13 July 2010

The Battle of the Soul

The saints and spiritual writers constantly return to this idea of the disorder within us, which is the consequence of sin, and they are right in doing so. Life is not literature. Before we can assimilate anything, we have to turn it over in our minds again and again. To take in and to assimilate is a slow process. The mind has to concentrate on its object a long time, if it is to take on its form and live it.

This object is a positive one: it is God, the ideal form and the perfect model. But it is also, on the other hand, all that is opposed to His pure Image, and to His communication of life. God wants to transform us into sons of light, but He finds us children of darkness. He wants His Spirit, the Spirit of Love, Who is the Gift of Self, to live in us, but He finds us possessed by another spirit which is the love of self. This negative element, which surrounds only after a struggle, must disappear. Life is a battle, a battle between God and the spirit of evil. When a soul ceases to fight, it may be counted as hopelessly lost. And a soul that does not pray is one that has given in without a struggle. It possesses a kind of peace, but it is the peace of an occupied territory, conquered by the invader and resigned to his domination.

What we find blameworthy in spiritual writers is not that they insist on this too much, but that they do not insist on it enough. We are living in an age of knowledge rather than of understanding. Pure reasoning and memory hold the day. The whole object of so much of our writing is to satisfy these cravings, to provide men with ideas rather than to enrich their souls and deepen their lives. It is the fashion today to write popular works and articles in magazines for people living in the world. They must know everything, and be able to talk about the latest book or the most recent discovery. Men's minds are like those artificial floral displays we see on festive occasions. We arrange beautiful flowers, which we enjoy without having cultivated them. We do not even know their names and by the morrow we have forgotten all about them.

With prayer it is not just a matter of having read and realized for the moment its necessity, its grandeur, the immense blessings it confers, its increasing comfort, the glory it gives to God and its mission to the world. We must return to these thoughts again and again; we must constantly reflect on them and live them. This is what the Holy Spirit does in the Scriptures, what the Church does in its offices, and the saints in their daily prayers and constant meditations. We must continually look for the essential Beauty behind the external beauty of things. We must turn from the weakness of our fallen nature to the strong tenderness of the Son of God, Who became our Redeemer and is ever ready to receive us back into His favour. We must turn from the perpetual menace of the devil and of the world which hangs over us, to the unfailing help which is offered us by our Saviour, Whose great desire is to rescue us from their tyranny.

Our principal danger is a spiritual one, the danger of losing our true life; all other dangers are directed towards this. They are the various ways in which each of us may be put to the test. We must pray, therefore, before all else, that God may live in us and we in Him. We must pray that our trials may contribute to that divine life, which is the only true life and the only true good. We may ask that God will in His goodness preserve us from persecutions, injustices, calumnies, attacks of one kind and another on our interests and rights, illnesses of body and mind -- but always subject to the designs of His love, which must be our chief rule in all we ask for.

In His loving plan, God has foreseen that we must be tested, but He knows also that the patience with which we bear such trials in union with our divine Lord can prove an exceptionally rich and pure source of merit and of grace to expiate our sins. He knows that our natural and supernatural growth will in general be proportioned to such trials, and that the divine image, the reflection of the model of infinite Beauty, will shine resplendent in us as a result of these trials. In spite of myself, I return to these thoughts again and again; they do not exclude others, but they seem to me to embrace and assimilate them.

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~