Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 2, Chapter 13

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 2, Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII. Aspirations, Ejaculatory Prayer and Holy Thoughts.

WE retire with God, because we aspire to Him, and we aspire in order to
retire with Him; so that aspiration after God and spiritual retreat
excite one another, while both spring from the one Source of all holy
thoughts. Do you then, my daughter, aspire continually to God, by
brief, ardent upliftings of heart; praise His Excellence, invoke His
Aid, cast yourself in spirit at the Foot of His Cross, adore His
Goodness, offer your whole soul a thousand times a day to Him, fix your
inward gaze upon Him, stretch out your hands to be led by Him, as a
little child to its father, clasp Him to your breast as a fragrant
nosegay, upraise Him in your soul as a standard. In short, kindle by
every possible act your love for God, your tender, passionate desire
for the Heavenly Bridegroom of souls. Such is ejaculatory prayer, as it
was so earnestly inculcated by S. Augustine upon the devout Proba; and
be sure, my daughter, that if you seek such nearness and intimacy with
God your whole soul will imbibe the perfume of His Perfections. Neither
is this a difficult practice,–it may be interwoven with all our duties
and occupations, without hindering any; for neither the spiritual
retreat of which I have spoken, nor these inward upliftings of the
heart, cause more than a very brief distraction, which, so far from
being any hindrance, will rather promote whatever you have in hand.
When a pilgrim pauses an instant to take a draught of wine, which
refreshes his lips and revives his heart, his onward journey is nowise
hindered by the brief delay, but rather it is shortened and lightened,
and he brings it all the sooner to a happy end, pausing but to advance
the better.

Sundry collections of ejaculatory prayer have been put forth, which are
doubtless very useful, but I should advise you not to tie yourself to
any formal words, but rather to speak with heart or mouth whatever
springs forth from the love within you, which is sure to supply you
with all abundance. There are certain utterances which have special
force, such as the ejaculatory prayers of which the Psalms are so full,
and the numerous loving invocations of Jesus which we find in the Song
of Songs. Many hymns too may be used with the like intention, provided
they are sung attentively. In short, just as those who are full of some
earthly, natural love are ever turning in thought to the beloved one,
their hearts overflowing with tenderness, and their lips ever ready to
praise that beloved object; comforting themselves in absence by
letters, carving the treasured name on every tree;–so those who love
God cannot cease thinking of Him, living for Him, longing after Him,
speaking of Him, and fain would they grave the Holy Name of Jesus in
the hearts of every living creature they behold. And to such an outpour
of love all creation bids us–nothing that He has made but is filled
with the praise of God, and, as says S. Augustine, everything in the
world speaks silently but clearly to the lovers of God of their love,
exciting them to holy desires, whence gush forth aspirations and loving
cries to God. St. Gregory Nazianzen tells his flock, how, walking along
the seashore, he watched the waves as they washed up shells and sea
weeds, and all manner of small substances, which seemed, as it were,
rejected by the sea, until a return wave would often wash part thereof
back again; while the rocks remained firm and immoveable, let the waves
beat against them never so fiercely. And then the Saint went on to
reflect that feeble hearts let themselves be carried hither and thither
by the varying waves of sorrow or consolation, as the case might be,
like the shells upon the seashore, while those of a nobler mould abide
firm and immoveable amid every storm;–whence he breaks out into
David’s cry, “Lord, save me, for the waters are gone over my soul;
deliver me from the great deep, all Thy waves and storms are gone over
me;” for he was himself then in trouble by reason of the ungodly
usurpation of his See by Maximus.

When S. Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe, heard Theodoric, King of the
Goths, harangue a general assembly of Roman nobles, and beheld their
splendour, he exclaimed, “O God, how glorious must Thy Heavenly
Jerusalem be, if even earthly Rome be thus!” [36] And if this world can
afford so much gratification to mere earthly lovers of vanity, what
must there be in store hereafter for those who love the truth?

“If thus Thy lower works are fair,–If thus Thy glories gild the spanOf
ruined earth and guilty man,–How glorious must the mansions beWhere
Thy redeemed dwell with Thee!”

We are told that S. Anselm of Canterbury, (our mountains may glory in
being his birthplace [37] ) was much given to such thoughts. On one
occasion a hunted hare took refuge from imminent death beneath the
Bishop’s horse, the hounds clamouring round, but not daring to drag it
from its asylum, whereat his attendants began to laugh; but the great
Anselm wept, saying, “You may laugh forsooth, but to the poor hunted
beast it is no laughing matter; even so the soul which has been led
astray in all manner of sin finds a host of enemies waiting at its last
hour to devour it, and terrified, knows not where to seek a refuge, and
if it can find none, its enemies laugh and rejoice.” And so he went on
his way, sighing.

Constantine the Great wrote with great respect to S. Anthony, at which
his religious expressed their surprise. “Do you marvel,” he said, “that
a king should write to an ordinary man? Marvel rather that God should
have written His Law for men, and yet more that He should have spoken
with them Face to face through His Son.” When S. Francis saw a solitary
sheep amid a flock of goats; “See,” said he to his companion, “how
gentle the poor sheep is among the goats, even as was Our Lord among
the Pharisees;” and seeing a boar devour a little lamb, “Poor little
one,” he exclaimed, weeping, “how vividly is my Saviour’s Death set
forth in thee!”

A great man of our own day, Francis Borgia, then Duke of Candia, was
wont to indulge in many devout imaginations as he was hunting. “I used
to ponder,” he said, “how the falcon returns to one’s wrist, and lets
one hood its eyes or chain it to the perch, and yet men are so perverse
in refusing to turn at God’s call.” St. Basil the Great says that the
rose amid its thorns preaches a lesson to men. “All that is pleasant in
this life” (so it tells us mortals) “is mingled with sadness–no joy is
altogether pure–all enjoyment is liable to be marred by regrets,
marriage is saddened by widowhood, children bring anxiety, glory often
turns to shame, neglect follows upon honour, weariness on pleasure,
sickness on health. Truly the rose is a lovely flower,” the Saint goes
on to say, “but it moves me to sadness, reminding me as it does that
for my sin the earth was condemned to bring forth thorns.”

Another devout soul, gazing upon a brook wherein the starlit sky of a
calm summer’s night was reflected, exclaims, “O my God, when Thou
callest me to dwell in Thy heavenly tabernacles, these stars will be
beneath my feet; and even as those stars are now reflected here below,
so are we Thy creatures reflected above in the living waters of Thy
Divine Love.” So another cried out, beholding a rapid river as it
flowed, “Even thus my soul will know no rest until it plunge into that
Divine Sea whence it came forth!” S. Frances, as she knelt to pray
beside the banks of a pleasant streamlet, cried out in ecstasy, “The
Grace of my Dear Lord flows softly and sweetly even as these refreshing
waters” And another saintly soul, looking upon the blooming orchards,
cried out, “Why am I alone barren in the Church’s garden!” So S.
Francis of Assisi, beholding a hen gathering her chickens beneath her
wings, exclaimed, “Keep me, O Lord, under the shadow of Thy Wings” And
looking upon the sunflower, he ejaculated, “When, O Lord, will my soul
follow the attractions of Thy Love?” [38] And gathering pansies in a
garden which are fair to see, but scentless, [39] “Ah,” he cried out,
“even so are the thoughts of my heart, fair to behold, but without
savour or fruit!”

Thus it is, my daughter, that good thoughts and holy aspirations may be
drawn from all that surrounds us in our ordinary life. Woe to them that
turn aside the creature from the Creator, and thrice blessed are they
who turn all creation to their Creator’s Glory, and make human vanities
subservient to the truth. “Verily,” says Saint Gregory Nazianzen, “I am
wont to turn all things to my spiritual profit.”

Read the pious epitaph written for S. Paula by S. Jerome; it is
marvellous therein to see how she conceived spiritual thoughts and
aspirations at every turn.

Now, in the practice of this spiritual retreat and of these ejaculatory
prayers the great work of devotion lies: it can supply all other
deficiencies, but there is hardly any means of making up where this is
lacking. Without it no one can lead a true contemplative life, and the
active life will be but imperfect where it is omitted: without it rest
is but indolence, labour but weariness,–therefore I beseech you to
adopt it heartily, and never let it go.

[36] Was it in imitation of this that the hymn was written?

[37] S. Anselm was born at Aosta in Piedmont, A.D. 1033.

[38] Moore has preserved the graceful imagery of the sunflower,
anciently called “tourne-soleil” (as by S. Francis here). “Oh the heart
that once truly loved, never forgets, But as truly loves on to the
close, As the sunflower turns to her God when he sets The same look
which she turned when he rose.”

[39] “Pensees.” This play on words is common–as Ophelia says in
Hamlet, Act iv. sc. 5: “There is pansies–that’s for thoughts.” But the
name of this pretty viola is really derived from panacea, signifying
all-heal, just as Tansy is derived from Athanasia, i.e. immortelle or
everlasting. Its other name of heart’s-ease also refers to the potent
virtues ascribed to it of old. Cawdray, in his Treasurie of Similies,
London, 1609, says: “As the herb Panax or Panace hath in it a remedy
against all diseases, so is the Death of Christ against all sin
sufficient and effectual.” In the preface to our English Bible of 1611,
the translators speak of “Panaces, the herb that is good for all