Friday, 4 October 2013

Heliotropium - The Signs of Conformity to the Divine Will - Part I

The following passage is taken from Heliotropium by Fr. Drexelius, S.J.


What are the Marks and Signs of a Human Will Conformed to the Divine

THE Romans thought nothing of a soldier who had not firm-set ribs, and arms muscular enough to carry any weight. And besides this it was needful that he should have polished and glittering weapons, and the most complete confidence in his general. And so, let no one vaunt himself as a soldier of Christ, let no one think that he is devoted to the Divine Will, unless he can detect in himself certain indications that his own will hangs entirely on the Divine Will in all things. And that everyone may be able to put himself to the proof in this matter, let him look for the following marks or signs:-----

1. The First Sign. To desire to do all things at the bidding of the Divine Will, and, therefore, to set about nothing without first imploring the Divine Aid. He who truly follows the Will of God takes no business in hand without first asking God to be his Helper. But if anything seems to be of more than usual importance, or of more than common difficulty in execution, he so much the more frequently implores aid from God. And let this be a fixed rule for those who have to deal with weighty matters, and are entrusted with government, never to undertake anything hastily, without first asking counsel of God. No man living can easily estimate how much damage the whole world suffers from this cause: how many households are badly managed; how many kingdoms and provinces are improperly governed; how many unjust wars are undertaken; how many injuries are inflicted by one on another, through the neglect of this law. This is the most prolific source of evils; because masters of families, governors, rulers, and kings oftentimes are self-willed and arbitrary, and do not act according to reason, but by impulse; and do not consult the Mouth of the Lord, but follow impetuosity as their guide, and lean to their own understanding, and trust to their own shoulders, being very Atlases in their own eyes: and hence often arises a chaotic and disgraceful confusion of business to the injury of very many.
The princes of Israel sinned grievously, because they made a treaty with the Gabaonites, "and consulted not the Mouth of the Lord." [Josue IX. 14] And we are none the more inclined to take warning on account of their error, but often plan great undertakings, "and consult not the Mouth of the Lord." We seek for the priesthood, we contract matrimony, we mix ourselves up in worldly business, and yet we "consult not the Mouth of the Lord." But far otherwise those noble generals, the Machabees, who never engaged in any battle without first having "consulted the Mouth of the Lord" more than once. For not only before the battle did they exhort their soldiers to prayer, and joined with them in their devotions, but they also continued this combined prayer even while they were fighting. And so Judas Machabeus, looking upon the hostile array before him, "stretching out his hands to Heaven, called upon the Lord that worketh wonders, Who giveth victory to them that are worthy, not according to the power of their arms, but according as it seemeth good to Him." [2 Mach. XV. 21] Nor did Machabeus only before the battle "consult the Mouth of the Lord" with the utmost earnestness in prayer, but by his example he inflamed his soldiers also to do the same, and so he and "they that were with him encountered the enemy, calling upon God by prayers." [Ver. 26] And not merely at the beginning of the battle, but also in the very heat of the conflict they constantly called upon God, and so, fighting indeed with their hands, but praying to God with their hearts, they slew no less than thirty-five thousand, "being greatly cheered with the presence of God." [Ver. 27] That is to say, they solemnly "consulted the Mouth of the Lord."

It is the advice of Cassian that before every action these versicles of the Church should be used,-----"O God, make speed to save me. O Lord, make haste to help me." It was the practice of S. Pambo, whenever his advice was asked, to require time for commending so great a thing to God, nor could he endure to give any reply until he had first "consulted the Mouth of the Lord." And this practice was of so great use to him, that, when he was now near death, he affirmed that he did not remember that anything had ever been said by him of which he was sorry. Of a truth God immediately answers those who seek counsel of Him. "Thy ear hath heard the preparation of their heart." [Ps. IX. 17] That man does not trust in God, nor does he carefully search out the Divine Will, who does not derive the beginning of all his actions from God. We must consult the Mouth of the Lord in all things without exception.

2. The Second Sign. It is a mark of true devotion towards the Divine Will, not merely not to shrink from sorrows and calamities when they are present, but willingly to seek them when they are absent, and for this reason, because God is far nearer by His Grace to those who are afflicted in various ways, than to those who enjoy uninterrupted prosperity. With great delight the Psalmist, Jesse's son, sings,-----"Thou hast turned all his couch in his sickness." [Ps. XL. 4] And this, according to S. Ambrose and S. Chrysostom, means that God soothes a sick person, or one who is otherwise afflicted, with such consolations, as if He prepared for him the softest bed. As ladies of rank sometimes wait on the sick from a sweet feeling of pity, so Christ our Lord exercises a special guardianship over such as are afflicted either with disease or any other calamity, if they only show themselves worthy of this heavenly protection. The Roman philosopher [SENECA, de Provid. 4. 5] moralizes very devoutly on this subject:-----"Cease, I pray you," he says, "to dread those things which the Immortal God applies to your souls to urge them onwards. Calamity gives occasion to virtue. One may truly call those people wretched who are indolent through excess of prosperity, and whom a sluggish tranquillity holds fast as it were on an unruffled sea. And so those whom He loves God tries, and causes them to endure hardships, and corrects them, and disciplines them; but those whom he appears to deal gently with, and to spare, he is reserving for evils to come. For you are mistaken if you think that anyone is excepted. His own share of troubles will befall him who has been prosperous for a long time. Whoever seems to be in a low estate has his happiness deferred. But why does God afflict all good men either with ill-health or other troubles? Why, too, it may be asked, in a camp are the most perilous posts assigned to the bravest? A general sends his picked soldiers to attack the enemy in an ambush by night, or to examine the line of march, or to dislodge a garrison from some particular position. Not one of those who go forth says,-----'The general deserves no thanks from me!' but,-----'He has made a good choice.' And in the same way let those who are bidden to suffer things which to the fearful and slothful are subjects for tears, say,-----'We seem to God to be thought worthy to have the trial made in us as to how much human nature is capable of enduring.' "

And how agreeable is this to that which Wisdom proclaims,-----"For God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself." [Wisdom III. 5] Therefore, fly from pleasures, fly from that enervating happiness whereby men become effeminate, unless something interposes which may admonish them of the human lot, like those who are stupefied with perpetual drunkenness. God, therefore, follows the same plan with good men, as a master does with his scholars, who exacts a larger share of work from those from whom he feels more sure of getting it.

Do you think that their own children were objects of hatred to the Spartans because they tried their disposition by lashes inflicted in public, while their parents themselves encouraged them to bear the strokes of the whip bravely, and asked them, when they were lacerated and half dead, whether they should go on adding gash to gash? And what wonder is it if God severely tries noble souls? There is no such thing as an easy and gentle proof of virtue. Does Fortune lash and tear us? Let us endure it; it is not cruelty, it is a conflict, in which the oftener we engage the stronger we shall be. It is by endurance that the soul arrives at despising the power of evils. Fire tries gold, and misery tries brave men. Why are you astonished that good men are shaken in order that they may be strengthened? A tree is not firm and strong unless the wind constantly blows against it; for by the very disturbing force of the blast it is strengthened, and fastens its roots more surely to the earth. Frail are those trees which have grown in a sunny valley.

Behold, then, the most certain evidence of a human will which is transfused, as it were, into the Divine, if it does not refuse to follow it even through rough and difficult places. Whosoever, therefore, has welcomed to himself the Divine Will with a hearty embrace will exclaim in the midst of troubles, with more earnestness even than Demetrius,-----"This one thing, O my God, I can complain of concerning Thee, that Thou hast not earlier made known to me Thy Will; for I should have arrived before this at that point to which I I have now attained when called by Thee. Dost Thou will to take away from me wealth or reputation? I was ready long ago to offer them. Dost Thou will to deprive me of my children? I have already put them aside for Thee. Dost Thou will to take any! part of my body? Take it. It is no great offer which I make, for in a short time I shall relinquish the whole of it. Dost Thou will to take my spirit? And why not? I do not object that Thou shouldst receive what Thou hast given. Thou wilt take from a willing person whatever Thou shalt demand. I am driven to nothing, I suffer nothing against my will; nor do I serve Thee, O my God, but I agree with Thee." This is the true union of two wills.

3. The Third Sign. The greatest possible distrust of self. This is pre-eminently a Christian virtue, and one which was scarcely known at all to the heathen of old time. He who distrusts himself ascribes even his most prosperous successes not to his own strength or diligence, but entirely to the Divine Power and Goodness; but his errors, and whatever arises from them, he imputes to himself, and he observes most faithfully the precept of S. Augustine,-----"Let God be all Thy presumption, so as to acknowledge that without Him you can do nothing at all, but all things in Him." Nevertheless the man who is entirely distrustful of self, and hopes not for success through his own powers, does not neglect to do what he can, relying with all the surer trust in God in proportion as he has none in himself. He knows that he can do nothing, and yet that he can do all things, but only with God. He works, indeed, with all his might, but he looks to the Divine Will for all the fruit of his labour, accepting with composure all those things which are only ills to one who bears them ill. But how different with those who trust in themselves, their own strength, their own skill, their own prudence, and their own schemes! How eloquent they are in extolling their own performances; with what unsparing tongue do they speak their own praises; and in the meantime how carelessly do they behave in many things through excessive self-confidence! But he who rests entirely on the Divine Will is like a pair of scales, he descends the lower on one side in proportion as he ascends higher on the other. A general who has undertaken the defence of a fortified camp examines weak and ill-defended points before the enemy advances, he provides for the commissariat, he arranges his artillery, he prepares against every kind of attack, for he knows that he cannot trust the enemy. And in the same way the Christian says,-----"I will not trust disease and death; I will fortify myself beforehand with Sacraments; I will furnish myself with prayer and fasting as weapons; I trust neither myself nor death." But he who is presumptuous, and confident in his own strength, thinks that he is well enough prepared to meet all the attacks of his enemies; or at least hopes that it will be easy enough to prepare when occasion arises. He trusts himself and Death! And well does Solomon say concerning each of these,-----"A wise man feareth, and declineth from evil; the fool leapeth over and is confident." [Prov. XIV. 16]

4. The Fourth Sign. Most complete trust in God, whence it comes that when anyone is injured or offended he does not immediately plan vengeance, but says to himself,-----"God has seen and heard this, and He will avenge in His Own time." And by means of this one thing he rises superior to all his enemies, because he feels certain that even if they were to move Hell itself against him, they could not harm him more than God permitted. But you may say,-----"There are some who neglect no opportunity of doing harm to others. If they cannot inflict actual injuries they at least try to hinder their neighbours' profit." It is so, I admit; but he who trusts in God so acts as that no amount of diligence should be wanting on his part; but everything else he commits to Divine Providence. And fruitlessly do the wicked attempt to strive against it,-----"There is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord." [Prov. XXI. 30] How dishonestly did Laban deal with Jacob his son-in-law! He changed his wages ten times that he might diminish his possessions; but it was to no purpose, since all things turned out to Jacob's advantage, for God suffered him not to hurt him. [Gen. XXXI. 7]

Sennacherib threatened direst vengeance against Jerusalem; but neither he himself, nor his army, could escape the avenging Hand of God. An Angel slew the army, and his sons slew him:-----" And the Lord saved Ezechias and the inhabitants of Jerusalem out of the hand of Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, and out of the hand of all, and gave them treasures on every side." [2 Par. XXXII. 22] And so, my Christian friend, trust in God, and leave all vengeance to Him, for He is the Lord of vengeance. And let even the heathen teach you this. Tissaphernes, the Persian general, concluded a peace with Agesilaus; but it was only in pretence and not in reality, for he afterwards came with a vast army and summoned the Greeks to withdraw from Asia. But to the threats of the ambassadors Agesilaus dauntlessly replied,-----"Tell your general that I heartily thank him for having broken the treaty, and so made both gods and men his enemies. My forces will swell through the perfidy of my foe!" Words almost worthy of a Christian! It is as if he had said,-----that we should be saved "from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us." [Luke I. 71] He who trusts in God has all his enemies as vassals, because he has God on his side.

But whatever a man who trusts in God desires, he first of all seeks it from God. And here he lays down this rule for himself,-----It either is good for me that the thing which I seek should be granted, or it is not good, but which of the two it is God knows best. If it is good for me, God will either grant it immediately, or at some more fitting time, in order that in the meantime my patience may be exercised; if, however, God refuses me what I have asked, I am perfectly certain that my request was not for my good. In this way alone, and never in any other, does he who has yielded himself absolutely to the Divine Will present his petitions to God. They, on the other hand, who are ignorant of this mystery of the Divine Will, either do not implore God's aid, or do so sluggishly and carelessly, and before they do this weary out the patience of all their friends, and court the favour of as many as they can; and if they cannot effect their object in any other way, they even try to procure this favour by bribes, and they buy interest and honours, just as they would in the market.

S. John, who may be called the eye of the Lord, saw Christ carrying in His Right Hand seven stars. [Apoc. 1. 16] And what are these stars in His Hand? John himself, when unfolding this mystery, says,-----"The seven stars are the Angels of the seven Churches" [Apoc. I. 20], or the seven bishops of Asia. Behold, then, bishops and their mitres are in the Hand of Christ! But if a mitre anywhere wants an owner, there are numbers who offer their head for it; but they do not first hasten straight to the Hand of Christ.

They run indeed but oftentimes they reach the hands of kings and princes before they run to Christ. And the same thing happens in the pursuit of other offices and honours; human interest is sought, but the Divine favour only by a few, or after that of man. It is a transparent error; we ought to do the reverse: the Divine Favour and Will should be sought before all things. Sceptres and crowns are in the Hand of God; He apportions offices, dignities, places of trust, and magistracies; from Him, in the first instance, must all these be sought:-----"As the divisions of waters, so the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever he will he shall turn it." [Prov. XXI. I] As a gardener who has a little stream of water at his command in his garden does not always guide it to the nearest or best tree, but oftentimes to one of feebler growth, or in whatever direction he pleases; so the heart of the king, like a stream, contains offices and preferment of every kind: but God, like a gardener, guides the water from this stream towards those whom He Himself has chosen, without, however, forcing man's free-will. And therefore they act with consummate folly who throwaway so many prayers and bribes into the ears and hands of others, while God is saluted only in a cold and distant way. Oh! the madness of men! More purely are waters sought from the Fount itself.

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