THE DESIRE OF CONTEMPLATION
WE have just said what we are to think of visions, revelations, and the other phenomena of distinct and particular contemplation. The saints recommend us to reject such things, as far as it is in our power, if they occur to us of themselves ; for a stronger reason, they should not be desired. The same line of conduct should be followed as to ecstasies in public, miracles, and other open manifestations.
But with regard to the graces of mystical union, whose nature and degrees we have described, may we desire and pray for them ?
If a soul has already received a beginning of mystical union, it has always been admitted that she may desire further progress in these ways. God has given a true vocation and deposited a germ ; to desire that this should be developed is to will what God wills. This is applicable even to those who are as yet in the passive purgation of the senses; they have only one foot in the ordinary kinds of prayer, the other is already planted in the mystical way; God is calling them, and wishes to lead them on to further heights.
Many authors clearly assert that it is not permissible to desire ecstasy. We do not see why a soul, already arrived at the state of quiet, or at that of full union, might not desire an increase of light and of infused love, even though the alienation of the senses should be the result. Her intentions are pure, this hope animates her to practise virtue, and, after the favours already received, is in no way presumptuous, nor does she desire this to take place in public ; in what, then, is she to be blamed ?
If a person has not yet entered upon mystical contemplation, may he desire and ask it ?
Some celebrated authors maintain that not only he may, but that he ought to do so. Scaramelli admits that this desire is permissible, but immediately surrounds it with a multitude of restrictions. St. Liguori teaches that it is safer for souls, who have not yet been raised to mystical union, to desire only the active union. But the common and almost universal opinion is, that they may desire and ask the gift of supernatural contemplation, provided that this desire does not arise from pride or sensuality, and that it is accompanied with an humble submission to the Divine Will.
These graces of prayer spring in fact from love; they have for principle the Holy Ghost and His better gifts; for object, God ; for end, divine union, God tasted and possessed; they enrich the soul with many merits, urge it on to heroic virtues, dispose it to do great things for God and for one’s neighbour, are a powerful lever to raise her from earth and to unite her to the sovereign good; they are even a foretaste of the occupations and the happiness of our heavenly home. How, then, is it possible not to desire them ?
It is objected that these favours make us quit the common ways and indulge in strange familiarities with God; ought not humility then prompt us to avoid them ? No more than it should prompt us to avoid Holy Communion and all commerce with God by prayer. For, who would venture to believe himself worthy to converse with Infinite Majesty, or to be united intimately with the God of the Eucharist ? The voice of our needs cries out more loudly than that of our respect. Let us adore, and let us also desire.
Contemplation introduces us into a world so very supernatural. In this state, indeed, the supernatural is certainly more manifest. But is it not true that a merely Christian life, grace, the sacraments, infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, are all a supernatural world quite as real, though not so manifest ?
In contemplation, God shows us so much love ! Should we dare to receive His caresses? We dare to receive Holy Communion. During prayer, too, as well as at the Holy Table, we adore, we humble ourselves, we make ourselves quite little; but, nevertheless, we love and eat because we need to do so.
One may misuse contemplation ! One may also misuse the consolations of ordinary meditation. Poverty and riches, offices and employments, rest and work, consolations and aridities, health and sickness, life and death, the sacraments, the Holy Scripture, all the gifts of God, without exception, may be abused and turned aside from their end. It is supremely unjust to condemn what is good on account of possible abuses. Let us guard against
dangers and illusions, by humility, abnegation and obedience to a wise director. Let us keep our intention right, our heart detached, our will submissive to Divine Providence, and then we may desire ardently, and ask with confidence these graces of prayer.
But there is a danger for humility. ” On the contrary, no kind of prayer is better calculated to crucify self-love and to penetrate a man with the sense of his own nothingness, none other is more apt to exclude every movement of pride.”
” At present,” says Father Louis Lallemant, ” if any one aspires to some gift of prayer a little above the common way, he is clearly told that these are extraordinary gifts which God gives only when He pleases, and to whom He pleases, and that we must neither desire nor ask them ; thus the door is closed for ever upon these gifts. This is a great abuse.”
This, too, is the opinion of St. Thomas. St. Teresa maintains the same in more than twenty passages of her writings. St. John of the Cross composed his work for the sole purpose of leading souls to the summit of mystical union. We must also mention St. Peter Damian, Richard of St Victor, Louis of Blois, Blessed Albert the Great, Ruysbroeck, Lanspergius, St. Ignatius, Alvarez de Paz, the Ven. Louis da Ponte, &c.
Let us be satisfied with citing our own great St. Bernard. Everywhere he admits the lawfulness of this desire. He extols it, arouses it, gives it as one of the dispositions which attract the visits of the Spouse; he even admits that one who has been unfaithful may still hope to attain to mystical union. For the sake of brevity, we refer the reader to his sermons, especially those on the Canticle of Canticles.
However, it is to be noted, that the more a soul advances the better she knows the greatness and sanctity of God and her own nothingness and misery. The graces of prayer appear to her in the highest degree precious and she has an ardent desire of them, while at the same time she feels that she does not deserve them. Sometimes this desire predominates, and she exclaims: “Oh that He would give me one kiss of His mouth ” ; at other times, humility prevails, and she says: ” O Lord, I am not worthy.” It is this alternating rhythm of desire and humility, which ravishes the heart of God.
The view of the responsibilities which so elevated a state entails, the humble fear of failing to correspend sufficiently with its graces, the danger of illusions, may all serve to lead the soul to moderate this desire by a complete abandonment of herself into the hands of God who knows what is best for us. This filial and loving abandonment does not exclude desire ; but, fearing to be deceived in a matter so far above her own feeble lights, she leaves herself to the wisdom and goodness of Him, who possesses all her love and confidence. No other disposition seems to us so calculated to charm God and induce Him to bestow His gifts.