by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Detachment from Human Respect and from Self-will.
Moreover, anyone that would belong wholly to God must be free of all human respect. Oh, how many souls does this accursed respect keep aloof from God, and even separate them from Him forever! For instance, if they hear mention made of some or other of their failings, oh, what do they not do to justify themselves, and to convince the world that it is a calumny! If they perform some good work, how industrious are they to circulate it everywhere! They would have it known to the whole world, in order to be universally applauded. The Saints behave in a very different way: they would rather publish their defects to the whole world, in order to pass in the eyes of all for the miserable creatures which they really are in their own eyes; and, on the contrary, in practicing any act of virtue, they prefer to have God alone know of it; for their only care is to be acceptable to Him. It is on this account that so many of them were enchanted with solitude, mindful, as they were, of the words of Jesus Christ: But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. [Matt. vi. 3.] And again: But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber; and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret. [Ibid. 6.]
But of all things, self-detachment is most needful; that is, detachment from self-will. Only once succeed in subduing yourself, and you will easily triumph in every other combat. Vince teipsum, "Conquer thyself," was the maxim which St. Francis Xavier inculcated on all. And Jesus Christ said: If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself. [Matt, xvi. 24.] Behold in small compass all that we need practice to become Saints; to deny ourselves, and not to follow our own will: Go not after thy lusts, but turn away from thy own will. [Ecclus. xviii. 30.] And this is the greatest grace, said St. Francis of Assisi, that we can receive from God: the power, namely, to conquer ourselves by denying self-will. St. Bernard writes, that if all men would resist self-will, none would ever be damned: "Let self-will cease, and there will be no Hell." [In Temp. Pasch. s. 3.] The same Saint writes, that it is the baneful effect of self-will to contaminate even our good works: "Self-will is a great evil, since it renders thy good works no longer good." [In Cant. s. 71.] As, for instance, were a penitent obstinately bent on mortifying himself, or on fasting, or on taking the discipline against the will of his director; we see that this act of penance, done at the instigation of self-will, becomes very defective.
The first war springs from the appetite for sensual delights. Let us take away the occasion; let us mortify the eyes; let us recommend ourselves to God, and the war will be over.
The second war arises from the covetousness of riches: let us cultivate a love of poverty, and this war will cease.
The third war has its source in ambitiously seeking after honors: let us love humility and the hidden life, and this war too will be no more.
The fourth war, and the most ruinous of all, comes from self-will: let us practice resignation in all things which happen by the will of God, and the war will cease.
St. Bernard tells us that whenever we see a person troubled, the origin of his trouble is nothing else but his inability to gratify self-will. "Whence comes disquiet," says the Saint, "except that we follow self-will?" [De Div. s. 26.] Our Blessed Lord once complained of this to St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, in these words: "Certain souls desire My Spirit, but after their own fancy; and so they become incapable of receiving it."
We must therefore love God in the way that pleases God, and not that pleases us. God will have the soul divested of all, in order to be united to Himself, and to be replenished with His Divine love. St. Teresa writes as follows: "The prayer of union appears to me to be nothing more than to die utterly, as it were, to all things in this world, for the enjoyment of God alone. One thing is certain, that the more completely we empty ourselves of creatures, by detaching ourselves from them for the love of God, the more abundantly will He fill us with Himself, and the more closely shall we be united with Him." [Interior Castle, ch. 1.] Many spiritual persons would attain to union with God; but then they do not desire the contrarieties which God sends them: they fret at having to suffer from ill-health, from poverty, from affronts; but, for want of resignation, they will never come to a perfect union with God. Let us hear what St. Catherine of Genoa said: "To arrive at union with God, the contrarieties which God sends us are absolutely necessary; His purpose is, to consume in us, by means of them, all irregular movements, both within and without. And hence all contempt, ailments, poverty, temptations, and other trials, are all indispensable, to give us the opportunity of fighting; that so, by the way of victory, we may eventually extinguish all inordinate movements, so as to be no more sensible of them; furthermore, until we begin to find contradictions sweet for God's sake, instead of bitter, we shall never arrive at Divine union."
I here subjoin the practice of it, taught by St. John of the Cross. The Saint says, that in order to perfect union, "a thorough mortification of the senses and of the appetites is necessary. On the part of the senses, every single relish that presents itself to them, if it be not purely for the glory of God, should forthwith be rejected for the love of Jesus Christ; for example, should you have a desire to see or hear something in no wise conducive to the greater glory of God, then refrain from it. As to the appetites also, endeavor to force ourselves always to choose the worst, the most disagreeable, or the poorest, without fostering any other wish than to suffer and to be despised." [Mont. du C. l. I. ch. 4-13.]
In a word, he that truly loves Jesus Christ loses all affection for things of earth, and seeks to strip himself of all, in order to keep himself united with Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is the object of all his desires, Jesus the subject of all his thoughts; for Jesus he continually sighs; in every place, at every time, on every occasion, his sole aim is to give pleasure to Jesus. But to reach this point, we must study unceasingly to rid the heart of every affection which is not for God. And, I ask, what is meant by giving the soul entirely to God? It means, first, to shun whatever may be displeasing to God, and to do what is most pleasing to Him; secondly, it means to accept unreservedly all that comes from His hands, how hard or disagreeable soever it may be; it means, thirdly, to give the preference in all things to the will of God over our own: this is what is meant by belonging wholly to God.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God and my all! I cannot help feeling that, in spite of all my ingratitude and remissness in Thy service, Thou still invitest me to love Thee. Behold me, then; I will resist Thee no longer. I will leave all to be wholly Thine. I will no more live for myself: Thy claims on my love are too strong. My soul is enamored of Thee; my Jesus, it sighs after Thee. And how can I possibly love anything else, after seeing Thee die of sufferings on a Cross in order to save me! How could I behold Thee dead, and exhausted with torments, and not love Thee with my whole heart? Yes, I love Thee indeed with all my soul; and I have no other desire but to love Thee in this life and for all eternity. My love, my hope, my courage, and my consolation, give me strength to be faithful to Thee; grant me light, and make known to me from what I ought to detach myself; supply me too with a strong will to obey Thee in all things. O love of my soul! I offer myself, and deliver myself up entirely, to satisfy the desire which Thou hast to unite Thyself to me, that I may be wholly united with Thee, my God and my all. Oh, Come then, my Jesus; come and take possession of my whole self, and occupy all my thoughts and all my affections. I renounce all my appetites, all my comforts, and all created things; Thou alone art sufficient for me. Grant me the grace to think only of Thee, to desire only Thee, to seek only Thee, my beloved and my only good!
O Mary, Mother of God, obtain for me holy perseverance!