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The Great Sorrow.
But to return to Matilda, who joined the Béguines at the time when they had already earned for themselves the reproach of Christ, and when, on the other hand, there were those 34 amongst them who had wandered far from the primitive simplicity of the first inhabitants of Lambert le Bègues garden-houses.
By these latter (though they, too, claimed to be the “Friends of God,”) Matilda was “bitterly despised.” And she who had lived during her youth in ignorance of “the false profession of people called spiritual” had to learn amongst “the religious” many a sorrowful lesson. Not amongst Béguines only, but on all sides the fact forced itself upon the heart of Matilda that the Church was fallen from her first estate.
“I, poor creature as I was, could yet be so presumptuous as to lift up the whole of corrupt Christendom upon the arms of my soul, and hold it up in lamentation before God.
“And our Lord said, ‘Leave it alone, it is too heavy for thee.’ And I made answer, ‘O my beloved Lord, I will lift it, and bear it to Thy feet, and cast it into Thine own arms, which bore it on the cross.’ And God in His pity let me have my will, that I might find rest in casting it upon Him.
“And this poor Christendom, brought into the presence of the Lord, seemed to me as a maiden of whom I felt bitterly ashamed.35
“And the Lord said, ‘Yea, behold her, blind in her belief, and lame in her hands which do no good works, and crippled in her feet with evil desires, and seldom and idly does she think of Me; and she is leprous with impurity and uncleanness.’”
And the foremost in the guilt of Christendom she found to be those who should have been the pastors and teachers, “the great he-goats, who are defiled with all uncleanliness, and with frightful greed and avarice.”
To the Lord, “the High Pope in Heaven,” Matilda turned for guidance and consolation. “When I wake in the night,” she said, “I think, have I the strength to pray as I desire for unfaithful Christendom, which is a sorrow of heart to Him I love.” She prayed for the priests, that from goats they might become lambs, that they might forget the law of the Jews, and think of the blood of the Lamb who was slain, and mourn over the sufferings of the Lord.
“Alas for holy Christendom, for the crown is fallen from thy head, thy precious jewels are lost; for thou art a troubler and a persecutor of the holy faith. Thy gold is dimmed in the mire of evil pleasures, thy purity is burnt up in 36 the consuming fire of greed, thy humility is sunk in the swamp of the flesh, and thy truth has been swept away by the lying spirit of the world!
“Alas for the fallen crown, the holy priesthood! For thee there remains nothing but ruin and destruction, for with spiritual power thou makest war upon God, and upon His friends. Therefore God will humble thee before thou art aware, He will smite the heart of the pope at Rome with bitter grief.
“And in that grief and calamity the Lord will speak to him and accuse him, saying, ‘Thy shepherds have become murderers and wolves, before My eyes they slaughter the white lambs, and the sheep are weak and weary, for there is none to lead them to the wholesome pastures on the high mountain side; that is, to the love and the nurture of God. But if any know not the way to hell, let him look at the corrupted clergy, and see how straightly they go thither. Therefore must I take away the worn-out mantle and give a new mantle to My Bride, to holy Christendom.
“If thou, son pope, shouldst bring that to pass, thy days might be lengthened. For that the popes before thee lived short lives, was because 37 they did not fulfil My will.’ And it was as if I could see the pope at his prayers, and God thus answering him.22This pope was Gregory X. And in the night I saw the Lord in the dress of a pilgrim, and as if He had journeyed through the whole of Christendom. And I fell at His feet and said, ‘Beloved pilgrim, whence comest Thou?’ And He answered, ‘I come from Jerusalem’—by which name He meant the holy Church—‘and I have been driven forth from My dwelling. The heathen knew Me not, the Jews suffered Me not, and the Christians fought against Me.’
“Then I prayed for Christendom; but the Lord answered with bitter sorrow that He had been dishonoured and put to grievous shame by Christian people, though for them He had done so great wonders, and had suffered so great anguish.
“And so it is with me, that longing and humility and love, these three blessed handmaidens, lead my soul up to God, and the soul beholds her Beloved and says, ‘Lord, I mourn because Thou art thus warred against by those who are the dearest to Thee on the earth, by Christian people. I mourn because Thy friends are sorely hindered by Thine enemies.’38
“And the Lord answered me, ‘All that befalls My friends, sin only excepted, shall turn to them to joy, and for the glory of God. For the suffering calls with a mighty voice saying, that beyond all worship that can be offered Me is the patience that suffers, and if for a while I comfort not, it is far better than that comfort should come from another will than Mine.’”
That there were some, the “Friends of God,” who shone like stars in the dark night Matilda thus found, and rejoiced to find. “But that the eagle soars to heaven,” she said, “no thanks is there to the owl.”
It was no wonder that Matilda was “much and continually despised” by the priests of whom she gave so bold a testimony. The Lord, she said, suffered in like manner, for thus was He put to shame because in Him was the truth. It was probably for some such plain speaking that Matilda was refused as an inmate of the convents to which she applied for admittance.
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