O God! Theotimus, if we received divine inspirations to the full extent of their virtue, in how short a time should we make a great progress in sanctity? Be the fountain ever so copious, its streams enter not into a garden according to their plenty, but according to the littleness or greatness of the channel by which they are conducted thither. Although the Holy Ghost, as a spring of living water, flows up to every part of our heart to spread his graces in it, yet as he will not have them enter without the free consent of our will, he will only pour them out according to his good pleasure and our own disposition and cooperation, as the Holy Council says, which also, by reason, as I suppose, of the correspondence between our consent and grace, calls the reception thereof a voluntary reception.
In this sense S. Paul exhorts us not to receive God's grace in vain. For as a sick man, who having received a draught in his hand did not take it into his stomach, would truly have received the potion, yet without receiving it, that is, he would have received it in a useless and fruitless way, so we receive the grace of God in vain, when we receive it at the gate of our heart, and not within the consent of our heart; for so we receive it without receiving it, that is, we receive it without fruit, since it is nothing to feel the inspiration without consenting unto it. And as the sick man who had the potion given into his hand, if he took it not wholly but only partly, would also have the operation thereof in part only, and not wholly, -- so when God sends a great and mighty inspiration to move us to embrace his holy love, if we consent not according to its whole extent it will but profit us in the same measure. It happens that being inspired to do much we consent not to the whole inspiration but only to some part thereof, as did those good people in the Gospel, who upon the inspiration which Our Lord gave them to follow him wished to make reservations, the one to go first and bury his father, the other to go to take leave of his people.
As long as the poor widow had empty vessels, the oil which Eliseus had by prayer miraculously multiplied never left off running, but when she had no more vessels to receive it, it ceased to flow. In the same measure in which our heart dilates itself, or rather in the measure in which it permits itself to be enlarged and dilated, keeping itself empty by the simple fact of not refusing consent to the divine mercy, this ever pours forth and ceaselessly spreads its sacred inspirations, which ever increase and make us increase more and more in heavenly love; but when there is no more room, that is, when we no longer give consent, it stops.
How comes it then that we are not so advanced in the love of God as S. Augustine, S. Francis, S. Catharine of Genoa or S. Frances? Theotimus, it is because God has not given us the grace. But why has he not given us the grace? Because we did not correspond with his inspirations as we should have done. And why did we not correspond? Because being free we have herein abused our liberty. But why did we abuse our liberty? Ah! Theotimus, we must stop there, for, as S. Augustine says, the depravation of our will proceeds from no cause, but from some deficiency in the agent (cause) who commits the sin. And we must not expect to be able to give a reason of the fault which occurs in sin, because the fault would not be a sin if it was not without reason.
The devout Brother Rufinus upon a certain vision which he had of the glory which the great S. Francis would attain unto by his humility, asked him this question: My dear father, I beseech you, tell me truly what opinion you have of yourself? The Saint answered: Verily I hold myself to be the greatest sinner in the world, and the one who serves Our Lord least. But, Brother Rufinus replied, how can you say this in truth and conscience, seeing that many others, as we manifestly see, commit many great sins from which, God be thanked, you are exempt. To which S. Francis answered: If God had favoured those others of whom you speak with as great mercy as he has favoured me, I am certain, be they ever so bad now, they would have acknowledged God's gifts far better than I do, and would serve him much better than I do, and if my God abandoned me I should commit more wickedness than any one else.
You see, Theotimus, the opinion of this man, who indeed was scarcely man, but a seraph upon earth. I know it was humility that moved him to speak thus of himself, yet nevertheless he believed for a certain truth that an equal grace granted by an equal mercy might be more faithfully employed by one sinner than by anothor. Now I hold for an oracle the sentiment of this great doctor in the science of the saints, who, brought up in the school of the Crucifix, breathed nothing but the divine inspirations. And this maxim has been praised and repeated by all the most devout who have followed him, many of whom are of opinion that the great Apostle S. Paul said in the same sense that he was the chief of all sinners.
The Blessed Mother (S.) Teresa of Jesus, also, in good truth, a quite angelic virgin, speaking of the prayer of quiet, says these words: -- |There are divers souls who come up to this perfection, but those who pass beyond are a very small number: I know not the cause of it, certainly the fault is not on God's side, for since his divine majesty aids us and gives us the grace to arrive at this point, I believe that he would not fail to give us still more if it were not for our fault, and the impediment which we on our part place.| Let us therefore, Theotimus, be attentive to advance in the love which we owe to God, for that which he bears us will never fail us.