The next peculiar grace of our devotion is that of
simplicity, Although simplicity is the most inimitable of the Divine
perfections, nevertheless the imitation of it is an essential part of
holiness, and hence it is now presented to us in the Gospel as "the
simplicity which is in Christ," Simplicity aims at one end, seeks one
object, is occupied with one work, and loves with singleness of heart.
In its relations with God, it puts away all multitude, all
capriciousness, all distraction, all attachment; and its strength lies
in its unity of purpose and its concentration of effort. In its
relations with others, it is gentle, open, fair, without disguise,
without insincerity, without flattery, without deceit. Now the more
crowded and artificial the world becomes, obviously the more difficult
is the practice of simplicity: for it is the reflection of the
immutable and spotless truth of God Himself. Scripture reveals to us
quite in startling language the
intensity of God's hatred of a lie. But there are hundreds of things,
which do not amount to lies, but which are contrary to the beautiful
perfection of simplicity. There is a speech and a silence, there are
looks, manners, permissions, concealments, dubious smiles, pretended
inadvertencies, unworthy conventions, and intentional .distractions,
which grieve the Holy Spirit, and make sad ravages of an interior soul,
though they are far short of , absolute falsehood, I think it is St.
Augustine who says somewhere, that the devil so envied God the
possession of His beloved Word, that he strove to mimic the Eternal
Generation of the Son and to produce a word himself, which should be as
far as was in his power consubstantial with himself, and that he
straightway begot a lie; so that a lie is the devil's word, a daring,
foul and loathsome image of the Ever-glorious and Only-begotten Son of
God. This explains the intensity of God's hatred of a lie. And then the
Saint, or the old Italian commentator where I found it long ago, goes
on to say that God made lying to be but a venial sin, in order to
destroy its empire and degrade its power, and because of the facility
of the sin and the pressure of the temptations, and in contempt for
Satan's craft. This is an exposition of our Lord's name for the devil,
the father of lies.
Now all this may be recommended to the notice even of spiritual persons. They offend God and do themselves a mischief by untruth, not in the shape of falsehood, but in the shape of want of simplicity. If you would be perfect, you must be truthful to a scruple. A hairsbreadth of deceit must be to you as if it were a mile of positive untruth. Persons professing to aim at a life of union with God, and whose discretion fails of being supernatural because it falls short of simplicity, are sometimes heard to quote what writers of moral theology teach, about the permissions of equivocations, amphibology, and mental reserve. I wish it could be rudely forced home upon them how shocking this is! Moral theology is not a system of ascetics, or a code of the counsels of perfection. The writers are engaged in showing either what is the very least of good dispositions on which we may rest a reluctant absolution, so as to attract sinners more powerfully to God, and to advance the kingdom of Christ to the furthest limits of sheer possibility, and to carry the Precious Blood to the furthest limit to which it will go, or in explaining for the guidance of the priest how far an action may be imperfect, and what amount of unworthiness it may contain, without being an absolute breach of any of God's laws and so subjecting the offender to certain spiritual punishments and disabilities. They might as well model their kindliness to the poor, sick, and sorrowing around them on the manual of a Justice of the Peace as practise spirituality on a treatise of moral theology. Forgive my repeating it. Get out of these little untruthfulnesses. When a man says in defence of himself, It is not a sin, he is making a public profession of abandoning the pursuit of perfection. Remember the maxim of a holy man; Le grand obstacle du progrès spirituel est de ne s'abstenir que de ce qui paroît offense de Dieu, et de faire sans scrupule ce qui se peut faire sans crime.
Furthermore, while I am saying so much as this, I will venture to say somewhat more. Some of the best writers say that when equivocations and mental reserves, even where we seem in strictness to have a right to use them, are so against the custom and genius of a country that they would have the effect of direct untruth and would weaken the foundations of public faith, we are not at liberty to use them. How far, it may be suggested, does not this render the whole teaching about them inapplicable to the country in which we are living, and to that virtue of truth which, like hope in Pandora's box, seems to many persons (truly or not) to have remained, when all else that was godly made wings to itself and flew away? It is worth a thought. However, even if we are, as other nations find us in diplomacy, and as we Catholics find our fellow-countrymen in parliament and on juries, not altogether as truthful as could be wished, it is plain that we pretend to be truthful, and honour with our praise the virtue we dishonour with our practise; and this is enough to make real scruple about it especially desirable. But of one thing I am quite clear, that many persons aiming at perfection, practising mental prayer, and performing bodily mortifications, come to a dead standstill because of their want of scruple about insincerities far short of untruth. Diplomacy of manner, way, and speech, circuitous routes for courtesy's sake, giving things the wrong names, and being silent when silence is really speech, these things are undoing men's sanctity and causing Saints to break in the mould and frustrating beautiful purposes of grace every day; and so subtle is the delusion that when men feel that something is wrong in them but cannot depict it they wake up as it were to some rude, savage theories of misplaced and inopportune fraternal correction, or think to compensate for their cowardly double-dealing and double-tonguedness by the misplaced effusions of a vulgar candour. The devil will turn their attention in any direction rather than the right one. He dearly loves those little plausibilities and diplomacies. They are caverns where he finds congenial darkness, even when the rays of grace are beaming brightest on the soul, and where he lies hid till the splendours have faded into the usual grey twilight of the soul that is but half for God.
All around us is hollow and insincere. The world is so in all ages: how eminently must it be so in a time of great luxury and high civilization! Simplicity is lacking in every department of life. As year glides away after year, it is the great truth which our experience is always teaching, and yet which is ever new to us, because the disappointment is ever raw, that even good people are less true, less frank, less honest, less manly, less noble than we took them to be. We go on trusting, only because it is so intensely miserable not to trust, that we would rather trust and be deceived, than not trust at all. It is the cry which age utters more and more piteously, as time goes on and the hair grows grey, that the beautifulness of truth is departed from among us. For it is a sort of consolation to believe that the time of youth was a golden age and that the world has worsened since. Alas! the gilding that we miss was never there: it was only sunshine that we projected from ourselves. It is hard to exaggerate the want of simplicity which is around us. No one is to his dearest friend what he really is. Let us take ourselves the man whom we most love and revere. How little does he know of us! How little do we let him know of us! How much we give him to understand which in reality is not true! We are acting a part before him. We are weighing our words, exaggerating our sympathies, balancing our judgments, toning our minds to his. We would not for the world he should know what we really are. There are whole parts of our character curtained off from his observation. We see where his judgment of us is falsely favourable, but we have not the heart to set him right. We cannot trust the strength of his love in the face of our real vileness. Sometimes we hate ourselves for this very deceitfulness; it is so intolerable a thing to be loved for the very virtue, of whose opposite vice we are in fact the slaves. If even friendship is thus conventionally, nay, inevitably and blamelessly insincere, what must the less sacred relations of society be? Take away from social intercourse false praise of others, and half conscious and half unconscious praise of self, and what is left behind? A hateful refuse of uncharitable judgments of others, and nothing more. In one word, wherever we look and on whatever point we bring our scrutiny to bear, all around us is lie, affectation, and pretence. Forced sympathies, unreal excitements, imaginary interests, hypocritical enthusiasms, fashionable likings and dislikings, contagious imitations, and a whole significant world of conventional conversation, which has not the meaning the language grammatically only would convey-----these are the component parts of daily well-mannered intercourse. And how long will even the domestic virtues live and thrive in such a circumambient atmosphere? As to the name of God, a rude blow would hardly be a coarser surprise than it would be, amid the nicely-adjusted and smoothly-fitting insincerities of the system. What wonder that year after year this greedy, gnawing London, into whose den the young generations are thrown successively, should be eating the worth out of men and the very heart out of women?
But let us cast an eye at the action of simplicity in the spiritual life. Simplicity lives always in a composed consciousness of its own demerit and unworthiness. It is possessed with a constant sense of what the soul is in the sight of God. It knows that we are worth no more than we are worth in His sight; and while it never takes its eye off that view of self, so it does not in any way seek to hide it from others. In fact it desires to be this, and no more than this, in the eyes of others; and it is pained when it is more. Every neighbour is as it were one of God's eyes, multiplying His presence; and simplicity acts as if everyone saw us, knew us, and judged us, as God does; and it has no wounded feeling that it is so. Thus, almost without direct effort, the sphere of self-love is so narrowed that it has comparatively little room for action; although it never can be destroyed, nor its annoyance ever cease, except in the silence of the grave. The chains of human respect, which in the earlier stages of the spiritual life galled us so intolerably, now falloff from us, because simplicity has drawn us into the unclouded and unsetting light of the Eye of God. There is no longer any hypocrisy. There is no good opinion to lose, because we know we deserve none, and doubt if we possess it. We believe we are loved in spite of our faults. and respected because of the grace which is in us, and which is not our own and no praise to us. All diplomacy is gone; for there is no one to circumvent and nothing to appropriate. There is no odious laying ourselves out for edification; but an inevitable and scarcely conscious letting of our light shine before men, in such an obviously innocent and unintentional manner that it is on that account they glorify our Father who is in Heaven. Who would dare to talk of God as laying Himself out to display His own perfections in creation? Nay, He hides Himself; He has to be looked for and found out by all manner of deep thought. unexpected concealments, noiseless disclosures, and delightful surprises. The secrecy of the Saints is akin to their simplicity. But this leads me almost at once to our next grace. So that I shall say no more now than that simplicity clothes us from head to foot in Christian-like gracefulness. It gives an unworldly air to all we do, an astonishing persuasiveness to all we say, and our very silence and inaction have something so celestial about them that they exercise evil and convert souls.
5. There is still another flower of the twofold devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Infancy, the grace of the hidden life. We have already had to deplore the want of a recognition of God's presence in the world; and we have seen that the very things, on which we pride ourselves, only render that recognition fainter and more infrequent. Literature, philosophy, science, politics, and fashion, they are all striving to do without God, and are restless under the thought of Him, unless He will be to each of them the kind of God after the imaginings of their own hearts. Now the publicity of modern times has a great deal to do with this. The more we live before the world the less we live before God. The more the world's judgment is to us, the less is God's. The glare of the world's eye is angry and jealous, and it blinds us to the soft, pervasive, pleading look of the Eye of God. There is no more privacy now. We live in the streets and squares, as the old Athenians did, not for the laudable reason they had, that their homes were simple and unluxurious, and their sky serene and beautiful, but because we are passionately enamoured of notoriety. All society seems to be a collection of self-erected bars, before which anybody and everybody is being called daily, for every sort of action, even for the details and scandals of domestic life. All mankind have agreed to confer jurisdiction upon themselves and upon each other to sit in judgment on their peers, and to open tribunals the very opposite of Christian confessionals. They do not see how public opinion can be kept pure, and public morals up to the mark of comfortable, and secure enjoyment of property and character without them. Associations, whether of a political, literary, or scientific character, or for mutual benefit and periodical banqueting, are developments of the same mania for publicity. Clubs are a social expression of it. The immense number of persons among whom the responsibility of government is infinitesimally shared, leads to the same result; and the increased facilities of rapid communication play into its hands; and the great tyrannical prophet of it all is the press, and the irresponsible despotic sway of anonymous journalism.
This great publicity is infectious, and gives rise to little publicities, and to a spirit of publicity; and here it is that the spiritual life touches upon it, and suffers from it. In spirituality talking is always a loss of power. It is like steam. It is mighty when it is imprisoned, a mere vapour when it is set free. The "secret of the king" is dishonoured when publicity is given to it, and it is no longer an element of earnestness, a source of fortitude within the soul. Better is it to follow the poet's advice:
"Prune thou thy words, the thoughts control
That o'er thee swell and throng;
They will condense within thy soul,
And change to purpose strong.
But he, who lets his feelings run
In soft luxurious flow,
Shrinks when hard service must be done,
And faints at every woe.
Faith's meanest deed more favour bears,
Where hearts and wills are weighed,
Than brightest transports, choicest prayers,
Which bloom their hour and fade."
Hence it is that so few people have a sufficiently strong spiritual constitution to be able to indulge unharmed in conversation about their interior life and their mystical experience. It almost always enervates them, and leads to distracted prayers, misty examinations of conscience, and broken resolutions.
So also is it in good works. Many fine plans have been spoiled prematurely by making them public. Not only because it was indiscreet, and had raised obstacles which would otherwise have been taken quietly and disarmed unawares. [We omitted a footnote here, the text of which was all in French.] But also because we get tired of a thing which we talk much about. Our firmness goes off in talk. Our courage too is disheartened because of the chilling and adverse criticism to which we have exposed ourselves. And thus partly because the charm of novelty is passed away, and partly because we shrink under criticism, and partly because we have forfeited God's special blessing by parading our good intention in the sunshine of the world's praise, we abandon our purpose, leaving it only just begun, or half done, or not begun at all, which is really the best fortune of all, because it is the least scandal. Our power to persevere went with our divulging the secret. In like manner charity is unqueened by all this publicity. Everything that is lovely and heavenly about it is marred and disfigured, the bloom gone from it, the odour passed off, because its sanctuary has been invaded. Neither is this the worst evil. Methods of sin and occasions of sin are multiplied by our knowing so much of each other, and by seeking so much to make ourselves known. The tongue is a fountain that requires a huge water-power to feed it, and this power publicity seems abundantly to furnish; so that with that class of sins, a desperate, hungry, multitudinous, insatiate brood, the facilities are almost converted into necessities. But we not only want to give ourselves publicity, but to know the publicity of others. Hence our minds are filled with such a host of little details, scandals, gossips, rum ours, hints, surmises, interpretations, and judgments, that we are hardly able to practise the presence of God at all; and as to our prayers, distractions invade them with such irresistible regularity, that we can foresee and calculate the time when it will be no prayer at all, but all distraction; just as those loose sterile dunes of sand advance ruthlessly upon poor seaside villages, and will not grow a blade of grass, nor a willow sprout, whose roots might give some security by giving some consistence. What comes of this, but want of greatness? It is all so mean, so very mean. For the love of publicity, interpreted spiritually; comes to this. The soul is so wearied of elevating itself to God, so tired of breathing the thin, pure air of His presence, that it turns faint and leans upon the world, and makes the world its judge, its remunerator, its God; and as the world lives on speed, feeds like a swallow as it flies, and cares for no harvest but swift results and the grandeurs of a night, everything becomes shallow about us, tall without girth, inconsistent, and insecure: everything must be run up, there is no time to grow. Novelties are wanted, and successes, and wonders, and sudden starts, and bold moves, and simultaneous, comprehensive achievements. And all these things are the contradictories of the spiritual life.
It is a bad thing to be in the world's glare, and a hard thing to get out of it; and publicity, like the sun, takes the colour out of our dyes, but it cannot like the sun paint the flowers or mature the fruit. Still there are ways and means for such as will try them, and which have a certain aptitude to win a blessing upon them. I will venture upon five little rules. 1. Always keep some one thing concerning yourself hidden, some one good action, or some one grace, or some one virtuous quality which you think others would be likely to esteem. This one secret will be as good as a fortress to you. 2. Never communicate to others matters of spiritual direction, neither what you have mentioned to your spiritual guide, nor the advice which he has given you. By mentioning the first you lose true knowledge of yourself, for you exaggerate what you reveal, and by the second you lose the power of following the advice given. The extra mischief you do is a secondary consideration, though it is by no means small. 3. Leave some one branch of knowledge an unknown country to you. It must be at once some department of knowledge which is not needful for the proper discharge of your duties, and at the same time is an object of curiosity and desire to you. You will not find a firmer footing in the soul, when you come to wrestle, than in this voluntary and self-denying ignorance. 4. Never keep a spiritual journal, a record of pious thoughts, or any vestige of a religious autobiography. I do not mean to say that Saints have not done so. But you must not do it. You will live in a land of dreams and conceits if you do, and, though perhaps you do not believe it now, you will actually come at last to do and to say follies, ill order to write them down afterwards. If you would know how the infatuation of keeping a journal is entangled with every root and fibre of self-love, throw your journal into the fire, and you will find out. Forget yourself, and what you have gone through. God remembers. Surely that is enough. If your visions and your ecstasies and your sweet thoughts of God are a boon the world could hardly do without, God will send you a spiritual director to command you under holy obedience to write them down. Wait till He does so. 5. Never remove a misunderstanding which has arisen about you, until you have quietly looked at it three separate times, in honour of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and are satisfied that it is really for God's glory that you should do so. In most cases God gets more glory out of the misunderstanding, than out of the removal of it. But the removal of it is always for our own glory. And these two thoughts put together should make us slow, cautious, and reluctant to come out again into the sunshine of men's good opinion, when we have been so fortunate as to forfeit it without our fault.
These are at once the flowers and fruits of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Infancy: joy, adoration, gratitude, simplicity, and the grace of the hidden life. What more natural than that joy should come of the Sacred Infancy? The Angels sang; it was good tidings of great gladness. They are, as the Church calls them, the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. And what is the special grace of the Blessed Sacrament but spiritual sweetness and eucharistic joy? In the Sacred Infancy we are called upon to adore at every turn. If Jesus sleeps, or smiles, or weeps, or wakes, if He be in the manger, or on Mary's lap, or in Joseph's arms, there is God always and in every mystery, the living God, to be worshipped and adored in all His numerous hiding places. And the Blessed Sacrament is the adorable God Himself beneath the veils. The lamp burns, the bell rings, the incense smokes, the knee bends, the head bows, the tongue is hushed. All these are signs and symbols; for the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is the adoration of the Uncreated Majesty. Adoration is of the essence of the devotion, not merely of its integrity. Every circumstance of the Sacred Infancy is in itself a distinct motive of gratitude. From the nature of the case it must be so. It is one of the first feelings which the Incarnation produces; and at our first view of Jesus it is naturally poured forth. There can be no need to show the connection between gratitude and. the Blessed Sacrament; for is not the Eucharist itself by its very name rightfully proclaimed the Sacrament of Thanksgiving? Simplicity is the presiding unity of the Sacred Infancy. If to be holy we are to become as little children, to be Saints we must be as the little Child of Bethlehem. And simplicity is equally the great law of the Blessed Sacrament. It is not something consecrated by the virtue of God, it is God Himself. It is not the influence, the effect, the grace of Jesus: it is Jesus Himself, the personal fount of grace: and therefore it confers grace in a different manner, or at least by a different title from the other sacraments. Indeed, if the casualty of grace in the Sacraments be moral and not physical, as is by some considered more probable, then is it probable 24 that not the Body of our Lord only, but the species also, confer grace, a doctrine which adds to the simplicity of its operation, and is very wonderful beside. To speak of Bethlehem and Nazareth, of the Host and the Tabernacle, what is it but to speak of the hidden life? Before our Lord came, the world knew nothing of it. It is one of the new ideas which the Incarnation has deposed in the bosom of humanity. It is one of the salient characteristics of the final revelation of God to man. It is a doctrine, a practice, a devotion, which is Catholic all over. It seems to pass away with orthodoxy, as if it were of that very quintessence of the Gospel, which escapes and is breathed away where the unity of the Church has been broken by ever so slight a rent.
Such is the comparison between the devotions to the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Infancy, suggested by the practice of the Church, and disclosed by our Lord Himself in His secret communications with His Saints. The devotions are almost identical in spirit. Their mysteries are so remarkably similar as to suggest that the one was a type and adumbration of the other, if anything so real can be called a shadow. The devotional phenomena of the Blessed Sacrament are quite as beautiful as those of the Sacred Infancy, and tend towards the same results in the spiritual life. But here a great and double contrast arises between the two. The devotion to the Sacred Infancy is strictly commemorative. It is love and worship dwelling on the past. The mysteries of Bethlehem and Nazareth were once living and in action. Now they live in faith only. The world saw them, heard them, touched them, felt them. Now they are poetry, history, doctrine, and devotion. Thus our worship as it were goes through them and seeks Jesus beyond them, and rests in Him far away. But devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is the worship of the living presence of Jesus. It implies an act daily renewed, a mystery in constant and real action, and here with us and amongst us, before our own eyes and by our own voices. Its mysteries are alive and present and in vivid operation. Its operations are contemporary with our own. It is the true reality of our dear Lord's Sacred Humanity, not a mere memorial of some beautiful thing which He did above a thousand years ago. This of course gives a depth and solemnity, an earnestness and a truth, to this devotion, with which none other can compare. Then, secondly, if we put out of view the merely memorial character of devotion to the Sacred Infancy, and suppose it to be in the course of being enacted really and truly before our eyes, we may contrast in themselves the mysteries of Bethlehem with the mysteries of the Altar; and we may venture with all reverence to say, that the wisdom and the power and the condescension of God have outdone upon the Altar what they did at Bethlehem. The operations are even yet more subtle and more wonderful, more hidden and more heavenly. Nay, the fact that such another depth of goodness, such a new vista of miraculous compassions, losing themselves in infinity and darkness, should be disclosed, after the stupendous abyss of the Incarnation had opened up and given forth its creations of beauty, its portents of power, its revelations of love, its manifold sacramental forms of divine grace, surely this in itself was a new wonder, as the Incarnation itself was a wonder upon creation. It is not with God as with His people. The glory of the second temple was greater than the glory of the first, and the glory of the third united and excelled the glories of the other two.
Let us, then, betake ourselves with new fervour to this queen of Sacraments, and renew our faith that we may become like the Child of Bethlehem. As De Lugo says, it may be piously believed, thought it cannot be proved, that, equal dispositions being supposed, the Eucharist, simply as a Sacrament and in its sacramental action, may confer upon us such grace in quantity and quality as is unknown to the other Sacraments. 25 It is a pious belief, though the truth can be known to God only. But the chief thing is that our Lord is there, and therein consists the indubitable preeminence of this glorious Sacrament. Let us not be afraid of the venturesome questions of deep theology. Remember, the leader of them, St. Thomas, is a Saint, of whom our Lord Himself said that he had written well of Him. The Church is by our side. No questions are idle. Scholastic wisdom is never wholly subtle. Holiness and fear and unworldliness and love will all grow in our hearts while we lift the veil and gaze, as far as He lets us, through the medium of pure and saintly minds, on this mysterious operation in the Venerable Eucharist.
Blessed are they who through the singleness of a pure intention, through the keenness of their faith, and through the ardour of their love, even on earth copy the Eternal One, work with Him, work for Him, work in Him, follow His fashions and bide His time. One day by a stretch of compassion we shall lie in the Bosom of the Eternal, and gaze upon the sweet Vision of Him; and far beneath that harbour of our peace there will be no more the cities of earth, ringing with the strong voice of labour. The world will have passed away: and as when some mighty tree falls in a forest, there is a rustling of the tossing leaves and then a thundering crash, and a little silence, and the green boughs meet and wave again over the place of the giant that has fallen, and the fearless song of some little bird fills the summer air-----so will the world have sped away, and the ceaseless songs of seraphs will be heard, clear and soft and beautiful, as though there had never been a fallen world, clear and soft and beautiful as on creation's dawn, and in the selfsame strains, most wonderful, most sweet, Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus! Dominus Deus
24. De Lugo, de Euch. I. ii, 22-23.
25. De Lugo. 1. i. xi.