If the tender lambs and timid sheep of the shepherd's flock could speak the sentiments of their innocent hearts, each one would certainly voice the words which here the Psalmist has uttered for them all. Throughout the live-long day, throughout all the days of their lives, they experience the shepherd's goodness, they are the objects of his constant mercy. He has been caring for them since their birth; he has led them out each morning, since first they were able to walk; he has provided them with food, and led them to water; and he has ever been present to shield them from harm, and to protect them from their enemies. After such repeated experiences and trials of his loving-kindness, they have grown accustomed to his faithfulness and are filled with love of his goodness and mercy. And while they have not the power of speech, and cannot by words express their feelings, they do by the louder voice of action -- by their quiet trust in his care, by their habitual mildness and gentleness and quick response to his every word, by the absence of solicitude and fear in view of his presence -- by these and all the other actions that speak their simple hearts they show their love for their shepherd. Though often wounded and bleeding and exhausted from the roughness and length of their journeys, they have no distrust about the future, no fear for the morrow. In the midst of distress the shepherd, they know, will provide. The Psalmist, therefore, in the closing words of the shepherd song, gives utterance to the feelings of the sheep when he sings: |Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.|
But here, as in the opening verse of the Shepherd Psalm, the words of the sacred Singer, although truly expressive of the sentiments of the sheep, are more directly the expression of his own inner feelings, and of the feelings of all faithful souls towards the Lord who rules and guides them. All those whose lives have been really and sincerely led by faith, have, like the shepherd's flock, grown trustfully accustomed, in the course of years, to the goodness and mercy, to the faithfulness and love of the hand that provides for them. As they look into their lives, and retrace the steps they have taken, they cannot fail to see how God has been always with them, patiently enduring their faults, mercifully binding up their wounds and hurts, and lovingly leading, drawing them to Himself. They can see their advancement, slow perhaps as it has been; and they know it is God who has given the increase. Looking now at their lives through the perspective of the years that are gone, how many problems they are able to solve! for how many apparent mysteries they have found an explanation! All those crosses and trials, all those struggles and battles with the enemy, all those attacks from within and assaults from without, all, in fact, that they have ever endured, their sins alone excepted, they now can trace, through the light of faith, back to the hand of their Father in Heaven. Not everything, forsooth, has yet been explained, but enough, indeed, is sufficiently clear to remove every doubt from the faithful soul as to the goodness and Providence of God. And hence she exclaims with the Psalmist, out of the abundance of her faith and confidence, |Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.|
It is doubtless a lack of implicit trust in God and divine Providence which, more than anything else, accounts for the unhappiness and spiritual barrenness of so many Christian and religious lives. Poor and scanty is the fruit they yield, simply because they have no depth of soil, they are not deeply and firmly rooted in faith and confidence in God. Like reeds shaken by the wind, like houses built on the sand, they tremble and shake with every blast, they are all but overturned by every tempest that rises.
Nor is it wonderful that this should be so. The higher gifts of the spirit come from God, and hence the good fruit which the spirit yields is also traceable back to Him. |We do not gather grapes from thorns nor figs from thistles; and as a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, so neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.|(82) And just because the abundance of the harvest of the spiritual life is dependent upon God as its giver, is it strange that any distrust of Him and His Providence should be a great hindrance to the soul's advancement, and to the bestowal of the constant help it needs? Can God be pleased with those who do not confide in Him, and who do not trust Him? Our Lord's own chiding words to His disciples are a proof of His displeasure at any distrust in His power and goodness. How often did He rebuke them for their want of confidence in Him! How often did He accuse them reproachfully of their |little faith,|(83) of being |slow of heart,|(84) of being an |unbelieving and perverse generation!|(85) He was constantly pointing to their lack of faith, reminding them that it was the source of their weakness, the cause of their ignorance in things spiritual, the reason of their powerlessness in the face of difficulties and against the enemies of their souls. It is clear that Almighty God, being a generous and loving Father, must be offended at those of His children who do not trust Him; and their want of faith in Him is consequently the reason for His denying to them the help which is the life of their souls, and without which they are powerless to be useful servants in His vineyard.
And this failure to confide in the goodness of God betrays itself in other ways. Besides sealing up the fountains of special graces and closing the door on divine generosity, besides a general unfruitfulness in the spiritual life, and the lack of all greater works for God and for souls, which are its immediate consequences, it also penetrates into the interior sanctuary of the spirit, and weakens at their source the springs of spiritual action. The results are manifest. Not only is there no yielding of fruit, but growth is likewise wanting. And if, under fairer conditions, there has ever been any progress, it is soon perceived to wither and wane in a soul devoid of living faith. All the exercises and practices of the Christian life participate in the baneful effects. Prayer and the use of the sacraments are either seriously neglected or gradually given up, and the blighting influences of irreligion rapidly spread and overrun all the departments of life. The view one takes of God, the faith or lack of faith and trust one has in Providence, have their effect on the character and give a direction to all one's ways of thinking, feeling, acting, in regard to the world we live in, in regard to mankind in general, in regard to the causes, purposes, and destinies of all things.
Our conceptions of Providence are vital, therefore. They really determine what our life is to be, and they are an index to the life that is finished. It is impossible that we should be quite the same whether we try to eliminate God from our lives, or allow His blessed influence to cheer and lead us on; whether we look upon Him as a cold Master, waiting to exact and to punish, or as a kind Father and Shepherd, seeking to spare and to save; whether we regard Him as hid far in the heavens, caring naught for the creatures and the world He has made, or whether we conceive Him as intimately bound up with all the works of His hands, although distinct from them, as guiding and regulating everything, as tenderly loving and providing for all the needs of our souls.
Another most harmful result of deficient faith and confidence in God is that it leads us to trust in creatures. It causes us to reverse the proper order of things. We are dependent beings, and we instinctively feel our deficiencies and the need of some one, or something on which to lean, at times, and to which we can look for assistance. We may not be entirely and always conscious of this tendency in us, we may be too proud or too blind to admit it, or we may wish we could overcome it and rid our lives of so constant a need; but whether we see it and acknowledge it or not, whether we encourage it or try to repress it, the need is always there, deeply engraved in our nature as creatures, and we cannot but seek to satisfy it. There is none of us, frail beings that we are, who is entirely sufficient unto himself. Sometimes, of course, the voice of our needs is silent, and we feel that we shall never want; |I said in my abundance,| observes the Psalmist, |I shall not be moved forever;|(86) but when the tide begins to ebb and prosperity subsides, how soon do we remember that we are dust! How frequently in times of trouble, in times of illness and poverty and suffering, when face to face with our foes, or when death steps in and slaughters, are we made aware of our insufficiency, and of our utter helplessness to live our lives alone and meet single-handed the burdens and misfortunes of earth! It takes but a little frost to nip the root of all our greatness, and then when our high-blown pride breaks under us we quickly realize how fragile and insecure are the personal foundations of our lives. Naturally and reasonably, therefore, did the pagan philosophers conclude that friendship and friends were necessary to man.
Profoundly aware of this fundamental need of help and support which is a result of our nature, we habitually stretch out our hands to others, not only during the years of infancy and childhood, but to a greater or less extent throughout the whole period of our earthly existence. At first, of course, it is to creatures that we necessarily look -- to parents, relatives, guardians, teachers, and later on, to friends and acquaintances. Our needs in the beginning and in early years, though many and imperative, are comparatively simple; they can be satisfied by those around us. But as we advance to maturity and take in more completely the meaning of our lives, and consider not so much the needs of the body as the demands of the soul, we find that the multiple requirements of infancy and youth, which were able to be supplied by those that were near, have given way to the fewer, but vast and unlimited, claims of age, which express the wants of the spirit. It is when we appeal to creatures for the complete and permanent satisfaction of these latter necessities of our being, that we seriously err, and open the way to disappointment and sorrow. Not that we are to have no cherished and chosen friends, or that we should despise the needs and gifts, the privileges and blessings of friendship, which in truth our nature requires; nor again that we are to regard with skeptical, disdainful eyes the world and human nature; but we must not deceive ourselves by trying to find in any created being that which it does not possess. We must not endeavor to get from any creature that perfect satisfaction which we need, and which the Creator alone can give. Neither must we seek to fill the unlimited capacity of our souls with those gifts only, poor and defective at best, which frail mortals like ourselves are able to supply. It is folly in the highest degree to expect from anyone less than God that which only God can afford.
The mistake, therefore, is made when creatures of any kind are allowed to take the place of God; when they are sought and reposed in as an end in themselves, and as sufficient satisfaction for the needs of the human spirit. Unwise, indeed, is this mode of action, and bitter are the sorrows of soul to which it inevitably leads! One man trusts in riches, another in glory, another in the esteem of men; one leans upon his friends and companions, another upon his relatives -- all forgetful of the frail and unsubstantial nature of every earthly prop. Frequently they never awaken to the peril of their state until they find themselves face to face with their doom and the awful disillusionment. The crash may be delayed, but the day must come sooner or later for all of us, who have advanced but a little beyond maturity, when all the natural lights of life go out, when every human prop is removed, and we find ourselves out alone and in the dark, so far as depends on the world and creatures. How miserable then shall we be if we have put our trust in men! if we have tried to make creatures play the part in our lives which only God can play! When we need them most they fail us, when we fain would find beneath their protection a shield against the fiery darts of life, behold they wither like the ivy of Jonas and leave us alone in our want!(87) How vain, therefore, and groundless is that confidence which is put in men, and how wretched that poor man that hangs on princes' favors! |Thou trustest in money,| says St. Augustine, |thou holdest to vanity; thou trustest in honor, and in some eminence of human power, thou holdest to vanity; thou trustest in some principal friend, thou holdest to vanity. When thou trustest in all these things, either thou diest and leavest them here, or in thy lifetime they all perish, and thou failest in thy trust.|(88)
It is no despisal, then, of the needs and helps of earthly friends and of our fellow-creatures to say that we should not put entire trust in them for all the wants and demands of our being. They are good, they were made by God, they are oftentimes able to assist us -- nay, we need them to a certain extent; but they are utterly unable to satisfy us completely, they cannot if they would, simply because of the extent of our wants. And even if creatures could give us a partial contentment, as at times they seem to do, we know that it cannot last, and in the midst of our joy and pleasure we are haunted by the thought that some day, soon at latest, it all must pass away. We are seeking for rest, for peace, for happiness, and that unending; we want something to steady our lives and satisfy the yearnings of our souls forever: but we must not look for these things in the world, for the world at best is passing away. There is no stability to human things; the cloud and the storm swiftly follow the sunshine; we have not here below a lasting habitation. Today we are sitting at the banquet of pleasure, tomorrow we are draining the cup of sorrow; today we receive the applause of men, tomorrow we may be the objects of their scorn; today we put forth the tender leaves of hope, tomorrow there comes a killing frost that ruins all our prospects.
Such, then, is the lot of man when considered in his relations to creatures and to the world. It is a lot full of uncertainty, of instability, of vicissitude; but this should not make us skeptical or cynical; it affords no justification for pessimism. It is a condition arising, on the one hand, from the very nature of limited beings, and on the other, from the vast potentialities of our souls, which, while they are limited in giving to others, cannot be appeased except by the God who made them. There is a craving in the heart of man for something which the world cannot give. He clutches for the things that are passing, he toils, he labors, he struggles; he strives for money, for power, for place, for honor, not that any of these things are in themselves what he desires, but only because he conceives them as means and helps to the satisfaction, to the stillness of mind, and peace of heart, and rest of soul and body for which his nature longs. Peace and happiness and contentment of life are the objects of all our dreams, of our persistent efforts, of our ambitions and aims; but until we give up the hope of finding these things in the world, in our fellow-mortals, in anything short of God, we shall never know the blessedness for which we yearn. If we would ever attain to the state which we covet, we must learn the lesson, even though it be through tears and sorrow, that God alone, who made our souls with all their vast desires, is able to comfort us and steady our lives amid the storms and distresses of earth.
It is futile to trust in men, or |in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.|(89) The peace and blessedness which we seek are |not as the world giveth;|(90) and unless we turn away from the world and cease to torture our lives with its vanities, our portion can never be other than heartaches, secret loathing, consuming thirst. |For many friends cannot profit,| says Thomas a'Kempis, |nor strong helpers assist, nor prudent counsellors give a profitable answer, nor the books of the learned afford comfort, nor any precious substance deliver, nor any place, however retired and lovely, give shelter, unless thou thyself dost assist, help, strengthen, console, instruct, and guard us.|(91) Such has been the history of the race, and such is the experience of every individual in the race that has placed his hope and trust in anything created.
We are confronted, therefore, on the one side by the inherent weakness of our own nature and the constant needs that arise therefrom; and on the other side, we are assured by the history of the race, if not by our own experience, that so long as we strive to satisfy our wants by an appeal to anything but God we are doomed to disappointment and sorrow. It is unfortunate that most people must first be crushed by the world and creatures which they serve before they grasp the fundamental truth that creatures are not their God. Comparatively few of those who enjoy the world are ever brought to realize the dignity and divine purpose of their souls until the world and its allurements, like a false pageant on a false stage, give way beneath them, and they fall helpless and alone. It is commonly only after repeated awful experiences, when worn out and exhausted by years of fruitless quest for peace and happiness and contentment, that men wake up to the simple fact that the treasures which they seek are not in the world, nor as the world giveth.
But it is one thing to turn away from the world disappointed, disgusted and betrayed; and it is quite another thing to turn to God and to recognize Him as our good Father and Shepherd, patiently waiting to receive us, ever able and ready to satisfy our wants. There are many people who find the world a disappointment and a deception, and who turn from it with loathing and hate, but who fail ever to lift their weary eyes to the proper object of their trust. Like the Israelites of old, they succeed at length in escaping from the hands of oppression and tyranny, but only to wander in a desert land throughout the length of their days. This is the region where dwell the pessimist, the skeptic and the cynic -- miserable mortals that have wasted on creatures the talents they should have given to their Creator, or that have otherwise failed in their conception of life, and have left unmultiplied the money of the Master.(92) There is plainly no middle course for us, if we would not encounter disaster; we are not negative as to the necessities of our nature; it is not enough for us to turn from positive harm, from the objects that deceive and disappoint us; we must further turn to positive good, and to Him who alone can quiet and appease our yearning spirits.
One of the most evident and convincing reasons, then, why we should put our trust in God above all else is that He alone can satisfy and give us rest. Only God is able adequately to respond to all the needs of our being. The simplest process of reasoning should assure us of this, when once we perceive the vastness of our wants and the impossibility of their satisfaction through the medium of created things. We know our nature, which has come from the source and essence of truth, cannot be false. Neither can our unlimited capacities for knowledge, for joy, for happiness be a deceiving mockery. There is a way to peace for us, and a source of supreme contentment; there is a fountain of living waters from which, if we drink, we shall never thirst again. Hence our Saviour said: |Come to me all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you;|(93) and again, |he that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst forever: but the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.|(94)
But we shall never be able to come to God, we shall never succeed even in getting near the secret of interior peace and contentment until we are able to grasp more or less comprehensively the great basic truths of our existence: that God loves each one of us with the love of an infinite Father, and that His Providence is so universal and omnipotent as to extend to all things, even to the numbering of the hairs of our head. We talk much about chance and fortune and accident, we speak every day of things happening, as if by the sheerest contingence, without warning or previous knowledge; and so it is with reference to ourselves, and to all the world perhaps: but with reference to divine Providence it is not so; there is nothing accidental, nothing unforeseen with respect to God. |Without Thy counsel and Providence, and without cause, nothing cometh to pass in the earth,|(95) says the Imitation. But what does this mean, |God provides?| It means that the will of the omnipotent Father directs and governs everything. |Providence,| says St. John Damscene, |is the will of God, by which all things are fitly and harmoniously governed,|(96) and such is its power that nothing can elude or deceive it, neither can it be hindered or baffled in any way. |For God will not except any man's person, neither will He stand in awe of any man's greatness; for He made the little and the great, and He hath equally care of all.|(97)
And just as divine Providence disposes and governs all the events of life, directing each to its proper end, so the divine Will is the cause of everything that exists. Just as it is impossible that anything should escape God's knowledge and directing hand, so is it impossible that anything should exist or come into being without the direct intervention or permission of His will. There is nothing in the world which God has not made, and nothing takes place which is not according to His good-pleasure, except the malice and guilt of sin. Even all the other evils of life, such as sickness, suffering, disease, poverty, cold, hunger, thirst, and the like, God actually and positively wills. And precisely because these things proceed from His will, they cannot be bad. God is the author of all good, and evil He cannot do. So good, indeed, is He that, if He were not sufficiently omnipotent to draw good out of evil, He would never have permitted any evil to exist. |God has judged it better,| says St. Augustine, |to work good out of evil, than to allow no evil.|(98) We must not argue in our foolishness and try to understand all the doings of God, for His ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts.(99) It is often beyond our power even to understand our fellow-creatures, and how foolish it is to complain because we cannot comprehend the great Creator! Enough for us, if we be sincere and right of heart, to know, as we do, that God is good, that He loves us individually, and that His protecting hand guides and governs all the events of our lives, even to the smallest detail. These are truths which we must take hold of and lay close to our hearts, else we shall go the way of error and issue in ultimate disaster.
And from these truths, so certain and unquestionable, it further follows that everything existing in the world, so far as it affects us, everything that falls to our lot, all that we encounter, all that we suffer, all that we do, aside from sin, has been purposely arranged by Almighty God for our greater spiritual good and eternal salvation. This must be so, since God is the universal cause of all things, and since He sincerely loves us and desires above all to save us. If it were otherwise, either He would not have omnipotent control of everything, or He could not be said really to desire our salvation. How sadly we misunderstand these great truths in our daily lives, when we murmur and complain at the evils that afflict us! How narrowly we conceive the all-powerful will of God, and the infinite abyss of His goodness which would lead us to eternal delights! We would like to escape all the evils of time, we love our lives, and we wish to save them from final wreck; but when failing to trust to the will of God we forget the words of Christ, that |he that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.|(100) We want to save our souls, and we are, perhaps, much disturbed about doing many and great things in the cause of God and of Heaven, unmindful the while of the Master's warning that, |not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.|(101) It is doubtless our aim to draw ever nearer and nearer to our Saviour, and to deepen our relationship with Him; but do we remember that He said, |whosoever shall do the will of God, he is my brother, and my sister, and mother?|(102)
|Yes,| you will say, |This is all true; I know it is so; my faith is at fault. If I only had that beautiful faith and trust in God which many have it would be easy for me, and I should be happy! Faith is a gift and favored are they that possess it.| But, dear reader, can you not pray? Can you not ask from God that heavenly gift which will move mountains and translate them into the sea?(103) Can you not overcome your indolence and your repugnance, and patiently and persistently implore from on high that superior vision which pierces the clouds and sees in everything the hand of God? Surely you can say, with the devout author of the Imitation of Christ, |Behold, Oh beloved Father, I am in Thy hands, I bow myself under the rod of Thy correction. Strike my back and my neck too, that my crookedness may be conformed to Thy will.|(104) Here again, remember the words of your Saviour, |The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.|(105)
Perhaps the greatest trial to our faith in divine Providence is in bearing what we call the wrongs of life. That we should have any crosses to suffer at all; that there should be death and sickness and disease; that there should be poverty and misery, distress and worry, labor and sorrow; that there should exist any of these things, is to our infirmity, if we forget our sins and the sins of our race that have caused these evils, a trial and a test of fidelity. But still more is it difficult, except to minds that are deeply religious, to meet with the gentleness and serenity of faith the positive injuries -- the injustice, the scorn, the ridicule, the pain and persecution which others, needy creatures like ourselves, actually inflict upon us. It is easier, we say, to bear poverty than insult; it is easier to suffer the inclemency of the elements than to endure the unkindness of our brethren; it is easier to put up with the pain and weariness of bodily sickness than to come under the lash of the tongues of men. There is here, however, no room for hesitation and question; the rule is the same for all the crosses that come to us. God often permits us to be afflicted by the sins of others for our greater spiritual profit. Since, therefore, all alike proceed from God, either by positive act or divine permission, and since we know that He is supremely good and loves us, having given every proof of His desire to save us, even to the delivering up of His only Son,(106) we can never reasonably or sincerely doubt that every evil and cross of life, with the sole exception of our personal sins, has been arranged for our good. My God, do Thou teach us the wisdom of the cross! |For this is a favor to Thy friend, that for love of Thee he may suffer and be afflicted in the world, how often soever and by whom soever Thou permittest such trials to befall him.|(107)
It is helpful that here also, in learning to discern the source and meaning of our afflictions, we have ever before us the examples of the holiest souls. We know that in all trials they steadfastly look beyond the cross that presses them to the hand of Him who has placed it there. Like the shepherd's sheep, they are convinced of the power and goodness of their Master, and nothing can shake their trust in Him. Without distinction or question they accept all as coming from God by special act or sovereign permission, to purify them, to detach them from the world and creatures, to increase their nearness and likeness to Himself, to multiply their merits for Heaven and bring them to everlasting crowns. They discover the workings of Providence everywhere, in things that are painful, as well as in things that are pleasant to nature. Thus behind their pangs of body and mind, behind the whips and scorns of time, behind the tongue that slanders and calumniates them, behind the oppressor's wrong, the injustice and tyranny of princes and rulers, behind all the evils of life they see the hand of Him who directs and governs all. But here we must not conclude that the Saints and holy persons have never resisted evil and evil-doers, and that consequently we must not. This would be a serious mistake, as Church history and hagiography plainly prove. Who was ever more vigorous and fearless in opposing wrong and the doers of wrong than St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome? Who was ever more persistent in his efforts to prevail against the evils of sin in others than St. Monica, St. Teresa, St. Dominic, and St. Catharine of Siena? After their example, then, we may and we must struggle against evils of all kinds, whether physical or spiritual, whether from ourselves or from others, in so far as it is not certain that it is the will of God that we should submit to them. But when we have exerted ourselves reasonably and lawfully to rid our lives of that which afflicts us, and still it persists, there can be no further doubt that it is the will of God that we should patiently and submissively accept our condition and our cross. Since, however, we do not know how long it is the wish of Providence that we should be burdened and afflicted, we may continue patiently to use every legitimate means to be delivered, provided it be done with humble resignation to the will of our heavenly Father.
The acceptance of injuries, therefore, on the part of holy souls is not a weak yielding to inevitable circumstances, nor a willing consent to the wrongs of others. Like St. Paul, they know whom they have believed,(108) and they are certain that, in due time, divine justice will bring all evil-doers to an evil end and will deliver the just from their troubles. And further, when the vengeance of the persecutor is turned upon them, and they are hunted down without reason by their kind, even by the members of their own household, they remember the words of their Shepherd, |The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the good man of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household!|(109)
And again, when the servants of God behold the wicked prospering and the just oppressed; when they see the ambitious, the covetous, the unscrupulous preferred and honored, and they themselves plotted against and rejected, their heart is not disturbed, because they know first of all that |to them that love God, all things work together unto good,|(110) and secondly, they are persuaded that the efforts of sinners must finally fail. |For the hope of the wicked is as dust, which is blown away with the wind, and as a thin froth which is dispersed by the storm: and as a smoke that is scattered abroad by the wind: and as the remembrance of a guest of one day that passeth by.|(111) In a word, then, those who are really the friends of God have faith and confidence in their heavenly Master; and all the perils of earth, and all the powers of darkness cannot avail to daunt them or turn them aside from their purpose.
This steadfastness of religious trust we, in our turn, must strive to acquire. It is the only way to peace and victory. If we would ever rise above the evils of our lives we must learn to look to God for every thing. And this looking to God must be, not only as to our bountiful benefactor, but as to a kind master who knows how best to discipline his servants and preserve them from irreparable harm.
There is a substantially correct translation of the final verse of the Shepherd Psalm, which may be rendered as follows: |And Thy goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.| It is the special wording of the second clause of the stanza that expresses the real purpose of divine Providence in regard to the elect. Everything in life has been ordained and arranged for their eternal salvation, and for the increase of their heavenly rewards. |Therefore,| wrote St. Paul to Timothy, |I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with heavenly glory.|(112) It is this firm conviction that infinite love is at the bottom of all the workings of Providence, doing everything for the sake of the elect, that consoles and steadies the souls of the just throughout all the trials and crosses of life. In the thick of the battle they never lose sight of the faithful Shepherd that leads them, and they ever behold by faith the unspeakable delights He has prepared for them that love Him.
What joys are there in our faith and hope! If by the mercy and goodness of God we succeed in saving our souls, how cheap will seem the price we shall have paid for Heaven, and how benign and ineffably loving will appear the Providence of God which is leading us there! At times now in our fervor we can faintly and feebly imagine what it will mean to throw off forever this veil of faith and see distinctly and continually the Shepherd of our souls. But our liveliest conceptions here are infinitely inferior to the vision to come. |To see God face to face, as He is; to gaze undazzled on the Three Divine Persons, cognizable and distinct in the burning fires of their inaccessible splendors; to behold that long-coveted sight, the endless Generation of the All-holy Son, and our hearts to hold the joy, and not die; to watch with spirits all out-stretched in adoration the ever-radiant and ineffably beautiful Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, and to participate ourselves in that jubilee of jubilees, and drink in with greedy minds the wonders of that Procession, and the marvelous distinctness of its beauty from the Generation of the Son; to feel ourselves with ecstatic awe, and yet with seraphic intimacy, overshadowed by the Person of the Unbegotten Father, the Father to whom and of whom we have said so much on earth, the Fountain of Godhead, who is truly our Father, while He is also the Father of the Eternal Son; to explore, with exulting license and with unutterably glad fear, attribute after attribute, oceans opening into oceans of divinest beauty; to lie astonished in unspeakable contentment before the vision of God's surpassing Unity, so long the joyous mystery of our predilection, while the Vision through all eternity seems to grow more fresh and bright and new: O my poor soul! what canst thou know of this, or of these beautiful necessities, of thy exceeding love, which shall only satisfy itself in endless alternations, now of silence and now of song?|(113)
If regret were possible for the blessed hereafter, they would never cease to mourn over the loss of their opportunities on earth to increase their eternal beatitude. It is only when the veil shall have been removed that we shall fully realize how the goodness and mercy of God have always pursued us in this life, that we might be saved and enjoy the rewards of His house forever. May God give us all that child-like trust in our heavenly Master which the sheep display toward their shepherd; may He grant us that vivid constant faith of the Saints which will enable us to see in every event of life, in adversity as well as in prosperity, in our pains as well as in our joys, the designs of a loving Father who is ever wishing and trying to lead His children to His home of eternal delights.