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

CHAPTER IV. Certain general rules for mortification sufficient for some.à

§ 1. Certain general rules for mortification sufficient for some.

§§ 2, 3. By practice, according to these rules, is exercised: 1. a continual presence of God; 2. a continual thinking on our own nothing.

§§ 4, 5, 6, 7. Mortification is only perfectly exercised in virtue of internal prayer. And why?

§ 8. The difference between the mortification of contemplatives and of active livers.

§ 9. External practices or exercises of virtues not sufficient to cause mortification.

§ 10. How imperfect souls are to practise mortification.

§ 11. God's care in dispensing matters of mortification proportionable to each one's strength.

§ 12. The effect of each act of mortification.

§§ 13, 14. It may happen to an internal liver (in religion) some mortifications may be more difficult than if he had lived a common life in the world.

1. To discreet well-minded souls these three following general directions may be sufficient to instruct them in the duties of mortification, viz.: 1. to do or forbear whatsoever any law, divine or human, shall require of them to do or forbear. And where order has been taken by no such laws, there to follow the supernatural light and motions that God, by the means of prayer, shall afford them; doing or forbearing such things as they find will promote or hinder them in their spiritual course, without captivating themselves to any particular examples, customs, or instructions.2. To suffer with the best patience and resignation they can all the crosses and contradictions to self-will which by God's providence shall be sent to or upon them; whether such crosses regard external things, as injuries, disgraces, sickness, loss of friends, or of goods, &c., or internal, as aridities, obscurities, inward distresses, involuntary rising of passions, temptations, &c. All these things must be quietly suffered, whether they proceed immediately from God or from creatures.3. If anything pleasing to nature be to be done, as in refections, recreations, &c., or anything displeasing to be omitted, to do or omit such things, not because they are agreeable to nature, but because they are conformable to God's will. By a constant and careful observing of these directions, a devout soul may be brought to a good established state of mortification, and yet withal be left in a convenient liberty and ease of mind to go on cheerfully in internal ways.

2. Moreover, if in practice according to these points a well-minded soul will be careful to have at least a virtual intention to the love and glory of God (that is, such an intention as follows in virtue of a precedent actual intention made in prayer, &c.), in so doing she shall perform, after the best and securest way, the exercise of the continual presence of God (so much commended by spiritual authors), and particularly by our holy Father, in the first degree of humility. By the which exercise surely it cannot be intended that a soul should be obliged to have continually an actual remembrance of God; for this, being the same with actual internal prayer, would so much endamage the heads of imperfect souls especially, that they would quickly be disabled from making any progress in spirit.

3. The same practice likewise doth, after the securest manner, supply that other exercise (oft recommended) of a continual thinking of our own nothing; for by conformity to the aforesaid directions, propriety and self-will (by the which alone we would fain seem to be something more than we are or ought to be) are not only in thought, imagination, or desire of mind, but really and effectually abandoned, and the inordinate affections of the soul mortified and annihilated. And it is only for this end that the said exercise is so much magnified. In a word, by such practices, joined with an intention to the glory of God and His divine love, a soul will be very well disposed to the most perfect prayer of contemplation.

4. Such a world there is of conditions and circumstances required to the perfection of every action, both touching the substance, manner, motive, principle, and end thereof, and corrupt nature is so subtle to insinuate her own interests, seeking them in everything we do, and persuading us that we renounce propriety even when we most earnestly intend it, that without an extraordinary light from God (to be obtained only by spiritual prayer) we cannot discover the inclinations of our own hearts; and the reason why this light can be had only by prayer is, because then alone every the least defect and most secret suggestion hinders our view and contemplation of God and our tendence to Him, and by consequence is easily discernible as being set between our eyes and the sun. Whereas, in our ordinary vocal prayers and external good actions, only greater temptations are able perceptibly to distract us.

5. Those, therefore, that do not pursue internal prayer can only so far mortify their passions that they break not forth into outward expressions or actions. But the evil root remains still alive, causing inward disorders very displeasing to God.

6. As for crosses and adversities which a soul undergoes out of the strength of reason, and not in virtue of divine grace and prayer, the chief effect of them is only to vex and trouble nature, or at most they serve to mortify the superabundant activity and vigour of the internal senses and natural affections, by which means the persons may become more judicious, prudent, and temperate; but they pierce not to the spirit itself, to cause any purity therein, or really to diminish self-love. Moreover, the like crosses, undergone by virtue of such a common grace as ordinary good extroverted Christians do enjoy, though they may be helpful to prevent the mortally poisonous effects of self-love which is in us, yet are far from expelling that secret self-love which lurks in the inmost centre of our souls; so that they may remain grievously full of stains and infirmities, and the divine love feeble and easy to be extinguished, notwithstanding the effects of such crosses.

7. Whereas difficulties undergone by virtue of grace obtained by internal prayer, do, as it were, scour and purify the spirit itself from the rust of inordinate affections, and so do spiritualise all the faculties of the soul, causing it to become a pure spirit, exalted and separated from sensible objects and all adhesion to them, from which all vicious impurity proceeds. This is that division of the soul and spirit mentioned by St. Paul, by which the pure spirit works as a spirit, not obscured nor infected with sensual ends and interests.

8. The way of mortification, therefore, practised by internal contemplative livers is different from that of active, though living in a religious state, and well advanced in active exercises; for these endeavour to mortify their inordinate affections by combating them purposely and directly, to wit, by meditating discursively on the motives afforded by Christian doctrine to oppose them, as a consideration of their deformity, danger, &c.; and also by exercising an act of virtue contrary thereto, so repressing the inordinate passion. Whereas contemplative souls do indirectly, yet far more efficaciously, mortify their passions by transcending them, that is, by elevating and uniting their spirit to God, with the help of pure intellectual actuations; by this means forgetting and drowning both their sensual desires, yea, all created things, and chiefly themselves in God; so that in a temptation they do not turn themselves towards the object, to the end to resist and contradict it, but by a vigorous act of resignation and love they convert their spirits unto God, scorning even to cast a regard or glance upon creatures that would allure their affections from God, and which cannot be considered, except in God, without leaving some tincture and imperfection in the soul.

9. It is not, therefore, the external practice of virtues, nor much less customary frequent confessions, communions, obediences, austerities, &c., but pure spiritual prayer, and the sublime degrees of it (to wit, aspirations, pure elevations of the will, and other such divine operations), that must be the principal instrument to bring a soul to a state of perfect freedom from exterior and interior immortification; for by such operations only she is enabled to transcend inferior nature, and to live in the quiet, secure, and illuminated region of the spirit.

10. But in the mean time, till a devout soul do attain to such perfection of prayer, she must be content to work according to her present light and enablement, so endeavouring to correct her defects by less perfect exercises, and such as partake of the active way; and she must, with patience and quietness of spirit, bear with her own imperfections as she would with others', expecting God's good time, and endeavouring to hasten the approach of that time by assiduous prayer, by means of which alone she may come to expel those defects which do now so much exercise and trouble her, and also to discover and correct many others which as yet her eyes are too infirm and dim to see.

11. Indeed, the provident care that God generally hath over His children, both perfect and imperfect, is wonderful, being carefully suited to their present state; for He does not usually send to imperfect souls any mortifications but such as are ordinary and proportionable to their infirmity, namely, such as do gall and afflict their sensitive nature, but do not pierce into the quick and centre of the spirit, that remains free to support the other. But as for souls arrived to the state of perfection, or near it, God doth usually provide for them strange inexpressible mortifications, most subtle temptations, privations, and desolations, the which, being worthily undergone, do wonderfully purify the spirit. The former mortifications St. Paul expresses thus: There hath no temptation taken you but such as is according to ordinary human nature,' &c.; but the latter thus: Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood (the usual temptations of God's imperfect children), but against principalities and powers, against the governors of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (or things).'

12. Every act of mortification performed by virtue of internal prayer doth increase in us the grace of God, and dispose us to a more perfect future prayer; as, on the contrary, every act of immortification doth increase in us self-love, and doth make us more indisposed for future internal prayer. Again, prayer enables us for future mortifications, teaching us how to undertake and support them. So that these duties must never be separated. These contain all that an internal liver is obliged to.

13. I will conclude this discourse concerning mortification in gross with one observation, which may serve for a caution to a well-minded soul that lives an internal life to prevent an inconvenience which otherwise might perhaps surprise her. It is this: that it may happen that religious or spiritual persons will find a greater difficulty in mortifying and renouncing some sensual contentments after they have entered into a spiritual course than they formerly found whilst they led an extroverted secular life in the world. Now this happening to them may perhaps suggest either scrupulous or at least disquieting thoughts, as if the change that they have made were not for the better, or as if something (they well know not what) were amiss with them; but if they will well consider of the matter, they will find that this is no strange thing, nor deserving that they should much trouble themselves about it.

14. For the reasons hereof are: 1. Because if such an one had not pursued an internal life, he would have perhaps enabled himself to quit one pleasure by diverting himself from thence to some other, which would have recompensed and satisfied for that loss, taking away the present difficulty; whereas, in a spiritual life, a soul having in resolution abandoned all sensual pleasures, as such, that can be abandoned, she cannot recompense the bitterness found in mortifying one by a deliberate yielding to another, the pleasure felt in enjoying whereof might make her less sensible of the loss of the other.2. Again, an imperfect soul will judge it necessary for the sustaining of corporal infirmity, and to prevent an uncheerful discontented habit of mind, to allow unto herself some contentments recreative to sense; and therefore, when such are denied her, she will be apt to be impatient, or if she endeavour to contradict and resist such impatience of nature, she will do it more feebly and faintly.3. Because it is impossible that a soul can live and not take pleasure in something or other that affords contentment either to the sense or the spirit. Now a spiritual person being yet in an imperfect state has but little present sensible pleasure in the exercises proper to his way, except God now and then visit him with sensible devotion, for the chief pleasure that spirituality affords is in hope only, and that without any regard to the body -- it regards the spirit alone. Now hope is not so attractive as present sensual contentment is.4. Besides all this, such a soul, not having yet chased out of the superior faculties all affection to sensual pleasure, and finding for the present little or nothing but pain in all her exercises, both of mortification and prayer, no marvel if, when pleasure sometimes comes in her way, that she finds difficulty in rejecting it. Indeed, the greatest pain comes not from the particular objects of mortification, but rather from tediousness and irksomeness in being continually in a condition of suffering which she judges must last till her life's end. This is very painful to an imperfect soul; but yet, by a constant practice of mortification and prayer, she will find daily an abatement of this tediousness, and, in the end, the renouncing of all contentments of sense and nature for themselves will become easy and pleasurable to her.5. Lastly, such a soul is to consider that it is a proof of God's goodness to her to suffer her to feel so much difficulty now, not experienced before, to the end to humble her, and to teach her not at all to rely upon herself, nor to promise herself the least good from her own forces.

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