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On the Feast of St Augustine
How man should keep strict watch and guard over all his life and his discipline. How wonderfully God exalts those who truly wait for Him, far above all temporal things; and then, for their good, smites and humbles them with all manner of troubles and temptations, that they may be driven and helped along the safest road to everlasting Salvation.
Vigilate, quia nescitis, qua hora Dominus vester venturus sit.
“Watch ye therefore, because you know not what hour your Lord will come.”
St Augustine says: “Ye must be watching, for ye know not when the Lord will be coming to the marriage.
The Enemy exerts all his cunning and dexterity unceasingly that he may destroy us everlastingly. He is always looking out to find an hour or a moment, when we are not diligent in our meditations, and have forgotten a window open in our imaginations, and are not standing on our guard; then he creeps in at once and steals all our goods. Therefore guard your windows, and watch, that he may not undermine your house like a thief; therefore watch unceasingly with all thy strength and with a collected mind. For as soon as a man gives place to pride, and is well-pleased with himself, and becomes presumptuous and self-willed, the Enemy is immediately on the spot, and robs him of his purse of good works. Children, what will ye see and find after this life in those who have been famed for austerity and good works, and who have had great names, and have made a great show, but whose self-satisfaction and love of ease have deprived them so entirely of all, that they will be thankful to be placed amongst the peasants, amongst unlearned and inexperienced men. And some poor, simple men, held in esteem by none, will, on account of their humble and oppressed condition, stand so high above them. Therefore, watch with brave hearts and open eyes, and see the plain truth, without any distinctions in thought, words, works, and deeds, in all actions, in virtuous deeds, in patient suffering; and examine yourselves both outwardly and inwardly.
Children, ye know not in what danger ye stand, on account of your natural weakness, your terribly wicked sins, and on account of the great and unsurpassable good that we might receive clear Divine Eyes search us through and through; while man, so full of impurity, stands before Him, and all that is not purified of that which is not of God in truth, is spread out before the Face of God.
How deeply we shall feel our shame! and how surely all will be judged! It is written: “And if the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” St Augustine says: “Woe be to all in unrighteousness, if God will not judge them according unto mercy.” Therefore, if ye could only know in what danger all stand, who desire something else than God, your human minds would be unable to bear it. The holy Job said: “How long wilt Thou not spare me, nor suffer me to swallow down my spittle? I have sinned; what shall I do to Thee, O Keeper of men? why hast Thou set me opposite to Thee?”
Then in the Gospel we read: “Watch therefore; let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands, and you yourselves like to men who wait for their Lord, when he shall return from the wedding.”2626 Luke xii. 35, 36. Ye have heard of this watching.
Now ye must notice three points here. First, your loins must be girded and bound round as with a cord, so that ye can be drawn and guided against your will, like a horse which is bridled, and can be held up when about to fall. The loins are sensual pleasures, which must be bound, and tamed, and girded up, and never allowed their liberty. The second point is, that ye must have burning torches in your hands; that is, the sweet reality of true, fervent love, both within and without. Ye must, as far as possible, never let it pass out of your hands; and ye must especially meditate on it, one with another, according to your power. The third point is, that ye must wait for your Lord till He comes from the wedding. “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching.” He will set them over all His goods, and gird Himself and serve them.
This marriage, from which the Lord comes, is in the very innermost parts of the soul, where the Image of God is. The nearness of the soul to God, and of God to the soul, the wonderful works God does there, and the joy and delight which God does there, are beyond all reason and understanding; although man himself knows nothing and feels nothing thereof. But the men, in whom God thus rejoices, and with whom He thus unites Himself, are the men who have turned with all their hearts and all their desires to God, away from the world and all creatures, and who ever desire to live only unto Him. But He will have nothing to do with the men who devote themselves with all their hearts to their own concerns, whether living or dead.
Now, if the Lord tarries too long, these men who are waiting are seen by the Enemy, and he comes and suggests some desire to them, either from without or from within, so that they may rest therein. Give no heed to him; remain on thy guard. Blessed are those servants who wait, for they know not when the Lord will come, whether it will be in the first, the second or the third watch of the night. Then He will wait on them, and serve them, and allow them to be conscious of a foretaste of the hidden Union; and thus He will strengthen them that waiting may not be too hard for them. He gives them, in that which they experience, the sweetness of His Love, that their love may be strangthened thereby. Now St Gregory takes up the words of the Psalter and says: “I have gone far away in flight; and I abode in the wilderness.” When the inner man has thus waited and waited, he must go away, fly from all things, and remain in solitude. This solitude if formed not only by a man giving up all the external distractions of his outward faculties, but also the inner distractions of his inner powers. These are the powers of imagination, in pictures and phantasies, and in thoughts, so that man turns away from all forms and fancies, and dwells in solitude; and, when he has overcome this affliction and has endured, then the Lord, for Whom he has been waiting, comes in a moment, and with one glance exalts him above all things, and delights him after his long waiting. Then He strikes him down again, and oppresses him, that he may not be overmuch exalted by his experience.
Jeremias, the prophet, says of such an one: “I sat not in the assembly of jesters, nor did I make a boast of the Presence of Thy Hand; I sat alone, because Thou hast filled me with threats;” as though he had been threatened with both fists.
The first fist, with which he is threatened, is a darkness which comes over him from within, while he is led by a dark and miserable road. He knows nothing, and he has nothing, and he is attached, besides, by all kinds of misfortunes, sins and temptations; by pride, uncleanness, unbelief and many other temptations, of which he thought he had long been freed, and which he imagines he had overcome; they threaten him and cause him great fear. The other fist which threatens him is, that God holds up His terrible judgments before him, so that the man feels that his only rightful place is in the lowest depths of hell. There two fists keep him down wonderfully, and God desires by all these threatenings to root out the evil, poisonous growth of pride. All desires are more quickly extinguished in those who rightly understand these fists, than they could be by much external discipline lasting for many years.
Now, when man goes in with the prophet, and wishes to dwell with him, and he finds that all storms, thoughts, imaginations and figures are stilled within him, then God and the holy Angels come, and suddenly, in a moment, real love is given to him, so that he perceives something that he is to do for Holy Christendom, or for the dead or the living; it flashes upon him in an instant. Then the Enemy also comes, and looks about to see whether he also can find his own here. He makes an attack, and, adding thereto suffering and thoughts, casts them before the man. But he must not heed them, he must let them pass by him; for if he does not love nor desire them, the Enemy will have to go his own way, ashamed and empty-handed, and the man will be greatly furthered by this attack.
In some lands men may be found who cultivate false poverty, lay aside all work, and protect themselves from all good thoughts, saying they have attained to peace; they will not exercise themselves in deeds of virtue, for they say they have got beyond them. These men have a devil by their side who hinders all that can destroy their peace, either from without or from within, either in thought or in other ways of that kind, that they may remain at peace, so that hereafter he may take them with him into the eternal dissensions of his hell; and, for this he preserves them in their false peace. The righteous do not take this false method, but exercise themselves both outwardly and inwardly, and endure in all the ways by which the Lord leads them, which He predestined, and in darkness; and they do not presume that they have attained unto peace. They are not disquieted, because they walk in a narrow path, between peace and disquiet, between hope and unrighteous fear, between safety and doubt. And, when true peace, liberty of mind and safety, reveal themselves to them, they at once cast them down to the ground, and do not cling to them. Men who desire to walk in this narrow path must see above all things that they plant their feet firmly in the Footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ; the firmer they stand therein, the purer will they become. Then these threatening fists are transformed into good and loving hands; our Lord receives them tenderly in His Fatherly Arms, and leads them up far above all things. Then all natural things fall away from them, and only those things trouble them which are not of God. And now the Lord shows them the dark, difficult ways, and the narrow paths over which they have come; none can harm them any more, and they rejoice over all their sufferings.
This is spoken, in truth, against those free spirits who glory in their false liberty, and who, in false poverty boast of their false peace, taking their stand on their own works and ways of forty years and more, and on the great deeds that they have done. Such men will not walk in the narrow path. In a great community there may be scarcely one or two men who desire to walk in this way. All the others who are there hem them in and attack them, and cause them trouble; and then, when they act wrongly, they speak hardly to them and say: “Thou must suffer for it!” but if a severe answer or unkind words escape thee, come to thyself at once, and acknowledge thy transgression and be sorry for thy sin. Be silent, endure, and accept all as from God, that thou mayest learn to know thyself thereby. If thou hadst shown more patience, thou mightest have attained to a noble mind. Therefore humble thyself and go forwards. All will be prepared for thee, whether crooked or straight; all will be for thy good, if only thou wilt realise it and be valiant. Therefore, he who thus waits on the Lord with watchful eyes, as St Augustine did, him will the Lord serve, and to him will He impart perfect joy, as He did to St Augustine. May God help us thereto. Amen.
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