Humility of Heart Part 18

74. A doubt may arise in our mind that since to obtain the grace of humility we must ask it of God, and ask it with humility if we wish God to hear our prayer, how can we possibly ask with humility since it is precisely that humility which we have not and for which we are asking? Do not let us lose ourselves in such speculations, which are useless in practice, since “Simplicity of heart is what the Lord desires of us.”[Wisd. i, 1]

There are certain efficacious virtues that God has infused into our souls in holy Baptism, independently of our own dispositions, “principally by infusion in Baptism,” says St. Thomas. Such, for example, is faith, and such also is that humility which is necessary for us so that we may believe and pray as we ought. Let us therefore exercise in our prayers this infused humility, and in making good use of it we shall in time acquire that other evangelical virtue which is necessary to our salvation and which can only be obtained by our own co-operation.

Prayer, says St. Augustine, is essentially the resource of him who knows that he is both poor and needy: “Prayer is only for the needy.” [“Oratio non est nisi indigentium” (Enarr. in Ps. xxvi] Let us acknowledge and confess our poverty and indigence before God, and by this confession we shall exercise humility. The really poor do not need to be taught how to ask alms humbly. Necessity is their master, and if man can humble himself before man, why should he not also humble himself before God?

If we wish to discern what belongs to God and that which is our own, it is sufficient for us to reflect that by rendering to God all that is His, nothing is left to ourselves but nothingness. So that we can truly say with the prophet: “I am brought to nothing.” [Ps. lxxii, 21] This is a true saying, that all that is within us that is more than nothingness belongs to God, and He can take away what is His when He chooses without doing us any wrong.

Therefore in what can we pride ourselves, since God can take anything away from us the moment that we begin to glory in it?

For he who glories in his wealth may soon become poor; he who glories in his health may suddenly become infirm; he who glories in his knowledge may suddenly become insane; he who glories in his holiness may suddenly fall into some great sin. What vanity, what folly, then, to glory in that which is not our own, nor even in our power to keep! “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” [1 Cor. iv, 7]

This reflection alone should suffice to make us humble, and it may be said that all true humility depends upon our persevering seriously in this thought. Oh, my soul, thou shalt be humbled when, as God says by the prophet, He will “separate the precious from the vile.” [Jer. xv, 19] Thus the essence of humility consists in knowing how to discern rightly that which is mine, and that which belongs to God. All the good I do comes from God, and nothing belongs to me but my own nothingness. What was I in the abyss of eternity? A mere nothing. And what did I do of myself to emerge from that nothingness? Nothing. If God had not created me, where should I be? In nothingness. If God did not uphold me at every turn, whither should I return? Into nothingness. Therefore it is clear that I possess nothing of myself but nothingness. Even in my moral being I possess nothing but my own wickedness. When I do evil it is entirely my own work, when I do good it belongs to God alone. Evil is a work of my own wickedness; good is a work of God’s mercy. In this way we separate the precious from the vile; this is the art of all arts, the science of sciences, and the wisdom of the Saints.

76. Let us imagine a man who possesses many beasts of burden which he has bought for the purpose of carrying such loads as he requires. The beasts are loaded, one with gold, one with books of philosophy, mathematics, theology and law, another with weapons, another with sacred vessels and vestments belonging to the Church, and another with reliquaries in which are precious relics of the Saints, and so on.

Now, if these animals could discourse among themselves, do you think that the one laden with gold would boast of his riches, and the one laden with books of his knowledge, and that in the same way the others would boast of bravery or of holiness according to the nature of their loads? Would not such pretensions be vain and ridiculous? Most certainly; for the rich and precious burdens borne by these animals belong to the master and not to the beast. For the master might have laden with dung the one he loaded with gold or other precious things, and being their owner he could unload each animal whenever he pleased, so that each one would appear before him as he is, namely, a vile beast of burden. Or, with St. Augustine, let us picture to ourselves the ass on which Jesus Christ sat when He was met by the multitude with their branches of palms, acclaiming Him with cries of: “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna!” [Matt. xxi, 9] Who would be so foolish as to imagine that these honours were given to the beast? These praises were not given to the ass, but to Christ who was seated on the ass. “Was that ass to be praised? That ass was carrying some one, but He who was being carried was the one who was being praised.” ” [Enarr. in Ps. xxxiii].

Let us apply the simile to ourselves, saying, with David: “I am become as a beast before Thee.” [Ps. lxxii, 22] and whatever may be the object of our pride let us use this simile to exercise ourselves in humility.

77. We may say with St. Thomas, [12, qu. iv, art. 2] that this craving of ours to be esteemed, respected and honoured is an effect of Original Sin, like concupiscence which remains to us even after our Baptism; but God has ordained that these appetites and desires should remain in us in order that we might have occasion of mortifying ourselves and that by such means we might gain the kingdom of Heaven.

We need not be astonished nor sad when we feel these instincts within us. They belong to the wickedness of our corrupt nature and are remnants of the temptation of our first parents by the serpent, when he said to them: “And you shall be as gods.” [ Gen. iii, 5] Therefore I repeat that these desires which arise from the weakness and depravity of our human nature must be borne with patience. If these desires gain the mastery over us, it is because we have encouraged and given way to them; and a bad habit which we have formed ourselves can only be cured by ourselves, and therefore the mortification of the same also lies with us. This mortification of the senses, inspired by humility, is taught by Christ in the self-denial which He imposed upon us when He said: “If any man will follow Me) let him deny himself.” [Matt. xvi, 24] And therefore I must draw this conclusion, that if I will not mortify myself with humility—–that is to say, crush my self-love and craving for esteem—–I shall be excluded as a follower of Jesus Christ, and by such an exclusion I shall also forfeit His grace and be eternally exiled from participating in His glory.

But in order to practice it, it is necessary for me to do violence to myself, as it is written: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence) and the violent bear it away.” [Matt. xi, 12] Who can obtain salvation) except by doing violence to himself?

The Practice Of The Presence Of God – Part 4

Third Letter: We have a God who is infinitely gracious and knows all our wants. I always thought that He would reduce you to extremity. He will come in His own time, and when you least expect it. Hope in Him more than ever. Thank Him with me for the favors He does you, particularly for the fortitude and patience which He gives you in your afflictions. It is a plain mark of the care He takes of you. Comfort yourself with Him, and give thanks for all.

I admire also the fortitude and bravery of M—. God has given him a good disposition and a good will; but he is still a little worldly and somewhat immature. I hope the affliction God has sent him will help him do some reflection and inner searching and that it may prove to be a wholesome remedy to him. It is a chance for him to put all his trust in God who accompanies him everywhere. Let him think of Him as much as he can, especially in time of great danger.

A little lifting up of the heart and a remembrance of God suffices. One act of inward worship, though upon a march with sword in hand, are prayers which, however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to God. And, far from lessening a soldier’s courage in occasions of danger, they actually serve to fortify it. Let him think of God as often as possible. Let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise. No one sees it, and nothing is easier than to repeat these little internal adorations all through the day.

Please recommend to him that he think of God the most he can in this way. It is very fit and most necessary for a soldier, who is daily faced with danger to his life, and often to his very salvation.

I hope that God will assist him and all the family, to whom I present my service, being theirs and yours.

Fourth Letter: I am taking this opportunity to tell you about the sentiments of one of our society concerning the admirable effects and continual assistance he receives from the presence of God. May we both profit by them.

For the past forty years his continual care has been to be always with God; and to do nothing, say nothing, and think nothing which may displease Him. He does this without any view or motive except pure love of Him and because God deserves infinitely more.

He is now so accustomed to that Divine presence that he receives from it continual comfort and peace. For about thirty years his soul has been filled with joy and delight so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to find ways to hide their appearing outwardly to others who may not understand.

If sometimes he becomes a little distracted from that Divine presence, God gently recalls Himself by a stirring in his soul. This often happens when he is most engaged in his outward chores and tasks. He answers with exact fidelity to these inward drawings, either by an elevation of his heart towards God, or by a meek and fond regard to Him, or by such words as love forms upon these occasions. For instance, he may say, “My God, here I am all devoted to You,” or “Lord, make me according to Your heart.”

It seems to him (in fact, he feels it) that this God of love, satisfied with such few words, reposes again and rests in the depth and center of his soul. The experience of these things gives him such certainty that God is always in the innermost part of his soul that he is beyond doubting it under any circumstances.

Judge by this what content and satisfaction he enjoys. While he continually finds within himself so great a treasure, he no longer has any need to search for it. He no longer has any anxiety about finding it because he now has his beautiful treasure open before him and may take what he pleases of it.

He often points out our blindness and exclaims that those who content themselves with so little are to be pitied. God, says he, has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take so little through routine devotion which lasts but a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder God, and stop the current of His graces. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favors plentifully. There they flow like a torrent, which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance.

Yet we often stop this torrent by the little value we set upon it. Let us stop it no more. Let us enter into ourselves and break down the bank which hinders it. Let us make way for grace. Let us redeem the lost time, for perhaps we have but little left. Death follows us close so let us be well prepared for it. We die but once and a mistake there is irretrievable.

I say again, let us enter into ourselves. The time presses. There is no room for delay. Our souls are at stake. It seems to me that you are prepared and have taken effectual measures so you will not be taken by surprise. I commend you for it. It is the one thing necessary. We must always work at it, because not to persevere in the spiritual life is to go back. But those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep. If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the Lord who reposes in it. He will quickly calm the sea.

I have taken the liberty to impart to you these good sentiments that you may compare them with your own. May they serve to re-kindle them, if at any time they may be even a little cooled. Let us recall our first favors and remember our early joys and comforts. And, let us benefit from the example and sentiments of this brother who is little known by the world, but known and extremely caressed by God.

I will pray for you. Please pray also for me, as I am yours in our Lord.

Fifth Letter: Today I received two books and a letter from Sister M—, who is preparing to make her profession. She desires the prayers of your holy society, and yours in particular. I think she greatly values your support. Please do not disappoint her. Pray to God that she may take her vows in view of His love alone, and with a firm resolution to be wholly devoted to Him. I will send you one of those books about the presence of God; a subject which, in my opinion, contains the whole spiritual life. It seems to me that whoever duly practices it will soon become devout.

I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things; because God will possess the heart alone. As He cannot possess it alone, without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there and do in it what He pleases unless it be left vacant to Him. There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Only those can comprehend it who practice and experience it. Yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise. Let us do it from a principle of love, and because it is God’s will for us.

Were I a preacher, I would above all other things preach the practice of the presence of God. Were I a director, I would advise all the world to do it, so necessary do I think it, and so easy too. Ah! knew we but the want we have of the grace and assistance of God, we would never lose sight of Him, no, not for a moment.

Believe me. Immediately make a holy and firm resolution never more to forget Him. Resolve to spend the rest of your days in His sacred presence, deprived of all consolations for the love of Him if He thinks fit. Set heartily about this work, and if you do it sincerely, be assured that you will soon find the effects of it.

I will assist you with my prayers, poor as they are. I recommend myself earnestly to you and those of your holy society.

Sixth Letter: I have received from M— the things which you gave her for me. I wonder that you have not given me your thoughts on the little book I sent to you and which you must have received. Set heartily about the practice of it in your old age. It is better late than never.

I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of God. For my part I keep myself retired with Him in the depth and center of my soul as much as I can. While I am with Him I fear nothing; but the least turning from Him is insupportable. This practice does not tire the body. It is, however, proper to deprive it sometimes, nay often, of many little pleasures which are innocent and lawful. God will not permit a soul that desires to be devoted entirely to Him to take pleasures other than with Him. That is more than reasonable.

I do not say we must put any violent constraint upon ourselves. No, we must serve God in a holy freedom. We must work faithfully without trouble or disquiet, recalling our mind to God mildly and with tranquillity as often as we find it wandering from Him. It is, however, necessary to put our whole trust in God. We must lay aside all other cares and even some forms of devotion, though very good in themselves, yet such as one often engages in routinely. Those devotions are only means to attain to the end. Once we have established a habit of the practice of the presence of God, we are then with Him who is our end. We have no need to return to the means. We may simply continue with Him in our commerce of love, persevering in His holy presence with an act of praise, of adoration, or of desire or with an act of resignation, or thanksgiving, and in all the ways our spirits can invent.

Be not discouraged by the repugnance which you may find in it from nature. You must sacrifice yourself. At first, one often thinks it a waste of time. But you must go on and resolve to persevere in it until death, notwithstanding all the difficulties that may occur.

I recommend myself to the prayers of your holy society, and yours in particular. I am yours in our Lord.

Humility Of Heart Part 17

70. To give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received and are continually receiving is an excellent means of exercising humility, because by thanksgiving we learn to acknowledge the Supreme Giver of every good: and for this reason it is necessary for us always to be humble before God. St. Paul exhorts us to render thanks for all things and at all times: “In all things give thanks”; [1 Thess. v, 18] “Giving thanks always for all things.” [Ephes. v, 20] But that our thanksgiving may be an act of humility it must not only come from the lips but from the heart with a firm conviction that all good comes to us through the infinite mercy of God. Look at a beggar who has received a considerable gift from a rich man, with what warmth he expresses his gratitude! He is astonished that the rich man should have deigned to bestow a gift upon him, protesting that he is unworthy of it, and that he receives it, not through hisown merit, but through the noble kindness of the giver, to whom he will always be most grateful. He speaks from his heart because he knows his own miserable condition of poverty and the benign condescension of the rich man. And should the thanks we give to God be less than the thanks which are given from man to man? When one man can thus thank another, ought we not to blush with shame that there should be men who feel more humility of heart towards their fellow-men than we do towards God?

O my God, I thank Thee with all my heart for these benefits which I have received through Thy goodness alone, which I have not deserved and for which I have never given Thee thanks till now! It was through pride that I failed to give Thee the thanks due to Thee, and it is through pride that I have enjoyed all Thy gifts as if I had not received them at Thy hands. I detest my pride, and with Thy help I will remember to give Thee thanks at all times and for all things: “I will bless the Lord at all times,” [ Ps. xxxiii, 1] praise, bless and thank Thee for all Thy mercies for ever and ever: “The mercies of the Lord I will sing for ever.” [Ps. lxxxviii, 1]

71. The important point is that our heart should be humble, because this is what Christ seeks in us above all things. It is useless to mend the case and hands of a watch unless we also adjust the wheels and works, and in the same way it is useless for anyone to be modest in attire and bearing if there be no true humility in the heart.

We ought to apply our Saviour’s sayings to ourselves: “Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, that the outside may become clean,” [Matt. xxiii, 6] and learn from the teaching of St. Thomas that “from our interior disposition of humility proceed signs in words, deed and manner by which that is manifested without, which is within.” [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 6]

I admit the truth of that which was so often repeated in Holy Writ, that humility is a special gift of God, and that no one can possess it of himself “except God gave it”; [Wisd. viii, 21] but at the tribunal of God there will be no excuse for us for not having possessed humility, because we have been taught that we could obtain it by persevering prayer, and, if we have not used this means to obtain it, it will be our fault that we have not asked God for it, and therefore our fault that we have not obtained it. Our Saviour in His Gospel says: “Ask and you shall receive.” [John xvi, 24] If you want anything of Me, ask and you sha1l be heard. And can this virtue cost us less than the simple effort of asking it of God with great insistence? Therefore do not let us cease to ask for it and by the very method of obtaining it our hearts, our looks, our words, our movements, our bearing, and even our very thoughts will all be humble: “For from the heart come forth thoughts.” [Matt. xv, 19]

72. We often lament that we are unable to pray because of the many distractions which hinder our recollection and dry up the source of devotion in our hearts, but in this we err and do not know what we are saying. The best prayer is not that in which we are most recollected and fervent, but that in which we are most humble; because it is written: “The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds.” [Ecclus. xxxv, 21] And what distractionsof mind and heart can prevent our exercising humility? It is precisely in those moments when we feel irritable and tepid that we ought to show our humility, and how? By saying: O Lord, I am not worthy to remain here speaking to Thee so confidentially, I do not deserve the grace of prayer because it is a special gift which Thou bestowest upon those dear to Thee. It is enough for me to be Thy servant, chasing away my distractions as so many flies. For flies do not fly round boiling water, but only round tepid water, and all these distractions arise from mygreat tepidity. Ah,what an excellent prayer! So prayed Joshua, and the Lord heard his prayer: “Thou hast humbled thyself in the sight of God; I also have heard thee, saith the l.ord.” [2 Paral. xxxiv, 27] So prayed King David too in the anguish of his soul and was delivered: “I was humbled and He delivered me.” [Ps. cxiv, 6] The more the soul exalts itself and takes pleasure in its own meditation, so much the more does God exalt Himself above that soul and remains apart from it. “Man shall come to a deep heart and God shall be exalted.” [Ps. lxiii, 8] Do we desire that God in His mercy should come nigh to us? Let us humble ourselves. “Dost thou wish God to draw near to thee?” says St. Augustine, “humble thyself, for the more thou raisest thyself, the more will He be above thee.” [Enarr. in Ps. cxli]

73. Many people, when preparing for confession, distress themselves because they do not feel sufficient contrition for their sins; and in order to obtain it they beat their breasts to try and excite themselves to feelings of sorrow. But this is pride, for they give us to understand that they can thus obtain contrition of themselves. You desire true sorrow for you sins? Then be assured that this is a singular gift of God, and that to obtain it there is no better means than to humble oneself before Him.

Humility generates confidence, and God never refuses His grace to those who come to Him with humility and trust. Say therefore to God: I can remain here as long as I like and do all that I can to obtain sorrow for my sins, but it is impossible for me to attain to it of myself, if Thou dost not grant it to me, O my God! I do not deserve it, but Jesus Christ has merited it for me, and it is through His merits that I ask it, and through Thy infinite goodness that I hope to obtain it.

Place yourself in this humble disposition of mind and you will be happy, for it is written of God: that “He comforteth the humble”; [2 Cor. vii, 6] “and He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble and hath not despised their petition.” [Ps. ci, 18] This sorrow or contrition by which the soul is sanctified is one of the greatest graces that God can give us, and it would be presumption, temerity, and pride on our part to pretend to this grace without having asked for it with due humility.

Great Post From Dom Gueranger

Over on the veneremurcernui blog you can find a great extended quote and commentary from Dom Gueranger that speaks of the times in which we live.  It is worth the read.

Check it out here.

St. Bridget – October 8th

St. Bridget Of SwedenThe most celebrated saint of the Northern kingdoms, born about 1303; died 23 July, 1373.

Early Life

She was the daughter of Birger Persson, governor and provincial judge (Lagman) of Uppland, and of Ingeborg Bengtsdotter. Her father was one of the wealthiest landholders of the country, and, like her mother, distinguished by deep piety. St. Ingrid, whose death had occurred about twenty years before Bridget’s birth, was a near relative of the family. Birger’s daughter received a careful religious training, and from her seventh year showed signs of extraordinary religious impressions and illuminations. To her education, and particularly to the influence of an aunt who took the place of Bridget’s mother after the latter’s death (c. 1315), she owed that unswerving strength of will which later distinguished her.

Marriage

In 1316, at the age of thirteen, she was united in marriage to Ulf Gudmarsson, who was then eighteen. She acquired great influence over her noble and pious husband, and the happy marriage was blessed with eight children, among them St. Catherine of Sweden. The saintly life and the great charity of Bridget soon made her name known far and wide. She was acquainted with several learned and pious theologians, among them Nicolaus Hermanni, later Bishop of Linköping, Matthias, canon of Linköping, her confessor, Peter, Prior of Alvastrâ, and Peter Magister, her confessor after Matthias. She was later at the court of King Magnus Eriksson, over whom she gradually acquired great influence. Early in the forties (1341-43) in company with her husband she made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. On the return journey her husband was stricken with an attack of illness, but recovered sufficiently to finish the journey. Shortly afterwards, however, he died (1344) in the Cistercian monastery of Alvastrâ in East Gothland.

Widowhood

Bridget now devoted herself entirely to practices of religion and asceticism, and to religious undertakings. The visions which she believed herself to have had from her early childhood now became more frequent and definite. She believed that Christ Himself appeared to her, and she wrote down the revelations she then received, which were in great repute during the Middle Ages. They were translated into Latin by Matthias Magister and Prior Peter.

St. Bridget now founded a new religious congregation, the Brigittines, or Order of St. Saviour, whose chief monastery, at Vadstena, was richly endowed by King Magnus and his queen (1346). To obtain confirmation for her institute, and at the same time to seek a larger sphere of activity for her mission, which was the moral uplifting of the period, she journeyed to Rome in 1349, and remained there until her death, except while absent on pilgrimages, among them one to the Holy Land in 1373. In August, 1370, Pope Urban V confirmed the Rule of her congregation. Bridget made earnest representations to Pope Urban, urging the removal of the Holy See from Avignon back to Rome. She accomplished the greatest good in Rome, however, by her pious and charitable life, and her earnest admonitions to others to adopt a better life, following out the excellent precedents she had set in her native land. The year following her death her remains were conveyed to the monastery at Vadstena. She was canonized, 7 October, 1391, by Boniface IX.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia