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ST EPHREM THE SYRIAN

ST EPHREM THE SYRIAN

ST EPHREM THE SYRIAN; DEACON, CONFESSOR, AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH – MEMORIAL: JUNE 9

Ephrem was of Syrian descent and the son of a citizen of Nisibis. While yet a young man, he went to the holy Bishop James, by whom he was baptised. In a short while, he made such progress in holiness and learning that he was appointed teacher of a flourishing school at Nisibis, a Mesopotamian city. He was ordained deacon of the Church of Edessa, and refusing the priesthood out of humility, he was conspicuous with the splendour of every virtue and strove to acquire piety and religion by professing true wisdom.

HE WAS CONSPICUOUS WITH THE SPLENDOUR OF EVERY VIRTUE

His works, taken as a whole, are so infused with the bright light of his learning, that this holy man, even while yet living, was held in great honour and even considered a Doctor of the Church. He was noted, above all, for his great and tender devotion to the Immaculate Virgin. Full of merits, he died at Edessa in Mesopotamia on the fourteenth of the Calends of July [373], in the reign of Valens. Pope Benedict XV declared him, by a decree of the Congregation of Sacred Rites, to be a Doctor of the Universal Church.

PRAYER:

O God, who willed to enlighten your Church by the wondrous learning and glorious merits of the life of blessed Ephrem, your Confessor and Doctor, we humbly pray you that, by his pleading, you will shield her with your lasting power against the snares of error and evil. Through our Lord…

– From: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964 [bold headings added]

 

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THE QUICKEST METHOD OF EMPTYING ONESELF OF “SELF”

THE QUICKEST METHOD OF EMPTYING ONESELF OF “SELF”

MARY’S ARMY

Previous chapter: WITHOUT HUMILITY, LIKENESS TO MARY IS IMPOSSIBLE

HOLINESS THROUGH MARY

As an Army of Mary, we are engaged in the battle for souls. The first battle begins in our own soul, and it is the battle against pride and self. It never ceases, no matter how exhausting it is.

To the end of his earthly life, the Child of Mary strives to conquer the root of evil within himself, ever purifying his intention more and more. Unaided, he is quite unable to succeed in even this first battle. So he leans on Mary with complete trust. He soon learns that the quickest method of emptying himself of self and filling himself with God, is through true devotion to Mary.

Our dependence on God’s grace

United with Mary, we rid ourselves of self-exultation. In Mary, we see the Mirror of Justice endowed with unbounded power in the realms of grace.

The perfect purity of intention exemplified in Mary drives from the soul of the Child of Mary any feelings of smug self I satisfaction and any desire for self-advancement. He works only that God may triumph in souls through Mary. His dependence on grace makes him distrust the prompting of his own inclinations and so rids him of self-will and every other impediment to the maternal influences of Mary. She takes over, developing in him from day to day the supernatural energies and sacrifices She expects from a good soldier of Christ.

– Excerpts from “Holiness Through Mary” by Fr Francis Ripley, copied from a pamphlet by the Universal Rosary Association. For the Association’s details, please visit the link above (Part 1)

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Prayers to Our Lady

 

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WITHOUT HUMILITY, LIKENESS TO MARY IS IMPOSSIBLE

WITHOUT HUMILITY, LIKENESS TO MARY IS IMPOSSIBLE

He hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (Lk1:48)

MARY’S ARMY

Previous chapter: OUR WARFARE IS NOT OF THIS WORLD

HOLINESS THROUGH MARY

Humility is necessary for that union with Mary upon which the apostolate relies for its supernatural efficacy. It is more essential in Mary’s soldiers than are courage, intelligence and physical fitness in the soldier of worldly armies.

A man may be determined to be a good soldier, to play a worthy part in the battles in which his country’s forces are engaged and, yet, through the absence of the necessary qualities, be unable to do so. A paralysed man may long to walk, but even the most vehement longings will not give him the capacity he does not physically possess.

So it is, the Children of Mary are bound to be rendered ineffective unless they are rooted in true humility. Without this virtue HOLINESS, the source of all apostolic action is impossible. Without it, there can be no real likeness to Mary.

– Excerpts from “Holiness Through Mary” by Fr Francis Ripley, copied from a pamphlet by the Universal Rosary Association. For the Association’s details, please visit the link above (Part 1).

 

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OUR WARFARE IS NOT OF THIS WORLD

OUR WARFARE IS NOT OF THIS WORLD

MARY’S ARMY

Previous chapter: TOWARDS THE PASTORS OF THE CHURCH, WE SHOW ALWAYS THAT LOYALTY AND OBEDIENCE WHICH SPRING FROM GENUINE CHARITY

HOLINESS THROUGH MARY

If personal holiness, the perfection of charity, is the object of the Child of Mary, humility is the root and instrument of his apostolic action. The Children of Mary are an army and speak to their members in terms of battles and warfare; they are dedicated to Her who is terrible as an army set in battle array.

They are stimulated to carry out all their work with the seriousness of trained and faithful soldiers. Nevertheless, the warfare in which they engage is not of this world; it must be waged according to the tactics of Heaven. The whole system of this army is designed to implant in hearts lowly and unworldly qualities, the chief of which is true humility. Rightly understood, it confers a strange nobility and unique strength upon all who join it.

A strange nobility and unique strength

Only from true humility of heart does the Child of Mary derive the gentle, unassuming manners upon which he relies for the effecting and developing of the personal approach to souls that is such an essential factor in his work.

True humility of heart

In humility, he sees a virtue from which all others derive their value. One and all, they depend on grace and grace will not be given to the proud. When virtue is claimed as the result of one’s own efforts unaided by grace, it ceases to be virtue. Just as Mary’s lowliness brought the Saviour into Her womb, so the humility of Her children brings His Spirit and His Graces into their souls. The holier they are, the more they acknowledge their dependence on God; the more they receive, the greater is their debt to the Almighty. Gradually, the apostolate drives home even into the heart that is naturally proudest the hard lesson that only one’s worthlessness is one’s own. Everything else is God’s free gift. He gives it freely; He can increase it or diminish it or withdraw it entirely just as He wishes. The recognition of what one really is before God is the essence of true humility. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” Humble and little-sought tasks are preferred; contempt and rebuffs are readily borne and God’s holy Will is generously accepted, especially when compliance means rigorous suppression of self.

– Excerpts from “Holiness Through Mary” by Fr Francis Ripley, copied from a pamphlet by the Universal Rosary Association. For the Association’s details, please visit the link above (Part 1).

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Prayers to Our Lady

 

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IT IS GOOD FOR US TO HAVE OTHERS KNOW OUR FAULTS AND REBUKE THEM, FOR IT GIVES US GREATER HUMILITY

IT IS GOOD FOR US TO HAVE OTHERS KNOW OUR FAULTS AND REBUKE THEM, FOR IT GIVES US GREATER HUMILITY

Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. (Mt11:29)

HUMILITY

Be not troubled about those who are with you or against you, but take care that God be with you in everything you do.

Keep your conscience clear and God will protect you, for the malice of man cannot harm one whom God wishes to help. If you know how to suffer in silence, you will undoubtedly experience God’s help. He knows when and how to deliver you; therefore place yourself in His hands, for it is a divine prerogative to help men and free them from all distress.

It is often good for us to have others know our faults and rebuke them, for it gives us greater humility. When a man humbles himself because of his faults, he easily placates those about him and readily appeases those who are angry with him.

It is the humble man whom God protects and liberates; it is the humble whom He loves and consoles. To the humble He turns and upon them bestows great grace, that after their humiliation He may raise them up to glory. He reveals His secrets to the humble, and with kind invitation bids them to come to Him. Thus, the humble man enjoys peace in the midst of many vexations, because his trust is in God, not in the world. Hence, you must not think that you have made any progress until you look upon yourself as inferior to others.

– From: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

 

 

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DO YOU DESIRE TO BE GREAT?

DO YOU DESIRE TO BE GREAT?

HUMILITY

On Matthew 11:25-30 (previous post)

“Come to me, all you who labour.” And why do we all labour if it be not because we are all mortal men, frail and weak, bearing earthen vessels that distress one another for straitness? Yet, when the vessel of the flesh is straitened, let the open expanse of charity spread abroad.

Why then does he say, ‘Come to me, all you who labour, ” unless it means that you shall not labour? It is indeed clear that such is his promise; for since he calls those who labour, they will perchance ask, to what reward they are called. “And I will refresh you,” he says. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,” not how to make the world, not to create all things visible and invisible, not how to work wonders in this world and raise the dead, but: “Because I am meek and humble of heart.”

Do you desire to be great? Begin first by being the least. Do you think to raise a mighty building of great height? Think first of the lowness of the foundation. And however great a mass of building anyone may wish and design to erect, the higher he intends to raise it, the deeper he digs his foundation. And as the structure is built up, it rises heavenward; but he that digs the foundation, must dig down very low. The building, therefore, must be low before it is high, and the roof is erected only after a lowly beginning.

What is the roof of the building which we are raising? How high will its peak reach? I answer you at once: “Even to the very sight of God.” You see how high, how great a thing it is to behold God. He who desires it, will understand both what I say and what he hears. The sight of God is promised to us, the very God, God most High. This indeed is good, to see him who sees. For those that worship false gods can easily see them; but they see idols, who have eyes and see not. But to us is promised the vision of the living and the seeing God.

– St Augustine, Sermon 10 on the Words of the Lord, from: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2016 in Words of Wisdom

 

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“COME TO ME, YOU WHO ARE MEEK AND HUMBLE OF HEART”

“COME TO ME, YOU WHO ARE MEEK AND HUMBLE OF HEART”

HOW PLEASING HUMILITY IS TO GOD AND MEN.

Such is the ordinance, such the fixed design of the Eternal Wisdom: “God resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble.” “He overturns the throne usurped by the proud, and exalts those who have been humbled.”

It pleases this great God to put forth His whole power on nothingness. For humility brings us near to nothingness; it creates in the human soul a mysterious void, which the divine goodness hastens to fill.

Nothing is more agreeable to God than humility

Nothing is more agreeable to God than this virtue, nothing is more beloved by men. The humble man, thinking himself less than everyone, does not incommode, does not wound or give offence to anyone. The humble man, discreetly casting a veil over his virtues and merits, does not make a tiresome lecture of them; but, just because he hides them, people seek them out, in order to inhale their healthful fragrance. The humble man is gentle at heart, therein imitating Him who has said to us: “Discite a me quia mitis sum et humilis corde.” That is humility.

– R. P. Monsabre

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2016 in Words of Wisdom

 

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SUBJECTION FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

“Brethren, be ye subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21)

A “tough one” for worldly-minded people

If there is a word which in the ears of the world sounds harsh and grating, the very mention of which rouses contentiousness and opposition, it is the word “subjection”. People will listen with equanimity to the Christian preacher so long as he discourses on the attributes of God, or the benefits of Redemption, or the miseries of this life; but when he solemnly tells them they must be subjects, men, to whatever class they may belong, chafe and rebel and argue and will not have it so. And yet what truth is put forth more plainly in the inspired word of God than our duty of subjection to those who are our superiors, to those in authority?

St Paul tells us: “Be ye subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” And he goes on to explain his meaning: “Let women be subjects to their husbands, as to the Lord”; and again: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just.” And further on: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to Christ.” And St Peter instructs his flock in a similar manner: “Be ye subject therefore to every human creature for God’s sake, whether it be to the king as excelling, or governors, as sent by him… for so is the will of God.” And Christ Himself enjoins the same obligation when speaking of the Church: “he who heareth you, heareth me; and he who despiseth you, despiseth me,” and “If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican.”

These texts will not be readily accepted by the modern world which even if it professes to believe in the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, glosses over anything that it imagines strikes at its independence.

The modern world, including many who claim to believe in the Bible, glosses over anything that it imagines to strike at its independence

But it may be profitable for us to consider how the very conditions of our nature point to the necessity of subjection on the part of man. And first of all the fact itself of our existence requires that we be dependent on that Mighty Being who brought us forth out of nothingness, who encompasses us with His abiding presence, who can mould and fashion us according to every dictate of His will. “Behold as clay is in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Who then is there who can escape the grasp of that hand which has kindled in us the spark of life and whose breath alone feeds it and keeps it from vanishing into darkness? Who can withdraw himself from the dominion of One whose prerogative is that His possession of us is the condition of our existence, so that were He for one moment to stay His retaining hold, time and space and spirit and matter would be swept away and nothing remain but He, the one unchangeable, everlasting God.

We are then by essence, by the very fact that we are created, dependent upon God in every faculty of our soul, in every member of our body, in every action and operation of our whole being.

We are dependent upon God in soul and body

But it has been His will that in a secondary sense we should also be dependent on His creatures. You have but to look round this material world to see how truly we are ruled and governed by laws not of our making and by forces beyond our control. We are affected by the vicissitudes of climate and weather, by heat and cold, by storm and sunshine. The ocean may rise and overwhelm us, the earth itself on which we stand may be shaken to its very foundations. Again, how powerless we are when contagion is abroad, or desolation covers the land; how helpless when sickness overtakes us and death knocks at the door and closes our eyes upon this fitful scene.

In the material world, we are dependent upon our fellow men as well as on the inanimate world around us

Nor are we less dependent upon our fellow men than on the inanimate world about us. From the moment he sees the light the child is in need of parents to keep within him the breath of life, to educate and to guide him. As he grows up he requires friends to help and advise him, and organised society to secure his person, his property and his rights.

Dependence in the spiritual world

And again, if we pass from the visible to the invisible and spiritual world, we are met once more with the sense of our dependence and subjection. Mysterious as is that world, nevertheless there occur at intervals marvellous disclosures of its nearness and its influence. It may be that at some time we thought we heard as it were a whisper that told us of some course to adopt or some danger to avoid, and it was our Angel Guardian counselling us. Or kneeling before the tabernacle there may come to us a light, a glimmer what lies beyond when we shall see Christ in His glory, who bids us to take heart in His changeless love for us. Thus it is that though living in a world of sense, we are surrounded on all sides by another world, a world hidden from us behind a dark veil, yet one with which we are ever and anon brought into contact.

Though living in a world of sense, we are surrounded on all sides by another world, one with which we are ever brought into contact

We are then led to the conclusion of the intimate and necessary dependence of man, of his essential subjection to the material, the moral, the spiritual order. What then is there in man that makes him uneasy and rebellious when he is reminded of his obligation to submit to the yoke? What is it that makes him sullen and mulish when the curb is put upon him?

What is it, then, that makes those men uneasy and rebellious when they are reminded of their obligation to submit to the yoke?

What is it but that spirit of stubborn pride ingrained in his nature, constantly urging him to repeat the cry of the fallen angel, “Non serviam” (“I will not serve”).

May we then strive to attain to some degree of that lofty virtue of humility, which is the doorway to true obedience and subjection, the virtue which was such a distinguishing mark in Our Blessed Lord’s life.

A distinguishing mark in Our Lord Jesus’ life

Our Blessed Lord said, “I have come to do the will of him who sent me,” and He saw His Father’s will in every order He received from the legitimate secular authorities, even though they were His bitterest enemies. He who was God “became obedient unto death, even death of the cross.”

And who are we? May we ever deepen in our hearts the knowledge of ourselves, of our nothingness before God, of our littleness even in the eyes of men.

Let us consider alone the little esteem in which we are held by others

If we considered alone the little esteem in which we are held by others, where would be that pride and self-appreciation which causes us to stiffen our necks against all authority?

Unknown and unheeded as we are outside our own narrow circle, how often are we hardly noticed by many of those with whom we live in daily contact? How a short absence effaces us from the minds of others! What trace then shall we leave behind us, when we have passed out of this world altogether, when men have no more to hope or to fear from us, or perhaps every reason for trying to forget us, as bringing before them the unwelcome recollection of death, or of failings and sins in which we participated or of which we have been the cause. As transient as the light wake left by the ship gliding through the water, we shall be as if we had not been.

As transient as the light wake left by the ship gliding through the water, we shall be as if we had not been

Poor insignificant drops in the vast surging ocean, why weary ourselves seeking the sympathy and applause of such a world as this?

Why, to the neglect of an infinitely greater love, do we toil and labour to win the hearts of those who will forget us, alas, even as we have forgotten others?

Why, to the neglect of an infinite love, do we toil to win the hearts of those who will forget us, alas, even as we have forgotten others?

Only One for a certainty bears us for ever written in His heart. There then let us take our refuge: be subject to Him, and for His sake to those, whoever they be, placed over us: and He who “putteth down the mighty from their seats will exalt His humble servants”. Let us cling to that arm, never will it fail us: lean our tired heads upon that breast, never will it cease to throb with the truest and the deepest love for us.

Inward peace and serenity

If we pray continuously, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in thee,” we shall gain that confidence that will outride all the storms of this brief life and keep us in inward peace and serenity, awaiting the coming of the eternity of complete joy and happiness.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2016 in Words of Wisdom

 

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DO YOU WISH TO LIVE IN PEACE WITH THE MEMBERS OF YOUR FAMILY?

Following Jesus Christ in word and deed

Do you wish to live in peace with the members of your family, particularly with those who have a right to exercise authority over you? If so, employ the means which a certain pious woman, obliged to live with a person disagreeable in her disposition, relates as follows: I fulfil all my duties with good humour, betraying none of the weariness which they occasion me; I do everything I can to please her; I bear patiently all that I find disagreeable; I ask her opinion upon many things about which I know more than she does.

Do you wish to live in peace with the rest of the world? If so, put into practice this maxim of an influential man, who, having been asked after the [French] Revolution, how he managed to escape the guillotine, replied: I remained humble and preserved silence.

Do you wish to live in peace with your conscience and with God? If so, let your Guardian Angel find you engaged every moment during the day, in one of these four things which formed the rule of life of a holy person: I pray, I work, I try to do what is right, I remain patient.

Do you wish to become a great saint? If so, practise, in addition to the actions which we have just mentioned, the following virtues: Order, the spirit of faith, spiritual combat, and perseverance.

Finally, do you desire that others should be always kind to you? – If so, take pleasure in offering little services, and then you need not fear to ask them. By offering little services you advance a step towards making a friend; by asking a favour you show a mark of confidence which flatters a friend. The result of this interchange of favours is a habit of mutual kindness, and a fear of disobliging in matters of greater importance.

– From: Golden Grains, Eighth Edition, H.M. Gill and Son, Dublin, 1889

 

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IS CHRISTIANITY OVEREMPHASISING A SENSE OF GUILT?

SELF-DISPARAGEMENT

Some of us have probably been almost shocked at times by statements we read in certain spiritual books. They cause in us a certain revulsion of feeling; and yet we are afraid to go against them, or even to appear to contradict them, for they come to us clothed with a sort of religious character or halo of sanctity.

They come to us with a halo of sanctity

We are afraid to question what good and holy and learned men have written, even when we find that other good, holy and learned men have held different and opposite views. And especially are we prone to entertain this kind of fear when the subjects treated are themselves of a severe and rigorous nature, such as make the practice of religion arduous and repellent. It may be that in such cases it is safer to adopt the strict view, however much more comforting it may be to allow ourselves to be ruled according to the easier teachings of an opposite school of spirituality.

Humility versus confidence/trust

We may take as an example the way in which spiritual writers differ as to the manner in which we should consider ourselves.

“Everything that is bad and sinful is mine own…”

“Everything that is bad and sinful” (says St Augustine) “is mine own: anything that is good or of any worth is the gift of God.” An unimpeachable statement, taken as a whole; but if we develop singly the two parts of which it consists, it leads on the one hand to humility and on the other to confidence or trust. These are, as it were, the two poles of the spiritual life, positive and negative, between which springs the spark of divine love.

“… Anything that is good or of any worth is the gift of God”

Where harm has been done is, that in many cases it is the humility or negative pole to which attention has been mainly given, whereas the confidence or positive pole has been but lightly touched upon, if at all.

St Augustine never tired of insisting on the miseries of human nature

Hostile critics indeed have often blamed Christianity for stressing far too much the sense of guilt and helplessness, amounting almost to impotence, which some ascetics seem to think should animate men and abide with them.

And to tell the truth, many pious writers have laid themselves open to this censure, founding themselves upon St Augustine, who, holy and resplendent genius he undoubtedly was, yet, it must be confessed, was responsible for many of the discouraging views which have made their way and obtained currency in the Church.

The Saint is never tired of insisting on the miseries of human nature, and expressing contempt, disgust and even hatred for himself and the entire world. In his Soliloquies – if we may assume that he wrote them – he contrasts God and himself:

“Thou art in heaven, I on this earth. Thou loveth what is high and exalted, I what is lowest of the low. Thou art good, I am wicked. Thou art holy, I am all that is wretched. Thou art the light and I am blind. Thou art life and I am dead.” And the conclusion of this meditation is: “Woe is me. I am a putrefying corpse, the food of worms, a vessel of filth, aliment of the fire.” And again: “What am I then? A dark abyss, a patch of misery, a son of wrath, a vessel of ignominy, conceived in uncleanness, living in wretchedness, dying in utter want. What then am I? A dunghill, a sink of iniquity, a vessel the contents of which are rottenness, filth and disgusting foulness!”

The ascetical writers of the sixteenth century

No doubt such expressions can be defended from one point of view, but they certainly lend themselves to just criticism. Some of the ascetical writers of the sixteenth century have gone a great deal further in their endeavour to depreciate man, both in his body and his soul.

St John of Avila would have us consider him “as a dungheap covered with snow, something that only causes disgust and nausea, if you think of it”. Louis of Granada takes up the figure of the dunghill covered with snow and describes minutely the process of decay that goes on in a putrefying corpse. And according to him, the soul is an ” object of contemplation still more hideous: his intellect is shallow, its will wellnigh powerless: its desires, its efforts are mainly directed to things that are revolting; its true element – that in which it bestirs itself with the greatest complacency – is uncleanness.”

And he goes on to tell us that “humility demands that man should look upon himself as the most miserable creature in the whole world, undeserving of the bread that nourishes him, of the air that he breathes, of the earth that supports him, and that he should consider himself as nothing better than a frightful corpse full of worms, the stench of which he himself cannot bear, from the sight of which he must turn away his look.” And so they seem to vie each other in piling on the agony.

“What God has created is not for us to brand as unclean” (St Thomas Aquinas)

And all this, and much more, in the name of religion. It is a relief to turn back in the centuries to St Thomas Aquinas who, commenting on that text of the Acts (11:9), “That which God has cleansed, do not thou call common,” says: “So what God has created is not for us to brand as unclean.”

Indeed he waxes indignant at those who refuse to recognise in themselves the good which they have received from God. “That is not true humility”, he rightly says. “It is ingratitude.” And he applies to them the words of the Psalmist:

“Man when he was in honour did not understand. He is therefore compared to senseless beasts and is become like to them” (Ps 68:30).

Christian hope, joy, gladness, thankfulness and confidence

Even were it all true it is hard to see what good can be gained by such wholesale-depreciation. But is it true? That is a question which is very pertinent and the answer to which it very much imports us to know. Is there not another side to the matter? Is the Church committed to that morbid and depressing view of the relation between God and His poor creature, the work of His hands?

In answer, we cannot do better than refer to the numerous writers, teachers and preachers, some of them saints, among them Doctors of the Church, who not only have not adopted that excessive self-contempt and humiliation, common among the Spanish mystics of the 15th century and the first half of the 16th, but have striven consistently to foster in the Christian mind hope, joy, gladness, thankfulness, confidence – all those virtues which have for object to cheer and encourage, never to induce sadness or melancholy.

St Teresa of Avila

Take for a first instance the great St Teresa of Avila, who lived at the time and in the midst of those same Spanish mystics. She fully recognised the danger of the low spirits which inevitably result from dwelling overmuch on the miseries of the human subject.

Dwelling on human misery is not the same as humility

“It leads,” she says, “to such reasoning as the following. ‘How can I undertake to do such and such a work? Is it not sheer pride, can it be right for such a miserable creature as I am to aim at anything so sublime as interior pride?'”

Teresa had experienced all those temptations and therefore it was from knowledge that she could say: “Such souls remain for ever in the contemplation of their own misery, they never come out of it, and they deem that true humility. In reality” (she goes on) “it is the evil spirit who turns all this introspection to their own detriment. He puts into them a false conception of humility, in order that they may make no progress. He causes them to esteem it pride if they entertain lofty ideas, or would imitate the saints. Oh, my daughter,” she exclaims, “what amount of harm has not the devil done to numberless souls by filling them with such thoughts?”

St Francis de Sales

As we might expect, St Francis de Sales will have nothing to do with that systematic devaluation and besmirching of man’s body, and still more of man’s soul. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, which is meant for all sorts and conditions of men, the titles of his chapters are something like this: “Meditate on the excellent character of thy soul”; “On the vast stretch of its intellect, which can embrace the visible universe, the Angelic world, and God Himself”; “On thy most noble power of willing”; “On thy heart made for love.”

“Meditate on the excellent character of thy soul”

“O, thou beautiful soul of mine,” he exclaims in a transport of admiration. This is an echo of St Ambrose who, in a well-known passage, cries out: “O glorious soul, thou art the image of God.” No attempt in all this to disparage or deny our human nature. It is as if we were introduced into another world, as if we were breathing another and purer atmosphere.

“O glorious soul, thou art the image of God.” (St Ambrose)

Now, it might be argued that those gloomy writers, quoted first, were considering man in the hideous condition to which he is reduced by sin, whereas the other writers are contemplating him clothed with the garment of sanctifying grace.

Man in the hideous condition to which he is reduced by sin versus man clothed with the garment of sanctifying grace

Neither class, however, in treating the subject seems to avert to the distinction, and indeed we must acknowledge that even in his sinful state the soul of man and his body, too, possess elements of beauty and greatness. When it is said that man is a dunghill, a vessel of filth, that he is nothingness itself, all these are figures of speech. Of course even the sinner is something, his soul is a spirit and immortal, he possess wonderful faculties, he is the recipient of the innumerable gifts of God.

He who even in his fallen state is thus favoured by his Creator cannot in justice be the object of abuse on his own part or on that of his fellow men.

St Francis de Sales, therefore, at the outset dissociates himself from those authors who make humility the basis of all spirituality, instead of founding humility itself on the love of God, and who insist upon and exaggerate the miseries of our human nature. The Saint sees very clearly, as did St Teresa, that in true logic such humility, if acted upon, would mean the end of all effort and all enterprise, in our own private life as well as in our works ad extra.

Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (Js 1:17)

Starting accordingly from the principle that the love of God is the end for which man was created, it is not the vileness of our nature that he would have us begin to consider but the greatness and beauty of our being and the multiplicity of God’s gifts to us in the temporal as well as in the spiritual order.

Far from being blameworthy, as some authors would seem to imply, this recognition of all that is good in us is virtuous and pleasing to the Almighty. It would be blameworthy only if we came to ascribe all these good qualities to ourselves and refused to acknowledge that, as St James says, “every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Ja 1:17).

The contemplation of God’s graces

St Thomas teaches that the contemplation of God’s graces is the best of all means to increase and kindle in our hearts the love of our Maker.

St Francis goes further still and would have us concentrate our attention on those gifts that are peculiar to ourselves, on the ground that men prize what is bestowed on them individually more than what they share in common with others. And if certain spiritual writers point here to the danger of vanity and self I satisfaction, since man should, according to St Bernard, dwell upon his defects and not upon his merits, our holy Doctor brushes aside their animadversions very lightly and is not afraid to say:

“They most certainly are mistaken, for we need entertain no fear that the recognition of what are God’s gifts to us will ever puff us up and lead to selfglorification, so long as we keep steadily in view the great truth that whatever good there is in us proceeds not from ourselves but from above.”

Every advance in the love of our Creator increases in us the virtue of humility

We have thus briefly examined two different aspects of the spiritual life, the one proceeds from the depths of humiliation and rises by degrees to the sublimest heights of divine love; the other starts at once from the love of God, as the alpha and the omega of all spirituality, leading directly through the contemplation of His goodness and liberality to the most profound humility. For true humility does not consist in making ourselves out to be worms of earth, but in the acknowledgement that everything we have, everything we accomplish, is from God and not from ourselves.

Thus every advance in the love of our Creator increases in us the virtue of humility, for nothing can make us realise more deeply the unworthiness of even the smallest sin than the consciousness of the innumerable benefits and graces we have received at God’s hands.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London 1949

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Words of Wisdom

 

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