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OP PRESENT BENEFITS FROM GOD.
[§ 86. The writer’s review of his past life, and exhortation to his sister.] I think it no little blessing that God, turning our parents’ ill to good, created us of their flesh, and breathed into us the breath of life, distinguishing us from those who fall prematurely from the womb, or who, choked in their mothers, seem rather to have been conceived for pain than for life. And that He further gave us sound and healthy limbs, so as not to be a grief to ourselves or an object of reproach to others, this assuredly is a great boon. But that He timed our birth as He did, and willed us to be born among people by whose intervention we were brought to His faith and sacraments; how shall we estimate this blessing and the measure of the goodness that prompted it? For what we rejoice to find has been granted to us we see to have been denied to men without number, whose lot as men is identical with ours. They have been left by justice, we have been called by grace.
Let us advance further. Recollecting that we 222were educated by Christian parents, that fire hurt us not, that water drowned us not, that we were not devoured by a demon, or worried by wild beasts, or killed by a fall, that we were nurtured up to ripe age in His faith and good pleasure, let us own that all was His gift. Thus far our lot was one and the same, children as we were of the same father, the same womb had enclosed us, the same bowels brought us forth.
And now, my sister, see by my case what great things God has done for your soul. He made a difference between you and me, as if between light and darkness; keeping you for Him, and leaving me to myself. O my God, whither did I go? whither did I fly? whither did I banish me? Driven from Thy Face like Cain, I lived on the earth a fugitive and a vagabond, and whoever was to find me was to kill me. For what was a miserable creative to do, abandoned by its Creator? Where was the lost sheep to go, where was it to hide itself, bereaved of its Shepherd? O my sister, ’twas a very evil beast that devoured thy brother. See then in me how great was His goodness in keeping thee unharmed by such a beast. How wretched am I, that lost my innocence! how happy you, whose virginity was protected by the Divine compassion! How often was your purity attempted 223and assailed, and yet preserved unhurt! whereas I, plunging wilfully into all sorts of shame, heaped up on my soul the fuel of a fire that was to burn me through, the elements of a corruption that was to kill me, the beginnings of the worms that were to gnaw me. Recall if you will all those my foulnesses over which you used to grieve, and for which you often chid me, you, girl and woman, me, boy and man. But the Scripture speaks not amiss which says, ‘No man can correct whom God hath despised’ (Eccl. vii. 14). O how dearly should you love the God who, while He cast me off, drew you to Himself; and, equal as were the states of both of us, yet despised me and loved you! Recall, as I said, my vile excesses, when the cloud of lust rose about me, and wanton concupiscence enthralled me, and there was no one to snatch me out and save me (Ps. vii. 3); for ‘the words of the wicked prevailed over me,’ who in the pleasant cup of love gave me to drink of the poison of wantonness. Natural sympathy with its charm and desire with its uncleanness combined in one, and at an age weak as yet, dragged me along the rough ways of vice, and then plunged me into a whirlpool of enormities. Thine anger and Thine indignation came upon me, O God, and I knew it not. I became the sport of my impurities, they wrecked and overwhelmed 224me; and Thou didst keep silence. Ah, my sister, consider carefully into what vilenesses and what foulness I was flung by my own free choice; and know that you too had fallen into such, but that the mercy of Christ preserved you.
I do not mean to say that He conferred no sort of good on me all the time that I say no thing here of the blessings I just now recounted as bestowed on both of us alike He with wonderful patience bore with my iniquities. To whom do I owe it that the earth did not swallow me up, that the bolts of heaven struck me not, nor the rivers drowned me? How could creation have endured so great injury against the Creator, but that He who made it, He who wills not the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezech. xxxiii. 11), restrained it? And, O, His grace to follow the fugitive as He did, and to soothe me in my alarm, and, all-despairing as I was, to restore me to hope, and, familiarised as I was with impurities, to attract and charm me with His sweetnesses, and undo the else indissoluble bonds of an evil habit, and to withdraw me from the world, and kindly receive me for His own! I pass in silence over His many dealings, many, and of great mercy, towards me; lest aught of the glory, which is all rightly His, should seem 225to be transferred to me. For the goodness of the Giver and the happiness of the recipient are so linked together by mankind, even in the estimates they form, as that not only is the Giver praised who were indeed the only one deserving praise but also the receiver. For who has anything that he has not received? And if he has received it by free gift, why praise him as if he had de served it? Praise, therefore, be to Thee, my God; glory be to Thee, thanksgiving be to Thee; but to me confusion of face (Dan. ix. 8), for that I have done so many ills and received so many goods. ‘How can it be, then,’ you will say, ‘that you have received less than I?’ O my sister, it is for the same sort of reason as that he is the happier man whose barque is borne back by the breezes safe to port with its cargo of merchandise and its lading of treasure; not he who has been wrecked, and escaped death with loss of everything. You, I mean, have your happiness in the treasure preserved to you by the Divine grace; whilst the chief labour incumbent on me is to repair what is broken, recover what is lost, patch up what is rent. Nay, indeed; I would have you be jealous of me, and think it just cause for shame if, after my so many enormities in my 226past life, I should ever hereafter prove to be your equal; for albeit the lustre of virginity is oft tarnished by some less and occasional faults, so fine is its nature, hateful evil courses, long persisted in, and sheer force of habit, mar the very features of virtues coming after vices.
Now, therefore, see what are the blessings in respect of which you have the sole experience of the Divine goodness; think with what a winning face Christ came to meet you when you renounced the world, with what dainties He has fed you when you were hungry, how great riches of His Divine compassion He has displayed to you, what affections He has inspired, and with what a cup of love He has inebriated you. For if He has not left without experience of spiritual consolations a runaway slave and rebel recalled by His sole mercy, what sweetness must I not believe Him to have lavished on a virgin? If you were ever tempted, He sustained you; if you began to fail, He set you up. How often, when you were parched for fear, did He not stand by your side, a kind consoler! How often, when you panted for love of Him, did He not pour Himself into your very heart! How often, as you were singing or reading, did He not enlighten with His light the senses of 227your soul! How often, when you prayed, did He not ravish you with ineffable longings for Himself! How often, your mind being withdrawn from earthly things, did He not transport you into the midst of heavenly delights and the joys of paradise! Think of all these things, and turn them over in your mind, that all your heart’s love may be turned over to Him. O, let the world be worthless to you; let all carnal love be as dross; forget that you are in this world; for you have turned your heart’s intent and purpose to those who are in heaven and live in God; and where your treasure is, there, my sister, let your heart be also (St. Matt. vi. 21). Do not shut up your heart with the silver coins in your worthless purse; for you can never fly to heaven with a load of money about you. Think day by day that you are going to die, and you will not fidget yourself about to-morrow. Let not the future terrify you with its barren waste, nor a fear of coming hunger deject your spirits; but let all your trust rest in Him who feeds the birds and clothes the lilies. Let Him be your barn, make Him your treasury, make Him your purse, Him your riches, Him your joy; let Him alone be all in all to you. And meanwhile let this suffice for the things of the present.228
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