« Prev Sermon XXIII Next »

SERMON XXIII

On the Feast of St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Of two ways in which man may follow after God in true resignation. One way is in a figure; the other has no form; it consists of a calm, inner silence in a tranquil mind.

Sequere Me.

“Follow me.” Our Lord spake to St Matthew saying: “Follow Me.” And he rose up, and forsook all, and followed Him.

This holy Matthew has become an example to all men; and yet he was, to begin with, a great sinner, as the Scripture tells us; but afterwards he became one of the greatest Friends of God; for, when our Lord spake secretly to him in his heart, he left all things and followed Him. Everything depends upon man’s following God in truth; and this involves an absolute forsaking of all things, whatever they may be, which have taken possession of man’s heart, and which are not of God. For God is a Lover of hearts, and communes not with anything that is external. He desires an inner, living, love, which is ever ready to turn to all things that are divine and virtuous, where and in whomsoever they may be found; for there is more truth in such an once than in a man who prays as much as all the rest of the world, and sings so lustily that his song reaches to heaven; or in anything that he can do by fasting, watching, or anything else externally.

Now our Lord said: “Follow Me.” There are six ways in which men can follow our Lord; three are in our lower, and three in our higher powers. In the lower there are humility, gentleness and patience. The other three are higher than all other powers; they are faith, hope and love. Our Lord said: “Follow.” This following, in one way, is to be, after the example of our Lord, in praise and thanksgiving; while sometimes it comes to pass in a still closer way; that is, without any conditions of thought or of anything else, but only in an inner silence, in a mind that communes with itself, simply waiting on God, that He may work in it as it pleases Him.

It is easy to find men who get on well with their outward exercises. They glide through them, whether these be fasting, watching, prayer or anything else; and they take so much delight in them, that God has a very small part in them. The pleasure sometimes seems to be so great that God is not there at all, and has turned away; which means, that such men do their work as of themselves, adding thereto, and finding pleasure therein; though all good is of God, and not a shred belongs to man.

Now, we might ask: “How can we separate pleasure from that which is good? Let us take an example. In the Old Testament the priests were forbidden to eat the fat of the sacrifices; they were to burn it and offer all to God. But they might eat the fat of the flesh which was their allotted portion. Thus all the delight that we have in all the exercise of virtue and in works must be cast into the fire of love, from whence it proceeds. But the natural pleasure or satisfaction which clings to natural actions, in as far as they are good, may be engaged by man in a simple way, if he does not add thereto.

Now, we must notice in these words: “Follow Me,” that St Matthew left all things and followed God. Man, when he leaves all things and himself in all things, must follow God more than all; in the outer man, in all exercises of virtue, in universal love; and, in the inner man, by real resignation of himself in all ways, both outwardly and inwardly. Now, understand that when I speak of myself, I am speaking of all men. By God’s Grace and from Holy Christendom, I have received both my order and my cowl, this habit and my priesthood, that I might become a teacher and hear confessions. Now, if it came to pass that the Pope and also the Holy Church, from whom I have received them, wished to take them all away from me, if I were a temperate man, I should let them go, and I should not ask why they did so. If I might, I should put on a gray garb, and I should not remain any longer in the monastery with the brethren, nor be a priest and hear confessions and preach. I should also say that in God’s name all was at an end; for they gave all to me, and may therefore take all from me. Why, it would not be for me to ask. Why? because I do not wish to be called a heretic, or to be excommunicated; and thus I should be truly resigned. But if any one else wanted to take these things from me, I would rather die than allow them to be taken from me.

Again, if the Holy Church were to refuse us the Holy Sacrament externally, we must submit; but in a spiritual sense no one an take it from us. We must be ready to give up all without murmuring or answering again; but all this is external. Thus it ought to be, and even still more so in things that are within. What have we that was not given us by God? Therefore, all that He gave us must be given to Him again; we must give up all in true resignation, as though we had never obtained it.

You, dear children, who occupy yourselves with sacred pictures, holy thoughts, and works and ways, are not referred to here. I am not speaking to you; ye need not take this address to yourselves. But I mean those especially who have to go along the dark road, and to pass through the narrow way, which is not the road for all men. These men must take a very different road from those of whom we have just spoken; and we will now speak of them; of what things they must have, and how some things are to be done and others left undone. Man should have all these things in his powers, without anything of self and beyond all powers; and he must posses them without any qualifications. Now, it is according to man’s nature to desire to have, to know and to will. These are all the works of men’s powers. Now, there are six things of which we must now take note. There are three in the lower, and three in the higher powers. In the lower, are humility, gentleness and patience, which answer to these three. Humility sinks at once and for ever into an abyss, and loses its name and rests in absolute nothingness, and knows nothing but humility. Gentleness has robbed love of the qualification of will; so that all things are alike, nothing is antagonistic; therefore there is no consciousness of any virtue, and all things are possessed in an even peace; virtue has lost its name and has become simply a condition. So also is it with patience. These men love and thirst after suffering and know nothing of patience.

Now, after all this resignation, it may happen that a hard word is spoken to thee; but do not let it affright thee; God has decreed it for thy good, that thou mayest sink yet deeper into thy nothingness. Then anger arises, and points to still greater renunciation, and shows thee thy nothingness, that thou mayest even think thyself unworthy that God should implant in thee one good thought. Everything depends upon this; a fathomless sinking in a fathomless nothingness. The doings of these men do not depend upon external works, or customs, or pictures; but, if they do well, their existence will be blessed beyond all measure; but in its way it is as full of care as that of the most savage men on earth. For this way is a dark way; and, as I said of Job: “A man whose way is hidden, and God hath surrounded him with darkness.” Man must bear all the reproaches heaped upon him on this rough road, in a self-denying way; even all the reproaches that can be imagined. Our Lord says everywhere: “Follow Me, go through all things. I am He; go not further; follow Me.” If a man were to say: “Lord, who art Thou, that I must follow Thee through such deep, gloomy, miserable paths?” The Lord would reply, “I am God and Man, and far more God.” If a man could answer then, really and consciously from the bottom of his heart: “Then I am nothing, and less than nothing;” all would be accomplished; for the Godhead has really no place to work in, but ground where all has been annihilated. As the Schoolmen say, when a new form is to come into existence, the old must of necessity be destroyed. They say: “When a child is conceived in the mother’s womb, it is at first simply matter; later it takes an animal form; it lives as an animal; and then, at the appointed time, God creates a reasoning soul and casts it into the matter.” Then the first form disappears in blessedness; that which is created, form, size and colour must all disappear, so that nothing is left save simple matter. And so I say: “If man is to be thus clothed upon with this being; all the forms must of necessity be done away, that were ever received by him in all his powers—of perception, knowledge, will, work, of subjection, sensibility and self-seeking.” When St Paul saw nothing, he saw God. So also, when Elias wrapped his face in his mantle, God came. All strong rocks are broken here; all on which the spirit can rest be done away. Then, when all forms have ceased to exist, in the twinkling of an eye, the man is transformed. Therefore thou must make an entrance. Thereupon speaks the Heavenly Father to him: “Thou shalt call Me Father, and shalt never cease to enter in; entering ever further in, ever nearer, so as to sink the deeper in an unknown and unnamed abyss; and, above all ways, images and forms, and above all powers, to lose thyself, deny thyself and even unform thyself.” In this lost condition, nothing is to be seen but a ground which rests upon itself, everyone being, one life. It is thus, man may say, that he becomes, unknowing, unloving and senseless. This is not the result of natural qualities, but of the transformation, wrought by the Spirit of God in the created spirit, in the fathomless lost condition of the created spirit, and in his fathomless resignation. We may say of this, that God knows, loves and gives Himself thus; for man is nothing but a life, a being and action. Those who see in this way, with undue liberty and with false light, are in the most perilous state in which it is possible to be in this life.

The way by which we must arrive at the goal, is through the precious Life and Sufferings of our dear Lord; for He is the Way by which we must go, and He is the Truth which lightens all in this way. He is the Life and the End to which men must come; and He is the Door; and whosoever entereth in by another door is a murderer. We must enter by this Door, by breaking through nature, and by the exercise of virtue and humility, in meekness and patience. Know of a truth that he who entereth not in by this way goeth astray, and God goes before him and in him, and yet he remains blind. But none have power over those who enter by this way; for God Himself hath set them free. St Paul says, that those who are driven or led by the Spirit are under no law. Time is never too long for such men; nothing troubles them. It can never be said of any of the lovers of this world, that nothing troubles them, and that time is never too long. But they, who are in this world, but whose higher life is above, are freed from all things and patient in their lower life. Whatever comes, theirs is an essential peace. They take all things from God, and desire to lay all things again on Him; and thus they rest in peace. Still in the outer man they may have to suffer terribly and may be much troubled. But wherever they are, they are blessed; and we ought to praise them; but I fear they are rather sparsely sown. God help us that we may be like them. Amen.

« Prev Sermon XXIII Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection