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On the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist
The Second Sermon
How man must prepare himself and hold himself in readiness to bear witness to the true Divine Light which shines into his heart, in the lowest and highest powers, and on which depend his Salvation and Blessedness.
Hic venit in testimonium, ut testimonium perbiberet de lumine
“This man came for a witness to give testimony of the light.”
To-day the Church celebrates the Feast of St John the Baptist. To bless and to praise him in words only would be but a little thing for us to do, because our Lord Himself has praised him worthily, and has said of him: “There hath not risen among them that are born of woman a greater than John the Baptist.”1919 Matt. xi. II. He also said of him: “But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? or did ye go out into the desert to see a reed shaken with the wind?” No, he was none of these things. Jesus said of him: “He is a voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths!”2020 Matt. iii. 3. We sing of him that he was a burning lamp. St John the Evangelist, who is likened unto a soaring eagle, wrote of him that “he bore witness to the light.”
Dear children, how could we praise this exalted prince of Heaven better, or more worthily, than with these words, “that he was a witness to the true Light?” This true Divine Light shines into the very depths of man’s heart; and when this Divine Light and witness comes to man and commends itself inwardly unto him, he turns quite away from the pure ground. He ought verily to await it; but he does just the reverse, running first one way and then another, so that he cannot receive the true witness because of his shallowness. “He came unto His own, and His own received him not.” Such men are opposed to the true Divine Light. Their hearts are worldly; and, as the Baptist said to the hypocrites: “They are a generation of vipers.” These men are opposed to all those who love the true Divine Light, and they give good cause for alarm, for they seem, as it were, scarcely to hang by a thread to light and faith.
Now, we must show here, how shortsighted and diseased nature is, and how of itself it can do nothing that is good. God has therefore given it supernatural help and strength, even the light of grace, which lifts nature far up above itself, and supplies it with all it needs in this way. The uncreated Light of Glory shines above, even the Divine Light; and this Light is God Himself. Therefore, if we would truly know God, it must be by God and with God, in God and by God. As the prophet says: “Lord, in thy light we shall see light,” that is a supernatural light. The same Divine Light, “lightens every man who comes into the world,” and shines on all men, both on the evil and on the good, as the bright sun shines on all creatures. It is their own fault if they are blind. For in the same way that a man in a dark room could get light, if he found a window open, by putting his head outside, so may men also come to this light, and bear witness to it.
Now, we must mark diligently how a man shall first bear himself towards this witness, so that he may truly receive it. He must flee and separate himself from all that is temporal and transitory; for the true witness is given both to the lowest and highest powers of the soul. The lowest power is that of passion and desire. Desire is the love of pleasure, which this witness must take away. This power must first separate itself from the lusts of the flesh, whatever they may be, in which the man finds satisfaction; either in human beings or clothing; in short, in whatever his senses find delight. God does not grudge man the necessaries of life; but this is verily a wilderness in which the voice of God cries; and it is called a life of seclusion. It is a separation from all the spiritual and natural pleasures, both outwardly and inwardly.
Second, this witness is given in the power of passion in the soul, that man may learn true steadfastness and strength; that he may become, if he has received this witness aright, immovable as a mountain of iron. As Christ testified of St John, man must not allow himself to be shaken to and fro like a reed; neither must he be like unto one who wears soft clothing; by which we may understand one who loves, desires and seeks his bodily ease. Now, many a man may be found who despises all this for the sake of God, but who is so like a bending reed that it is quite pitiful. Such a man is as much moved and disturbed by some absurd mockery, or by a hard word, as the reed is in the water. Now, dear friend, how can a word harm thee, which can in nowise hurt thy soul? But then comes the Evil One and suggests first one thing and then another to thee, till thou art sore troubled; but all this ought not so to be, if otherwise thou wert firm in the faith. Later, this witness is given in the highest power of all, in the reason, the will and the love of man; for it is a prophet to the reason of man’s soul; a prophet means one who sees far off. Reason, in fact, sees so far that it is a perfect marvel. If an enlightened man existed, who yet was not standing on this ground, who heard secret, divine things, his heart would bear him witness thereof, and it would speak to him within.
Now, Jesus Christ said that John was more than a prophet, even in that ground where reason cannot come. For there truly man sees light in light, in the inner light of the soul; for there the Divine Light may be seen and understood by the light of grace. First, in a hidden way. The powers of the soul cannot attain to this divine ground; and the great wastes to be found in this divine ground have neither image, nor form, nor condition; for they are neither here nor there. They are like unto a fathomless abyss, bottomless and floating in itself. Even as water ebbs and flows, up and down, now sinking into a hollow, so that it looks as if there was no water there, and then again, in a little while, rushing forth as though it would engulf everything, so does it come to pass in this Abyss. This, truly, is much more God’s Dwelling-place than heaven or man. A man, who verily desires to enter in, will surely find God here, and himself simply in God, for God never separates Himself from this ground. God will be present with him, and he will find and enjoy eternity here. There is no past or present here; and no created light can reach unto or shine into this divine ground; for here only is the Dwelling-place of God and His sanctuary. Now this Divine Abyss can be fathomed by no creatures; it can be filled by none, and it satisfies none; God only can fill it in His Infinity. For this abyss belongs only to the Divine Abyss, of which it is written: Abyssus abyssum incocat.
He who is truly conscious of this ground, which shone into the powers of his soul, and lighted and inclined its lowest and highest powers to turn to their pure Source and true Origin, must diligently examine himself, and remain alone, listening to the voice which cries in the wilderness of this ground.
This ground is so desert and bare, that no thought has ever entered there. None of all the thoughts of men, which, with the help of reason, have been devoted to meditation on the Holy Trinity, (and some men have occupied themselves much with these thoughts), have ever entered this ground. For it is so close, and yet so far off, and so far beyond all things, that it has neither time nor place. It is a simple and unchanging condition. A man, who really and truly enters, feels as though he had been here throughout eternity, and as though he were one therewith; whereas it is only for an instant, and the same glance is found and reveals itself in eternity. It shines forth; and God thus bears witness that man existed in God from all eternity, before his creation; that is, he was in God, and thus man was God in God. For St John says: “All things were made by Him,” that means one life in Him. That which man was in himself when created, that he was eternally in God. As long as a man does not attain to the purity with which he came forth, when first created out of nothing, he will never truly come to God. For all inclinations, propensities, and self-esteem, all that can defile the ground in our own possession, must assuredly be cast out; and also, all that we have ever possessed with delight and our own consent in soul and body; all that we have ever received by knowledge or inclination, all, all must first be rooted out, so that we may be as we were when we first came forth from God. Because we do not act thus, we never return to the Source from which we sprang; neither is purity enough, unless our spirits are transformed by the Light of Grace. Now, if we willingly sought after this transformation, and communed with ourselves in our inmost hearts, ordering our conversation aright, at such a time our souls and spirits might well experience a bright glimpse of the highest transformation; although no one can come to God, nor know God, except in Uncreated Light, which is God Himself. The holy prophet says: Lord, “in Thy light we shall see light.” Therefore, if a holy man communes often in his inmost heart in secret, many a glimpse will be vouchsafed to him in his inmost heart; and what God is will be made much clearer and plainer to him, than the natural sun is to his bodily eyes.
This pure ground was hidden from the heathen; therefore they despised all temporal and transitory things, and went in search of it. But afterwards the great masters, such as Proclus and Plato, arose, and they gave a clear description of it, to those men who could not find it of themselves. Therefore St Augustine said that Plato had fully taught the holy Gospel, “in principio erat verbum,” even unto the words: “Fuit homo missus a Deo;” but this was in veiled words. These same heathen masters discerned also the Holy Trinity; and all this came from the inmost ground, for which they lived and waited. It is a great disgrace and shame, a miserable and pitiful thing, that we, poor blinded people, who are left, should go on through long years, even unto death, like blind creatures, not knowing ourselves, nor what is concealed in us, knowing nothing about ourselves. Yet we are Christians, and are so called, and have great and exceeding help from the Grace of God, besides possessing the holy faith and the Blessed Sacrament, and many other great and divine helps. Now this is caused entirely by the great fickleness and superficiality, which pervert and trouble us. We are always anxious to occupy ourselves with outward things; our own efforts, our many prayers, readings, studies and so on, which are all of our own self-seeking, with which we occupy ourselves, and which keep us back, so that we cannot commune with ourselves, bare and empty in the inmost depths of our hearts. And yet, he who does not fill the noble vessel of his soul with fine balsam, will fill it with bad wine. Truly, if man would do this, it would be much pleasing unto God, Who desires to receive from him his best and noblest works.
There is yet another witness in the highest powers, the power of love, which is in the will. Have we not this week sung of St John the Baptist: Lucerna lucens et arden, etc. “He was a burning and shining light.” A lamp gives heat and light; thou canst feel the heat with thy hand; and yet thou canst not see the fire, unless thou lookest at it from above; and thou seest not the light, unless thou seest it through the shade. He who marked this meaning well, and was then conscious of the light and heat, would know that this is wounded love, which shall truly guide thee into this ground. Therefore, when thou comest into this ground, thou must wrestle and struggle with love, and set thy bow upon the Most Highest.
But if thou comest into imprisoned love, into that secret, deep abyss, thou must yield thyself in the depths of love entirely; thou hast lost all power over thyself; for there thou wilt find neither thought, nor exercise of power, nor the works of virtue. But, if thou findest there so much space, and thou art so bare that a thought comes to thee, and thou fallest again into imprisoned love, then thou must brace thyself at once, and raise thyself up, and wrestle vehemently with love; and desire, beseech and importune love. If thou canst not speak, think and long; and then speak as St Augustine spoke: “Lord, Thou commandest me to love Thee with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength and with all my mind; therefore, grant, O Lord, that I may love Thee above all things.” If thou feelest so dull that thou canst not think thus, open thy mouth and say so. Those men, who make no effort, but sit down, as though all were accomplished, never attain to this exalted love. After this comes the love which wells forth.
Fourthly comes stormy, raging love. Love has perished quite, and reason has taken its place. Man is never so reasonable as he now generally becomes; for stormy, raging love may be compared to a lamp; man becomes conscious of the heat of that love, for it causes a disturbance in all his powers. Man always longs for this love; and when he has it he does not know it himself; for it consumes the blood and marrow in his bones. Therefore, heed thyself diligently, that thou mayest not destroy thy natural powers with all thy efforts. If love is to do her work, so that thou canst not withdraw thyself from her, thou must follow her through all her storms, and in all her external works. Some men say they will guard themselves from all these storms, that they may not be disgraced; for such doings are not in keeping with their position. Therefore, when irrational love comes, all human work is swallowed up, and God comes and speaks to those men. This word is more useful than hundreds of thousands of words that could be spoken by any man. St Dionysius says: “When the external word has been uttered in the depths of the soul, and the ground has been so prepared and made ready, that it can receive the word in all its dignity and entirety, and can bring it forth, not only partially but completely, that ground becomes one with the word; and yet it retains its own essential being, even in that union.” Our Lord Jesus Christ bore witness to this when He said: “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee.” As He also said to St Augustine: “Thou shalt be changed into Me, and not I into thee.” Dear children, I tell you of a truth, that none can attain to this but by the path of love.
Now St John the Baptist said, that he was “a voice in the wilderness, to prepare the way of the Lord;” that is, the path of virtue; that path is very plain. He said also: “Make straight His paths.” Paths are often more even than ways. Therefore, whoever can really find the right path, which leads to the true ground of God, while at the same time he is conscious of his own ground, he must, before all things, remain alone, and diligently seek the footpath, which is very wild, dark, rough, unknown, distant and strange to him. For the man who diligently gives heed to all these things, no calamity or perplexity, either external or internal, is too great or too small; neither any infirmity which may befall him; for they will guide, allure and urge him on to the right ground.
The paths must also be made straight from within; we must seek them diligently; our spirits in God and God in us; for the paths are dark and unknown. Many men go astray, running after external works and discipline. They act like one who, in going to Rome, ought to ascend; whereas, if the road diverged, the further he went, the further he would go astray. It is thus that these men act; for often, when they come back from external exercises, they have become old and ill, and their heads ache; and there is not enough of this love in their works, because of their passions.
Therefore, when a man finds himself in this storm of love, he must not think of his senses, or of humility, or of anything else, but only, whether in his works he has enough love. Man struggles also in love against coldness, indifference and harshness. Man should devote himself entirely to love, and render full allegiance, being poor and miserable in all that is not love. Herein must thou have a steady ardent desire and full trust in God; and thou must keep thy heart pure for the Love of God; then thou wilt find such great and noble things in the Love of God, that thou wilt not be able to give utterance to them. Therefore, all men, whose faith and trust in God are not quite pure, will sink lower; love will be extinguished in their hearts, and their lives will be fruitless. I say unto thee, if thou hadst all the marks thou couldest possess here below, and this witness to the Love of God was wanting, all would be lost. Therefore the Evil One readily leaves all other virtues to man, as long as he does not posses the witness of true love. He will allow thee to have deceitful love, so that thou mayest imagine thou hast true love; but, if thou couldest see into the depths of thy heart, thou wouldest soon find out how it stood with thy love. Therefore, know, that all that is lacking in you, is nothing else but that you have not entered into the right ground; for, if ye truly entered there, ye would find the Grace of God, and it would exhort you unceasingly to lift up your minds above yourselves. This divine exhortation is constantly resisted by many men, and that so often, that they become unworthy of Divine Grace thereby; so that perhaps they will never become partakers of it; for they spoil it altogether with their lives which seem to them so good. Were they obedient to the glance of the Grace of God, they would be led thereby, and be brought into such Divine Union, that even in this life they would experience that which they will enjoy everlastingly in the life to come. This has been the experience of many holy men, who have been led by God along this lofty way; and He still leads others by it, who open their hearts to Him. God grant that this also may be our experience. Amen.
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