HOW WE ARE TO CONFORM OURSELVES TO THAT DIVINE WILL, WHICH IS CALLED THE SIGNIFIED WILL.
WE sometimes consider God’s will as it is in itself, and finding it all holy and all good, we willingly praise, bless and adore it, and sacrifice our own and all other creatures’ wills to its obedience, by that divine exclamation: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
At other times we consider God’s will in the particular effects of it, as in the events that touch us, and accidents that befall us, and finally in the declaration and manifestation of his intentions. And although God in reality has but one quite single and most simple will, yet we call it by different names, according to the variety of the means whereby we know it; by which variety also we are, in various ways, obliged to conform ourselves to it.
Christian doctrine clearly proposes unto us the truths which God wills that we should believe, the goods he will have us hope for, the pains he will have us dread, what he will have us love, the commandments he will have us observe, and the counsels he desires us to follow. And this is called God’s signified will, because he has signified and made manifest unto us that it is his will and intention that all this should be believed, hoped for, feared, loved and practised.
Now forasmuch as this signified will of God proceeds by way of desire, and not by way of absolute will, we have power either to follow it by obedience, or by disobedience to resist it; for to this purpose God makes three acts of his will: he wills that we should be able to resist, he desires that we should not resist, and yet allows us to resist if we please. That we have power to resist depends on our natural condition and liberty; that we do resist proceeds from our malice; that we do not resist is according to the desire of the divine goodness.
And therefore when we resist, God contributes nothing to our disobedience, but leaving our will in the hands of its liberty permits it to make choice of evil; but when we obey, God contributes his assistance, his inspiration, and his grace. For permission is an action of the will which of itself is barren, sterile and fruitless, and is as it were a passive action, which acts not but only permits action; desire on the contrary is an active, fruitful, fertile action, which excites, invites and urges.
Wherefore God, in his desire that we should follow his signified will, solicits, exhorts, excites, inspires, aids and succours us, but in permitting us to resist he does nothing but simply leave us to our own wills, according to our free election, contrary to his desire and intention. And yet this desire is a true desire, for how can one more truly express the desire that his friend should make good cheer, than by providing a good and excellent banquet, as did the king in the Gospel parable, and then, inviting, urging, and in a manner compelling him, by prayers, exhortations and pressing messages, to come and sit down at the table and eat.
In truth, he that should by main force open his friend’s mouth, cram meat into his throat, and make him swallow it, would not be giving courteous entertainment to his friend, but would be using him like a beast, and like a capon that has to be fattened.
This kind of favour requires to be offered by way of invitation, persuasion, and solicitation, not violently and forcibly thrust upon a man, and hence it is done by way of desire, not of absolute will. Now it is the same with regard to the signified will of God: for in this, God desires with a true desire that we should do what he makes known, and to this end he provides us with all things necessary, exhorting and urging us to make use of them.
In this kind of favour one could desire no more, and as the sunbeams cease not to be true sunbeams when they are shut out and repulsed by some obstacle, so God’s signified will remains the true will of God even if it be resisted, though it has not the effects which it would have if it were seconded.
The conformity then of our heart to the signified will of God consists in this, that we will all that the divine goodness signifies unto us to be of his intention,—believing according to his doctrine, hoping according to his promises, fearing according to his threats, loving and living according to his ordinances and admonitions, to which all the protestations which we make so often in the holy ceremonies of the Church do tend.
For on this account we stand while the Gospel is read, as being prepared to obey the holy signification of God’s will contained therein; hence we kiss the book at the place of the Gospel, in adoration of the sacred word which declares his heavenly will.
Hence many saints of the old time carried in their bosoms the Gospel written, as an epithem of love, as is related of S. Cecily, and S. Matthew’s Gospel was actually found upon the heart of the dead S. Barnabas, written with his own hand. Wherefore in the ancient councils, in the midst of the whole assembly of Bishops, there was erected a high throne, and upon it was placed the book of the holy Gospels, which represented the person of our Saviour,—King, Doctor, Director, Spirit and sole Heart of the Councils, and of the whole Church: so much did they reverence the signification of God’s will expressed in that divine book. Indeed that great mirror of the pastoral order, S. Charles, Archbishop of Milan, never studied the holy Scripture but bareheaded and upon his knees, to testify with what respect we are to read and hear the signified will of God.
Treatise on the Love of God – St. Francis de Sales
“My son, when you come to serve God, prepare your soul for temptation.” – Ecclus. (Sirach) 2:1
This is an admonition of the Sage: “My son, if you intend to serve God, prepare your soul for temptation,” for it is an infallible truth that no one is exempt from temptation when he has truly resolved to serve God. This being the case, Our Lord Himself chose to be subjected to temptation in order to show us how we ought to resist it. Thus the Evangelists tell us: He was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted. [Matt. 4:1; Mk. 1:12; Lk. 4:1]. I shall draw lessons from this mystery for our particular instruction, in as familiar a manner as I am able.
In the first place, I note that although no one can be exempt from temptation, still no one should seek it or go of his own accord to the place where it may be found, for undoubtedly he who loves it will perish in it. [Ecclus. 3:27]. That is why the Evangelist says that Our Lord was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted; it was not then by His choice (I am speaking with regard to His human nature) that He went to the place of temptation, but He was led by the obedience He owed to His heavenly Father.
I find in Holy Scripture two young princes who furnish us with examples on this subject. One sought temptation and perished in it. The other, without seeking it, encountered it but left the combat victorious.
At the time when kings should go to war, as his own army faced the enemy, David strolled about on the roof of the king’s house, idling his time away as though he had nothing to do. Being idle in this way, he was overcome by temptation. Bethsabee, that inconsiderate lady, went to bathe in a place where she could be seen from the roof of the king’s house. Certainly, this was an act of unparalleled imprudence which I cannot excuse, even though several modern writers wish to render it excusable by saying that she did not think of that. To bathe in a place where she exposed herself to view from the roof of the royal palace was a very great indiscretion. Whether she thought of it or not, young Prince David began by allowing himself to gaze on her, and then perished in the temptation which he had sought by his idleness and sloth [2 Kgs. 11:1-4]. You see, idleness is a great help to temptation. Never say: “I do not seek it; I am not doing anything.” That is enough in order to be tempted, for temptation has a tremendous power over us when it finds us idle. Oh, if David had gone out on campaign at the time that he should have gone, the temptation would not have had the power of attacking him, or at least of overcoming and vanquishing him.
In contrast, young Prince Joseph, who was later viceroy of Egypt, did not seek temptation at all, and so upon meeting it he did not perish in it. He had been sold by his brothers [Gen. 37:28], and his master’s wife exposed him to danger. But he had never indulged or heeded the amorous glances of his mistress; rather, he nobly resisted her advances and was victorious, thus triumphing not only over the temptation but also over her who had been the cause of it [Gen. 39:7-12].
If we are led by the Spirit of God to the place of temptation, we should not fear, but should be assured that He will render us victorious [1 Cor. 10:13]. But we must not seek temptation nor go out to allure it, however holy and generous we may think ourselves to be, for we are not more valiant than David, nor than our Divine Master Himself, who did not choose to seek it. Our enemy is like a chained dog; if we do not approach, it will do us no harm, even though it tries to frighten us by barking at us.
But wait a little, I pray you, and see how certain it is that no one who comes to serve God can avoid temptations. We could give many examples of this but one or two will suffice. Ananias and Saphira made a vow to dedicate themselves and their possessions to the perfection which all the first Christians professed, submitting themselves to obedience to the Apostles. They had no sooner made their resolution than temptation attacked them, as St. Peter said: Who has tempted you to lie to the Holy Spirit? [Acts. 5:1-3]. The great Apostle St. Paul, as soon as he had given himself to the divine service and ranged himself on the side of Christianity, was immediately tempted for the rest of his life [2 Cor. 12:7]. While he was an enemy of God and persecuted the Christians he did not feel the attack of any temptation, or at least he has given us no testimony of it in his writings. But he did when he was converted by Our Lord.
Thus, it is a very necessary practice to prepare our soul for temptation. That is, wherever we may be and however perfect we may be, we must rest assured that temptation will attack us. Hence, we ought to be so disposed and to provide ourselves with the weapons I to fight valiantly in order to carry off the victory, since the crown is only for the combatants and conquerors [2 Tim. 2:5, Jas. 1:12]. We ought never to trust in our own strength or in our courage and go out to seek temptation, thinking to confound it; but if in that place where the Spirit of God has led us we encounter it, we must remain firm in the confidence which we ought to have that He will strengthen us against the attacks of our enemy, however furious they may be.
Let us proceed and consider a little the weapons which Our Lord made use of to repulse the devil that came to tempt Him in the desert. They were none other, my dear friends, than those the Psalmist speaks of in the Psalm we recite every day at Compline: “Qui habitat in adjutorio Altissimi” “Who dwells in the aid of the Most High” [Ps. 90]. From this Psalm we learn an admirable doctrine. He speaks in this manner as though addressing Christians or someone in particular: “Oh how happy you are, you who are armed with the truth of God, for it will serve you as a shield against the arrows of your enemies and will make you victorious. Therefore, do not fear, O blessed souls, you who are armed with this armor of truth. Fear neither the terrors of the night, for you will not stumble into them; nor the arrows that fly in the air by day, for arrows will not be able to injure you; nor the business that roams in the night; much less the devil that advances and reveals himself at noon.”
O how divinely well armed with truth was Our Lord and Master, for He was truth itself [Jn. 14:6]. This truth of which the Psalmist speaks is nothing other than faith [1 Thess. 5:8]. Whoever is armed with faith need fear nothing; this is the only armor necessary to repel and confound our enemy; for what can harm him who says Credo, “I believe” in God, who is our Father, and our Father Almighty? In saying these words we show that we do not trust in our own strength and that it is only in the strength of God, “the Father Almighty,” that we undertake the combat, that we hope for victory [Ps. 17:30, 43:6-7, Heb. 11:33-34; 1 Jn. 5:4]. No, let us not go on our own to meet temptation by any presumption of spirit, but only rebuff it when God permits it to attack us and seek us out where we are, as it did Our Lord in the desert. By using the words of Holy Scripture our dear Master overcame all the temptations the enemy presented to Him.
But I want it to be understood that the Saviour was not tempted as we are and that temptation could not be in Him as it is in us, for He was an impregnable stronghold to which it did not have access. Just as a man who is vested from head to foot in fine steel could not be injured in any way by the blows of a weapon, since it would glance off on either side, not even scratching the armor; so temptation could indeed encompass Our Lord but never enter into Him, nor do any injury to His integrity and perfect purity. But we are different. If, by the grace of God, we do not consent to temptations, and avoid the fault and the sin in them, ordinarily we are nevertheless wounded a little by some importunity, trouble, or emotion that they produce in our heart.
Our Divine Master could not have faith, since He possessed in the superior part of His soul, from the moment that He began to be, a perfect knowledge of the truths which faith teaches us; however, He wished to make use of this virtue in order to repel the enemy, for no other reason, my dear friends, than to teach all that we have to do. Do not then seek for other arms nor other weapons in order to refuse consent to a temptation except to say, “I believe.” And what do you believe? “In God” my “Father Almighty.”
St. Bernard, referring to these words of the Psalm which we have cited, said that the terrors of the night of which the Psalmist speaks are of three kinds. From this I will draw my third lesson. The first fear is that of cowards and slothful souls; the second, that of children; and the third, that of the weak. Fear is the first temptation which the enemy presents to those who have resolved to serve God, for as soon as they are shown what perfection requires of them they think, “Alas, I shall never be able to do it.” It seems to them that it is almost an impossibility to attain to that height, and they readily say, “O God, what perfection is needed to live in this house, or in this way of life and in my vocation! It is too high for me: I cannot attain it!” Do not trouble yourself and do not frame these idle fears that you are not able to accomplish that to which you have bound yourself, since you are armed and encompassed with the truth of God and with His word. Having called you to this manner of life and to this house, He will strengthen you and will give you the grace to persevere [1 Cor. 1:7-8; 1 Thess. 5:24] and to do what is required for His greater glory and for your greater welfare and happiness, provided you walk simply in faithful observance.
Do not be astonished, therefore, and do not do as the slothful, who are troubled when they wake at night by the fear that daylight will come very soon when they will have to work. The slothful and cowardly fear everything and find everything difficult and trying because they amuse themselves in thinking, with the foolish and slothful imagination which they have created for themselves, more about future difficulties than what they have to do at present. “Oh,” they say, “if I devote myself to the service of God, it will be necessary for me to work so much in order to resist the temptations which will attack me.” You are quite right, for you will not be exempt from them, since it is a general rule that all the servants of God are tempted, as St. Jerome wrote in that beautiful epistle which he addressed to his dear daughter, Eustochium.
To whom do you wish, I pray, that the devil should present his temptations if not to those who despise them? Sinners tempt themselves; the devil already regards them as his own; they are his confederates because they do not reject his suggestions. On the contrary, they seek them and temptation resides in them. The devil does not work much to set his snares in the secular world, but rather in retired places where he expects a great gain in bringing about the downfall of souls who are secluded there serving the Divine Majesty more perfectly. St. Thomas used to marvel greatly at how the greatest sinners went out into the streets, laughing and joyful, as though their sins did not weigh on their consciences. And who would not be astonished at seeing a soul not in God’s grace making merry? Oh, how vain are their joys, and how false their gaiety, for they have gone after anguish and eternal regrets! Let us leave them, I pray you, and return to the fear of the slothful.
They are always lamenting – and why? Why, you ask? “Alas, we must work, and yet I thought that it would be enough to embark on God’s way and in His service to find rest.” But do you not know that sloth and idleness made poor David perish in temptation? You perhaps would wish to be among those garrison soldiers who have everything they wish in a good town; they are merry, they are masters of their host’s home, they sleep in his bed and live well; nevertheless, they are called “soldiers,” feigning to be valiant and courageous while they go neither to battle nor to war. But Our Lord does not want this kind of warrior in His army; He wants combatants and conquerors, not sluggards and cowards. He chose to be tempted, and Himself attacked in order to give us an example.
The second terror of the night, according to St. Bernard, is that experienced by children. As you are aware, children are very much afraid when they are out of their mother’s arms. If they see a barking dog they suddenly begin to cry, and will not stop until they are again with their mamma. In her arms they feel secure. They feel that nothing can harm them provided they are holding her hand. Ah, then, the Psalmist says, why do you fear, you who are encompassed with truth and armed with the strong shield of faith which teaches you that God is your “Father Almighty”? Hold His hand and do not be frightened, for He will save you and protect you against all your enemies. Consider how St. Peter, after he made that generous act of throwing himself into the sea and began walking on the water in order more quickly to reach our Divine Saviour who had called to him, suddenly began to fear and at the same time to sink down, and cried out, “Lord, save me!” And at once his good Master stretched out His hand and took hold of him, thus saving him from drowning [Matt. 14:29-31]. Let us do the same, my dear friends. If we feel that we lack courage let us cry out in a loud voice full of confidence, “Lord, save me!” Let us not doubt that God will strengthen us and prevent us from perishing.
Found online Here
St. Bernard–whose memory is dear to those who have to speak on prayer–in
writing to a bishop, advised him that all that was necessary for him was to
speak well (meaning to instruct, to discourse); then to do well in giving
good example; and finally, to devote himself to prayer. And we, addressing
this to all Christians, shall dwell upon the third point, which is prayer.
First, let us remark in passing that, although we condemn certain heretics
of our time who hold that prayer is useless, we nevertheless do not hold
with other heretics that it alone suffices for our justification. We say
simply that it is so useful and necessary that without it we could not come
to any good, seeing that by means of prayer we are shown how to perform all
our actions well. I have therefore consented to the desire which urges me
to speak of prayer, even though it is not my intention to explain every
aspect of it because we learn it more by experience than by being taught.
Moreover, it matters little to know the kind of prayer. Actually, I would
prefer that you never ask the name or the kind of prayer you are
experiencing because, as St. Antony says, that prayer is imperfect in which
one is aware that one is praying. Also, prayer which one makes without
knowing how one is doing it, and without reflecting on what one is asking
for, shows clearly that such a soul is very much occupied with God and
that, consequently, this prayer is excellent.
We shall treat, then, on the following four Sundays, of the final cause of
prayer; of its efficient cause; of that which properly should not be called
the “material cause,” but rather the “object” of prayer; and of the
effective cause of prayer itself. For now, I shall speak only of its final
cause. But before entering upon the subject of prayer, I must say three or
four little things that it is well to know.
Four operations pertain to our understanding: simple thought, study,
meditation, and contemplation. Simple thought occurs when we go running
over a great number of things, without any aim, as do flies that rest upon
flowers, not seeking to extract any juice from them, but resting there only
because they happen upon them. So it is with our understanding, passing
from one thought to another. Even if these thoughts be of God, if they have
no aim, far from being profitable, they are useless and detrimental and are
a great obstacle to prayer.
Another operation of our understanding is study, and this takes place when
we consider things only to know them, to understand them thoroughly or to
be able to speak correctly of them, without having any other object than to
fill our memory. In this we resemble beetles which settle upon the roses
for no other end than to fill their stomachs and satiate themselves. Now,
of these two operations of our understanding we shall speak no more,
because they are not to our purpose.
Let us come to meditation. To know what meditation is, it is necessary to
understand the words of King Hezekiah when the sentence of death was
pronounced upon him, which was afterward revoked on account of his
repentance. “I utter shrill cries,” he said, “like a swallow,” and “I moan
like a dove,”‘ in the height of my sorrow. [Cf. Is. 38:14]. He meant to
say: When the young swallow is all alone and its mother has gone in search
of the herb called “celandine” in order to help it recover its sight, it
cries, it pips, since it does not feel its mother near and because it does
not see at all. So I, having lost my mother, which is grace, and seeing no
one come to my aid, “I utter shrill cries.” But he adds, “I moan like a
dove.” We must know that all birds are accustomed to open their beaks when
they sing or chirp, except the dove, who makes her little song or cooing
sound whilst holding her breath and it is through the movement up and down
which she makes of it, without letting it escape, that she produces her
song. In like manner, meditation is made when we fix our understanding on a
mystery from which we mean to draw good affections, for if we did not have
this intention it would no longer be meditation, but study. Meditation is
made, then, to move the affections, and particularly that of love. Indeed,
meditation is the mother of the love of God and contemplation is the
daughter of the love of God.
But between meditation and contemplation there is the petition which is
made when, after having considered the goodness of Our Lord, His infinite
love, His omnipotence, we become confident enough to ask for and entreat
Him to give us what we desire. Now there are three kinds of petition, each
of which is made differently: The first is made by justice, the second is
made by authority, and the third is made by grace.
The petition which is made by justice cannot be called “prayer,” although
we use this word, because in a petition of justice we ask for a thing which
is due to us. A petition which is made by authority ought not be called
“prayer” either; for as soon as someone who has great authority over
us–such as a parent, a lord or a master–uses the word “please,”2 we say
immediately to him, “You can command,” or “Your ‘please’ serves as my
command.” But true prayer is that which is made by grace, i.e., when we ask
for something which is not due to us at all, and when we ask it of someone
who is far superior to us, as God is.
The fourth operation of our understanding is contemplation, which is
nothing other than taking delight in the goodness of Him whom we have
learned to know in meditation and whom we have learned to love by means of
this knowledge. This delight will be our happiness in Heaven above.
We must now speak of the final cause [that is, the goal] of prayer. We
ought to know in the first place that all things have been created for
prayer, and that when God created angels and men, He did so that they might
praise Him eternally in Heaven above, even though this is the last thing
that we shall do–if that can be called “last” which is eternal. To
understand this better we will say this: When we wish to make something we
always look first to the end [or purpose], rather than to the work itself.
For example, if we are to build a church and we are asked why we are
building it, we will respond that it is so that we can retire there and
sing the praises of God; nevertheless, this will be the last thing that we
shall do. Another example: If you enter the apartment of a prince, you will
see there an aviary of several little birds which are in a brightly colored
and highly embellished cage. And if you want to know the end for which they
have been placed there, it is to give pleasure to their master. If you look
into another place, you will see there sparrow hawks, falcons and such
birds of prey which have been hooded; these latter are for catching the
partridge and other birds to delicately nourish the prince. But God, who is
in no way carnivorous, does not keep birds of prey, but only the little
birds which are enclosed in the aviary and destined to please Him. These
little birds represent monks and nuns who have voluntarily enclosed
themselves in monasteries that they may chant the praises of their God. So
their principal exercise ought to be prayer and obedience to that saying
which Our Lord gives in the Gospel: “Pray always.” [Lk. 18:1].
The early Christians who had been trained by St. Mark the Evangelist were
so assiduous in prayer that many of the ancient Fathers called them
“suppliants,” and others named them “physicians,” because by means of
prayer they found the remedy for all their ills. They also named them
“monks,” because they were so united; indeed, the name “monk” means
“single.” Pagan philosophers said that man is an uprooted tree, from which
we can conclude how necessary prayer is for man, since if a tree does not
have sufficient earth to cover its roots it cannot live; neither can a man
live who does not give special attention to heavenly things. Now prayer,
according to most of the Fathers, is nothing other than a raising of the
mind to heavenly things; others say that it is a petition; but the two
opinions are not at all opposed, for while raising our mind to God, we can
ask Him for what seems necessary.
The principal petition which we ought to make to God is that of union of
our wills with His, and the final cause of prayer lies in desiring only
God. Accordingly, all perfection is contained therein, as Brother Giles,
the companion of St. Francis [of Assisi], said when a certain person asked
him what he could do in order to be perfect very soon. “Give,” he replied,
“one to One.” That is to say, you have only one soul, and there is only one
God; give your soul to Him and He will give Himself to you. The final cause
of prayer, then, ought not to be to desire those tendernesses and
consolations which Our Lord sometimes gives, since union does not consist
in that, but rather in conforming to the will of God.