The Holy Priest
Milwaukee, WI: The Young Churchman, 1899. 176 pp.
The Helps of Sanctity
ACCORDING to apostolic computation, present trials bear the relation to future rewards of a moment to eternity. S. Paul also gives us the truth that our troubles work for us (katergazetaiproduce as a final result) "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." They are, therefore, most efficient as helpers forward in the paths of holiness. But how many other advantages are on the side of him who resolves to aim at the end of his vocation! "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God."
I.THE MEANS OF GRACE.
THE obligation of "perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord" inspires the holy priest with courage to resist everything which would hinder his progress, viewing it as an enemy to be watched and fought down with contemptuous indignation; and the same obligation leads him to get all that can be got out of the means and methods by which the soul may gain the blessed end it aims at.
As to hindrances, their name is legion, but he recognizes them only to take up arms against them. He refuses with righteous contempt to succumb to the artifice of concealing a cold heart and worldly mind under the mask of devotion. He resists the attempts of the old life to hold him backa stern task, for a man is not only what he is, but what he has been; he sets his face like a flint against the propensity to excess in the use of things allowable; he despises the crafty inclination of his nature towards a mediocre standard of attainment, and with like contempt does he confess, while he resists, the temptation to professionalism; above all, he institutes lynx-eyed vigilance over himself, in the center of his soul, lest, through excess of self-love, he commit mortal sin.
As to helps, the Holy Ghost exhibits His gracious aid by objective means, as the sacraments of the Church, alms, prayer, fasting; and by subjective means, as faith, hope, charity, contrition, humility, self-denial. He fills the sacraments with the graces which they signify and convey, and blesses the right use of all external helps; while by the internal helps He educes the proper dispositions for the reception of grace and blessing.
The priest who hungers for grace will, therefore, seek it by the help of its vehicles; and everything depends upon the spirit in which he uses them. He must be earnest, constant, cautious, assiduous, diligent.
As in agriculture the plow-man must "open and break the clods of his ground," and "cast in the wheat and the barley and the rye in their place," and as the rain which cometh down from heaven and watereth the earth, giveth seed to the sower, so in religion it is the diligent soul that shall be made fat. And as the Lord of the natural forces lends His co-operation to man, going forth unto his work until the evening, so the Spirit of holiness worketh with and within those who address themselves assiduously to the God-pleasing cultivation of the interior life. We can do nothing without God; He will do nothing without us.
But the holy priest, while he avoids the wrong use of them, feels no timidity in the use of the external means. Because it is possible for hypocrisy to make them "a savour of death," they do not cease to be to him "a sweet savour of Christ." He might as well renounce the Scriptures because some wrest them "to their own destruction." He honors means because they are divinely appointed, or are approved by long use in the Church; because our Lord sanctified many of them by His own use of them; because they are appropriate to their end; because they have ever been blessed of God, and tenderly loved by His best servants.
Spiritual exercises prosecuted without the aid of the sacramental economy which makes the New Law more glorious than the Old, produce a type of devotion which, however sincere, is very uneven. Many current errors had their rise in the idea that media are superfluous, because the soul's access to God is direct. This modern form of mysticism has much to do with certain unwholesome religious developments, at this time; but it has no lineal connection with true mysticism. There is for those who find it an experience of a Being who is higher than means, who rises above our most exalted conceptions, "the Unknown God" in the sense that His fulness cannot be comprehended by thought or analogy, by reason or image; but in order to begin to apprehend this Being it was necessary to have and maintain instrumental help; and this the mystics of the historic Church have always taught with scarcely an exception, not even Molinos and Tauler. It was through the sacraments as through gates that open upon infinity that they emerged into the "awful dark" of Pure Godhood. Especially was it the incarnation which ushered them into that region of the incomprehensible. Jesus Christ was the light which shined "out of darkness," and by His light they soared upward to the limit of finite flight, until they reached the darkness from which He came forth. Now, since the incarnation was so necessary to them to secure what knowledge they had and to discover how much they could never know, we may assure ourselves that all the means and sacraments of the Church and the Church itself are of similar value, and as indispensable to the perfection of Christian character as the incarnation; for what are they but the products and virtual perpetuation of the incarnation? Whenever the sacraments are lightly esteemed, an Arian tendency will develop sooner or later, and the type of holiness which flows from the Incarnate Word will be supplanted by some form of naturalistic morality, or by a Christless mysticism.
At the same time the priest recognizes the possibility of the wrong use of helps. There is often present in the heart a persistent temptation to use means as if they were an end, and to lavish upon them the devotion which belongs to God. The fervor with which the sacraments are administered may survive the motives of spiritual loyalty, and the self-deceived heart may keep up an appearance of earnestness which is as mechanical as the movements of the body. Outward observances are vainly instrumental unless there is in them the union of the soul with God by "charity, which is the bond of perfectness."
Nevertheless, the greater hazards attend the sin of depreciation. For he that makes little of them expects little from them, and is given little; while he who puts much emphasis on them is in intimate contact with the very means by whose spiritual virtue only, he can be taught the law of sacramental perspective. A little table will always be only a little table to the mind prejudiced against the unbloody sacrifice; but the priest who stands at an altar gloriously bedecked will be borne onward by the beauty of things seen, to the antitypical splendor of things symbolized.
In his use of means the holy priest will have learned that all approaches to God are primarily acts of the will influenced by prevenient motives. The action of the will does not depend as to its integrity upon the excitation of the emotions, although the latter may and often does follow that action. Therefore he will not be disturbed by the absence of sensible devotion. He who truly loves God is quite willing to serve Him without reward, if such be the will of God.
He has no reason to depreciate the religious affections, but he has reasons for suspecting them as infallible tests of his spiritual condition.
1. Because it is impossible to distinguish between emotions aroused by natural causes and those produced by religious influences.
2. Because it is contrary to analogy to measure character by ebullitions of feeling.
3. Because the spiritual helps God has given operate according to the dispositions they meet in us, and very few there are whose dispositions tend to emotion in the discharge of habitual acts of duty. This is true of human as well as of Divine relations. We do not test our love for others so much by what we feel or say as by what we doa principle which our Lord enunciated when He said, "if a man love Me, he will keep My words."
4. Because the Holy Spirit often withdraws consolation and sweetness in order to develop the graces of naked faith and blind perseverance. In such a case the absence of sensible emotion betokens the nearer approach of the refiner of souls. He would teach the soul to prefer Him to His gifts.
It is admitted that the coldness of the feelings in prayer and in other duties of religion may proceed from sinful acts of omission or commission. Gloom and unrest and a sense of desertion are consequent upon derelictions of the will.
The thick curtain of the Father's displeasure is drawn over the windows of the soul, and He leaves it to grope in its native darkness, until the self-asserting will breaks down into contrition, and weeps itself back into the presence of absolving Love.
All strength, all safety lies in the vigilance and loyalty of the will, which should never knowingly displease the Father, and which in the twilight of discipline or the midnight of desertion, shall still strongly protest, "though He slay me yet will I trust in Him."
Then it ought to be considered that our perception of God's presence is less to be valued than our conviction that He is present. A holy writer speaks of Him as one who looks through a lattice and sees clearly, while we only have a glimpse of Him. It is a great thing to have a glimpse of the King in His beauty, but it is a greater to know that He sees us with constant vision unimpeded, knows our needs, pities our infirmities, watches over our lives and even opens the lattice a little Avider, as the years roll on, that we may see more of Him.
The holy priest loves and finds great help in solitude, or the state of being withdrawn from society, or companionship.
Why does he love it?
Certainly not because solitude is attractive or profitable in itself. Man is a social being, and it is not good for him to be alone. Certainly not because he may happen to have an aversion to society, which would not only be selfish in him, but contrary to the nature of his mission.
He loves it because in solitude he is better able to collect or concentrate his faculties, and it is by recollection that the soul separates itself unto the fellowship of God. He withdraws from others (things as well as persons), that they may become less, and God more, to him. Many a good man, meaning to be better, has lost ground through entanglement in affairs or too much absorption in earthly duty; and even duty which is distinctly religious may be so zealously done that the mind becomes more intent upon the service than upon the Master for whom it is done.
To neutralize this weakness, he needs to repress the feeling that he ought to be busy about some external thing every moment; and then he needs to go away into silence and solitude. There the causes of distraction are not so immediate, the senses are less vivacious, and "sensations" are like "ships that pass in the night."
The holy priest loves to be alone with God because he has learned that God loves to be alone with him. "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him." His delights are with the children of men. By an infinite and marvellous condescension, He enters the door of a receptive soul, and makes His abode there. This is that inner manifestation to the individual which our Lord promised to love and obedience, more to be desired than any earthly affection or treasure, without which it were vain to hope for abiding peace (S. John xiv. 23.)
Aloneness with God is retirement but not inactivity. The nearer the soul approaches the Ineffable Presence, the more distinctly do God's incessant activities stand revealed. Without weariness, effort, or exhaustion, He fills the universe of matter and mind with the awful outpouring of His energies, and sustains all life and movement. The necessary effect of spiritual communion with Infinite Activity is the acquisition in some measure of that union of operation and tranquillity which characterizes the nature of God.
Frequent periods of solitude with God facilitate the perception of the presence of God at all times and in all places. It is of great importance to one who would sanctify all his actions, habitually, to be able as quick as thought to fall back upon Him who compasses our path and is acquainted with all our ways. Is it strange that so many of us lead unsatisfactory lives, when we make Him as if He were in a far country to be reached only by long journeys at long intervals?
The holy priest will have acquired a recollected spirit only at great expense, but he knew too well the value of the grace to haggle over the cost of it.
Recollection is preceded by withdrawal and surrenderspiritual withdrawal from all things, and surrender to the magnetism of God's presence. But how difficult! Try, if you can turn your mind away and concentrate it wholly upon God for two minutes! O, IIOAV much toil and how many disappointments await you!
Nor is this difficulty such a marvellous thing. We have only to turn to the past to find the solution. Year after year, we have been absorbed in secondary duties, or in pleasures, or in sins, or in all these, and the wild whirl of life has carried us away from steadfast waiting upon God.
Often have we refrained from prayer on frivolous pretexts. We have never put our minds into meditation with as much force as into business or studies. If we have shown pluck and perseverance, it has been on earthly lines. Now the outcome of all this has been positive mental as well as spiritual debility in approaching God, and the lack of power to gather our faculties into one focus of prayer has become a habit, a kind of second nature grown up within us, for disuse as well as use "cloth breed a habit in a man." This is the task, then, to break up this habit and supplant it by the habit of recollection.
But the oratory in the breast is long in building. The foundations have to be laid in the subsoil of humility. The walls must go up in silence, and the trusses spread without the sound of hammer, and many a day will it take to paint the windows and decorate the ceilings. Often the soul will be tempted to despair of concentration, distractions will show the persistent malice of devils, and self-love will offer its dire competition with the love of God. But, after awhile, there will come a strange simplicity of rest in Him, and the serenity of heaven will nestle within the heart.
And yet, strange to say! this holy equipoise of the soul will have been acquired, not by the extinction of distractions, but by victory over them. A priest cannot literally withdraw from them, even in retreat, because they will not withdraw from him. Most priests are sent to live in the midst of a busy world, and to be about the Master's business there. What a clatter of telephones and door-bells! What showers of letters! What a caravan of visitors! What a whirl of duties! Is it possible to maintain recollection and serenity in such an environment? Of one holy priest it is written: "There is a singular sense of repose as we dwell upon his history. The turmoil of Church politics, the manifold engrossments and occupations of his office, literary, spiritual, and administrative, never seemed to disturb the calm, steadfast bent of his soul, or that clear current of his life which swept onward, like a deep river towards the sea, straight for Paradise."
What was possible for one ought to be possible for others, and would be for all if all should accept distractions as an incidental part of their vocation. If they are permitted to occur while the priest is serving God, he must not complain, but rather rejoice; not lose patience, but rather welcome them as he would any other form of trial. He that is distracted from God by the distractions of God's service must be a weak servant indeed. But if he accept them as a matter of course, on the principle that everything that hurts helps, he may convert them into means of grace and instruments of praise. The worry of the whirl will be thereby diminished and in time neutralized, so that under any circumstance the mind will be as self-contained and calm as a great general's on the field of battle. The telephone ceases to distract when one makes a benedicite of its frequent clamorO, ye bells, bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him forever! God has given the humble heart this power to clothe everything with the garments of praise, and to compel the most perverse events to sing Te Deum; but it is an art to learn to do it, and one must persevere.
V.ORDINARY ACTIONS AS MEANS OF HELP.
There are great stores of help for an earnest priest in his spiritual use of the ordinary actions of life. It has been wisely said that perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Many persons associate the Divine Being only with religious ordinances, with great perils, with special needs or emergencies, as though the minor events and trivial experiences of their daily life did not fall within the jurisdiction of Him to whom nothing is great, nothing small. In His sight, there is no such difference of dimension between a mountain and a grain of sand that He should make more of one than of the other. He is quite as present in the customary routines as in the great exigencies, and bestows His equal blessing in the one as in the other.
Behind every action, however ordinary, there is a grace awaiting its proper performance. The more strongly the will takes hold upon the relation of God to ordinary actions, the more sanctifying do these little sacraments become. Lavish, generous, unbounded confidence in Him wherever He is (and where is He not?) calls down His sweetest and strongest blessings.
The holy priest, therefore, uses the utmost fidelity in offering up his common actions to God. With a devotion as sincere as that which he feels when he offers the Holy Sacrifice, he throws his intention into everything that he does. All belongs to God, in His strength all is done, and if, by reason of the infirmity of the creature, a distinct oblation does not accompany each distinct act, he may, day by day, offer a general intention that all he may do shall be to the glory of God, not thereby, however, excusing himself from frequent specific oblations. A pure intention is a delicate flower, easily withered, and it must be often watered.
VI.THEY PROTECT FROM MANY FOES.
His ordinary actions being habitually associated with God, the holy priest thereby protects himself from many foes.
The constant recurrence of a particular duty often begets repugnance. Clock-like regularity wearies, and the mind longs for a change. It is a sign of weakness to grow languid in the discharge of recognized obligations; and who is not weak? who has not felt this loss of heart and interest? who has not deplored his tepidity with many murmurs of conscience? There is no stimulus more effective than a fresh consecration of every action to God; and this is the daily habit of the faithful priest.
1. Most persons have some form of intemperance, some excessive indulgence of an appetite. He that is controlled as to drinking is likely to pass bounds as to smoking. Others curb these indulgences only to practise intemperance at the table. An immoderate license granted any appetite is fatal to spiritual growth, and must involve the conscience in many sorrows. Probably more priests have sunk to the lowest levels of religious life for this cause than for any other; souls predestinated to reach the highest walks of sanctity wrecking their vocation for wretched sensuality's sake! O, that they had trained themselves to sanctify all their actions to God, and to offer up all their pleasures as a pure oblation! It is necessary that priests train themselves in the school of indifference, so as to deem nothing so necessary as peace of conscience, nothing too good to be given up, nothing to be desired overmuch, nothing "to be sought for inordinately; for nothing save what has the stamp of heaven on it has any right to our preference. He who lives under the control of this spirit of indifference makes little of bodily ease and indulgence, because he dare not unite God with excess nor ask Him to smile upon the perversion of His gifts. He can eat and drink to the glory of God, only as, at any cost, he restrains himself within the limits of moderation.
2. He who uses the gift of speech to the glory of God insures himself against its perils. Much intercourse with God leaves the heart indisposed to overmuch talk with men. On the other hand, the garrulous tongue is fatal to self-control and stops growth in the higher virtues.
3. Nothing is more effective to neutralize outbursts of temper than the sanctification of every passion.
4. Recreation will be controlled, sensible, natural, helpful, if it is associated, by oblation, with the joy of God.
VII.HOW TO KNOW THE WILL OF GOD.
It is the choice and joy of a holy priest always to have a mind to do or suffer the will of God without reserve or hesitation, without complaint or doubtfulness, wherever and whenever that will is made known to him. This generous abandonment of himself to the will of God relieves him from many of those vexations which fall to the lot of persons who permit self-love or self-will to sit in judgment on difficult questions of conscience.
In general terms, he believes that the will of God is expressed by everything but sin. He, therefore, turns away with horror from the conclusions of the pessimist, who sees everything branded with the mark of malevolence. Man alone is responsible for sin and its fruits; his own free will has done him this despite. But in the whole wide realm of the universe, nothing else can be or happen that is not directly or indirectly a revelation of the purposes and preferences of the Divine mind; and to crown this proposition, he believes that all things work together for good to them that love God. To have a right judgment in all things is not a mysteryit is simply to be able to discern the will of God in them.
But it is not always plain sailing on the seas of Providence. Divergent courses confront one, the right choice being beyond the sagacity of the most devout mind. Where shall he find wisdom and guidance?
1. There is inexpressible relief in spreading out before God his ignorance and uncertainty, and praying for promised light. "In Thy light shall we see light."
2. He will not hesitate to avail himself of the counsels of God's servants who have long studied God's ways and possess love and wisdom to direct others.
3. He is, moreover, quick to infer that the path of duty is most likely to be that which ministers least to self-love or the indulgence of the flesh.
4. He has another help in the honest bias of a prayerful conscience, and still another in his acceptance beforehand of any ill consequence which may be the penalty of an error of judgment, for God often makes the mistakes of men to praise Him and restrains their power to do mischief.
But the holy priest is not seriously embarrassed by the riddles of casuistry. Their solution is less difficult than obedience. He knows that it is more easy to find out the will of God than to have a glad mind and heart to do it, which is his heart's fond desire.
VIII.LIMITS OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE.
If there is great help in acquiring Christian character from knowledge of one's self, there is help also in realizing that we can never know self perfectly.
In his surrender to the keeping hands of God, the holy priest renounces the fond illusion that there are no depths and mysteries of self-love within him which are beyond his knowledge. He may have died to every evil practice of an external kind, may have attained great perfection in prayer, may have learned to love crosses and humility, may have subdued the passions of the flesh, may have acquired a taste for silence and solitude, may have grown to much conscious love for God; but over against that is the unpleasant fact that his selfhood holds in reserve, spite of his will and his wish, possibilities of assertion against God and of indulgence in sin which are sleeplessly watching for occasion to flash into action. "O, my God!" he exclaims, "I write bitter things against myself, but alas! they are true." He thought he was in charity with all men, but some little offence lashes him into a storm of anger. He was making some upward progress towards humility, and suddenly something happens and he feels within him a hard, cold heart of pride. Passions which he trusted were dead, lie discovers to have been only sleeping dogs. Quick as electricity, his tongue betrays him and he has uttered a word that was unkind and unjust. And then, O, what disappointments in himself! what midnights of remorse! what agonies of self-contempt! what temptations to despair! Most of the spiritual dereliction of priests is probably due to discouragement, resulting from the shock of disappointment at finding the malignity and persistence of evil still crouching in the most secret recesses of the heart. O, it is so terrible to seem to have labored and fought and prayed for naught! Can it be that the craving for righteousness was a dream of unattainable beauty? Has God forgotten to be gracious? or is He so solicitous as we thought Him to be that the ministry should rise above conventional standards?
Such results are sad enough, but, what is worse, they are inexcusable, because they ought to have been foreseen. The mysterious lairs of self-love should have been taken into account, and then the priest would not have been surprised at the leap of the tiger. How could he have failed to notice the effect of praise and flattery on his self-esteem ? When he heard a person praised against whom he had a prejudice, or when he did not get notice and consideration, or when another of whom he was jealous surpassed him, or when his good was evil spoken of, or when he heard that he had been "picked to pieces" by censorious critics, how did his precious little stock of presumed humility evaporate, and the cold iron heart of self-love spring up into rigorous activity! With the evil possibility in his soul's depths, deeper than the reach of his will, he should have expected it to assert itself. Surprise is only another sign of the evil, for it is the pride of one who thought himself beyond falling; whereas, if there is room for surprise, it should be that he did not fall sooner and farther.
Such surprises and disappointments flow from a wrong conception of the processes of sanctification. The experience of S. Paul has repeated itself in his brethren of all ages, and its principle lies at the very foundation of the life of holiness. No man has sought perfect conformity with God's will more generously and diligently than he, or at greater expense. He suffered the loss of all things, and put a contemptuous value on his loss, "for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord," with the aim of gaining "the righteousness which is of God by faith;" but he had acquired such knowledge of himself that he saw the risk of failure, and therefore discovered and embraced this principle of spiritual growth, "not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
The lessons of disappointment indicate this principle as one never to be forgotten, and should teach the soul not to trust to its self-knowledge, nor to be over-sanguine as to its progress, nor to presume upon its power of recuperation; but, on the contrary, to be always more actively trusting in God by whose power alone this indwelling remainder of corruption, this deeply rooted pride and love of self, shall, after the final triumph of disciplines here and hereafter, be entirely uprooted, and Christ formed within him. O, Saviour, most watchful of souls, take us into Thy keeping, now and forever!
"Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My path of life attend;
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey's end."
But the earnest priest will not intermit his struggles and devotions. lie truly trusts in God who obeys the injunctions of God, and nothing this side of the divine help is more fundamental than that those who would be kept of God shall keep on working like beavers.
IX.THE COUNSELS OF PERFECTION.
The holy priest appreciates the helpfulness as well of the counsels as of the precepts of Christ. All of his efforts are directed towards a literal compliance with the precepts, which are of universal obligation, and especially with the law of perfection which our Lord laid down for all of His disciples"Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Love is the fulfilling of this lawlove for God and love for mankind, love, the queen of all the virtues.
But there is another pathway to perfection, which is not anotheronly that there is a difference between those who seek perfection by the precepts alone and those who seek it by the precepts and the counsels. The devotee of the counsels seeks to conform himself literally to the external conditions of the earthly life of Jesus Christ as well as to His interior mind, and to this he pledges himself by a vow. He seeks perfection by the precepts, obeyed in love, plus the profession and practice of actual poverty, of virginal chastity in body and soul, and of implicit obedience to visible rule and authority.
Now, although the holy priest may not think himself called to this separated life, in community with others, nor, perhaps, adapted to it, he feels himself free to enter into its spirit and to practise its privileges, so far as his state of life will allow, in order that he may increase in holiness; and, moreover, to cultivate the dispositions which would impel him to fall into it with alacrity in case Providence and Grace should concur in calling him to itnot a probable contingency, however, in these days. While it is true that his mission is in the world, he has learned the art of being in the world yet not of it, according to that prayer of the Lord, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
As to the counsels of perfection:
1. He may not strip himself of every thing which he calls his own, nor renounce control of his earthly possessions, nor bind himself not to add to them or accept gifts, but he can confine himself within very narrow limits as to the use of them for his own benefit, using only what is necessary, interpreting his needs very stringently, and supplying them without enthusiasm. He may hold millions in his own name (a dubious blessingGod pity him!), but if he has risen above the deceitfulness of riches by a heroic struggle, and attained perfect detachment of spirit, for him is the blessing"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
2. The law of charity is of universal obligation, whether it is applied to the estate of marriage, which is declared to be an honorable one if its bed be undefiled, or to the estate of celibacy, in which our Lord lived His pure and stainless life. There is no state and no duty in which any are exempt from possessing their vessels in sanctification and honor, not in the lust of concupiscence, and from knowing how to do so; for God hath not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness.
This delicate virtue must be protected at the cost of a right eye or a right hand, else will horrible judgments ensue. And the chastity of the heart must be as sternly preserved as the members must be yielded instruments of righteousness unto God; for our Lord has distinctly taught that the loc k of desire is in turpitude the equivalent of the overt act.
All things are unto an end, and purity will not dishonor the uses which God has appointed. But whatever may be his state, every man is bound to put an iron bit in the mouth of physical nature, and drive it often and far over the stony highways of continence. Chastity is like a lamb among lions, and must be shielded at any cost. Sometimes it can be better befriended by flight than by battle. It must ever be kept in mind, moreover, that the senses are like dogsthey must be scourged before they will obey. He who loves chastity will love the smarts of discipline whereby the rebellions of the flesh against the spirit may be hindered. But those weak souls who resent discipline and give themselves over to excess, how can they live in the company of Jesus and His Virgin Mother? how can they be saved? what part have they in the blessing, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"?
3. Obedience in the life of those who observe the evangelical counsels is the voluntary vow of conformity with the will of another as to God. It is evident that the virtue of it lies in its voluntariness, for it would have no merit if enforced. Now, is it not practicable for a priest to practise this most necessary of virtues by freely choosing to submit himself to some visible authority? There may be a practical difficulty in finding a proper superior, but the humbled heart of a holy priest will search till he find a yoke to bear and a will to guide and govern, of which he can say, It is not my will, but I make it mine! The sure path to implicit trust in the will of God is to take the rule of some good man's will. To him shall pertain the blessing, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
The grace of self-abandonment produces the practical effect of self-denial. No longer his own, the holy priest refuses himself all that God has forbidden, or that his conscience condemns as wrong, or, for him, inexpedient. Mortification may, therefore, be considered as a help and means of progress.
The Christian doctrine of the death of self, however impracticable it may seem to those who are spiritually immature, is simply fundamental to the religion which Jesus Christ established and exemplified. He Himself stated its principle when He said, "except a grain of corn fall into the earth, and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." What a contrast between wheat stored in an elevator and the wheat which has been buried in the soil! In one case, "it abideth alone" and would remain as it is if it were to sleep for centuries, like the grain of Pompeii; but the wheat that dies in the earth suffers a wondrous change into "the body that shall be" and reproduces itself an hundredfold. Then our Lord comments on His illustration by adding: "He that loveth his life, shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world, shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there shall My servant be; if any man serve Me, him will My Father honour." And in another place, He says: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." The apostolic writings resound with echoes of our Saviour's words. S. Paul says to the Colossians, mortify (nekrwsate =make corpses of) your members which are upon the earth." "Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." And to the Romans; "Reckon ye yourselves to be dead (nekrouV=corpses) unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." "If ye through the Spirit do mortify to death) the deeds of the body (i. e., the evil influence of its unregulated passions and appetites upon the soul), ye shall live." And to the Corinthians: "But I keep under my body (qanatoute)=bring it into subjection by discipline), lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
This is a lesson, most necessary to be brought to the front. We owe positively nothing to the old nature which we derived from Adam the first; "we are debtors not to the flesh to live after the flesh." In surrendering to God we have cancelled all of its claims, have repudiated the old order of self-indulgence, and have sworn allegiance to the life of crucifixion. On the other hand, we owe much to the Spirit, even to live after the Spirit, and unless we are in the daily way of paying something on that debt, how shall we hope to gain the life that is found by losing it?
Mortification is the habitual denial to himself, for the love of God, of everything that one's lower nature eagerly inclines to, and the acceptance of all that nature would dislike or reject; and it applies to small matters quite as much as to great.
It is of two kinds: (1). That which is of obligation. A Christian is a man who has put himself under bonds to die to everything which God has forbidden, everything that is in itself sinful, everything which the sanctified common-sense of the Church has condemned. (2). That which is voluntary; and this applies to things lawful, or indifferent, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, recreation, conversation, etc.
Mortification may likewise be considered as: (1), corporal, pertaining to things exterior, and material; and (2), spiritual, pertaining to the interior life. But nothing could be more futile than self-denial in outward things without the spur and strength of spiritual motives. Perhaps the violence done to proportion by excessive outward asceticism has occasioned the reaction to self-indulgence which impairs the force, nerve, and courage of many Christians, reducing them to a condition of moral impotence. To a discipleship which makes nothing of its obligation to take up the cross daily, the cross of Christ will soon become foolishness. They only are wise who seek their crosses, nor will they have to go far to find them, little and large, within and without.
Mortification should also be considered as having its opportunities: (1), in the sovereign decrees of Providence, as the misfortunes, discomforts, and trials which come upon us; and (2), in deprivations and severities which have their rise in our own determinations, as when we punish ourselves for sins of omission or commission, which is what we ought to do secretly every day.
Exterior self-denial has its place and value, and ought to be more common than it is. It is possible to regulate the spiritual by the pains of the physical. But there is an enemy within which should be mortified by direct assault; it is that taint and disorder of the soul which is called self-love. Sin began when the love of God was supplanted by the love of self, and the beginning of holiness takes place when the lost motive begins to predominate once more. But the new life must build itself on the ruins of the old. The old must be slain, though it take long to do it, and it will die if we daily assault it with the sword of mortification.
Hence it is of the greatest importance that those who would subdue this enemy shall take account with watchful eyes of their natural inclinations, their predominant faults, their likes and dislikes, their sensitive spots, their pleasures of sense, because they may be certain that they shall thus discover the hiding-place of the foe. But even then they must consider that he is as subtle as inveterate, and can transform himself into an angel of light. There is only one infallible test by which to uncover his whereaboutsgive him a cross to carry!
There is no abiding pleasure consequent upon self-indulgence. It is the nature of satiation to pall the appetite; but mortification is prolific of lasting joys.
It is, first of all, a great spiritual advantage (and to a spiritual priest it is greater than any other blessing) to walk with his Lord in the pathways of self-denial. It is by "the fellowship of His sufferings" that he is made "conformable to His death." Moreover, in walking with Christ through the valleys of discipline, he is obeying the command of Christ, and in the same moment he supplies the sacred heart with sweetest consolationa form of reparation most acceptable to Him whose disciples in the hour of His bitter doomone betrayed Him with a kiss, one denied Him, and all fled from Him as He was dying.
Mortification brings with it also the advantage that nothing so tends to repress remaining corruption, and expel its vicious tendencies. The old Adam cannot endure the sign of the cross. On the other hand, it fosters faith and infuses courage; it is prolific of humility; it is the very best school in which to learn to pray; the songs it teaches the soul to sing in the midst of the fiery furnace may be more pleasing to Christ than the music the unfallen angels offer; it is the subjugation of the flesh to the spirit, and converts its enmity into a help to progress.
There is nothing more effective in preventing lapses or in restoring the soul to peace. He who feels the vise and grip of sin upon his will can sever its grasp with one blow of the sword of discipline.
And he who has learned to die to the fleshy mind, and to treat all his low and evil inclinations as "corpses," has by this very lesson prepared himself for that form of dying of which man has but one experiencethat hour when the body sinks to pallid death and the soul takes her flight to another world.
In order to get the blessings that flow from the art of dying to self, the holy priest has found immeasurable help in specific prayer for it; and surely the Crucified One must have peculiar regard for such petitions.
He has also trained himself to avow his adherence to the standard of the cross, choosing and choosing daily to be the partisan of the new, spiritual, and heavenly nature, rather than of the old nature that is earthly, selfish, animal; delighting in the law of God after the inward man, and appealing to the great Captain for deliverance from this body of death.
He practises self-contradiction in things lawful, for wholesome benefit not only, but because thereby he makes it less difficult to deny himself in forbidden things. The same is true with respect to venial faults. To withstand them face to face prepares him for severer conflicts, and it is also true that though not intrinsically heinous they are perilous, it being a facile descent from little faults to the greatest.
In doubtful cases he will not reach hasty decision, but will always determine to give the new nature the benefit of the doubt and prefer what Jesus would have preferred. Also he will, in innocent gratifications, incline to the minimum, rather than incur the danger of intemperance, and he will use things agreeable with reference rather to necessary use than to the delights of the senses.
XII.THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.
The more closely a God-fearing priest devotes himself to the attainment of holiness, the more cheer and help does he get from "the communion of saints," not only as an attractive truth, but as a source of spiritual strength. It must needs be that the more surrendered and reverently near to the Head he becomes, the more real and precious must be the mystic bond of unity which makes all christened men one in Christ, wherever they may be. It is a great inspiration to one who is engaged in a severe and long conflictalthough the conflict may supply in itself a compensation of joy and peaceto feel a sense of fellowship with all who are fighting on the same battlefields; and still more sustaining is the thought that he is not only not a solitary pilgrim on the way to the city of God, but that he is compassed about with a cloud of witnesses, his forerunners in faith, who have reached the end of their pilgrimage, and watch his progress with prayer, love, and blessing.
The unifying principle is the common sacramental bond, productive of common participation in Christ's love and common exercise of love for Him. The limitations of the individual, in the order of nature, are analogous to those in the order of grace, and in each case association increases the possibilities of individual achievement.
The strength of this strength of fraternity lies chiefly in the fellowship of all with Christ, who is the Head over all things to the Church, the fulness (plhrwma==the complete development) of Him that filleth all in all. From Him proceed all the blessings of the household of God. These are community blessings. Not in little individual cells do the faithful reside, but in a house of apostolic foundation, of which Jesus Christ is the chief corner-stone, "in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, in whom ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Christ, "of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named," represents them in His continual intercession, pleading that they may "be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man," that they may grow in the practice of the interior life, and that they may "know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge," and "be filled with all the fulness of God."
The immeasurable attraction of the Son of God as He revealed Himself to them under the relation of a family head met an immediate response from the first Christians, for "all that believed were together." Indeed, they were drawn into such intimate fellowship that even as to earthly possessions they had all things common. This phase of their associated life did not survive the test of experiment, but the spirit of unity which inspired them, even in their mistakes, was imperishable. It has had continual influence upon Christian people in their individual and collective capacities through all the ages, and it is asserting itself in the present age in the desire to lift the curse of separatism and bring in the time when they all shall be one. To hasten that day, individualism must desert its solitary pillar and come down to find its best life and hope in an unbroken Catholic fellowship* Men who deplore the loss of unity as an economic calamity, should consider that it is worse than that as an obstruction to spiritual light and growth, and that the individual who justifies separatism measurably reduces his possibilities of holiness.
To get help from "the communion of saints," the devout priest will consider that he has an indefeasible interest in the prayers, alms, and fasts of the whole Church of God. He feels strong in their strength. He knows that in every private oratory he is remembered, and that at every altar the holy atonement is held up between him and his God. When sorrow burdens his heart or sickness his body, he casts himself on the sympathies of all his fellow sufferers, with assurance that through their faith Christ will bless him. In moments of irresolution or doubt, or when he is tempted to despair, he thinks of his brethren near the throne who overcame and gained the victory. In every experience and exigency, the sense of inclusion in the vast company of the saints in all worlds, ministers courage, resolution, and hope; and at the same time stimulates him to answer back the sweetness of their sympathy by prayers and labors, into which he puts the intention of their good. He prays for "the good estate of the Catholic Church." He beseeches God to have mercy upon all men. He remembers every deacon, every brother priest, every bishop, every member of Christ, and his heart melts with brotherly love as he swings the censer of prayer before the throne. As he stands at the altar, what reverent multitudes of kindred spirits gather about him, and how tenderly does he bear upon his heart the eternal welfare of his brethren who have departed this life in the faith and fear of Christ; arid what intense sympathy agitates his breast as he prays for his fellow-servants still here who "are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity!"
But there is a wider scope of unity than this. For the universe of spirit is crowded with uncountable races or orders of angelic beings, who, if they have escaped the abuse of free will, are not so ignorant of the joys of redemption but that they can appreciate the glory of love which prompted the Incarnation, and can gladly "minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." Sharing not either our shame or need, they make common cause with us in all our battles with hindrances and all our struggles for help; and how joyfully, too, they join with the whole Church of God, as, in the approach to the climax of the Eucharist, she sings, "Therefore, with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name; evermore praising Thee and saying, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory, Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High."