Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 1, Chapter 2

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 1, Chapter 2

CHAPTER II. The Nature and Excellence of Devotion.

THOSE who sought to discourage the Israelites from going up to the
Promised Land, told them that it was “a land which eateth up the
inhabitants thereof;” [7] that is, that the climate was so unhealthy
that the inhabitants could not live long, and that the people thereof
were “men of a great stature,” who looked upon the new-comers as mere
locusts to be devoured. It is just so, my daughter, that the world runs
down true devotion, painting devout people with gloomy, melancholy
aspect, and affirming that religion makes them dismal and unpleasant.
But even as Joshua and Caleb protested that not only was the Promised
Land a fair and pleasant country, but that the Israelites would take an
easy and peaceful possession thereof, so the Holy Spirit tells us
through His Saints, and our Lord has told us with His Own Lips, that a
devout life is very sweet, very happy and very loveable.

The world, looking on, sees that devout persons fast, watch and pray,
endure injury patiently, minister to the sick and poor, restrain their
temper, check and subdue their passions, deny themselves in all sensual
indulgence, and do many other things which in themselves are hard and
difficult. But the world sees nothing of that inward, heartfelt
devotion which makes all these actions pleasant and easy. Watch a bee
hovering over the mountain thyme;–the juices it gathers are bitter,
but the bee turns them all to honey,–and so tells the worldling, that
though the devout soul finds bitter herbs along its path of devotion,
they are all turned to sweetness and pleasantness as it treads;–and
the martyrs have counted fire, sword, and rack but as perfumed flowers
by reason of their devotion. And if devotion can sweeten such cruel
torments, and even death itself, how much more will it give a charm to
ordinary good deeds? We sweeten unripe fruit with sugar, and it is
useful in correcting the crudity even of that which is good. So
devotion is the real spiritual sweetness which takes away all
bitterness from mortifications; and prevents consolations from
disagreeing with the soul: it cures the poor of sadness, and the rich
of presumption; it keeps the oppressed from feeling desolate, and the
prosperous from insolence; it averts sadness from the lonely, and
dissipation from social life; it is as warmth in winter and refreshing
dew in summer; it knows how to abound and how to suffer want; how to
profit alike by honour and contempt; it accepts gladness and sadness
with an even mind, and fills men’s hearts with a wondrous sweetness.

Ponder Jacob’s ladder:–it is a true picture of the devout life; the
two poles which support the steps are types of prayer which seeks the
love of God, and the Sacraments which confer that love; while the steps
themselves are simply the degrees of love by which we go on from virtue
to virtue, either descending by good deeds on behalf of our neighbour
or ascending by contemplation to a loving union with God. Consider,
too, who they are who trod this ladder; men with angels’ hearts, or
angels with human forms. They are not youthful, but they seem to be so
by reason of their vigour and spiritual activity. They have wings
wherewith to fly, and attain to God in holy prayer, but they have
likewise feet wherewith to tread in human paths by a holy gracious
intercourse with men; their faces are bright and beautiful, inasmuch as
they accept all things gently and sweetly; their heads and limbs are
uncovered, because their thoughts, affections and actions have no
motive or object save that of pleasing God; the rest of their bodies is
covered with a light shining garment, because while they use the world
and the things of this life, they use all such purely and honestly, and
no further than is needful for their condition–such are the truly
devout. Believe me, dear child, devotion is the sweetest of sweets, the
queen of virtues, the perfection of love. If love is the milk of life,
devotion is the cream thereof; if it is a fruitful plant, devotion is
the blossom; if it is a precious stone, devotion is its brightness; if
it is a precious balm, devotion is its perfume, even that sweet odour
which delights men and causes the angels to rejoice.

[7] Numb. xiii. 32.