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Holy Wisdom Or Directions For The Prayer Of Contemplation by Ven. F. Augustine Baker

CHAPTER V. All internal livers obliged to attend to God's inspirations.à

§ 1. All internal livers obliged to attend to God's inspirations.

§ 2. Therefore the impediments to this duty are to be removed, which are two. First, distracting images, which are expelled by abstraction of life.

§ 3. The second impediment is unruly passions, which are calmed by mortification and peace of mind.

§§ 4, 5. The end why a religious state, especially of St. Benedict's institution, is undertaken, is the removal of these impediments.

§§ 6, 7, 8, 9. A third more special impediment: to wit, want of due liberty of spirit to follow God's directions, caused by voluntary burdens and customs assumed.

§§ 10, 13. Several such are exemplified.

1. The necessity of a divine internal teacher being established, there follows from thence an equal necessity for all those whose profession obliges them to walk in those ways towards the sublime end proposed, to attend unto and obey this only most necessary master. And because each one hath in his heart a false teacher that always urgeth us to hearken to his perverse teachings and to neglect the divine teacher, therefore, the way to become a diligent and obedient disciple to God's Holy Spirit will be: 1. to neglect, contradict, and, as much as lies in us, to silence the teachings and suggestions of corrupt nature; 2. and secondly, to be attentive to the voice of God's Spirit in our souls.

2. For the first: there are two general impediments that nature lays in our way to hinder us from attending to God. The first is distracting images; the second, unquiet passions. Now the remedy against the former is abstraction of life, a not engaging ourselves in business that belongs not unto us; the mortifying of the curiosity of knowing or hearing strange or new things not pertinent to our profession; the tempering of our tongues from vain, unprofitable conversations; the reducing our thoughts, as much as may be, from multiplicity to unity, by fixing them continually on the divine love which is that unum necessarium, &c.

3. Again, the only proper remedies against the other impediment, to wit, unquiet passions, are, first, mortification of all inordinate affection to creatures -- of all vain encumbering friendships, all factious partialities, all thoughtful provision for the contenting of our sensual desires; but especially of that most dangerous, because most intimate and spiritual thirst of knowledge unnecessary, and of all ambition to get victory or glory by disputing, writing, &c., as likewise of all anger, impatience, melancholy, fear, scrupulosity, &c.; and, secondly, a studious care to preserve our souls in all the peace, tranquillity, and cheerfulness possible, not suffering any passions to be raised in our minds during our imperfect state, no, not although they should be directed upon good and holy objects, because they will obscure and disorder our spirits. And, therefore, we must avoid all violence and impetuous hastiness in performing our best and most necessary duties, which are discharged most efficaciously and purely when they are done with the greatest stillness, calmness, clearness of mind and resignation. It is sufficient in this place only to touch passingly upon these impediments, because in the following treatise we shall have occasion to treat more largely and purposely of them.

4. Now to what end did we come into religion, but only to avoid all these impediments in the world, which withdraw us from attending to God and following His divine guidance? In this very point lies the difference between a secular and a religious state, that a secular person secularly minded, by reason of the noise, tumults, and unavoidable distractions, solicitudes, and temptations which are in the world, cannot without much ado find leisure to attend unto God and the gaining of His love even for a few minutes every day, or little oftener than the laws of the Church necessarily oblige him. And all the directions that he is capable of in God's service must come from without, for by reason that his soul is so filled with images vain or sinful, and so agitated with impetuous affections and designs, he cannot recollect himself to hear God speaking in him. Whereas, a religious person professes his only business to be attending to God's internal voice, for which purpose he renounceth all these impediments and distractions.

5. And surely, in a special manner, the disciples of St. Benedict, if they will cast a serious eye upon the frame of their Rule, will find that as it is very moderate, and prudently condescending in all matters of outward corporal austerities afflicting to nature, but not immediately helpful to the spirit, so, on the contrary, it is very rigorous in the exacting of silence, solitude, a renouncing of all proprietary solicitude for corporal necessities and all other mortifications which will hinder the dissipating of our spirits and thoughts, and indispose the soul to recollection and attention to God; but especially prayer, which he calls Opus Dei (to which all other works and observances are to give place), is most seriously and incessantly enjoined, by the practice whereof we do, above all other exercises, transcend grosser and sensible images in the understanding, and subdue unruly passions in the heart. So that it is evident that our holy Father's principal care in all the observances enjoined by him was to free his disciples from these two general and most powerful hindrances to introversion, and a continual attention to and conversation with God: which may most properly be called the spirit of St. Benedict's Rule.

6. There is, moreover, one special impediment to the observing and obeying of divine inspirations which is not to be omitted, and the rather because it is less taken notice of in ordinary spiritual writers: this impediment consists in this, that many souls do indiscreetly prejudice, yea, oft take away quite, that indifference and liberty of spirit which is necessary to all that will seriously follow the divine guidance in all the ways that they then are led by it. For it were foolish to prescribe unto God the ways in which we would have Him to lead us: this were to oblige God to follow our ways and to do our wills, and not we to perform His. And this is done by those who obstinately adhere to preconceived opinions and fore-practised customs, whatsoever they be. For though such customs in themselves and to other souls may be never so good and profitable, yea, though formerly even to those persons themselves they have been never so proper and beneficial, yet this was only whilst they were in such a state and degree of spirituality; the which state altering (as in progress it needs must), then that which was formerly proper and conformable to the divine will and inspiration will become improper, inconvenient, and contrary to the present internal guidance of God.

7. This impediment must necessarily be removed, and devout souls must continually keep themselves in a free indifferency and suppleness of spirit, for otherwise they will become, in many cases and circumstances, indisposed to believe, and incapable to execute that which God's Holy Spirit shall dictate unto them; yea, they will oft contristate and endanger to extinguish the said Spirit in them by an obstinate doing of the contrary to what It moves them.

8. The reasonableness and necessity of this advice may be shown by this example: it may have been good and profitable for a soul when she entered into an internal life to appoint unto herself certain voluntary devotions and vocal prayers, &c., or afterwards to select certain peculiar subjects of meditation, as the four last things, the Mystery of the Passion, &c., or to prescribe unto herself certain times for some good external or internal practices, or to make frequent examinations of conscience, confessions, &c. All these things are good whilst the soul finds profit by them, and so long they are to be continued; but if God shall call her to a higher exercise, and to a more pure efficacious prayer, so that she begins to lose all gust in her former exercises, the which do not only abridge her of the time necessary for her more perfect recollections, but likewise dull the spirit and indispose it for such prayer and other more beneficial practices to which she is by a new, clearer, divine light directed or invited, and by divine grace enabled; in this case pertinaciously to adhere to former customs, because she finds them commended in books, &c., or because she did formerly reap profit by them, this is to entangle, fetter, and captivate the spirit, to renounce the divine guidance, and to obstruct all ways of advancement in the paths of contemplation. The soul, therefore, in such or the like cases, must necessarily use some violence upon herself to recover a true and most needful indifference and liberty of spirit, that so she may freely follow God whithersoever He shall by His inspirations invite her, being assured that she shall never by Him be persuaded or tempted to do anything contrary or prejudicial to her duty, obedience to lawful authority, or any other necessary obligations.

9. This instruction reaches very far; yea, so far that even learned men, yea, some that pass for spiritual, if they be unexperienced in the true internal ways of God's Spirit leading to contemplation, would perhaps mislike the freedom which in many cases must and hath been allowed by the best and most sublime mystic authors to souls of some peculiar dispositions and in certain circumstances. And as for unlearned persons, they would be in danger almost to be scandalised.

10. The special points, therefore, by which liberty of spirit in many souls is (or may be) much abridged to their great hindrance are such as these which follow, viz.: 1. A frequent scrupulous confession (and this merely to continue a custom) of certain venial sins causing a harmful anxiety to the person.2. Customary solicitous examinations of conscience, and not contenting one's self sometimes with virtual examinations.3. A needless anxious reviewing of general confessions.4. The forcing acts of sensible remorse, &c.5. The overburdening one's self with a certain task of vocal prayers or other practices, to the prejudice of daily recollections.6. Assuming and continuing voluntary mortifications when the soul finds no benefit by them, but rather becomes disheartened and dejected.7. Practising what is found in books, though improper for the spirit.8. Imitating unwarily the good practices of others, without a due consideration of one's own ability or weakness in regard of them.9. Obliging one's self indifferently at all times, in all states and degrees of prayer, to a discursive exercise on the Passion, &c.10. Doing things merely for edification.11. Tying one's self to nice methods and orders of prayer, and to a determinate number of succeeding acts in recollections.12. Exercising corporal labours and austerities without due consideration and necessity.13. Adhering with propriety to any kind of internal exercise when the soul is enabled and invited to a higher.14. The obliging one's self in all circumstances to a determinate posture in private recollections.15. And (which is worst of all) an entangling of the soul by hasty and indiscreet promises or vows made during some fit of sensible devotion or in a passion of remorse, fear, &c. Hereto other points may be added of a like nature, containing practices, though in themselves good, and to some persons very beneficial, yet, considering the state of abstraction proper (yea necessary) to a contemplative liver, which may prove very prejudicial by engaging such a one in duties and offices to be performed alone or in association with others, by which images and solicitudes may be multiplied, &c. By these, and other such practices as these, which are supposed not to be of obligation, many souls in desire tending to perfection may so overburden and entangle themselves that they either cannot observe the operations of the Divine Spirit in them, or have not the liberty to follow whither It would draw them; and thereby remain in their imperfect state without hope of making any progress, unless they will renounce their own preconceived judgment and preassumed self-imposed obligations.

11. Hitherto it may suffice to have spoken of the impediments by which souls are hindered from attending to and obeying their internal divine teacher, who only knows what is best for every one in all circumstances, and will not fail to direct for the very best every soul that with humility and resignation hath recourse to Him.

12. Now such is the nature of the reasonable soul (which is all activity, and will be continually thinking on and loving somewhat) that if these impediments, caused by impertinent images of creatures, inordinate affections to them, and by a voluntary shackling the soul with assumed opinions and customs, were once removed, she would see clearly what she ought to follow and love, which is God only; for creatures being removed and forgotten, nothing remains but God: no other light for our understanding, nor other object for our wills and affections, but He only.

13. And the general, of all others most efficacious, means to remove all these impediments is, by abstraction and prayer in spirit, to aspire unto an habitual state of recollection and introversion; for such prayer, besides the virtue of impetration, by which God will be moved according to His so frequent and express promises to be a light to the meek and humble, it hath also a direct virtue to procure this illumination, inasmuch as therein our souls see Him and nothing else, so that they have no other guide to follow but Him; and especially inasmuch as by prayer in spirit divine charity is most firmly rooted in our hearts, which makes them insensible to all other things that would divert our attention or affection. And we see by experience that love (of what object soever) doth more clear the mind, and confers in a moment, as it were, more skill to find out the means by which the object beloved may be obtained, than never so much study or meditation.

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