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O shepherds, you who go

Through the sheepcots up the hill,

If you shall see

Him Whom I love,

Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

THE soul would now employ intercessors and mediators between itself and the Beloved, praying them to make its sufferings and afflictions known. One in love, when he cannot converse personally with the object of his love, will do so in the best way he can. Thus the soul employs its affections, desires, and groanings as messengers well able to manifest the secret of its heart to the Beloved. Accordingly, it calls upon them to do this, saying:

“O shepherds, you who go.”

2. The shepherds are the affections, and desires, and groanings of the soul, for they feed it with spiritual good things. A shepherd is one who feeds: and by means of such God communicates Himself to the soul and feeds it in the divine pastures; for without these groans and desires He communicates but slightly with it.

“You who go.”

You who go forth in pure love; for all desires and affections do not reach God, but only those which proceed from sincere love.

“Through the sheepcots up the hill.”

3. The sheepcots are the heavenly hierarchies, the angelic choirs, by whose ministry, from choir to choir, our prayers and sighs ascend to God; that is, to the hill, “for He is the highest eminence, and because in Him, as on a hill, we observe and behold all things, the higher and the lower sheepcots.” To Him our prayers ascend, offered by angels, as I have said; so the angel said to Tobit “When you prayed with tears, and buried the dead . . . I offered your prayer to the Lord.”4545Tob. 12:12

4. The shepherds also are the angels themselves, who not only carry our petitions to God, but also bring down the graces of God to our souls, feeding them like good shepherds, with the sweet communications and inspirations of God, Who employs them in that ministry. They also protect us and defend us against the wolves, which are the evil spirits. And thus, whether we understand the affections or the angels by the shepherds, the soul calls upon both to be its messengers to the Beloved, and thus addresses them all:

“If you shall see Him,”

That is to say:

5. If, to my great happiness you shall come into His presence, so that He shall see you and hear your words. God, indeed, knows all things, even the very thoughts of the soul, as He said to Moses,4646Deut. 31:21 but it is then He beholds our necessities when He relieves them, and hears our prayers when he grants them. God does not see all necessities and hear all petitions until the time appointed shall have come; it is then that He is said to hear and see, as we learn in the book of Exodus. When the children of Israel had been afflicted for four hundred years as serfs in Egypt, God said to Moses, “I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry, and . . . I am come down to deliver them.”4747Exod. 3:7, 8 And yet He had seen it always. So also St. Gabriel bade Zachariah not to fear, because God had heard his prayer, and would grant him the son, for whom he had been praying for many years;4848Luke 1:13 yet God had always heard him. Every soul ought to consider that God, though He does not at once help us and grant our petitions, will still succor us in His own time, for He is, as David says, “a helper in due time in tribulation,”4949Ps. 9:10 if we do not become faint-hearted and cease to pray. This is what the soul means by saying, “If you shall see Him”; that is to say, if the time is come when it shall be His good pleasure to grant my petitions.

6. “Whom I love the most”: that is, whom I love more than all creatures. This is true of the soul when nothing can make it afraid to do and suffer all things in His service. And when the soul can also truly say that which follows, it is a sign that it loves Him above all things:

“Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.”

7. Here the soul speaks of three things that distress it: namely, languor, suffering, and death; for the soul that truly loves God with a love in some degree perfect, suffers in three ways in His absence, in its three powers ordinarily — the understanding, the will, and the memory. In the understanding it languishes because it does not see God, Who is the salvation of it, as the Psalmist says: “I am your salvation.”5050Ps. 34:3 In the will it suffers, because it possesses not God, Who is its comfort and delight, as David also says: “You shall make them drink of the torrent of Your pleasure.”5151Ps. 35:9 In the memory it dies, because it remembers its privation of all the blessings of the understanding, which are the vision of God, and of the delights of the will, which are the fruition of Him, and that it is very possible also that it may lose Him for ever, because of the dangers and chances of this life. In the memory, therefore, the soul labors under a sensation like that of death, because it sees itself without the certain and perfect fruition of God, Who is the life of the soul, as Moses says: “He is your life.”5252Deut. 30:20

8. Jeremiah also, in the Lamentations, speaks of these three things, praying to God, and saying: “Remember my poverty . . . the wormwood and the gall.”5353Lam. 3:19 Poverty relates to the understanding, to which appertain the riches of the knowledge of the Son of God, “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid.”5454Col. 2:3 The wormwood, which is a most bitter herb, relates to the will, to which appertains the sweetness of the fruition of God, deprived of which it abides in bitterness. We learn in the Revelation that bitterness appertains spiritually to the will, for the angel said to St. John: “Take the book and eat it up; and it shall make your belly bitter.”5555Rev. 10:9 Here the belly signifies the will. The gall relates not only to the memory, but also to all the powers and faculties of the soul, for it signifies the death thereof, as we learn from Moses speaking of the damned: “Their wine is the gall of dragons, and the venom of asps, which is incurable.”5656Deut. 32:33 This signifies the loss of God, which is the death of the soul.

9. These three things which distress the soul are grounded on the three theological virtues — faith, charity, and hope, which relate, in the order here assigned them, to the three faculties of the soul — understanding, will, and memory. Observe here that the soul does no more than represent its miseries and pain to the Beloved: for he who loves wisely does not care to ask for that which he wants and desires, being satisfied with hinting at his necessities, so that the beloved one may do what shall to him seem good. Thus the Blessed Virgin at the marriage feast of Cana asked not directly for wine, but only said to her Beloved Son, “They have no wine.”5757John 2:3 The sisters of Lazarus sent to Him, not to ask Him to heal their brother, but only to say that he whom He loved was sick: “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”5858John 11:3

10. There are three reasons for this. Our Lord knows what is expedient for us better than we do ourselves. Secondly, the Beloved is more compassionate towards us when He sees our necessities and our resignation. Thirdly, we are more secured against self-love and self-seeking when we represent our necessity, than when we ask for that which we think we need. It is in this way that the soul represents its three necessities; as if it said: “Tell my Beloved, that as I languish, and as He only is my salvation, to save me; that as I am suffering, and as He only is my joy, to give me joy; that as I am dying, and as He only is my life, to give me life.”

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