Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Francis de Sales on How the Love of God Is Manifest in Conformity and Stability

These are a few highlights from the past week’s reading.

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The great S. Thomas is of opinion that it is not expedient to consult and deliberate much concerning an inclination to enter a good and well-regulated religious Order; for the religious life being counselled by our Saviour in the Gospel, what need is there of many consultations? It is sufficient to make one good one, with a few persons who are thoroughly prudent and capable in such an affair, and who can assist us to make a speedy and solid resolution; but as soon as we have once deliberated and resolved, whether in this matter or in any other that appertains to God's service, we must be constant and immovable, not permitting ourselves to be shaken by any appearances of a greater good: for very often, says the glorious S. Bernard, the devil deludes us, and to draw us from the effecting of one good he proposes unto us some other good, that seems better; and after we have started this, he, in order to divert us from effecting it, presents a third, ready to let us make plenty of beginnings if only we do not make an end. We should not even go from one Order to another without very weighty motives, says S. Thomas, following the Abbot Nestorius cited by Cassian. I borrow from the great S. Anselm (writing to Lanzo) a beautiful similitude. As a plant often transplanted can never take root, nor, consequently, come to perfection and return the expected fruit; so the soul that transplants her heart from design to design cannot do well, nor come to the true growth of her perfection, since perfection does not consist in beginnings but in accomplishments. The sacred living creatures of Ezechiel went whither the impulse of the spirit was to go, and they turned not when they went, and every one of them went straight forward: we are to go whither the inspiration moves us, not turning about, nor returning back, but tending thither, whither God has turned our face, without changing our gaze. He that is in a good way, let him step out and get on. It happens sometimes that we forsake the good to seek the better, and that having forsaken the one we find not the other: better is the possession of a small treasure found, than the expectation of a greater which is to find. The inspiration which moves us to quit a real good which we enjoy in order to gain a better in the future, is to be suspected. A young Portuguese, called Francis Bassus, was admirable, not only in divine eloquence but also in the practice of virtue, under the discipline of the Blessed (S.) Philip Neri in the Congregation of the Oratory at Rome. Now he persuaded himself that he was inspired to leave this holy society, to place himself in an Order, strictly so called, and at last he resolved to do so. But the B. Philip, assisting at his reception into the Order of S. Dominic, wept bitterly; whereupon being asked by Francis Marie Tauruse, afterwards Archbishop of Siena and Cardinal, why he shed tears: I deplore, said he, the loss of so many virtues. And in fact this young man, who was so excellently good and devout in the Congregation, after he became a religious was so inconstant and fickle, that agitated with various desires of novelties and changes, he gave afterwards great and grievous scandal. (Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch.XI)

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Now one of the best marks of the goodness of all inspirations in general, and particularly of extraordinary ones, is the peace and tranquillity of the heart that receives them: for though indeed the Holy Ghost is violent, yet his violence is gentle, sweet and peaceful. He comes as a mighty wind, and as a heavenly thunder, but he does not overthrow the Apostles, he troubles them not; the fear which they had in hearing the sound was of no continuance, but was immediately followed by a sweet assurance. That is why this fire sits upon each of them, taking and causing a sacred repose; and as our Saviour is called a peaceful or pacific Solomon, so is his spouse called Sulamitess, calm and daughter of peace: and the voice, that is, the inspiration, of the bridegroom does not in any sort disquiet or trouble her, but draws her so sweetly that he makes her soul deliciously melt and, as it were, flow out into him: My soul, says she, melted when my beloved spoke: and though she be warlike and martial, yet is she withal so peaceable, that amidst armies and battles she maintains the concord of an unequalled melody. What shalt thou see, saith she, in the Sulamitess but the choirs of armies? Her armies are choirs, that is, harmonies of singers; and her choirs are armies, because the weapons of the Church and of the devout soul, are only prayers, hymns, canticles and psalms. Thus it is that those servants of God who had the highest and sublimest inspirations were the most mild and peaceable men in the world, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob: Moses is styled the meekest of men; David is lauded for his mildness. On the contrary, the evil spirit is turbulent, rough, disturbing; and those who follow infernal suggestions, taking them to be heavenly inspirations, are as a rule easily known, because they are unquiet, headstrong, haughty, ready to undertake or meddle with all affairs, men who under the cloak of zeal turn everything upside down, censure every one, chide every one, find fault with everything; they are persons who will not be directed, will not give in to any one, will bear nothing, but gratify the passions of self-love under the name of jealousy for God's honour.  (Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch. XII)

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I speak of a noble, real, productive and solid humility, which makes us supple to correction,
pliable and prompt to obedience. While the incomparable Simeon Stylites was yet a novice at
Teleda, he made himself indocile to the advice of his superiors, who wished to hinder him from practising so many strange austerities, which he did with an inordinate cruelty to himself; so that at length he was on this account turned out of the monastery, as being too little capable of the mortification of the heart, and too much addicted to that of the body.
But having entered into himself and become more devout, and more prudent in the spiritual life, he behaved quite differently, as he showed in the following action. When the hermits who were dispersed through the deserts near Antioch knew the extraordinary life which he led upon the pillar, in which he seemed to be either an earthly angel or a heavenly man, they despatched a messenger whom they ordered to speak thus to him from them: Why dost thou, Simeon, leaving the highway trodden by so many great and holy predecessors, follow another, unknown of men, and so different from all that has been seen or heard to this day? Simeon, quit this pillar, and come amongst other men to live, after the manner of life and way of serving God used by the good Fathers who have gone before us. In case Simeon, yielding to their advice and giving in to their will, should show himself ready to descend, they had charged 360 the deputy to leave him free to persevere in the manner of life he had begun, because by his obedience, said those good Fathers, it could well be known that he had undertaken this kind of life by the divine inspiration: but in case he should resist, and, despising their exhortations, follow his own will, it would be necessary to withdraw him thence by violence, and force him to forsake his pillar. The deputy then, being come to the pillar, had no sooner delivered his message, than the great Simeon, without delay, without reservation, without any reply, began to descend with an obedience and humility worthy of his rare sanctity. Which when the deputy saw: stay, said he, O Simeon! remain there, persevere with constancy, take courage, pursue thy enterprise valiantly; thy abiding upon this pillar is from God.
(Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch. XIII)
Manuscript Illumination with Saint Dominic Saving the Church
of Saint John Lateran in an Initial A, from a Gradual

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