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FINAL ADVICE IN REGARD TO HOLY COMMUNION.
A cause of frequent error and trouble, particularly in regard to Holy Communion, is that feelings are confused with acts of the will. The faculty of willing is the only one we possess as our own, the only one we can use freely and at all times. Hence it follows that it is by the will alone that we can in reality acquire merit or commit sin. The natural virtues are gratuitous gifts of God. The world is right in esteeming them for they come from Him, but it errs when it esteems them exclusively for they do not of themselves give us any title to heaven. God has placed them at the disposal of our will as means to an end, and we can make a good or bad use of them just as we can of all God’s other gifts. We may be deprived of these natural virtues and live by the will alone, spiritually dry and devoid of sentiment, and yet in a state of intimate union with God.187
This explanation is intended to reassure such persons as are disposed to feel anxious when they find nothing in their hearts to correspond with the effusions of sensible love with which books of devotion abound in the preparation for Holy Communion. These usually make the mistake of taking for granted the invariable existence of sentiment, and of addressing it exclusively. How many souls do we not see who in consequence grow alarmed about their condition, believing they are devoid of grace notwithstanding their firm will to shun sin and to please God! They should, however, not give way to anxiety, nor exhaust themselves by vain efforts to excite in their hearts a sensibility that God has not given them. When He has granted us this gift we owe Him homage for it as for all others; but God only requires that each of His creatures should render an account of what he has received, and free-will is the one thing that has been accorded indiscriminately to all men. Thus we find Saint Francis de Sales, who possessed in such a high degree sensible love of God and all the natural virtues, making this positive declaration: “The greatest proof we can have in this life that we are in the 188 grace of God, is not sensible love of Him, but the firm resolution never to consent to any sin great or small.”
Pious persons can make use of the following prayers with profit when they are habitually or accidentally in the condition described above. They will then see how the will alone, without the aid of feeling, can produce acts of all the christian virtues.
Act of Confidence.
I will go unto the altar of God. (Ps. XLII.)
It is obedience, O my God! that leads me to Thy Holy Table: the tender words by which Thou hast invited us would not have sufficed to draw me, for in the troubled state of my soul I cannot be sure they are addressed to me. Misery and infirmity are claims for admission to Thy Feast, but nothing can dispense from the nuptial garment. Therefore when I turn my eyes on myself, after having raised them to Thee, I doubt, I hesitate, I tremble; for if I go from Thee I flee from life, and if I approach unworthily, to my other sins I add the crime of sacrilege.2727Imitation, B. IV., c. VI.: “For if I do not appeal to Thee, I fly from life; and if I intrude myself unworthily I incur Thy displeasure.” But Thy merciful 189 wisdom, O my God, whilst foreseeing our every need, has foreseen all our weaknesses and has prepared helps for us against both presumption and distrust. For if Thou hast not willed that, certain of Thy grace, we should ever advance with the assurance of the Pharisee and say like him: I come to the altar of the Lord because I know I am just in His eyes: neither hast Thou permitted that a sacrament of love should become for us a torture and an unavoidable snare. I therefore obey, O my God, and in the darkness that envelops me I wish to follow implicitly the guidance of him whom Thou hast appointed to lead me to Thee. I shall approach the Holy Table without wishing for any other warrant than the words spoken by my confessor, or rather by Thee: You may receive Holy Communion. I accept, O my God!--be it a well merited punishment or a salutary trial,—this privation of light and sensible devotion, this coldness and distraction, which accompany me even into Thy presence when all the faculties of my soul should be absorbed and confounded in sentiments of adoration and of love. Faith, hope and charity seem to be extinct in my heart, but I know that 190 Thou never withdrawest these virtues when we do not voluntarily renounce them.
Act of Faith.
Notwithstanding, then, the doubts that cross my mind, I wish to believe, O my God! and I do believe all that Thy holy Church has taught me. I have not forgotten that brilliant light of Faith which Thou didst cause to illumine my soul in the days of mercy in order that the precious remembrance of it should serve me as support in the days of trial and temptation.
Act of Hope.
In spite of these vague fears that seem to extinguish hope within my soul, I know that although Thou art the mighty and strong God before whom the cherubim veil themselves with their wings, the just and all-seeing God who discovers blemishes in the purest souls, still Thou wishest to be in the most Holy Sacrament only the Victim whose Blood effaces the sins of the world; the Good Shepherd who hastens after the strayed sheep and carries it tenderly and unreproachfully back to the fold; the divine Mediator who comes 191 not to judge but to save.2828S. John, c. XII., v. 47: “For I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” All this I know, O my God! and therefore I hope.
Act of Love.
Notwithstanding the coldness and insensibility that benumb my soul, I know that I love Thee, O my God! since my will prefers Thy service to all the joys of this world, since Thy grace is the sole good to which I aspire, and because I suffer so much by reason of my lack of sensible love for Thee.
Act of Desire.
No, I am not indifferent, Thou knowest, O my God! that I am not indifferent to this Most Holy Sacrament which I approach unmoved by any sensible feeling: for Thou seest that although I find in Holy Communion neither relish nor consolation, I would yet make any sacrifice in order to receive it.
Act of Contrition.
I feel neither hatred nor horror of sins to which the world does not attach shame and contempt; I experience no sensible sorrow for the sins I have committed, but I know, O my 192 God! that, with the assistance of Thy grace, my will denounces them, for I am resolved to commit them no more. I have taken this resolution because sin displeases Thee and because all that swerves from eternal order is abhorrent to Thy infinite sanctity. I believe, then, that I am contrite, O my God! because I believe in Thy promises, and if Thou dost not always grant us the consolation of realizing our contrition, Thou wilt never refuse its justifying virtue to those who humbly implore it; and this I do.
No, my God, I shall not pray Thee to grant me sensible enjoyment, not even that of Thy spiritual gifts: what I implore of Thy grace is to keep my will ever turned towards Thee and never to permit it to fall or wander anew on the earth.
Lord! into Thy hands I commend my spirit.
(Read The Imitation, Chapters IV., XIV., XV. of B. IV.; and Chapters XXV., XLVIII and LII of B. III.)
If you have an ardent desire for the sensible love of God, a desire that cannot but be pleasing to Him provided you are at the same time 193 resigned to be deprived of it, remember that according to Saint John Chrysostom it can be obtained only by fidelity to prayer. God wishes, says the Saint, to make us realize by experience that we cannot have His love but from Himself, and that this love, which is the true happiness of our souls, is not to be acquired by the reflections of our minds or the natural efforts of our hearts, but by the gratuitous infusion of the Holy Ghost. Yes, this love is so great a good that God wishes to be the sole dispenser of it: He bestows it only in proportion as we ask it of Him, and ordinarily makes us wait for some time before He grants it.
There are few prayers better calculated to dispose the soul to receive this great grace than the XVI. and XVII. chapters of the IVth. Book, and XXI. and XXXIV. of the IIId. Book of The Imitation.
For thanksgiving after Communion, read Chapters XXXIV., V., XXI., II. and X. of the III. Book of The Imitation.
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