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On the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The Second Sermon
How Christ draws all things unto Himself; how He prepares man according to his powers, both outwardly and inwardly, by many changes and chances, that he may come at last with his whole heart to the secret place of the Divine Abyss; and how some men scarcely succeed in understanding how they an follow this drawing.
Ego si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia ad me traham.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things unto Myself.”
To-day we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, whose worth it is impossible to describe, and to which all the honour that we can conceive is due, because we give it to Him, Who died thereon. Therefore religious people take up the Cross, and begin to fast according to their rule; and this is a thing worth doing by all who have it in their power.
Now, we are told how a Christian king once took the Holy Cross to a Pagan king, with all the honour and dignity that his dominions could produce, in accordance with his rank, though not in accordance with the honour due to the Holy Cross; and he wanted to go to Jerusalem. When he arrived before the gates, they closed themselves by means of a strong, thick wall; and an Angel, who was standing on the wall, said: “Thou comest here with the Cross, riding in great pomp; and yet He, Who died thereon, was driven forth in great sorrow and shame, barefoot, and carrying the Cross on His back.” Then the king threw himself from his horse, tore off all his clothes, save his shirt, and bore the Holy Cross on his back. Then the gates opened of themselves, and he bore it into the city, where many wonderful signs were done, on the sick, the lame and the blind.
Our Lord said: “I, if I be lifted up...will draw all things unto Me.”2727 John xii. 32. As St Gregory says: “Man is all things, for he has a likeness with all things.” Many men may be found, who find the Cross, and are drawn to it by manifold sufferings and much discipline, that God may thus draw them to Himself; but this suffering must be lifted up; as we to-day celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, so it must not only be found but also lifted up. If man would only examine himself, and commune with his own heart, he would find the Cross twenty times a day in many a painful suggestion and fall, whereby, were he alone, he would be crucified; but he does not lift it up, and thus he wrongs it. All the burdens of the Cross should be lifted up in God, and willingly accepted by man as his Cross, both without and within, in the body and in the spirit. Thus man should be drawn to God, Who desires to draw all things unto Himself, as He said when He was about to be lifted up.
Now, men may be found, who outwardly bear this Cross, disciplining themselves well externally, and bearing the burden of their Order. They sing, they read, they go to the choir, or to the refectory; and thus, with the outer man, carry on small services for our Lord. Do ye imagine that ye were created and made for that only by God? He desires also to have you for His especial Friends. Now such men bear the Cross externally, but they carefully protect themselves from its entrance into themselves, and seek distraction wherever they can. They do not carry the Cross with our Lord, but with Simon Rufus who was compelled to carry it. But even bearing it thus is very good; for it protects them indeed from many vices and from levity, and it saves them from the terrible fires of purgatory, and possibly from an eternity in hell.
Now, our dear Lord says that He “will draw all things unto Himself.” He who desires to draw things, must first collect them and then draw them. This our Lord does also; He first gathers up all man’s wanderings, the dissipation of his senses, his powers, his words and works, and inwardly, all his thoughts and intentions, his imaginations, his desires and pleasures and his understanding. Then, when all are collected, God draws the man to Himself. For, first of all ye must cast off all to which ye cling externally and internally in your gratifications. This casting off is a weary Cross, and the heavier and stronger the clinging is, the heavier the Cross will also be. For all the pleasure and delight that ye have in the creature, however holy and divine it may appear to be, or is called, or as it may seem to thee—all must be cast off, if thou desirest to be truly lifted up and drawn to God. This is the first and lowest grade in the outer man.
If ye desire to raise the Cross in the inner man, it is necessary that all inner delights should be withdrawn from him, all clinging to spiritual pleasures, and even from those which arise out of virtue. The Schoolmen dispute as to whether man should make use of any virtue; it ought to be used fruitfully and only in God’s service. These things cannot, indeed, exist without pleasure; but it should be without any addition of self. What do ye imagine that pleasure and satisfaction consist of? That a man willingly fasts, watches, prays and carries out the rules of his Order? This pleasure our Lord would have nothing to do with; He desired that I should act rightly towards my Order. Why do ye imagine that God seldom allows a day or a night to pass by like that which preceded it, and that what helped you in meditation yesterday, does not help you at all to-day or to-morrow, and that many imaginations and ideas come to you with no results? Take thy Cross from God and suffer, and then it will become a blissful Cross. How couldest thou otherwise carry it to God, and receive it from Him in true resignation, and thank God for it, and say with our dear Lady: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour;” for thou must thus praise and glorify God in every thing.
Man must always have a Cross; it was necessary that Christ should suffer before He entered into His glory. Whatever thou mayest encounter in thy inmost heart, either in seeing or tasting, let it alone, do not meddle with it, ask not what it is, but fall back upon thy nothingness. Our Lord said: “If any man will come after Me...let him take up his Cross and follow Me.” It is not in comfort, but with the Cross that we must follow God. The Holy Apostle, St Andrew, said: “I welcome thee, thou much-to-be-desired Cross, for I have longed for thee with all my heart. Take me from amongst men, and give me again to my Master.” This must not take place one day and not on the next; but it must go on at all times, unceasingly; thou must ever be examining thyself in all things. Yes, though the number of thy sins and transgressions be great; if thou fallest seventy times a day, yet turn and come again to God, and pass on so quickly to God that thy sin will escape thy memory, and when thou comest to confession thou wilt not be able to say what it was. This should not terrify thee; it did not come to pass for thy hurt, but to show thee thy nothingness, and to make thee feel contempt for thyself. Ye should do all calmly, and not dejectedly, if ye feel that in your hearts ye are ready and prepared to do the Will of God. Man is not sinless, as our dear Lady was, therefore he must be content to bear all this suffering and this Cross. St Paul says: “We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good;” the gloss adds “and sin also.” Hold thy peace, flee unto God, and look upon thy nothingness; stay at home, do not run at once to thy confessor. St Matthew followed God at once, and leaving all his affairs unsettled; and, if thou findest that thou hast sinned, do not make thy Cross too heavy outwardly. Leave it to truth, and be faithful and at rest; for none will be condemned except those who wantonly turn to temporal things; while to those who delight in the love of God, and think only of Him, everything will prove a discipline.
Yet, I must warn you in all faithfulness that, if ye willingly allow yourselves to be possessed by the creature, and give it place, it will most assuredly cause your condemnation; and, even if God gives you true repentance, though this is uncertain, yet ye will have to suffer in the awful fires of purgatory. If ye realised it, ye might shrivel up in great fear and anxiety; and if ye went thus to receive the Lord’s Body, ye would be acting just as if thou wert to take a young and tender child and tread it underfoot in a miry path. And yet this is done to the living Son of God, Who, out of love, has given Himself for us. Thus ye go to confession, and do not guard yourselves against the cause of your sin. The Pope with all his Cardinals could not absolve you; for yours is no true repentance, and ye are guilty of the Holy Body of our Lord.
Our Lord said: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his Cross and follow Me.” This self-denial and this Cross are held before many a Friend of God, who is driven towards it, so that we cannot say how a man ought to forget himself and deny himself in all the circumstances that may arise. That which costs nothing is worthless. “He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly” and “with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” but no one should think of this, but solely of God. What will become of all those of whom ye might be told, who will not leave their old ways and customs, but who cleave externally to that which is real to their senses? Thou must forsake thyself and die utterly to thyself. He said: “Follow thou Me.” The servant does not go before his master; he follows after him. Not according to the servant’s will, but according to the will of the master. No other teaching is necessary for us, if we only take heed how little, in this world, servants can follow their own will; but how they must use all their diligence and all their strength in carrying out in all ways their master’s will and service. A grain of wheat must die before it can bring forth fruit, and so must thou also die absolutely to thy own will. Man ought therefore to give up himself and his own will entirely to God; and, when he thus gives himself from his heart to God, he ought to be as though he possessed no will. A virgin stood in the choir and sang: and said: “Lord, this time is mine and Thine, but, if I commune with my own heart, my time is Thine not mine.”
If man is to give himself to God, he must first of all give up his own will entirely, for man is just as though he were formed of three men: his animal nature, in which he is guided by his senses; his powers of reason; and his highest nature, which is in the Image and Likeness of God. In his highest and innermost nature man should turn and lie down in the fire of the Divine Abyss, and come out of himself, and allow himself to be taken prisoner. He should suppress and pass over the two lowest ways and natures, as St Bernard says: “Man must draw away his animal nature, with the lusts of the flesh, from all the things that he possessed with delight.” Ye know what a hard Cross that is, and how heavy it is! And he says, that it is no less hard for the outer man to enter into the inner man, and to pass, from things that are figurative and visible, to the invisible, that is to their very Source, as St Augustine understands it. All the attacks and the crosses, that, coming to the two lower natures of man, seem to him as though they would draw him away and hinder him from entering, should be taken up by him as his Cross, while he commends all to God. Whether they come from the senses or from reason, he should leave them all alone, and commend them to the lower powers. And he should raise himself above them in the highest power with all his might; just s Abraham left the ass and the servant below, when he went up the mountain to offer his sacrifice unto God; he went up alone with his son into the mountain. Therefore, leave your animal nature which is indeed an ass, and your servant, which is natural reason, which is here surely a servant, for it has served, and guide man up the ascent of this mountain; for there he must stay. Leave the two below, and go up alone with the son, that is with thy mind, into the secret place, the Holy of Holies. Offer up thy sacrifice, and especially offer up thyself, and enter in, and hide there thy secret mind in the mystery of the Divine Abyss. As the prophet said in the Psalter: “Lord, Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy Face.” In that secret place the created spirit is brought back again to its uncreatedness, where it had been from everlasting before it was created, and where it recognises itself as God in God, and yet in itself as of the creature, and created. But in God all things are God, who rest on this foundation. Proclus says: “When man once enters here, whatever may befall the outer man, sorrow, poverty or whatever it may be, he heeds it not.” As the Prophet says: “Thou shalt hide them...from the disturbance of men.” These follow our Lord, as our Lord says elsewhere: “I am in the Father, and He is in Me, and I in you and ye in Me.” That we may be drawn with all our hearts, as He desired to draw all things after Him, and that we may thus inherit the Cross, that by the Holy Cross we may enter into the true Source, may God help us. Amen.
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