Isaac the Syrian: Trials and temptations Wednesday, Apr 2 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3Hardships for the sake of the good are loved as the good itself.

Nobody can acquire real renunciation save him that is determined in his mind to bear troubles with pleasure.

Nobody can bear trouble save him that believes that there is something more excellent than bodily consolation which he shall acquire in reward for trouble.

Everyone that has devoted himself to renunciation, will first perceive the love of trouble stir within himself; thereupon the thought of renouncing all worldly things will take shape in him.

Everyone who comes near unto trouble will at first be confirmed in faith; then he will come near unto trouble.

He that renounces worldly things without renouncing the senses, sight and hearing, he prepares twofold trouble for himself and he will find tribulation in a twofold measure.

Or rather: while he refrains from the use of things, he delights in them through the senses; and by the affections which they cause he experiences the same from them that he had to endure in reality before; because the recollection of their customs is not effaced from the mind.

If then imaginary representations existing in the mind alone can torture man, apart from the things corresponding to them in reality, what shall we say when the real things are close at hand?

[…] The hard temptations into which God brings the soul are in accordance with the greatness of His gifts.

If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know with certainty that, as it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation, so it is not worthy of a large gift.

As great temptations have been withdrawn from it, so large gifts are also withdrawn from it. God never gives a large gift and small temptations.So temptations are to be classed in accordance with gifts.

Thus from the hardships to which you have been subjected you may understand the measure of the greatness which your soul has reached. In accordance with affection is consolation.

What then? Temptation, then gifts ; or gifts and afterwards temptation? Temptation does not come if the soul has not received secretly greatness above its previous rank, as well as the spirit of adoption as sons.

We have a proof of it in the temptation of our Lord and of the Apostles; for they were not allowed to be tempted before they had received the Comforter. Those who partake of good have also to bear temptations.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 39, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck (slightly adapted).

Francis de Sales: Spiritual Sugar-Plums Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Franz_von_SalesJanuary 24th is the feast of St Francis de Sales.

A little child, who sees the surgeon bleed his mother, will cry when he sees the lancet touch her;

but let that mother for whom he weeps ask for his apple or a sugar-plum which he has in his hand, and he will on no account part with it; and too much of our seeming devotion is of this kind.

We weep feelingly at the spear piercing the Crucified Saviour’s Side, and we do well,—but why cannot we give Him the apple we hold, for which He asks, heartily?

I mean our heart, the only love-apple which that Dear Saviour craves of us.

Why cannot we resign the numberless trifling attachments, indulgences, and self-complacencies of which He fain would deprive us, only we will not let Him do so; because they are the sugar-plums, sweeter to our taste than His Heavenly Grace?

Surely this is but as the fondness of children;—demonstrative, but weak, capricious, unpractical.

Devotion does not consist in such exterior displays of a tenderness which may be purely the result of a naturally impressionable, plastic character; or which may be the seductive action of the Enemy, or an excitable imagination stirred up by him.

Nevertheless these tender warm emotions are sometimes good and useful, for they kindle the spiritual appetite, cheer the mind, and infuse a holy gladness into the devout life, which embellishes all we do even externally.

It was such a taste for holy things that made David cry out, “O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat, yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth.” And assuredly the tiniest little comfort received through devotion is worth far more than the most abundant delights of this world.

The milk of the Heavenly Bridegroom, in other words His spiritual favours, are sweeter to the soul than the costliest wine of the pleasures of this world, and to those who have tasted thereof all else seems but as gall and wormwood.

There is a certain herb which, if chewed, imparts so great a sweetness that they who keep it in their mouth cannot hunger or thirst; even so those to whom God gives His Heavenly manna of interior sweetness and consolation, cannot either desire or even accept worldly consolations with any real zest or satisfaction.

It is as a little foretaste of eternal blessedness which God gives to those who seek it; it is as the sugar-plum with which He attracts His little ones; as a cordial offered to strengthen their heart; as the first-fruits of their future reward.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 13.

Peter Damian: Then God Bends Down, Cradles the Fallen Figure and Whispers Words of Consolation Thursday, Feb 21 2013 

PeterDamianYou asked me to write you some words of consolation, my brother. Embittered by so many tribulations, you are seeking some comfort for your soul.

[…] Consolation is already within your reach, if your good sense has not been dulled. My son, come to the service of God. Stand in justice and fear. Prepare your soul; it is about to be tested.

These words of Scripture show that you are a son of God and, as such, should take possession of your inheritance.

What could be clearer than this exhortation? Where there is justice as well as fear, adversity will surely test the spirit.

But it is not the torment of a slave. Rather it is the discipline of a child by its parent.

Even in the midst of his many sufferings, the holy man Job could say: Whip me, crush me, cut me in slices! And he would always add: This at least would bring me relief, yet my persecutor does not spare me.

But for God’s chosen ones there is great comfort; the torment lasts but a short time. Then God bends down, cradles the fallen figure, whispers words of consolation.

With hope in his heart, man picks himself up and walks again toward the glory of happiness in heaven.

Craftsmen exemplify this same practice. By hammering gold, the smith beats down the dross. The sculptor files metal to reveal a shining vein underneath. The potter’s furnace puts vessels to the test. And the fire of suffering tests the mettle of just men.

The apostle James echoes this thought: Think it a great joy, dear brothers and sisters, when you stumble onto the many kinds of trials and tribulations.

When men suffer pain for the evil they have perpetrated in life, they should take some reassurance. They also know that for their good deeds undying rewards await them in the life to come.

[…] Do not be depressed. Do not let your weakness make you impatient. Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face.

Let the joy of your mind burst forth. Let words of thanks break from your lips. The way that God deals with men can only be praised.

[…] He pins people down now; at a later time he will raise them up. He cuts them before healing; he throws them down to raise them anew.

The Scriptures reassure us: let your understanding strengthen your patience. In serenity look forward to the joy that follows sadness.

Hope leads you to that joy and love enkindles your zeal. The well-prepared mind forgets the suffering inflicted from without and glides eagerly to what it has contemplated within itself.

Peter Damian (c.1007-1072): Sermons, bk.8,6, @ Universalis.

Gregory of Nyssa: The Kingdom of Heaven Within Us – the Joy which the Spirit Instils into Our Souls Monday, Oct 22 2012 

In speaking about the different virtues, we cannot say that one is better than the rest, or that we should pursue them in order of merit.

For in fact they are of equal importance with one another, and linked together they lead those who practice them to the height of perfection.

Sincerity leads to obedience, obedience in turn to faith, and faith to hope, hope to righteousness, righteousness to service, and service to humility.

From humility we learn gentleness which leads to joy, as joy leads to love, and love to prayer.

Thus bound to one another and binding their zealous follower, the virtues lead him to the very height of his desires, just as the various forms of wickedness lead those attached to them down the oppo­site way to the utmost depths of evil.

But we must above all devote ourselves to prayer; for prayer is like a choir-leader in the choir of virtues, by means of which we ask God for the virtues we still lack.

Devotion to prayer unites the Christian to God in the communion of a mystic sanctity, in a spiritual possession and a disposition of the soul that no words can describe.

With the Spirit then to guide and help him, his love for the Lord like a bright flame, he prays unceasingly in ardent desire, always burning with love for the divine good and refreshing his soul with renewed zeal.

As Scripture says: Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more; and elsewhere: You have filled my heart with gladness.

So too the Lord says: The kingdom of heaven is within you.

By the kingdom within us he certainly means that joy which the Spirit instils into our souls from above, as an image and a pledge, reflecting the eternal joy which the souls of the faithful possess in the life to come.

So the Lord comforts us in all our afflictions through the working of the Spirit, to keep us safe and to grant us a share of spiritual gifts and of his own special grace.

He comforts us in all our troubles, says the Apostle, so that we may be able to comfort others in their distress.

And the psalmist says: My whole being cries out with joy to the living God; and: My soul is richly feasted, indicating in all such symbolic sayings the joy and comfort that come from the Spirit.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Christian Way of Life, II (Jaeger VIII, 77-79); from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Wednesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 2

Symeon the Metaphrast: In Prayer the Saints Experience Communion in the Hidden Energy of God’s Holiness Saturday, Sep 22 2012 

The crown of every good endeavour and the highest of achievements is diligence in prayer.

Through this, God guiding us and lending a helping hand, we come to acquire the other virtues.

It is in prayer that the saints experience communion in the hidden energy of God’s holiness and inner union with it, and their intellect itself is brought through unutterable love into the presence of the Lord.

“Thou hast given gladness to my heart”, wrote the psalmist (Ps. 4:7); and the Lord Himself said that “the kingdom of heaven is within you” (cf Luke 17:21).

And what does the kingdom being within mean except that the heavenly gladness of the Spirit is clearly stamped on the virtuous soul?

For already in this life, through active communion in the Spirit, the virtuous soul receives a foretaste and a prelude of the delight, joy and spiritual gladness which the saints will enjoy in the eternal light of Christ’s kingdom.

This is something that St Paul also affirms: “He consoles us in our afflictions, so that we can console others in every affliction through the consolation with which we ourselves have been consoled by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

And passages in the Psalms likewise hint at this active gladness and consolation of the Spirit, such as: “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God” (Ps. 84:2. LXX): and: “My soul will be filled with marrow and fatness” (Ps. 63:5).

[…] Not only does St Paul instruct us to pray without ceasing and to persist in prayer (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12), but so also does the Lord when He says that God will vindicate those who cry out to Him day and night (cf. Luke 18:7) and counsels us to “watch and pray” (Matt. 26 : 41). We must therefore pray always and not lose heart (cf. Luke 18:1).

To put things more succinctly: he who persists in prayer has to struggle greatly and exert himself  relentlessly if he is to overcome the many obstacles with which the devil tries to impede his diligence –

obstacles such as sleep, listlessness, physical torpor, distraction of thought, confusion of intellect, debility, and so on, not to mention afflictions, and also the attacks of the evil spirits that violently fight against us, opposing us and trying to prevent the soul from approaching God when it truly and ceaselessly seeks Him.

Symeon the Metaphrast (10th century?): Paraphrase of the Homilies St Makarios of Egypt, 1,18; 20. Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979). 

Jerome: Do Not Despair of His Mercy, for Great Mercy Will Take Away Great Sins Friday, Aug 26 2011 

St.-Jerome-of-StridoniumReturn to me with all your heart and show a spirit of repentance with fasting, weeping and mourning; so that while you fast now, later you may be satisfied, while you weep now, later you may laugh, while you mourn now, you may some day enjoy consolation.

It is customary for those in sorrow or adversity to tear their garments…. I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord.

After you have done this, return to the Lord your God, from whom you had been alienated by your sins. Do not despair of his mercy, no matter how great your sins, for great mercy will take away great sins.

For the Lord is gracious and merciful and prefers the conversion of a sinner rather than his death. Patient and generous in his mercy, he does not give in to human impatience but is willing to wait a long time for our repentance.

So extraordinary is the Lord’s mercy in the face of evil, that if we do penance for our sins, he regrets his own threat and does not carry out against us the sanctions he had threatened. So by the changing of our attitude, he himself is changed.

[…]  In like manner, given all that we have said above – that God is kind and merciful, patient, generous with his forgiveness, and extraordinary in his mercy toward evil – lest the magnitude of his clemency make us lax and negligent, he adds this word through his prophet: Who knows whether he will not turn and repent and leave behind him a blessing?

In other words, he says: “I exhort you to repentance, because it is my duty, and I know that God is inexhaustibly merciful, as David says: Have mercy on me, God, according to your great mercy, and in the depths of your compassion, blot out all my iniquities.

“But since we cannot know the depth of the riches and of the wisdom and knowledge of God, I will temper my statement, expressing a wish rather than taking anything for granted, and I will say: Who knows whether he will not turn and repent?”

[…] To these words the prophet adds: Offerings and tribulations for the Lord our God. What he is saying to us in other words is that, God having blessed us and forgiven us our sins, we will then be able to offer sacrifice to God.

Jerome (347-420): Commentary on Joel, from the Office of Readings for Friday in the 21st week of Ordinary Time @ Crossroads Initiative.

Lawrence of Brindisi: Happy St. John, Blessed with the Gift of Divine Charity, because Jesus Loved Him Thursday, Jul 21 2011 

St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, the beloved disciple of Christ and, after the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos, the singular son of the Cross of Christ, was relegated to the island of Patmos.

There he suffered many things for the Faith of Christ, but was consoled in the same place by God with many celestial and divine revelations.

For, as St Paul says:  As there has abounded in us the sufferings of Christ, so also through Christ abound our consolations.

Again, According to the number of my sorrows in my heart, Thy consolations have made my soul rejoice.

St. John had rested upon the breast of the Lord during the Last Supper, and had chosen the best part, as Mary had done, which would not be taken from him.

With singular effort he had always been intent, after the Ascension of Christ the Lord into Heaven, upon divine contemplations.

In the time of tribulation he used to employ himself more vehemently with divine things; for this was the custom of the Saints.

At that time St. John, enkindled by a more ardent flame, was rapt unto God, and driven above by certain, seraphic ardors.

He began also to be overflowed more abundantly that usual and much more copiously with the sweetness of divine contemplation, and to feel more accumulatively the gifts of heavenly emissions.

God the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in our every tribulation had consoled him, just as once He did to Jacob, the Patriarch, with the vision of the heavenly Staircase, to Moses with the divine apparition in the burning bush, to the three youths in the ardent furnace with angelic consolation and heavenly refreshment.

He consoled St. Paul, whom for the sake of consolation, He snatched up to the third heaven, unto Paradise itself, in an ineffable manner with the vision of celestial glory.

Now in like manner He consoled St. John in many ways.  Often, with Heaven unbolted, He showed him, just as He had done to St. Stephen, the glory of Paradise, the glory of Christ, the glory of God.

Often He rendered him glad with the vision and locution of the Angels, and steeped him in great joy.

Often from the sublimity of the heavens, the most sweet Savior appeared to him.

Often he was deigned even with the vision of the glory of the Father.

O happy St. John, thrice and four times blessed, with the gift of divine charity!

Because Jesus loved him.

Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619): On the Vision of St. John, the Evangelist, 1.

Thomas à Kempis: You Must Bring to God a Clean and Open Heart Sunday, Mar 27 2011 

When Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult.

When He is absent, all is hard.

When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty.

But if He says only a word, it brings great consolation.

[…] How dry and hard you are without Jesus!

How foolish and vain if you desire anything but Him!

Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world?

For what, without Jesus, can the world give you?

Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise.

If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you.

He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world.

The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace.

It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to know how to keep Him.

Be humble and peaceful, and Jesus will be with you.

Be devout and calm, and He will remain with you.

[…] You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate.

Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other.

Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus.

Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love.

Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake.

[…] Never wish that anyone’s affection be centered in you, nor let yourself be taken up with the love of anyone, but let Jesus be in you and in every good man.

Be pure and free within, unentangled with any creature.

You must bring to God a clean and open heart if you wish to attend and see how sweet the Lord is.

Truly you will never attain this happiness unless His grace prepares you and draws you on so that you may forsake all things to be united with Him alone.

When the grace of God comes to a man he can do all things, but when it leaves him he becomes poor and weak, abandoned, as it were, to affliction.

Yet, in this condition he should not become dejected or despair.

On the contrary, he should calmly await the will of God and bear whatever befalls him in praise of Jesus Christ.

For after winter comes summer, after night, the day, and after the storm, a great calm.

Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): The Imitation of Christ, 2, 8.

 

Thomas à Kempis: “The Kingdom of God is Within You” Monday, Oct 25 2010 

“The kingdom of God is within you”, says the Lord (Luke 17:21).

Turn, then, to God with all your heart. Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest.

Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious.

Christ will come to you offering His consolation, if you prepare a fit dwelling for Him in your heart, whose beauty and glory, wherein He takes delight, are all from within.

His visits with the inward man are frequent, His communion sweet and full of consolation, His peace great, and His intimacy wonderful indeed.

Therefore, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this Bridegroom that He may come and dwell within you.

He Himself says: “If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him”. (John 14:23).

Give place, then, to Christ, but deny entrance to all others, for when you have Christ you are rich and He is sufficient for you. He will provide for you.

He will supply your every want, so that you need not trust in frail, changeable men. Christ remains forever, standing firmly with us to the end.

[…] Place all your trust in God; let Him be your fear and your love. He will answer for you; He will do what is best for you.

You have here no lasting home. You are a stranger and a pilgrim wherever you may be, and you shall have no rest until you are wholly united with Christ.

Why do you look about here when this is not the place of your repose? Dwell rather upon heaven and give but a passing glance to all earthly things. They all pass away, and you together with them.

Take care, then, that you do not cling to them lest you be entrapped and perish. Fix your mind on the Most High, and pray unceasingly to Christ.

If you do not know how to meditate on heavenly things, direct your thoughts to Christ’s passion and willingly behold His sacred wounds.

If you turn devoutly to the wounds and precious stigmata of Christ, you will find great comfort in suffering, you will mind but little the scorn of men, and you will easily bear their slanderous talk.

Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): The Imitation of Christ, 2, 1.

Alphonsus Liguori: Let Us Abandon Everything To God’s Good Pleasure Wednesday, Mar 10 2010 

What greater consolation can come to a soul than to know that by patiently bearing some tribulation, it gives God the greatest pleasure in its power?

[…] If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all things to the divine will.

Reflect that all the sins of your past wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God’s will.

[…] When anything disagreeable happens, remember it comes from God and say at once, “This comes from God” and be at peace: “I was dumb and opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it.

Lord, since thou hast done this, I will be silent and accept it. Direct all your thoughts and prayers to this end, to beg God constantly in meditation, Communion, and visits to the Blessed Sacrament that he help you accomplish his holy will.

Form the habit of offering yourself frequently to God by saying, “My God, behold me in thy presence; do with me and all that I have as thou pleasest.”

[…] How fortunate you, kind reader, if you too act thus! You will surely become a saint. Your life will be calm and peaceful; your death will be happy.

At death all our hope of salvation will come from the testimony of our conscience as to whether or not we are dying resigned to God’s will.

If during life we have embraced everything as coming from God’s hands, and if at death we embrace death in fulfillment of God’s holy will, we shall certainly save our souls and die the death of saints.

Let us then abandon everything to God’s good pleasure, because being infinitely wise, he knows what is best for us.

And, being all-good and all-loving – having given his life for us – he wills what is best for us.

Let us, as St. Basil counsels us, rest secure in the conviction that beyond the possibility of a doubt, God works to effect our welfare, infinitely better than we could ever hope to accomplish or desire it ourselves.

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787): Uniformity with God’s Will

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