I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee. And I will build thee again, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel. These are the words of God, by which he promises that the Saviour coming into the world shall establish a new kingdom in his Church, which shall be his virgin-spouse, and true spiritual Israelite.
Now as you see, Theotimus, it was not by the works of justice, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by that ancient, yea, eternal, charity which moved his divine Providence to draw us unto him. No man can come to me except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him. For if the Father had not drawn us we had never come to the Son, our Saviour, nor consequently to salvation.
There are certain birds, Theotimus, which Aristotle calls apodes, because having extremely short legs, and feeble feet, they use them no more than if they had none. And if ever they light upon the ground they must remain there, so that they can never take flight again of their own power, because having no use of their legs or feet, they have therefore no power to move and start themselves into the air: hence they remain there motionless, and die, unless some wind, propitious to their impotence, sending out its blasts upon the face of the earth, happen to seize upon and bear them up, as it does many other things. If this happen, and they make use of their wings to correspond with this first start and motion which the wind gives them, it also continues its assistance to them, bringing them by little and little into flight.
Theotimus, the angels are like to those birds, which for their beauty and rarity are called birds-of-paradise, never seen on earth but dead. For those heavenly spirits had no sooner forsaken divine love to attach themselves to self-love, than suddenly they fell as dead, buried in hell, seeing that the same effect which death has on men, separating them everlastingly from this mortal life, the same had the angels' fall on them, excluding them for ever from eternal life. But we mortals rather resemble apodes: for if it chance that we, quitting the air of holy divine love, fall upon earth and adhere to creatures, which we do as often as we offend God, we die indeed, yet not so absolute a death but that there remains in us a little movement, besides our legs and feet, namely, some weak affections, which enable us to make some essays of love, though so weakly, that in truth we are impotent of ourselves to detach our hearts from sin, or start ourselves again in the flight of sacred love, which, wretches that we are, we have perfidiously and voluntarily forsaken.
And truly we should well deserve to remain abandoned of God, when with this disloyalty we have thus abandoned him. But his eternal charity does not often permit his justice to use this chastisement, but rather, exciting his compassion, it provokes him to reclaim us from our misery, which he does by sending us the favourable wind of his most holy inspirations, which, blowing upon our hearts with a gentle violence, seizes and moves them, raising our thoughts, and moving our affections into the air of divine love.
Now this first stirring or motion which God causes in our hearts to incite them to their own good, is effected indeed in us but not by us; for it comes unexpectedly, before we have either thought of it or been able to think of it, seeing we are not sufficient to think anything towards our salvation of ourselves as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who did not only love us before we were, but also to the end we might be, and might be saints. For which cause he prevents us with the blessings of his fatherly sweetness, and excites our souls, in order to bring them to holy repentance and conversion. See, I pray you, Theotimus, the prince of the Apostles, stupefied with sin in the sad night of his Master's passion; he no more thought of sorrowing for his sin, than though he had never known his heavenly Saviour. And as a miserable apode fallen to earth, he would never have been raised, had not the cock, as an instrument of divine providence, struck his ears with its voice, at the same instant in which his sweet Redeemer casting upon him a gracious look, like a dart of love, transpierced that heart of stone, which afterwards sent forth water in such abundance, like the ancient rock smitten by Moses in the desert. But look again and see this holy Apostle sleeping in Herod's prison, bound with two chains: he is there in quality of a martyr, and nevertheless he represents the poor man who sleeps amid sin, prisoner and slave to Satan. Alas! who will deliver him? The angel descends from heaven, and striking the great Saint Peter, the prisoner, upon the side, awakens him, saying: Arise quickly! So the inspiration comes from heaven like an angel, and striking upon the poor sinner's heart, stirs him up to rise from his iniquity. Is it not true then, my dear Theotimus, that this first emotion and shock which the soul perceives, when God, preventing it with love, awakens it and excites it to forsake sin and return unto him and not only this shock, but also the whole awakening, is done in us, and for us, but not by us? We are awake, but have not awakened of ourselves, it is the inspiration which has awakened us, and to awaken us has shaken and moved us. I slept, says that devout spouse, but my beloved, who is my heart, watched. Ah! see that it is he who awakens me, calling me by the name of our loves, and I know well by his voice that it is he. It is unawares and unexpectedly that God calls and awakens us by his holy inspiration, and in this beginning of grace we do nothing but feel the touch which God gives, in us, as S. Bernard says, but without us.