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Despise me not,
For if I was swarthy once,
You can regard me now;
Since You have regarded me,
Grace and beauty have You given me.
THE soul now is becoming bold, and respects itself, because of the gifts and endowments which the Beloved has bestowed upon it. It recognizes that these things, while itself is worthless and underserving, are at least means of merit, and consequently it ventures to say to the Beloved, “Do not disregard me now, or despise me”; for if before it deserved contempt because of the filthiness of its sin, and the meanness of its nature, now that He has once looked upon it, and thereby adorned it with grace and beauty, He may well look upon it a second time and increase its grace and beauty. That He has once done so, when the soul did not deserved it, and had no attractions for Him, is reason enough why He should do so again and again.
“Despise me not.”
2. The soul does not say this because it desires in any way to be esteemed — for contempt and insult are of great price, and occasions of joy to the soul that truly loves God — but because it acknowledges that in itself it merits nothing else, were it not for the gifts and graces it has received from God, as it appears from the words that follow.
“For if I was swarthy once.”
3. “If, before You graciously looked upon me You found me in my filthiness, black with imperfections and sins, and naturally mean and vile,”
“You can regard me now; since You have regarded me.”
4. After once looking upon me, and taking away my swarthy complexion, defiled by sin and disagreeable to look upon, when You rendered me lovely for the first time, You may well look upon me now — that is, now I may be looked on and deserve to be regarded, and thereby to receive further favors at Your hands. For Your eyes, when they first looked upon me, not only took away my swarthy complexion, but rendered me also worthy of Your regard; for in Your look of love, —
“Grace and beauty have You given me.”
5. The two preceding lines are a commentary on the words of St. John, “grace for grace,”263263John 1:16 for when God beholds a soul that is lovely in His eyes He is moved to bestow more grace upon it because He dwells well-pleased within it. Moses knew this, and prayed for further grace: he would, as it were, constrain God to grant it because he had already received so much “You have said: I know you by name, and you have found favor in My sight: if therefore I have found favor in Your sight, show me Your face, that I may know You, and may find grace before Yours eyes.”264264Exod. 33:12, 13
6. Now a soul which in the eyes of God is thus exalted in grace, honorable and lovely, is for that reason an object of His unutterable love. If He loved that soul before it was in a state of grace, for His own sake, He loves it now, when in a state of grace, not only for His own sake, but also for itself. Thus enamored of its beauty, through its affections and good works, now that it is never without them, He bestows upon it continually further grace and love, and the more honorable and exalted He renders that soul, the more is He captivated by it, and the greater His love for it.
7. God Himself sets this truth before us, saying to His people, by the mouth of the prophet, “since you became honorable in My eyes, and glorious, I have loved you.”265265Isa. 43:4 That is, “Since I have cast My eyes upon you, and thereby showed you favor, and made you glorious and honorable in My sight, you have merited other and further favors”; for to say that God loves, is to say that He multiplies His grace. The bride in the Canticle speaks to the same effect, saying, “I am black, but beautiful, O you daughters of Jerusalem.”266266Cant. 1:4 and the Church adds,267267Antiphon in Vesper B. M. V. saying, “Therefore has the King loved me, and brought me into His secret chamber.” This is as much as saying: “O you souls who have no knowledge nor understanding of these favors, do not marvel that the heavenly King has shown such mercy to me as to plunge me in the depths of His love, for, though I am swarthy, He has so regarded me, after once looking upon me, that He could not be satisfied without betrothing me to Himself, and calling me into the inner chamber of His love.”
8. Who can measure the greatness of the soul’s exaltation when God is pleased with it? No language, no imagination is sufficient for this; for in truth God does this as God, to show that it is He who does it. The dealings of God with such a soul may in some degree be understood; but only in this way, namely, that He gives more to him who has more, and that His gifts are multiplied in proportion to the previous endowments of the soul. This is what He teaches us Himself in the Gospel, saying; “He that has to him shall be given, and he shall abound: but he that has not, from him shall be taken away even that which he has.”268268Matt. 13:12
9. Thus the talent of that servant, not then in favor with his lord, was taken from him and given to another who had gained others, so that the latter might have all, together with the favor of his lord.269269Matt. 25:28 God heaps the noblest and the greatest favors of His house, which is the Church militant as well as the Church triumphant, upon him who is most His friend, ordaining it thus for His greater honor and glory, as a great light absorbs many little lights. This is the spiritual sense of those words, already cited,270270Sect. 7. the prophet Isaiah addressed to the people of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior: I have given Egypt for your atonement and Seba for you. I will give men for you, and people for your life.”271271Isa. 43:3
10. Well may You then, O God, gaze upon and prize that soul which You regard, for You have made it precious by looking upon it, and given it graces which in Your sight are precious, and by which You are captivated. That soul, therefore, deserves that You should regard it not only once, but often, seeing that You have once looked upon it; for so is it written in the book of Esther by the Holy Spirit: “This honor is he worthy of, whom the king has a mind to honor.”272272Esth. 6:11
THE gifts of love which the Bridegroom bestows on the soul in this state are inestimable; the praises and endearing expressions of divine love which pass so frequently between them are beyond all utterance. The soul is occupied in praising Him, and in giving Him thanks; and He in exalting, praising, and thanking the soul, as we see in the Canticle, where He thus speaks to the bride: “Behold, you are fair, O My love, behold, you are fair; your eyes are as those of doves.” The bride replies: “Behold, you are fair, my Beloved, and comely.”273273Cant. 4:1, 6:3 These, and other like expressions, are addressed by them each to the other.
2. In the previous stanza the soul despised itself, and said it was swarthy and unclean, praising Him for His beauty and grace, Who, by looking upon the soul, rendered it gracious and beautiful. He, Whose way it is to exalt the humble, fixing His eyes upon the soul, as He was entreated to do, praises it in the following stanza. He does not call it swarthy, as the soul calls itself, but He addresses it as His white dove, praising it for its good dispositions, those of a dove and a turtle-dove.
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