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CHAPTER IV.

DAILY DEFECTS, AND THEIR REMEDIES, WITH CONSOLATION UNDER TEMPTATIONS.

ST. GERTRUDE, severely rebuking and reproving herself for some slight defect, besought God earnestly that He would enable her thoroughly to amend it, and would remove it from her. To whom the Lord lovingly replied, “And wherefore wishest thou that I should be deprived of much honour, and that thou shouldst miss a great reward? For thou gainest a great reward every time that thou, acknowledging that or a similar defect, resolvest to avoid it for the future; and, whenever anyone for love of me labours to overcome his faults, he offers to me as much honour and fidelity as a soldier would offer to his king who 232should strenuously oppose his enemies in war, and manfully resist and overthrow them.”

When the same holy virgin was praying for the defects of a person who was at the head of the community, our Lord appeared to her, and said, “Out of the abundance of My divine pity, sweetness, and love, by which I have chosen this community, I permit some defects to adhere to those who preside over it, in order that the merit of the community may be in creased. For there is much more merit in submitting to one whose faults are known, than to one whose works seem perfect in every respect. I allow Superiors to have some defects, and to be sometimes blemished by the diversity of their cares, that so they may be the more humbled. The merit of subjects is increased as much by the defects as by the perfection of those who govern them; and, in like manner, the merit of those who govern well is as much increased by the progress as by the defects of their subjects.” By these words of our Lord, St. Gertrude understood the super-abounding clemency of the divine wisdom, which so carefully provides for the salvation of the elect, permitting defects in them, in order that He may lead them to greater perfection. It seemed, therefore, to her, that even if the goodness of God shone forth in no other matter more than in this, yet God could not be sufficiently praised by every creature.

St. Gertrude being confined to bed at the approach of the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, she gave way to impatience, through human frailty. And she sorrowfully revolved in her mind this her defect, 233thinking herself most unworthy of any of the gifts of God, since because of some little negligence of those who attended her she had fallen into such impatience. While doing this, she was divinely taught that every thought by which man sorrowfully renounces his faults, after fitting penance, prepares and disposes him to receive the grace of God (concerning which God says in Scripture, In whatever hour the sinner shall be converted, and repent, I will no more remember all his sins).

Again, St. Gertrude, through inordinate sadness and impatience, once experienced such darkness that she seemed to have lost in great part the joy of the, divine Presence; which darkness was, however, afterwards mitigated by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “When, therefore, being graciously visited by our Lord, she reflected on this her impatience and her other faults, she was much displeased with herself, and said to our Lord in great dejection of mind: “O Lord, I beseech Thee, put an end to my miseries, for I myself put no end to them. Deliver me, and set me beside Thee, and let any man’s hand fight against me” (Job xvii. 3).

And our Lord, having compassion on her desolation, enquired of her whether she would choose any delight in the world rather than Him, and would prefer anything to Him. To which she answered: “Far. far be it from me that I should ever prefer anything to Thee, the true, supreme, unchanging, and eternal Good.” And the Lord said: “Since thou dost prefer nothing to Me, and desirest ever to submit 234Thy will to Mine, it is clear that thou art in grace and charity; wherefore, then, speakest thou so despondingly on account of thy sins?” For the Scripture is witness that charity cover eth a multitude of sins (1 Pet. iv. 8).

When St. Gertrude again gave way to impatience, and was, nevertheless, most graciously visited by God, she said at length to our Lord: “O most sweet God, how couldst Thou bestow such consoling gifts of Thy grace on me, who am now so unworthy and so unprepared?” The Lord answered, “Love constrained me.” And she said, “Where are the stains, contracted by me through the impatience which I felt and showed somewhat in my words?” To which the Lord replied, “The fire of My Divinity hath consumed them.” Then she said: “O most merciful God, since Thy grace so often remedies my vileness, I should wish to know whether my soul will require to be purified after death from this impatience and from similar defects.” As our Lord in His mercy delayed answering, she added, “Verily, Lord, if the glory of Thy justice required it, I would willingly of my own accord even go down into hell, that so I might make Thee more worthy amends for my faults; but if it is more becoming to the bounty and mercy of Thy nature that, by Thy love, my stains be utterly effaced and reduced to nought, I fearlessly beseech Thee that Thy love may fully cleanse my soul from these stains.” The Lord then, with His accustomed mercy, quickly granted her petition and desire.

Christ, gently reproving St. Bridget for the anger 235and impatience which had disturbed her, said, “I, thy Creator and thy Spouse, have endured stripes for thee; but thou wert so impatient that thou couldst not endure even words. Standing before the judge when I was accused, I was silent, and opened not My mouth; but thou didst raise thy voice in bitter answers and reproaches. Thou oughtest to have borne all things patiently for My sake, who for thee was transfixed with nails; thou oughtest by thy patience to have won to a bettor mind him who had erred. Henceforth, be thou more cautious, and when thou art provoked by any one to auger, speak not readily, until the auger shall have been removed from thy mind. When the disturbance of thy mind has passed away, and thou hast carefully weighed the cause of that disturbance, thou wilt be able to speak with gentleness. But if thou canst do no good by speaking, and there would be no sin in being spoilt, it will then be better and more meritorious for thee to hold thy peace.”

St. Gertrude was given to understand that the Divine Heart feels ineffable sweetness each time that any one reflects with sorrow on his having by distraction of mind, or by the dissipation of useless words and works, fallen away from the Lord his God, who so graciously surrounds him with blessings at every hour and moment. She understood that when a man says within himself these or similar words, with compunction of heart, “Alas! miserable that I am, how have I wasted this time! how little have I fixed my thoughts on God, who loveth me!” and earnestly resolves 236to avoid such negligences and offences for the future, he becomes truly the tabernacle of God, in which the Majesty of the Most High deigns to dwell, as in His own abode. And thus are our short comings supplied by the most holy conversation of the Son of God, and the faithful man is renewed in holiness of life; and hence there is joy in heaven, because the infinite goodness of God deigns to find delight in a truly penitent soul.

The Lord Jesus said to St. Bridget: “Wherefore, daughter, art thou anxious and disquieted?” She answered, “Because I am afflicted with many unprofitable and evil thoughts, which 1 cannot drive away, and the fear of Thy judgments oppresses me.” Then the Lord said, “This is true justice; that as thou hast formerly taken delight in the vanities of the world against My will, so thou shouldst now be molested by various perverse thoughts against thy own will. Do thou, however, fear my judgments with moderation and discretion, ever firmly trusting in Me thy God. For thou must know, for certain, that evil thoughts, which the mind resists and detests, are the purification and crown of the soul. If thou art unable to avoid them, bear it patiently, and let thy will strive against them. And, although thou consent not to them, fear lest thou take pride in that and fall; for whosoever stands, it is by the power of God alone that he stands.”

Again, the Lord said to St. Bridget, “In order that man may understand his own weakness, and the strength he receives from Me, it is necessary that he 237should sometimes be allowed to be attacked by evil thoughts; and if he consents not to them, they become the purification of his mind, and the safeguard of his virtues. And although they are hard to be borne, they heal the soul, and conduct it to eternal life, which cannot be gained without sufferings. The soul should, therefore, labour diligently, lest it consent to them, or take any pleasure in them.” Some are permitted to be more violently tempted in the beginning of their conversion, others in middle life, and others in old age. Hence the Mother of God said to St. Bridget: “Thou dost wonder why temptations multiply upon thee in thy old age, and why thou feelest now those which thou didst not experience either in thy youth or during thy married life. This comes to pass that thou mayest know that thou art nothing, and canst do nothing, without my Son. For, unless He kept thee, there is no sin so grievous that thou wouldst not commit it.”

The holy virgin St. Catherine was, by the permission of God, bitterly tormented for several days by carnal temptations. For the malignant spirits thrust themselves upon her eyes and ears, not only by the suggestion of obscene thoughts and the illusions of dreams, but also by manifest apparitions. They pictured to her images of men and women embracing each other immodestly in her sight, and by gestures, words, and actions, provoking her to wantonness. Thus was this most chaste virgin forced to see and hear what she most abhorred; and though she shut her eyes, those most filthy and abominable images 238yet remained before her. At the same time, she was deprived even of spiritual consolations, and felt not her usual fervour of devotion. She did not, however, on account of these troubles, omit her pious exercises, but persevered most diligently in prayer to the utmost of her power, saying to herself: “Thou, a most vile sinner, art unworthy of any consolation. What then, would it not be enough for thee if thou wert not lost, even though thou shouldst have to bear these crosses and this darkness during thy whole life? Surely, thou didst not choose to serve God that thou mightest receive consolations from Him here, but that” thou mightest enjoy Him for ever in heaven. Arise, therefore, and pursue thy accustomed exercises, and remain faithful to thy Lord.” Afterwards, when one demon maliciously said to her: “We will not desist but will vex thee till thy death, unless thou consentest to us;” she answered: “I have chosen affliction for my refreshment, nor will it be difficult, but pleasant to me to endure these and other sufferings for the honour of my Lord Jesus Christ, so long as it shall please Him.” At these words the whole troop of malignant spirits departed in confusion, and a brilliant light, in which was the Holy Virgin, illumined the place, and the Lord appearing to her said: “While thy heart was assailed by evil thoughts, I was hidden in the midst of it, and prevented thee from consenting to them or taking pleasure in them. I permitted thee to be tempted as much as was for thy good, that, with My help, thou mightest overcome.”

The virgin St. Gertrude was once most clearly 239shown how God sometimes permits a man to be grievously assailed by many vices, in order that he may in the end more happily triumph, and obtain greater glory in heaven. She saw that many were faithful followers of chastity and purity (such were the Apostles of Christ), who indeed avoided all things that were open to suspicion, but admitted, as was reasonable, what was not open to it. And these, if they are assailed by any temptation, striving man fully with the help of God’s grace, overcome it: but if, from human frailty, they sometimes give way a little, they labour to efface their fault by worthy fruits of penance. The blessed Augustine thus exhorts combatants of this sort: “Attend, ye Saints who are fighting. I speak to combatants; those who fight understand; whosoever fighteth not understandeth not me. The chaste man wishes that on no account should any desire contrary to chastity arise in his members. He wishes for peace, but he hath it not yet. For if he had attained to this, that no adverse desire should arise, there would be no enemy with whom to strive; nor is a victory expected where the enemy is already conquered and triumphed over. But now is the battle, whilst the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh (Gal. v. 17). We do not the things that we would. Wherefore? Because we would that there were no lusts, but it cannot be. Whether we will or no, we have them (Rom. vii. 15, 16); whether we will or no, they excite, they entice, they provoke, they molest, they will arise, they are repressed, they are not yet extinguished. 240For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, so that you do not the things that you would. What do ye desire, O Saints! O good combatants! O valiant soldiers of Christ! what do ye desire? That evil lusts should in nowise exist. But it cannot be. Carry on the war, hope for the triumph. Do what ye are able to do, us saith the same Apostle in another place: Let not sin reign in your mortal body, so as to obey the lusts thereof (Rom. vi. 12). He saith not, let there be no sin; but, let it not reign. So long as thou livest, there must be sin in thy members; only let the power be taken away from it, let not its commands be obeyed.” Thus saith St. Augustine.

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