and finds it a long way to manhood; but manhood can be reached only by growth, and growth by nourishment. It is necessary for nourishment (1), to think of humility as the very foundation of holiness; (2), to keep sleepless watch over self-love within; (3), to pray continually for self-abnegation; (4), to acquire a "holy hatred" of pride in all its many and insidious forms; (5), never to resent whatever may humiliate and give rebuke to conceit; (6), to take lessons from Him who was meek and lowly; (7), to train the senses, imagination, intellect, will, and memory, to perceive that in themselves they are naught and have nothing which they did not receive; (8), to love self-abasement, and to rejoice and be glad for everything which wounds or kills pride; (9), to rest in God rather than in His gifts, and to count honors, positions, esteem, praise, and expressions of approbation, as dangerous; (10), to accept censures and criticisms without resentment or retaliation; (11), to postpone judgment upon wrong-doers until we are calm and just; (12), to examine one's self daily for lapses through pride; (13), to inflict penances whose smart shall abase the will and humiliate the heart; (14), never to rest satisfied with feeling the need of humilityto watch, fight, and pray, until humility is felt; (15), to practise the presence of God.
VIII.ITS ATTENDANT BLESSINGS.
The grace of humility carries with it a train of attending blessings.
In such a priest the fires of irritability and anger are almost quenched. With self-importance, self-assertion takes its departure, and the strong and virile quality of meekness beautifies a character once disfigured by resentment. Sensitiveness allied with pride produced the vices of envy, jealousy and uncharitableness, but controlled by humility it now decorates and ennobles character. That arrogance of will which wished to domineer the world and which burst into rage if others would not bend their knee, now puts on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.
With meekness comes modesty, a grace both of the external and the internal man, showing its lowly beauty in every word and act, in demeanor and dress, in spirit and conduct. It speaks in his countenance, and tells of sensitive regard for the rights and happiness of others. It is an atmosphere which becomes almost palpable to the senses for its purity and sweetness.
It also promotes moderation in everything. It takes many years for some to ascertain their spiritual center of gravity. Their relapses are as impetuous as their conversions. They indulge in devotional extravagance, and are always verging on despair or soaring to the third heaven. These experiences are simply the vacillations of half-subdued pride. The humble heart will not desire undue stimulation and will not need excessive restraintits state is one of quiet equilibrium.
And hence of serenity. Holding his impetuosities in check, he rests calmly on God, for the secret of a well-contained and quiet spirit is with them that are of an humble heart. They are not exempt from trials, distractions, and temptations, neither do they desire to be, for they know that every thing which hurts helps, if they will; and so true is this that God often sends burdens for the medicinal value of them, and the grace of quietness, the habit of keeping an even balance of soul through perfect repose upon God, comes from the right use of these burdens. The same result follows a right use of duties when they are so numerous and so pressing that they almost crush to the earth.
Humility, as a supernatural grace, prepares the way for self-effacement, or, at least, puts the soul in love with that rare quality by which self is abased and God exalted. To those who have penetrated this territory, self-conceit becomes odious, resentment and revenge despicable, and enmity criminal. Eager desire for esteem or honor changes to indifference towards human applause. Sensitiveness quivers not at criticism. Ambition finds its motive and end in the glory of God. To be forgotten of men is not a fate painful to anticipatea bright enough future it is to hope for a nook in eternity where the quiet spirit can join the eternal song and add one little note to its resounding music.
But the supernatural graces that flow from humility, however contemptible from pride's point of view, carry with them no loss of strength. He is much more of a man who is afraid to do wrong than is he who is afraid to do right. Proud and self-assertive persons are found at the rear when the real battle is on spiritual warriors, "grac'd with a sword, but worthier of a fan!" Humility has gained its place in the soul by hard-earned victory on fierce battlefields. Its calm but strong simplicity suggests the meek heroism and fearlessness of the Lord. Indeed, it is the very spirit of Jesus infused into their hearts. "The boldness of Peter and John" after Pentecost fairly paralyzed the Sanhedrim; but they shrewdly divined its source when "they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." And the spirit of those noble heroes survived them. In the days of persecution the white-robed army of martyrs went up to God "in flame, and ecstacy, and seraph-song" and through, all the ages holy and humble men of heart have shown heroic fidelity to truth, zeal in duty, uncompromising devotion to God, boldness of utterance, and readiness to suffer for principle.
IX.INORDINATE AVERSION OR ATTACHMENTINDIFFERENCE.
The holy priest is thoroughly suspicious of his preferences and prejudices. Inordinate attachment to persons and things is as objectionable as unreasonable aversion to them, and he strives to control himself by the practice of indifference, the faculty of moral equilibrium, which is humility in action, charity without bias, and not unlike the benevolence of Him who loves because Himself is love, and who makes His sun to rise, and rain to fall, on the evil as well as on the good. Indifference does not justify insensibility or unconcernrather it regulates them; neither does it forbid that natural resolution of love into specific varieties, conjugal, parental, filial, etc., by which we are bound to exercise special qualities of affection; nor, further, does it forbid our attachment to the state of life whereunto it hath pleased God to call us, with all its duties and pleasures, without repining over its vexations and pains. Indifference is love for persons and things and places as they are, under control of justice, without undue preference or aversiona grace that can be acquired only by effort, and conserved only by vigilance and prayer.
If there is a duty which the priest specially enjoys or dislikes, or a person for whom he has a particular fancy or aversion, he should understand that danger is at hand. He cannot avoid admiring the good. God Himself observes that preference. But that is not the point. The dangerous preference or aversion exists by reason of something within himself, rather than of any quality of the person or thing. There appears to be an unaccountable element in it.
"I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell."
But the solution of the mystery involves inspection of himself rather than of Doctor Fell; and the search will quite certainly reveal a motive of wounded pride, or some reason of self-love, some rash judgment, some tenacity of opinion, some rankling resentment, or some partiality of taste. No danger in these seemingly involuntary likes and dislikes? There is a world of danger that these little foxes may gnaw to death the vine of charity which should trail its beautiful way up to the heart of God.
One of the peculiar temptations of the clergy is to indulge in harsh prejudice against those who differ in points of doctrine, polity, or ritual. Often have we known men, models of kindliness in other respects, who were intolerant and unreasonable towards those not of their own party, belief, opinion, or practice. How many pages of history has bigotry written with pen dipped in blood! How has the seamless robe of Christ been rent into hundreds of fragments by the devilish fingers of separatism! It is a question whether anything more strongly impedes the religious progress of many priests than ecclesiastical prejudice, and whether any pernicious fault is more difficult to overcome. It must, therefore, be a sure sign of holiness when the odium theologicum begins to hide its envenomed crest in the presence of divine charity.
It is only by sacred indifference that the priest can keep within him a just and equitable mind, recognizing every duty as honorable, not one too mean for his humility; and holding all men, and especially those whom he would otherwise hate or contemn, as brethren for whom Christ died.
To escape the penalties of any internal bias of like or dislike, the holy priest reverses the order which nature would observe, gives his preferences the effective snub, and compels himself to pay kindly homage to his antipathies, so fulfilling, though in a different sense, S. Paul's words: "What I would that do I not, but what I hate, that do I." There are, however, few victories on this field.
But it is a help to victory to avoid verbal expression of one's antipathies, and to make an act of self-contempt when one commits a breach of charity. Charity towards wrong-doers and contentment with things as they are generate a wonderful gift of silence; and reticence of expression persevered in will in due time cripple if not kill inward prejudice and discontent, provided other helps are used at the same time.
The holy priest illustrates the supernatural grace of patience.
He has made a full trial of impatience. At times oppressed by his incompetency as a worker with God, he fretfully cried aloud, "Who is sufficient for these things?" He lost courage because so little fruit was visible after all his planting and training. His soul was aflame with desire for men that he might win them to prayer and self-denial, and they would not. At times he has been submerged in despair at the perversion of Christian people to old wives' fables, and vain babblings, and systems that end in sensuality; and it seemed more than he could attain to, to behold the folly and the shame of it, and yet remain like God, patient and forbearing. Indeed, he almost impugned God's long-suffering as extreme"God hath forgotten; He hideth His face; He will never see it." Why, then, should he labor in vain, and spend his strength for naught?
Then how little fruit he gathered from all his efforts to be patient with those around him, not alone as to religious interests, but in daily intercourse with them; and how their perversity and ingratitude tempted him to cease his efforts!
The same result followed when, in his endeavors to rise to fellowship with God, he failed to practise patience towards himself in his self-disappointments and reversions.
At length there came to him the timely monition that he did not well to be impatient. He could quite properly be angry with himself, with others, with an irresponsive church and world, for anger is sometimes justifiable. Our Lord was angry ("when He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved with the hardness of their hearts, etc."), but at no time was He impatient. Righteous anger, aroused by wrong-doing, is high-minded, just, merciful. Impatience, excited by what does not please us irrespective of its moral quality, is fretful, intolerant, hasty, unreasonable. When analyzed, it is found to be nothing but the petulance of self-love.
In order to practise the patience of God, the priest trains himself to rest quietly in God, as the turbulent mob of worries and trials, torments and enmities, likes and dislikes, rushes by. God has borne with his lukewarmness, his formal prayers, his mechanical services, his ungenerous doubts, his moral cowardice, and why should he not patiently bear the faults of others? Why should he not be patient with himself? God did not expect much of him; why should he expect much of them or of himself? God can wait centuries for results; why should he be so fretful and eager?
In this, as in every exigency of his spiritual career, the priest perceives that the easiest way to acquire virtue is to study each virtue as it exists in the Divine Mature. And so he sits down quietly and thinks of God's patience.
How calm He is! on what serene heights He sits enthroned! with what infinite repose does He pour forth His incessant and universal energies! His is the scientia visionis, the immediate, intuitive, knowledge of all things, simultaneous, or by one act, for He is above time and space who made both, true for He cannot err, clear for darkness and light are both alike to Him, certain because infinite knowledge can neither doubt nor hesitate; and yet how calm He is! It is inexpressibly wonderful. Over the face of the earth, at this very moment, millions are doing evil, speaking evil, devising evil. Think of this and then reflect that the Infinite One is witness of the whole; and that since sin entered into the world, not one moment has passed, in which He has not seen every action, and heard every word, and been privy to every thought, every desire, every feeling. Why does He not break up the great deep to roll a second deluge over the guilty race? Why but for His long-suffering patience? Why but that "He sitteth between the Cherub in, be the earth never so unquiet," and with awful serenity purposeth by successive aeons of inexhaustible forbearance to defer judgment until mercy's mission is accomplished?
The holy priest is the happy priest. In accepting the entire consecration of His children, God loves a cheerful giver.
Joy is the very atmosphere of the universe. When God laid the foundations of the earth, the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy. When He laid the foundations of the Church, the angels sang, Gloria in excelsis Domino!
Joy is one of the Divine attributes. He is the blessed (makarioV=happy) and only potentate. He is without measure happy in Himself and because of Himself, for in Himself are infinite well-springs of joy. He cannot suffer for lack of anything which Himself cannot supply. He is all in all to Himself.
On the side of His relations to sinful man, there is a biblical representation of grief, repentance, and other limitations, but these expressions are intended to influence us through the imagination rather than to suggest any diminution of His unclouded beatitude. "Before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal"this is the symbol of that self-sufficiency and serene joy of God which S. John beheld from Patmos.
There is too little joy in the religious life of the priesthood. Celt and Saxon priests are deficient herein. Of other races, it is affirmed that they are models of cheerfulness, and more merry than melancholy. Of one who had great temptations and victories, it is written that his face was so joyous that it inspired with joy those who looked upon it. Of another it was said, "he was always cheerful and the center of cheerfulness to others." Another said, "there is one method of warding off all harm; it is to have the spiritual joy of a soul that is always thinking of God." Another has said: "No one is so amiable in the ordinary intercourse of life as a really devout man. He is simple, straightforward, open as the day, unpretentious, gentle, solid, and true; his conversation is pleasing and interesting; he can enter into all amusements; and he carries his condescending kindness and charity as far as possible, short of what is wrong. Whatever some persons may say, true devotion is never a melancholy thing, either for itself or for others. How should the man who continually enjoys the truest happiness, the only happiness, be ever sad? It is the inordinate passions of human nature which are sadavarice, ambition, love which is not sanctified by God and has not God for its chief end. And it is to divert themselves from the trouble and uneasiness which these passions cause the heart that men plunge themselves recklessly into pleasures and excesses, which they vary continually, but which weary the soul, without ever satisfying it." Or, it might be added, it is often a strained and puritanic conscience which produces the morbid melancholy so common among Christians.
This joy is not inconsistent with the sorrows of compunction. It is our duty to repent with broken hearts, to meditate with tears upon the Passion, to share the pang of the Holy Mother at the Cross. Such sorrows belong to the sacred category of which our Lord said, "Blessed are they that mourn." Such pains are akin to joy.
Joy is the legitimate result of a habitual surrender of the will to the good pleasure of God as it is represented by each and every event. Self-abandonment is in its essence the defeat of all enemies and the transfiguration of every form of sorrow. Burdens cast upon the Lord have no weight for man when his will is dead. All things as they come and go are the expression of divine wisdom, and this is the reason why this is the best possible world in which to prepare for a better. There is no room for sadness, but rather all room for good cheer and exulting joy when one is perfectly sure that all things are working together for his good, and that the true significance of every day's history is that wisdom and goodness are educating him for larger opportunities and nobler planes of being. Well may such an one be always singing. Well may he bless God for everything, so that even sin (for which alone God is not responsible save to control and overrule it), may well merge its miserere mei into O, felix culpa! and the conquered soul, subjugated to the dear will of God, may find joy in all things that happen.
In the broadest and deepest sense of the word, prayer is the communion of the soul with God the greatest of all the graces, save charity. Charity is the mainspring of prayer; and prayer may be simply love loving, without word, form, or attitude. No word, form, or attitude has any merit unless it be begun, continued, and ended in the love of God. There are different degrees of prayer, as there are different attainments in love; nor does the Hearer of prayer require all to rise to the seraphic height; but there is one thing which He does solemnly demand, and that isreality.
Reality is peculiarly essential to the higher walks of prayer. These are attainable only at the price of much mortification, especially of the interior kinda task of greatest difficulty, for it is easier to subdue sensuality than pride. But it is not an inconsiderable task to acquire and maintain the lowest degree of prayer, because nowhere is there a dispensation from reality. Prayer is such only when it is sincere, childlike, honest, real; but thinking it to be real does not make it sothe reality must be apparent to God who does not fail to honor it when He sees it. Therefore, the devout priest spends much time and strength in cultivating genuine relations with his Lord, and when his efforts are disappointing, as they must often be, he turns his back on the temptation to discouragement, and keeps on doing his best.
The essence of prayer, which is the abiding perception of the presence of the Father and filial communion with Him, does not diminish the need of vocal expression, or of acts of intercession and specific petition, but rather increases the desire to use them. What a beautiful scene of triumphant faith was the martyrdom of the deacon S. Stephen, a man "full of the Holy Ghost." After he had commended his spirit to the Lord Jesus, he knelt down amidst the cruel shower of stones, and interceded for his murderers, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!" And then he fell asleep. How much all the ages, how much you and I, owe to that prayer; for "si Stephanus non orasset ecclesia Paulum non haberet!" Intercessions, petitions, supplications, wrestlings, must not be disused. When these are laid aside, one should suspect the flight of the spirit of prayer rather than the acquisition of some high-flown gift of prayer.
Still, with the progress of the soul out of the elementary stages of prayer, for prayer is a development, there comes a change. Manuals are less valued, and complicated methods become useless or hindering. Mere vocal prayer, which we are taught to regard as an advance upon prayerlessness, he cannot consider as for him anything less than a mockery. The peculiar features of this maturity in prayer are: (1), its intense reality; and (2), its simplicity, or singleness of heart. Happy, thrice happy, the priest who can at length be to God as a little child indeed! It is much more to him than happinessit is immeasurable strengthit is a foregleam of the glory of final perfection of character in heaven. To God more precious than the most elaborate devotions is the prayer of the childlike, which, often without words, rests its whole self on His bosom.