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On the Feast of St Mary Magdalene
A most precious Sermon and thoughtful Exhortation, which covers the whole ground of the Teaching and Preaching of the celebrated Doctor Tauler. Of the true resignation and seclusion by which we may come to real peace and to the highest state of perfection. It is founded on the words of Christ which he spake, in praise of Mary Magdalene, to her sister Martha.
“Martha, Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary; Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
In our dear Lord Jesus Christ, and in His holy and fruitful Coming, I greet you, faithful children of God, who are assembled here to learn of the Divine Word, and of the best way to eternal salvation. Amen.
Dearly beloved and elect, listen to the Voice of God in your hearts, earnestly and diligently, that ye may not be led astray and blinded by transitory things and your own natural tendencies. If ye heartily desire to become the dearest Friends and Disciples of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, ye must rid yourselves of all that pertains to the creature, and especially free yourselves, as much as possible, of all that can be rightly and honestly called necessary. Ye must look to Him alone as the Source of all things, for He needs the help of none. Ye must keep yourselves cut off and freed from all superfluous and unnecessary conversation and outward delight in human beings, and from all images, both external and internal, that are pleasing in any way to the natural man, or of which ye are conscious. This ye must do, like the beloved Mary Magdalene; so that God may work His wonderful works in you, according to His dear Will, and may pour out upon you His fervent, ardent Love and Divine Grace, that ye may acknowledge, as ye fall at His Sacred Feet, that all that may befall you is needful and His Divine Decree.
Now mark, if we were inwardly conscious of it, we should well understand, how very often we may be blinded, to our own hurt, by unnecessary and external works of love, which prevent our perceiving the divine inspiration and our own infirmities. Although such works may have been done in love, both great and godlike, and may not be really evil in themselves, still they are not that which is best and most perfect. Our Lord Jesus Christ praised Mary Magdalene for her absolute separation from all things, when He said: “She hath chosen the best part,”2424 Luke x. 42. and He rebuked Martha, because she was too careful in her anxiety and great and loving service, for she loved Him and His chosen disciples, with ardent, fervent love; and that in itself was right and proper. Therefore, if we especially desire to receive from God consolation and teaching that will be useful to us and bear fruit in us, and a true and perfect separation from all needful things, both bodily and spiritual, it is very necessary that we should decide at once to cut ourselves off from all unnecessary works and ways, in our words, works and all things that are more than absolutely necessary, either in bodily or spiritual matters, following therein the teachings of God and of our own consciences. It is especially necessary that we should shun and flee from all those persons who desire to lead us astray, and suggest thoughts to us of outward things, however holy those persons may be, or may seem to be; for they are not our true friends in sincerity and truth, whether they be Father Confessors or whosoever they may be, either spiritually or worldly-minded people. We shall never find God anywhere so perfectly, so fruitfully and so truly as in retirement and in the wilderness; like the Blessed Mother of God, St John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene, and other saints and patriarchs. They all fled from the world, from society, and all the cares and anxieties of the creature, and went into the forests and into the desert, or wherever they could find the greatest solitude. Oh! verily, much intercourse with society, and much outward conversation and necessary business lead up to an evil old age, and drive out God, however good the intentions may have been. For, when we fill our hearts with the creature, and with strange, useless images, God must of necessity remain outside, neither desires He to enter there. A barrel that has been filled with refuse or with decaying matter, cannot hereafter be used for good, generous wine or any other pure drink. Oh! verily, we may turn where and to whomsoever we will in this life, and, in all outward things, we shall find nothing but falsity, unfaithfulness and dissension. Where we imagine we shall be able to seek and to find great consolations and delight, we lose entirely all inward consolation, and are robbed entirely of that peace of mind which is had taken us a long time to attain in solitude. We cannot regain it, and we become greatly discontented, offending by unnecessary, superfluous and untrue words; we waste our time, and do many other things which cause our hearts to grow cold and extinguish our love. Conscious pricks us, and we are easily stirred up and urged on to impatience and anger. Woe be to us! could we only realise this, we should find that in God only can we have peace or consolation, or truly perfect joy and delight.
Let us turn to God with all our hearts, and wait upon Him in meekness and patience, as did the holy Prophets and Patriarchs, aforetime, in the old Covenant (Testament); for they indeed waited patiently for His coming in Hades, for many thousand years before they were redeemed. Oh! surely, we ought to be more ready to wait for Him, when, for a time, He withdraws His consolation and sweetness, of which we are quite unworthy, and hides Himself from us. He thinks only of what is best and most useful for us, that He may kindle and stir up our love and our longing for Him, ever more and more. For in His love and great mercy He neither wills nor desires to refuse, or to take from us, anything that is useful and necessary either in body or spirit; He knows surely what is best for us.
O God, how greatly we need Thy mercy! for we are so foolish and senseless, that we often allow little things to keep us back, imagining that we are pleasing God, when we sing His praise with many high-sounding words; though the words used by the Saviour and His dear disciples were short and simple. Or again, we think we are pleasing God and helping our neighbour by an unjustifiable waste of time and much outward sorrow. Or again, we think it is good and useful for us to carry on much unnecessary business and to delight in our fellow creatures (however holy they may be or appear to be). Thus even the blessed Form of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, and His faithful, fatherly and fruit-bringing Presence became harmful to His dear disciples and hindered them and led them astray, as He Himself said: “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” Or again, we think we may have and hold many things with delight, and as our own, without spiritual harm; either temporal goods, company, familiar intercourse with relations or spiritual friends, while at the same time we are pleasing our dear Lord and continuing in His love; though He was despised, He was sorrowful and poor, and said Himself: “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My sake, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, and in the world to come eternal life.”
He says also in another place: “He who hateth not his father and mother and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
O God! could we but see into the depths of the loving teaching of our dear Lord, we should surely acknowledge at once that all our life is unholy, and that it is not at all that which we imaging it to be.
If we ever are to attain to true Divine Peace, and be completely united to God, all that is not absolutely necessary, either bodily or spiritually, must be cast off; everything that could interpose itself to an unlawful extent between us and Him, and lead us astray; for He alone will be Lord in our hearts, and none other; for Divine Love can admit of no rival.
Oh! let us praise the Death of our dear Lord Jesus Christ and his inestimable merit, and ponder on the short transitory nature of this miserable life, and the delusions of this faithless, treacherous and deceitful world. Remember how dangerous it is to hold intercourse with any, whether clergy or laity, and how short our time is here, and that we must be preparing for the day of our death which is ever drawing nearer. If ye keep watch over your hearts, and listen for the Voice of God and learn of Him, in one short hour ye can learn more from Him than ye could learn from man in a thousand years. Dear children, use this short but more precious time wisely and profitably; and let none cause you to err, neither deceive you, that ye may not, to your own hurt, neglect your own salvation. We may lose much of our worldly goods, but we may also recover them again, though they will be of no further use to us when this short fleeting life is over. But if we lose but one little hour of this precious time, or vainly waste it, we can never recover it again; and we shall be in need of it throughout eternity, and be deprived of the exceeding great and eternal joy and reward, which we might otherwise have earned.
I fear, indeed, that there is great cause for anxiety, both on my account and on that of all those who cling too much to their fellow-creatures, and who are led astray and needlessly troubled by asking, hearing and talking too much about strange and useless tales. It comes to pass, too, that when, through His great and endless mercy, God preserves us from great and coarse sins, He nevertheless allows us to persist in fruitless outward imaginings, in a cold, thoughtless, foolish state of blindness, so that we neither can make, nor desire to make any progress towards a state of perfection, and shall have in consequence, to endure the fires of purgatory. We are like unto foolish asses, which never learn any form of speech than their own braying, or seek any other comfort or sweetness, but only rough, tasteless thistles, while they have to endure scorn and many a hard and cruel blow, which they really do not deserve. Surely, if we are not willing to give up outward attachments and distractions, simply for the sake of God and our own eternal salvation, yet we ought to be able to do so readily for the sake of that great peace of heart, which, even in this world, would be ours; and because we should be freed from much painful and unmerited oppression and perplexity. Verily, the man who wishes to prove himself always in the right, in everything that he does, sees, hears and discusses, and who will not give way and be silenced, will never be at peace in himself, and will have a barren, sullen and wandering mind; he will prey upon himself, even though he be left in peace by all, and is tried by no outward pressure. We must commend all that we posses both in body and spirit in full confidence to God, and allow Him to work in us according to His Will; and then we shall attain to perfect peace. He can guide and prepare us far better in all things, both bodily and spiritual, and for our own good both in body and spirit, if He finds that we have desired and sought honestly His praise and glory alone in all things. This indeed should suffice us; we need no longer be careful or troubled about anything, either without or within, but must seek only to give ourselves into His keeping entirely, in all humility. If it seem good to Him, He can show us in many ways what we ought to do and what we ought to leave undone; for He only knows what is really needful for us, and He only desires that which is best for us, would we but trust ourselves entirely to Him.
But we want to order our own ways, and to do that which we think best, just as we fancy and it pleases us, perhaps solely in the light of nature. We want to be wiser than God, Who is the Source of all Wisdom, and we imagine that, could we but rid ourselves of this sorrow or of that person, or could we be at such and such a court or society, it would be to our profit and advantage. Truly, if we could but see it, we should find that the Evil Spirit willingly deceives us and leads our hearts astray, making us restless and discontented. Steadfastness is not only one of the sources, but also shares in all other virtues; therefore the Evil One always endeavours, whenever he gets a chance, to prevent men from holding fast to this virtue. But if we strove more diligently to find him out, we should realise that we are seeking secretly and ignorantly by the light of nature. We imagine things, and lie to ourselves and are ready to flee from the Cross, and to cast it away, before God sees fit to remove it. Verily, this should not and ought not so to be; for our dear Lord, in His great love and mercy towards His chosen ones, afflicts and crucifies them unceasingly in this world, in many secret, strange ways, often unknown to them. He would not have them love anything too well in this life, that evil spirits may never gain any power over them. Our dear Lord afflicts and crucifies one man in one way, and another man in another way; one more, another less, according to the needs of each, and of the power of each to receive the Grace of God, and to draw nearer to His own Will in all things. Therefore we must be ready to suffer and submit, as much in one kind of suffering and need as in another, just as God sees fit to afflict us. We must not think at once that if we could have some really divine witness or testimony from God, or from His Friends, that we then should be more at peace; for often, when we strive to avoid some slight suffering or discipline, we only fall into it all the more deeply.
Woe be unto us! Were we only not so foolish, but recognised instead how very much the smallest suffering or affliction purifies us and unites us to God, and in God; how great our eternal reward will be; and how quickly it drives and chases away the Evil Spirit from us, so that he can have no power over us, surely, we should be ready to run miles to the Cross, and should earnestly thank all those who in any way afflicted or tried us. We should turn towards the road that they take from real joy and thankfulness, and we should be glad, beyond all measure, that we had been able to find and to carry so heavy a Cross. So did the holy Apostle, St Andrew; he rejoiced exceedingly in the Cross, and longed for it with fervent love and desire; because he craved in some measure to be like unto his God and Lord Who was crucified for our sakes. Oh! even in this life how great and enduring is the reward that we might gain, if we only yielded ourselves wholly and joyfully to the Will of God. Suffering and all kinds of affliction are indeed most precious and fruitful and make men so like Him, that our Lord will not leave any of His Friends without suffering. For, rather than that His chosen ones should be undisciplined and unprepared, He is ready to create suffering out of nothing, and allows them to be tried by all sorts of irrational and dishonest things that by means of them they may be prepared.
But, alas! in these times, we are altogether unworthy of these fruitful gifts of God; we are careless and unreceptive. We protect ourselves from them, and struggle against them as much as lies in our power; for we will not suffer anyone to try us or to afflict us either by word or deed. When anyone attacks us, we fly at him at once, like angry dogs; we assert ourselves, and excuse ourselves in words, or in our own minds, by thinking that we were right or wrong, and that we ought not to allow ourselves to be oppressed in any way. Alas! why is our nature so untamed, so wild and unmortified; and why are we so foolish? We ought to think of suffering and affliction as necessary for us, though we are unworthy of them, and we should at all times thankfully and humbly receive the good gifts of God in silence, humility, meekness and patience, like that upright and steadfast Job. We should always feel that we are guilty and suffer justly, however unjustly we may have been treated according to our own view; neither ought we to justify ourselves. Thus we may attain to true Divine Peace and stir up our fellowmen to all virtues. This would be more praiseworthy and well-pleasing unto God, than any outward discipline that we could devise or carry out for ourselves.
Know this, dear children, that if all our teachers were buried, and all our books were burned, we should still find enough teaching and contrast to ourselves in the Life and Example of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherever we might need it, if we only diligently and earnestly learn how He went before, in silent patience, in gentleness, in adversity, in temptations of the Evil One, in resignation, in scorn, in poverty, and in all manner of bitter suffering and pain. Surely, if we oftener examined ourselves in this most useful and salutary Mirror, we should more readily and joyfully suffer affliction and adversity, and be better able to overcome and resist temptations and evil suggestions, in whatever way they attacked us or encountered us. All suffering and all work would be much lighter and easier to suffer and to bear, and then all the things that we see and hear would tend only to our good.
For, if we wish to attain to great and fruitful peace in God, in nature, but not of this world, we must first diligently and earnestly learn to make the best of all things, and to endure, kindly and meekly, the behaviour of all kinds of men, their ways and customs; for they will often try and afflict us. The behaviour of other men and their ways will often vex and displease us; it will seem to us as though one person talked too much, another too little; one was too indolent, another too energetic; one erring in one way, another in another. Customs and fashions are so many and so various, that they assail us in many secret and unsuspected ways. We must learn to withstand them all vigorously, that they may take no root in us. By reason of weakness we cannot always keep our hearts free; yet we can at least vigorously check any outbreak in words, so that we shall neither condemn nor judge others, nor talk much of the lives and doings of others, either openly or in secret, however much we may be tempted. By acting thus we shall be great gainers; we shall be much less likely to break out; for we shall be more inclined to peace and kindliness, and be better able to endure. Our dear Lord Jesus Christ set us an example by so gently and meekly suffering the traitor Judas, and all those who hated Him, to remain near Him, although He knew all the hatred and unfaithfulness that they bore towards Him, and for which He, Who was Himself without guilt and sin, might justly have punished them. No one in this world is so perfect that if he were to examine his own heart, he would not find sin enough of which to rid himself, so that he would not be able justly to reprove others.
Therefore, dear children, learn from my weaknesses to know your own, and rid yourselves of them. Take all my words, not my works, as from God; for I have studied them all in the book of my transgressions; take them earnestly to heart as a gentle warning and exhortation, not as an instruction; for I know that I need really to be taught by you and all men. He who does not occupy himself at home with a collected mind and pure heart in true humility cannot withstand temptation vigorously, nor acknowledge truth in all sincerity. Voluntary poverty is better than all the goods of this world, and union with God than heaven and earth full of blessings given by the command of God. May the everlasting peace of God be with you throughout all time and eternity. Amen.
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