The Imitation of The Sacred Heart of Jesus
In those who are advancing from good to better...
...the good Spirit moves the soul peacefully, calmly, gently: The evil spirit moves the soul roughly, confusedly, violently.
"Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest for your soul." Matthew 11:29
With this article we begin the "Second Book" of the treatise "Voice of Jesus – Voice of the Disciple." It is called the "Directory for the Second Book" and, as such, it is a bit longer than normal – a 15 minute read. But ever so worth the time to my serious readers!
1. The Voice of the Disciple
The object of this Second Book is, to teach us – after we have become disengaged from our evil and inordinate affections, how we should exert ourselves, that, by the practice of virtue, we may be enabled to make our election sure. In order to do this the more efficaciously, and the more sweetly, at the same time, we should place before our eyes Jesus, with the inward dispositions of His Heart; because, by following Him who is the way, the truth, and the life, we shall proceed, with safety, certainty, and pleasure, from virtue to virtue, and secure our salvation.
The practice of the virtues, by which we may follow the Heart of Jesus, and express His interior life in ourselves, can, in every state and condition of life, be performed in two ways. The first, by practicing those virtues which are of precept and which the state and condition of every one requires.
The second, by exercising, according to the divine good pleasure, those virtues also, which are of counsel, whereby our salvation is better secured, and the divine glory and our merits are the more increased. But since both these ways contain limitless degrees, whereby virtue is ever practiced with greater perfection, there is no one, how perfect soever he may be, who cannot here occupy himself profitably, and gather more abundant fruit.
As, however, Jesus willed that, in the imitation of His virtues, we should, above all, be humble and meek of heart, we must diligently attend and take care, both that, whatever virtues we learn and imitate in Him, we place them upon true humility as their groundwork, and perfect them in a meek charity; and again, that, in the very manner of imitating His virtues, we be especially meek and humble of heart.
2. Supernatural Virtue
Nowhere can we learn virtues more safely, and more easily, than in the Heart of Jesus. For, as that Heart is the pattern of true virtue, by merely looking upon It with attention, we shall see what virtue is, and what qualities it ought to possess: neither shall we run the risk of erring in a matter which is to us of so much importance, both for time and eternity.
Thence shall we learn, to our unspeakable consolation, that virtue is a right affection of the heart for an object, which is, in some manner, good: and we shall perceive that this good object – which sometimes we call, figuratively, virtue – is not in truth virtue itself, but simply the object of virtue. Thence we shall likewise learn, that virtue, in order to be such as it ought to be in every Christian, must not be natural, but supernatural; and we shall clearly distinguish the difference between the two.
The affections of the Heart of Jesus, which He reduced to acts, whether internal or external, did not spring from an impulse or motion of His human nature, but from a supernal or divine principle; they were not performed according to the sentiments of His human nature, but according to the divine good pleasure; they did not tend to some temporal delight of His human nature, but throughout to God, as to their last end.
Whence, if, from the impulse or emotion of mere nature, we strive after what is good; if we act simply according to the feelings of nature, whether of inclination or aversion; if we seek merely a natural end, we have only natural virtue, whereby we shall acquire no Christian perfection in this life, – no fruit of merit in eternity. But, if of the Heart of Jesus, we learn supernatural virtue, and the practice of the same; replenished with graces and merits, we shall lead an interior life, like to His own.
3. Interior Life
What is the interior life, – for which the life of the Heart of Jesus serves us as a model, – except to begin all our voluntary acts, internal as well as external, by the grace of God, or a supernatural principle; to perform them according to God's Will; to direct them to God and His interests, as to our end; to occupy ourselves in our Heart with God, our Savior; and to live for Him by love?
Now, all this he does, who begins all his voluntary acts by the divine good pleasure; who performs them according to the divine good pleasure; directs them to the divine good pleasure, as his end, – being most constantly occupied internally with the Lord, through love.
Behold the truly interior life, by which genuine and solid virtues are acquired; by which we may attain, safely and sweetly, to true sanctity and divine union. This life is fitted for every state and condition; it is adapted, not only to ecclesiastics and religious, but equally to all laics and persons in the world. Did not the first Christians generally lead this life? Does not the Gospel teach this life to all?
Whoever has a good will may lead this sanctifying life, practice supernatural virtue and attain to perfection. For, the acquiring, or not acquiring of virtue, does not depend on temperament, on a mild or passionate character, – as many seem to believe: but it depends on the grace of God, and the cooperation of man's will. For, since God gives grace, not in view of natural qualities, but first gratuitously, and afterwards also in consideration of supernatural merits and prayers; and since the human will, whatever be the natural disposition of a man, is truly free to co-operate, or not to co-operate with grace, it is evident, that virtue does not depend on temperament or natural disposition.
Wherefore, we acquire virtue the better, and the more perfectly, not in proportion as our natural disposition is yielding, but in proportion as our co-operation is more efficacious: we reach a more pure and more solid virtue, not by reason of the fewness of natural repugnancies we feel, but by means of the more generous acts of the will, which we perform, in spite of natural repugnancies. This doctrine, so full of consolation – which the Saints unanimously teach, and which they learned of the very Heart of Jesus – deserves our whole attention.
4. The Practice of Virtue
In the practice of virtue, we must guard against delusions, among which this one is the chief and most common: That we are satisfied with producing the object of a virtue, whilst we do not practice the virtue itself; or, that we believe that we practice a virtue, when we bring forward the object of virtue through a natural inclination or intention; or even that we think we can acquire true and solid virtue, without repeated and generous acts, whereby the emotions of the passions, and the impulses of nature are overcome or denied. They that neglect to cleanse their heart perfectly are especially wont to fall into this dreadful delusion.
Other delusions, which may occasionally occur in the practice of virtue, arise nearly all from the preceding. Such are: on the one hand, to grow despondent in mind, on account of the difficulties or oppositions of nature: to look upon these as obstacles to virtue, not as means, such as they may be in reality, if they are used with a generous heart, to acquire true and solid virtue: on the other hand, to deem the good qualities of nature, freedom from vices or temptations, a virtue; or, even, overlooking true and solid virtue, to aspire to divine union. Now, these, and other delusions, you will easily avoid, if, like a true Disciple of the Heart of Jesus, you lead an interior life.
5. Spiritual Life
When, therefore, you have come to that part of the spiritual life, which the Heart of Jesus teaches in this Book, you should direct your endeavors to this: to know and love Jesus as perfectly as you can, to learn and acquire, ever better and better, in thinking, in speaking, in acting, the dispositions of His Heart. To attain to this, besides the two methods of meditating – (which were given before the first Book) and which you may also employ here, if you find them useful – what follows, will enable you to understand more fully this matter.
6. Meditation and contemplation
The proper method of using this second Book is twofold: the one of meditating, the other of contemplating: both agree entirely with what the Saints have taught us concerning mental prayer.
If you meditate, let the memory represent to you some virtue of the Heart of Jesus, and let it retain the same, after the meditation; so as to put it in practice.
Let the understanding consider the qualities of the virtue proposed; then, let it compare your own heart with the Heart of Jesus, in regard to the virtue considered; afterwards, let it recall your past life, whether and how far you have practiced this virtue; if sufficiently, return thanks, and give honor to God, your Savior; but, if the contrary, grieve and ask pardon; lastly, let it look forward into the future, considering when, and how, you can improve this virtue.
Let the will embrace the same virtue, excite internal acts of the same; yea, conversing with Jesus Himself, let it utter the sentiments of the heart: for what it is sorry, what it proposes; what it fears, what it hopes; what it dislikes, what it loves; nay, let it devoutly communicate its every desire, and, finally, ask much.
But, if you contemplate, see in the mystery, or in the particular subject which you propose to contemplate, what are the sentiments of the Heart of Jesus, or of Jesus in His Heart, concerning all and each of the things that occur in the subject; what He esteems, and how highly; what He condemns and how greatly; what He shuns, and what He embraces.
Then, give heed, in this matter, to the words which issue from the Heart of Jesus, and what words are not even thought in His Heart, much less uttered.
Lastly, observe, in the same manner, what kind of acts proceed from the Heart of Jesus, and with what virtues they are adorned.
And, throughout the whole contemplation, according to your devotion, or your wants, or the motions of grace; indulge and persist in acts, that is, pious affections and petitions.
Learn, in this manner, by contemplation, to feel, and speak, and act like Jesus Himself.
The acts, specially recommended in this part of the interior life, besides acts of the theological virtues, are frequent acts of that virtue to which you are applying yourself, of generous self-abnegation of your ill-ordered nature, of a noble love of Jesus. Repeat these constantly.
But, whether you meditate, or whether you contemplate, you ought so to consider the mysteries of the life of Jesus, as if you were present at them: which is expressly taught by St. Bonaventure: "If you desire," says he, "to derive fruit from these things, you must, with all the affection of your mind, setting aside all other cares and anxieties, represent yourself as present at what is related to have been spoken or done by the Lord Jesus Christ; in such a manner as if you heard them with your ears, saw them with your eyes."
7. Learning from the Saints
The Saints, who were skilled in the interior ways of the spiritual life, teach us, that the demon, the evil spirit, is more wont to tempt, under the appearance of good, those who, leading a life already exempt from sins, exercise themselves in acquiring virtues.
Wherefore, to such persons, they recommend the following rules, to enable them to discern between the good and the evil spirit, and between the suggestions of either.
- In those who are advancing from good to better, the good Spirit moves the soul peacefully, calmly, gently: The evil spirit moves the soul roughly, confusedly, violently. But on those who proceed from bad to worse, the said spirits act in a contrary manner. For the good Spirit stings them inwardly, disquiets and arouses them that he may bring them to conversion. And the wicked spirit endeavors to make them quiet in sin, caresses, and flatters them, that he may keep and push them onward in evil.
- It is peculiar to God, as well as to every good Spirit, in His motions, to give to them that act rightly, or use sincere efforts, true joy and spiritual consolation, and to remove the sadness and trouble, which the evil spirit causes. And it is the characteristic of the evil spirit to fight against such joy and consolation, by adducing specious reasons, subtleties, and various fallacies.
- The evil spirit observes very much, whether a soul possesses a delicate or a loose conscience: If it is a delicate one, he strives to render it still more delicate, even to scrupulousness and every extreme, so that he may the more easily trouble and overcome her: thus, if he sees that a soul commits no mortal sin, nor venial, nor any voluntary defect, the evil spirit, as he cannot make her fall into some sin, tries to cause her to judge and think that it is a sin which is not a sin.
But if the soul is of lax conscience, the evil spirit strives to make her still more lax and gross; so that, if before she made no account of venial sins, he endeavors to induce her now to make light of mortal sins; and, if before she cared little for grievous sins, he uses his efforts to make her now care much less, or even nothing at all, for them.
- A soul that desires to make progress in the spiritual life, must always proceed in a manner contrary to that by which the evil spirit proceeds. Wherefore, if he tries to make the soul more lax, she must take care to render herself more delicate: in like manner, if he endeavors to make her so delicate, as to lead her to extremes, or to scruples, she should manage to place herself firmly in the golden mean, so that she may render and keep herself altogether quiet.
- It is the characteristic of the evil spirit, who transforms himself sometimes into an angel of light, to begin by thrusting in thoughts conformable to the pious soul, and to finish, by suggesting his own wicked ones.
- The soul should rightly attend to the course of the thoughts suggested: for if the beginning, the middle, and the end are good, and tend to a good object, it is a sign that the thoughts suggested come from the good Spirit: but if in the succession of thoughts, which the spirit suggests, he ends with something bad, or which turns away from a certain good, or even with a less good than that which the soul had before resolved to do: or, if he renders the soul restless, or disturbs her, by taking away the tranquility and peace which she enjoyed before, it is an evident sign, that those thoughts come from the evil spirit.
- When the enemy has been discovered, and is known by the evil, to which he leads, it is then useful, that the soul consider the course of thoughts suggested to her, under the appearance of good; and that she review from the beginning, how the enemy tried to overthrow, and take away by degrees, her interior peace and tranquility, until he brought in his own wicked intention. Taught by this experience, the soul will for the future guard more easily against the deceits of the evil spirit.
St. Ignatius, St. Bernard, St. Gertrude
"Voice of Jesus" is taken from Arnoudt's "Imitation of the Sacred Heart", translated from the Latin of J.M. Fastre; Benziger Bros. Copyright 1866