Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thy Whole Heart, Thy Whole Soul, Thy Whole Strength

For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out. (Deut 30:14)

The Carthusian tells us: “We have all we need to enter immediately upon a life of the greatest intimacy with God.” Do we believe this? What is more, do we have the will to act on it? Do we permit ourselves to imagine that the kingdom is without us and thus squander our time searching far and wide for what is all the while immediately at hand, thus putting off our promised conversion? Do we even realize the value of that which we profess to seek?

Our Lord tell us that the kingdom of God is within us; and not only within us, but in the very depths of our being. If anyone love me, he says, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him; and we will come to him and make our abode with him (John 14:23).

Unfortunately, we are so apt to forget these truths. There are, of course, many faithful souls who endeavor to lead good lives, and strive to attain to a certain ideal of moral virtue. But how few know how to live a life of real faith, sustained by hope and aflame with the love of God, in order to participate fully in the life that Jesus longs to share with us. We are surrounded and enfolded with the loving care of divine Providence; we have all we need to enter immediately upon a life of the greatest intimacy with God, but we lack the will to live the supernatural life. We know the principles: the way lies open before us. If anything prevents us from embarking upon it, then the fault lies in ourselves. We must admit that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light (Luke 16:8). We have, indeed, received an infinite treasure, but we do not realize its true worth. And the very fact of our ignorance of its value prevents us from making the good use of it that we should. Our Lord surely had our heedlessness in mind when he recounted the parable of the wasted talent, which the foolish servant hid, to no purpose, in the ground.

What is outside of us is something other than ourselves, and thus it can only be entered into for a time and constitutes only a part of our lives. But the kingdom, God himself, is within us; His commandments, His kingdom, and His very self – they dwell in the very depths of our beings and thus are a part of our whole life. We either exist integrated within ourselves, and thus one with the God who is within us, or we exist disintegrated and thus alienated from our own selves and from God.

We must not rest content with a few devotional exercises at the beginning and in the course of the day: that does not constitute a life. The word life denotes a constant, persevering activity: and Our Lord wants to be our life. He said: I am the Life (John 11:25). And so we must not only follow in his steps but continue to do so. It is not just this or that particular devotion that he asks of us, but our whole life, our whole strength and our whole soul; so that we may with his help begin, even
now, our eternal life. In a word, we must respond to the call of Christ, if we would breathe the pure and radiant air of eternal truth and love.

Saint Charbel writes: “Do not weary yourself looking for other keys with which to open the gate of heaven, or fabricating others. Many are those who spend their life trying to design their own keys, believing that they would be capable of opening the gate for them; and many too are those who ridicule the cross of Christ. In front of the gate the truth shines forth, and they notice then that all their keys are in vain... There is only one true key: the cross of Christ..” Here the Carthusian tells: “There is only one door by which we can enter into our spiritual heritage . . . This one door is Christ.” All our actions, all our asceticism must be carried out for Christ and through Christ, and for and through Him alone.

Looking back in all sincerity over our spiritual life, we are surprised, if not disheartened, at our slowness, not to say complete lack of progress. How is it that there has been so much effort with so little to show for it? Why, after so many years, it may be, of a life of asceticism, must we own to the same weaknesses, admit the same faults? Is it not possible that from the very beginning we have missed the essential point of it all, and have been following the wrong road?

For there is only one door by which we can enter into our spiritual heritage. In our vain attempts to enter by some other way, it is obvious that we are bound to meet with insuperable difficulties. Have we not been rather like a foolish robber who seeks by some ruse to effect an entrance into a place only too well defended? He that entereth not by the door, but climbeth up another way, says Our Lord, is a thief and a robber (John 10:1). This one door is Christ: faith in Christ; a faith quickened by love, which by fortifying our heart makes us capable of loving in return with a love which burns more intensely and radiates more widely, thus resembling more and more the love of Jesus.

But first of all we must make one thing perfectly clear. Any kind of asceticism which has for its sole object the perfecting of self ––an asceticism which is egocentric–– is utterly worthless. Such a way of life pays very poor dividends, and the profits it yields are very disappointing. He who sows human seed can only expect to reap a human harvest.

Christian asceticism is based absolutely upon a divine principle, and this same principle inspires and animates it, and guides it to its end. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength (Deut 6:5). Here we have the summing-up and essence of the Old Law: the New Law has done no more than repeat this first and greatest commandment, making it clearer for all to understand, and promulgating it universally in all its divine simplicity and force. From the very beginning of our spiritual life we must keep our soul set towards this plenitude of love, towards God alone. To act otherwise is to fail to recognize the profound purpose of Christianity; to return to the notion of a self-centered perfection, to that delusive egoism of certain pagan moralists––in a word, to Stoicism, ancient and new––which is so exacting a culture of so miserable a pride. If only we could convince ourselves once and for all of the truth of the words of our divine Master:Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5), how changes our whole outlook would be. If only our minds were penetrated with the doctrine of life contained in those few words, we would concentrate on practicing, not just one or two virtues, but all without exception, knowing so well that it is God himself who must be both the term and source of our actions.

Then, having done all we can (as though success depended solely upon our own efforts) we would remain humble in our progress and confident after our falls. Knowing that of ourselves we can do nothing but that in Christ we can do all things, we should no more be discouraged by our faults than proud of the virtuous acts his grace has made possible.

And not only that. Once we are convinced that we are nothing and that God is all, our very weaknesses and failings need no longer be obstacles. Indeed, they are changed into means: they are an occasion for our faith to grow by the exercise of heroic acts, and for our trust to triumph before the manifest rout of all that draws us away from God. Gladly will I glory in my infirmities,says the Apostle, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Cor 12:9). Once, then, we have learned to trust in God and mistrust our own strength, we shall run like giants in the way of love. More and more will love motivate our actions and purify our intentions, until before long its influence will penetrate every corner of our lives.

And so, if we would be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel, we must spare no effort until we have arrived at acting solely from motives of faith and love. And since a purely natural principle can never produce supernatural results, we shall never reach our goal unless from the outset we endeavor to act solely from specifically Christian motives. For if, as Saint Paul says, we cannot pronounce our Lord’s name save by his grace, how can we hope, by our own efforts, to arrive at our supernatural ends.

The kingdom of Christ lies open before us. Not only so, but it is Our Lord’s express desire that we should make that kingdom ours. Abide in me, and I in you (John 15:4). Why not respond to his call, and begin to live by faith now?

The Prayer of Love and Silence
A Carthusian