Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 15

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 15

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CHAPTER XV. An Illustration.

LET me illustrate what I have said by an anecdote of Saint Bernard.

It is common to most beginners in God’s Service, being as yet
inexperienced in the fluctuations of grace and in spiritual
vicissitudes, that when they lose the glow of sensible devotion, and
the first fascinating lights which led them in their first steps
towards God, they lose heart, and fall into depression and
discouragement. Those who are practised in the matter say that it is
because our human nature cannot bear a prolonged deprivation of some
kind of satisfaction, either celestial or earthly; and so as souls,
which have been raised beyond their natural level by a taste of
superior joys, readily renounce visible delights when the higher joys
are taken away, as well as those more earthly pleasures, they, not
being yet trained to a patient waiting for the true sunshine, fancy
that there is no light either in heaven or earth, but that they are
plunged in perpetual darkness. They are just like newly-weaned babes,
who fret and languish for want of the breast, and are a weariness to
every one, especially to themselves.

Just so it fell out with a certain Geoffroy de Peronne, a member of S.
Bernard’s community, newly dedicated to God’s Service, during a journey
which he and some others were making. He became suddenly dry, deprived
of all consolations, and amid his interior darkness he began to think
of the friends and relations he had parted from, and of his worldly
pursuits and interests, until the temptation grew so urgent that his
outward aspect betrayed it, and one of those most in his confidence
perceiving that he was sorely troubled, accosted him tenderly, asking
him secretly, “What means this, Geoffroy? and what makes thee, contrary
to thy wont, so pensive and sad?” Whereupon Geoffroy, sighing heavily,
made answer, “Woe is me, my brother, never again in my life shall I be
glad!”

The other was moved to pity by these words, and in his fraternal love
he hastened to tell it all to their common father S. Bernard, and he,
realising the danger, went into the nearest church to pray for
Geoffroy, who meanwhile cast himself down in despair, and, resting his
head on a stone, fell asleep. After a while both rose up, the one full
of grace won by prayer, the other from his sleep, with so peaceful and
gladsome a countenance, that his friend, marvelling to see so great and
unexpected a change, could not refrain from gently reproaching him for
his recent words. Thereupon Geoffroy answered, “If just now I told thee
that I should never more be glad, so now I promise thee I will never
more be sad!” Such was the result of this devout man’s temptation; but
from this history I would have you observe:–

1. That God is wont to give some foretaste of His heavenly joys to
beginners in His Service, the better to wean them from earthly
pleasures, and to encourage them in seeking His Divine Love, even as a
mother attracts her babe to suck by means of honey.

2. That nevertheless it is the same Good God Who sometimes in His
Wisdom deprives us of the milk and honey of His consolations, in order
that we may learn to eat the dry substantial bread of a vigorous
devotion, trained by means of temptations and trials.

3. That sometimes very grievous temptations arise out of dryness and
barrenness, and that at such times these temptations must be stedfastly
resisted, inasmuch as they are not of God; but the dryness must be
patiently endured, because He sends that to prove us. 4. That we must
never grow discouraged amid our inward trials, nor say, like Geoffroy,
“I shall never be glad;” but through the darkness we must look for
light; and in like manner, in the brightest spiritual sunshine, we must
not presume to say, “I shall never be sad.” Rather we must remember the
saying of the Wise Man, “In the day of prosperity remember the evil.”
[200] It behoves us to hope amid trials, and to fear in prosperity, and
in both circumstances always to be humble.

5. That it is a sovereign remedy to open our grief to some spiritual
friend able to assist us.

And, in conclusion, I would observe that here, as everywhere, our
Gracious God and our great Enemy are in conflict, for by means of these
trials God would bring us to great purity of heart, to an entire
renunciation of self-interest in all concerning His Service, and a
perfect casting aside of self-seeking; but the Evil One seeks to use
our troubles to our discouragement, so as to turn us back to sensual
pleasures, and to make us a weariness to ourselves and others, in order
to injure true devotion. But if you will give heed to the above
instructions you will advance greatly towards perfection amid such
interior trials, concerning which I have yet one word to say. Sometimes
revulsions and dryness and incapacity proceed from bodily
indisposition, as when excessive watching, 1 fasting, or overwork
produce weariness, lassitude, heaviness, and the like; which, while
wholly caused by the body, interfere greatly with the soul, so
intimately are they linked together. When this is the case, you must
always remember to make marked acts of virtue with your higher will,
for, although your whole soul may seem to be sunk in drowsy weariness,
such mental efforts are acceptable to God. At such a time you may say
with the Bride of the Canticles, “I sleep, but my heart waketh.” [201]
And, as I have already said, if there is less enjoyment in such
efforts, there is more virtue and merit. But the best remedy under the
last-named circumstances is to reinvigorate the body by some lawful
recreation and solace.

S. Francis enjoined his religious to use such moderation in their
labours as never to impair the fervour of their minds. And speaking of
that great Saint, he was himself once attacked by such deep depression
of mind that he could not conceal it; if he sought to associate with
his religious he was unable to talk; if he kept apart he only grew
worse; abstinence and maceration of the flesh overwhelmed him, and he
found no comfort in prayer. For two years he continued in this state,
as though altogether forsaken of God, but after humbly enduring the
heavy storm, his Saviour restored him to a happy calm quite suddenly.

From this we should learn that God’s greatest servants are liable to
such trials, so that less worthy people should not be surprised if they
experience the same.
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[200] Ecclus. xi. 25, Vulgate: “In die bonorum ne immemor sis malorum.”
English version: “In the day of prosperity there is a forgetfulness of
affliction.”

[201] Cant. v. 2.
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