John Cassian: Joy and delight and bliss in the contemplation of divine and spiritual things Tuesday, Jul 16 2013 

Sf-IoanCasianAs we are utterly ignorant of the virtue of being without sin, we fancy that we cannot contract any guilt from those idle and random vagaries of our thoughts.

Being rendered stupid by dullness and as it were smitten with blindness, we can see nothing in ourselves but capital offences.

[…] And if we find that even for a short time we are free from these we at once imagine that there is no sin at all in us.

Accordingly we are distinguished from the number of those who see, because we do not see the many small stains, which are crowded together in us.

We are not smitten with saving contrition if the malady of vexation overtakes our thoughts, nor are we sorry that we are struck by the suggestions of vainglory.

Nor do we weep over our prayers offered up so tardily and coldly, nor consider it a fault if while we are singing or praying, something else besides the actual prayer or Psalm fills our thoughts.

Nor are we horrified because we do not blush to conceive many things which we are ashamed to speak or do before men, in our heart, which, as we know, lies open to the Divine gaze.

Nor do we purge away the pollution of filthy dreams with copious ablutions of our tears, nor grieve that in the pious act of almsgiving when we are assisting the needs of the brethren…, the brightness of our cheerfulness is clouded over by a stingy delay.

Nor do we think that we are affected by any loss when we forget God and think about things that are temporal and corrupt, so that these words of Solomon fairly apply to us: “They smite me but I have not grieved, and they have mocked me, but I knew it not.”

On the other hand, there are those who make the sum of all their joy and delight and bliss consist in the contemplation of divine and spiritual things alone.

If they are unwillingly withdrawn from them even for a short time by thoughts that force themselves upon them, they punish this as if it were a kind of sacrilege in them.

They avenge it by immediate chastisement, and in their grief that they have preferred some worthless creature (to which their mental gaze was turned aside) to their Creator.

They charge themselves with…impiety, and although they turn the eyes of their heart with the utmost speed to behold the brightness of the Divine Glory, yet they cannot tolerate even for a very short time the darkness of carnal thoughts, and execrate whatever keeps back their soul’s gaze from the true light.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 23, 7-8.

John Cassian: Running towards Christ with devotion of heart Thursday, Mar 7 2013 

Sf-IoanCasian

You see how he made the chief part of the struggle depend upon himself, that is upon his flesh, as if on a most sure foundation, and placed the result of the battle simply in the chastisement of the flesh and the subjection of his body. “I then so run not as uncertainly.”

He does not run uncertainly, because, looking to the heavenly Jerusalem, he has a mark set, towards which his heart is swiftly directed without swerving.

He does not run uncertainly, because, “forgetting those things which are behind, he reaches forth to those that are before, pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14), whither he ever directs his mental gaze, and hastening towards it with all speed of heart, proclaims with confidence, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

And because he knows he has run unweariedly “after the odour of the ointment” (Cant. 1:3) of Christ with ready devotion of heart, and has won the battle of the spiritual combat by the chastisement of the flesh, he boldly concludes and says, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me in that day.”

And that he might open up to us also a like hope of reward, if we desire to imitate him in the struggle of his course, he added: “But not to me only, but to all also who love His coming” (2 Tim. 4:8).

He declares that we shall be sharers of his crown in the day of judgment, if we love the coming of Christ—not that one only which will be manifest to men even against their will; but also this one which daily comes to pass in holy souls—and if we gain the victory in the fight by chastising the body.

And of this coming it is that the Lord speaks in the Gospel. “I,” says He, “and my Father will come to him, and will make our abode with him” (John 14:23).

And again: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the gate, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Institutes 5, 17.

John Cassian: The End of Our Profession is the Kingdom of Heaven; the Immediate Goal is Purity of Heart Wednesday, Jun 13 2012 

Sf-IoanCasianThe end of our way of life is…the kingdom of God.

But what is the immediate goal you must earnestly ask, for if it is not in the same way discovered by us, we shall strive and wear ourselves out to no purpose.

[…] The end of our profession…is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.

But the immediate aim or goal is purity of heart, without which no one can gain that end. Fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal, as if on a definite mark, let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible.

And, if our thoughts wander somewhat from this, let us revert to our gaze upon it, and check them accurately as by a sure standard.

This will always bring back all our efforts to this one mark, and will show at once if our mind has wandered ever so little from the direction marked out for it.

[…] The end which we have set before us is, as St Paul says, eternal life, as he declares, “having indeed your fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life.”

But the immediate goal is purity of heart, which he not unfairly terms “sanctification,” without which the afore-mentioned end cannot be gained.

It is as if he had said in other words: “having your immediate goal in purity of heart, but the end life eternal.”

Of this goal the same blessed Apostle teaches us, and significantly uses the very term, i.e., [in Greek] skopos, saying as follows:

“Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of the Lord.”

This is more clearly put in Greek… “I press toward the mark,” as if he said, “With this aim, with which I forget those things that are behind, i.e., the faults of earlier life, I strive to reach as the end the heavenly prize.”

Whatever then can help to guide us to this object; viz., purity of heart, we must follow with all our might, but whatever hinders us from it, we must shun as a dangerous and hurtful thing.

[…] For the mind, which has no fixed point to which it may return, and on which it may chiefly fasten, is sure to rove about from hour to hour and minute to minute in all sorts of wandering thoughts, and from those things which come to it from outside, to be constantly changed into that state which first offers itself to it.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 1,4-5.

John Cassian: With All Our Exertions and Zeal We Can Never Arrive at Perfection Wednesday, Feb 29 2012 

Sf-IoanCasianIt is well for us to be sure that although we practise every virtue with unceasing efforts, yet with all our exertions and zeal we can never arrive at perfection.

Neither is mere human diligence and toil of itself sufficient to deserve to reach the splendid reward of bliss, unless we have secured it by means of the co-operation of the Lord, and His directing our heart to what is right.

And so we ought every moment to pray and say with David “Order my steps in thy paths that my footsteps slip not:” and “He has set my feet upon a rock and ordered my goings.”

We should pray that He Who is the unseen ruler of the human heart may vouchsafe to turn to the desire of virtue that will of ours, which is more readily inclined to vice either through want of knowledge of what is good, or through the delights of passion.

We read this in a verse in which the prophet sings very plainly: “Being pushed I was overturned that I might fall,” where the weakness of our free will is shown.

Yet he also sings “the Lord sustained me,” showing that the Lord’s help is always joined to our free will, and by this, that we may not be altogether destroyed by our free will.

When God sees that we have stumbled, He sustains and supports us, as it were by stretching out His hand.

[…] And again: “According to the multitude of the sorrows which I had in my heart,” which sprang most certainly from my free will, “Thy comforts have refreshed my soul.”

It is as if David were saying “Coming through Thy inspiration into my heart, and laying open the view of future blessings which Thou hast prepared for them who labour in Thy name, they not only removed all anxiety from my heart, but actually conferred upon it the greatest delight.”

And again David writes: “Had it not been that the Lord helped me, my soul had almost dwelt in hell.”

He certainly shows that through the depravity of this free will he would have dwelt in hell, had he not been saved by the assistance and protection of the Lord.

For “By the Lord,” and not by free-will, “are a man’s steps directed,” and “although the righteous fall” at least by free will, “he shall not be cast away.”

[…] None of the righteous are sufficient of themselves to acquire righteousness, unless every moment when they stumble and fall the Divine mercy supports them with His hands, that they may not utterly collapse and perish, when they have been cast down through the weakness of free will.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 13,12.

John Cassian: True Patience and Tranquillity is neither Gained nor Retained without Profound Humility of Heart Monday, Oct 10 2011 

Sf-IoanCasianTrue patience and tranquillity is neither gained nor retained without profound humility of heart.

And if it has sprung from this source, there will be no need either of the good offices of the cell or of the refuge of the desert.

For it will seek no external support from anything, if it has the internal support of the virtue of humility, its mother and its guardian.

But if we are disturbed when attacked by anyone it is clear that the foundations of humility have not been securely laid in us.

Therefore at the outbreak even of a small storm, our whole edifice is shaken and ruinously disturbed.

For patience would not be worthy of praise and admiration if it only preserved its purposed tranquillity when attacked by no darts of enemies, but it is grand and glorious because when the storms of temptation beat upon it, it remains unmoved.

[…] Everybody knows that patience gets its name from the passions and endurance, and so it is clear that no one can be called patient but one who bears without annoyance all the indignities offered to him.

[…] When then anyone is overcome by a wrong, and blazes up in a fire of anger, we should not hold that the bitterness of the insult offered to him is the cause of his sin.

Rather, it is the manifestation of secret weakness, in accordance with the parable of our Lord and Saviour which He spoke about the two houses (Matt. 7:24, 59).

One of these was founded upon a rock, and the other upon the sand, on both of which He says that the tempest of rain and waters and storm beat equally.

But that one which was founded on the solid rock felt no harm at all from the violence of the shock, while that which was built on the shifting and moving sand at once collapsed.

And it certainly appears that it fell, not because it was struck by the rush of the storms and torrents, but because it was imprudently built upon the sand.

For a saint does not differ from a sinner in this, that he is not himself tempted in the same way, but because he is not worsted even by a great assault, while the other is overcome even by a slight temptation.

[…] For “Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he has been proved he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12).

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 18,13.

John Cassian: “The Kingdom of God is Within You” Sunday, Jul 31 2011 

Sf-IoanCasianTo cling to God continually, and as you say inseparably to hold fast to meditation on Him, is impossible for a man while still in this weak flesh of ours.

But we ought to be aware on what we should have the purpose of our mind fixed, and to what goal we should ever recall the gaze of our soul.

And when the mind can secure this it may rejoice, and grieve and sigh when it is withdrawn from this, as often as it discovers itself to have fallen away from gazing on Him, it should admit that it has lapsed from the highest good….

And when our gaze has wandered ever so little from Him, let us turn the eyes of the soul back to Him, and recall our mental gaze as in a perfectly straight direction.

For everything depends on the inward frame of mind, and when the devil has been expelled from this, and sins no longer reign in it, it follows that the kingdom of God is founded in us.

Thus the Evangelist says “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, nor shall men say Lo here, or lo there: for verily I say unto you that the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).

But nothing else can be “within you,” but knowledge or ignorance of truth, and delight either in vice or in virtue, through which we prepare a kingdom for the devil or for Christ in our heart.

And of this kingdom the Apostle describes the character, when he says “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom.14:17).

And so if the kingdom of God is within us, and the actual kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy, then the man who abides in these is most certainly in the kingdom of God.

[…] And in truth if lifting up our mental gaze on high we would consider that state in which the heavenly powers live on high, who are truly in the kingdom of God, what should we imagine it to be except perpetual and lasting joy?

For what is so specially peculiar and appropriate to true blessedness as constant calm and eternal joy?

[…]  “Behold,” says He, “I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former things shall not be remembered nor come into mind. But ye shall be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create” (Is. 65:17-18).

And again “joy and gladness shall be found therein: thanksgiving and the voice of praise, and there shall be month after month, and Sabbath after Sabbath” (Is. 51:3; 66:23).

And again: “they shall obtain joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is. 35:10).

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 1,13.

John Cassian: This Steadfast Purpose of Heart – that the Soul may Ever Cleave to God and to Heavenly Things Monday, May 16 2011 

Sf-IoanCasianThis steadfast purpose of heart we should constantly aspire after: that the soul may ever cleave to God and to heavenly things.

Whatever is alien to this, however great it may be, should be given the second place, or even treated as of no consequence, or perhaps as hurtful.

We have an excellent illustration of this state of mind and condition in the gospel in the case of Martha and Mary.

[…] For when Martha was toiling with pious care, and was cumbered about her service, seeing that of herself alone she was insufficient for such service, she asks for the help of her sister from the Lord, saying:

Carest Thou not that my sister has left me to serve alone: bid her therefore that she help me.

Certainly it was to no unworthy work, but to a praiseworthy service that she summoned her; and yet what does she hear from the Lord?

Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things; but few things are needful, or only one.

Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

You see then that the Lord makes the chief good consist in meditation; i.e., in divine contemplation.

From this we see that all other virtues should be put in the second place, even though we admit that they are necessary, and useful, and excellent, because they are all performed for the sake of this one thing.

For when the Lord says: Thou art careful and troubled about many things, but few things are needful or only one, He makes the chief good consist not in practical work however praiseworthy and rich in fruits it may be, but in contemplation of Him.

[…] He declares that “few things” are needful for perfect bliss – i.e., that contemplation which is first secured by reflecting on a few saints.

From the contemplation of these saints, he who has made some progress rises and attains by God’s help to that which is termed “one thing,” i.e., the consideration of God alone, so as to get beyond those actions and services of saints, and feed on the beauty and knowledge of God alone.

Mary therefore chose the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 1,8.

John Cassian: Sharing in the Cross of Christ Thursday, Mar 17 2011 

Sf-IoanCasianRenunciation is nothing but the evidence of the Cross and of mortification. And so you must know that to-day you are dead to this world and its deeds and desires, and that, as the Apostle says, you are crucified to this world and this world to you (see Gal. 6:14).

Consider therefore the demands of the Cross under the sacrament of which you ought henceforward to live in this life; because you no longer live but He lives in you who was crucified for you (see Gal. 2:20).

We must therefore pass our time in this life in that fashion and form in which He was crucified for us on the Cross.

In this way (as David says), piercing our flesh with the fear of the Lord (see Psalm 118:120), we may have all our wishes and desires not subservient to our own lusts but fastened to His mortification.

For so shall we fulfil the command of the Lord which says: “He that does not take up his Cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38).

But perhaps you will say: How can a man carry his Cross continually? Or how can anyone who is alive be crucified? Hear briefly how this is.

The fear of the Lord is our Cross.

One who is crucified no longer has the power of moving or turning his limbs in any direction as he pleases.

In the same way we also ought to affix our wishes and desires – not in accordance with what is pleasant and delightful to us now, but in accordance with the law of the Lord, where it constrains us.

And as he who is fastened to the wood of the Cross no longer considers things present, nor thinks about his likings.

Neither is he perplexed by anxiety and care for the morrow, nor disturbed by any desire of possession, nor inflamed by any pride or strife or rivalry.

He grieves not at present injuries, remembers not past ones, and, while he is still breathing in the body, considers that he is dead to all earthly things, sending the thoughts of his heart on before to that place whither he doubts not that he is shortly to come.

So we also, when crucified by the fear of the Lord ought to be dead indeed to all these things, i.e. not only to carnal vices but also to all earthly things.

We should have the eye of our minds fixed there whither we hope at each moment that we are soon to pass.

For in this way we can have all our desires and carnal affections mortified.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Institutes 4,34-35.

John Cassian: Inward Tranquillity of Heart Thursday, Nov 18 2010 

Sf-IoanCasianWe must look not only at the thing which is done, but also at the character of the mind and the purpose of the doer.

You must weigh with a careful scrutiny of heart what is done by each man and consider with what mind it is done or from what feeling it proceeds.

[…] Our Lord and Saviour gives us a thorough lesson on the virtue of patience and gentleness, teaching us not only to profess it with our lips, but to store it up in the inmost recesses of the soul.

He offers us this summary of evangelical perfection, saying: “If any one smites thee on thy right cheek, offer him the other also” (Matt. 5:39).

[…] By this He desires entirely to remove all incitement to anger from the deepest recesses of the soul.

If your external right cheek has received a blow from the striker, the inner man also humbly consenting may offer its right cheek to be smitten.

It may submit and subject its own body to wrong from the striker, that the inner man may not even silently be disturbed in itself at the blows of the outward man.

[…] Evangelical perfection…teaches that patience must be maintained, not in words but in inward tranquillity of heart.

It bids us preserve it whatever evil happens, that we may keep ourselves always from disturbing anger.

By submitting to their injuries, we seek to compel those, who are disturbed by their own fault, to become calm…and so overcome their rage by our gentleness.

And so also we shall fulfil these words of the Apostle: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21).

It is quite clear that this cannot be fulfilled by those who utter words of gentleness and humility in such a spirit and rage that they not only fail to lessen the fire of wrath which has been kindled, but, rather, make it blaze up the more fiercely both in their own feelings and in those of their enraged brother.

But these, even if they could in some way keep calm and quiet themselves, would yet not bear any fruits of righteousness, while they claim the glory of patience on their part by their neighbour’s loss.

For this is to be altogether removed from that apostolic love which “Seeks not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5) but the things of others.

For apostolic love does not so desire riches in such a way as to make profit for itself out of one’s neighbour’s loss, nor does it wish to gain anything if it involves the spoiling of another.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 16,22.

John Cassian: A Holy and Unceasing Pondering of the Divine Law Friday, Oct 29 2010 

Sf-IoanCasianIt is a sure sign of a mind that is cold and proud, if it receives with disdain and carelessness the medicine of the words of salvation, although it be offered with the zeal of excessive persistence. For “a soul that is full jeers at honeycomb; but to a soul that is in want even little things appear sweet” (Prov. 27:7).

And so, if these things have been carefully taken in and stored up in the recesses of the soul and stamped with the seal of silence, afterwards, like some sweet scented wine that makes glad the heart of man, they will, when mellowed by the antiquity of the thoughts and by long-standing patience, be brought forth from the jar of your heart with great fragrance.

And, like some perennial fountain, they will flow abundantly from the veins of experience and irrigating channels of virtue and will pour forth copious streams as if from some deep well in your heart.

For that will happen in your case, which is spoken in Proverbs to one who has achieved this in his work: “Drink waters from your own cisterns and from the fount of your own wells. Let waters from your own fountain flow in abundance for you, but let your waters pass through into your streets” (Prov. 5:15-16).

And according to the prophet Isaiah: “Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail. And the places that have been desolate for ages shall be built in thee; thou shalt raise up the foundations of generation and generation; and thou shalt be called the repairer of the fences, turning the paths into rest” (Isaiah 58:11-12).

And that blessedness shall come upon you which the same prophet promises: “And the Lord will not cause thy teacher to flee away from thee any more, and thine eyes shall see thy teacher. And thine ears shall hear the word of one admonishing thee behind thy back: This is the way, walk ye in it, and go not aside either to the right hand or to the left” (Isaiah 30:20-21).

And so it will come to pass that not only every purpose and thought of your heart, but also all the wanderings and rovings of your imagination will become to you a holy and unceasing pondering of the Divine law.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 14,13.

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