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

CHAPTER IV. How internal exercises are to be practised in times improper and distractive.à

§ 1. How internal exercises are to be practised in times improper and distractive.

§ 2. Particularly in a state of distractive offices and employments.

§ 3. Souls ought to prepare and furnish themselves beforehand for such times.

§§ 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. With what conditions and unwillingness offices ought to be undertaken.

§§ 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. How they are (being imposed) to be discharged.

§§ 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. No offices whatsoever ought to dispense with internal prayer.

§§ 21, 22. No distractions, aridities, &c., ought to hinder it.

§§ 23, 24. God will bless a soul that behaves herself well in distractive employments.

1. Before I quit this present argument of the prayer of forced immediate acts of the will, to treat of the supreme degree of prayer, to wit, Aspirations, I conceive it requisite to consider how a devout person is to behave himself, who, having undertaken a religious contemplative life in solitude, repose, and vacancy to attend to God and His holy inspirations, but afterwards coming to find some change in that life, either: 1. by being distracted with unavoidable external employments and offices imposed for the good of the community, &c., from which all cannot be exempted; 2. or else incumbered with the incommodities and solicitudes of sickness, to which all are obnoxious (which are generally two states that seem most disadvantageous for retired prayer); I say my intention is to give the best advices I can how souls are to behave themselves in these two states, as with regard to their prayer especially.

2. First, therefore, to the end that a well-meaning soul may with purity behave herself about external offices and employments, she is to consider: 1. That it is unlawful, contrary to humility, and a sign of a weariness of internal ways, and of a sensual desire to rule over others; yea, moreover, it is a wilful thrusting one's self into dangerous distractions and temptations for any one voluntarily to desire or seek such employments, dignities, or prelatures.2. Yet because it is necessary that some should be employed in offices that regard the common good, spiritual or temporal, it is as unlawful utterly to refuse them, whensoever God shall by the command of superiors call a soul to the undertaking and discharge of such offices.

3. For this reason it will behove every religious devout soul, by assiduous prayer during the time of vacancy, to furnish herself with light and discretion, that she may proceed in this matter with the spirit of humility, prudence, and religious perfection.

4. In case, therefore, that superiors shall think good to impose an office upon a religious subject: 1. If the subject know of any real incapacity or disability in himself, or if he believe any other more sufficiently qualified, he ought, with all humility and simplicity, to rectify the superior's mistaken opinion concerning his sufficiency; yea, he may represent unto him his just grounds of fear lest such an employment should prove notably prejudicial to his soul, protesting likewise that he does not desire any kind of preëminence over others, &c.2. Yet if the superior, notwithstanding such humble and sincere remonstrances of the subject, shall persist in a resolution to impose on him any such office (whatsoever the superior's motive be, whether necessity, reason, or even passion), the subject must submit himself, and accept of it willingly, whatsoever reluctance there be in the imagination or nature against it; but let him accept it with a pure intention for God in the spirit of obedience, especially if the office be grateful to nature, or to the sensual or ambitious desires of it.3. Notwithstanding, considering his own frailty, and the temptations likely to accompany such an employment, he ought to undertake it with some fear and apprehension, lest without extraordinary watchfulness in prayer he may come to be corrupted or oppressed by it.

5. In this regard, therefore, the subject ought oftentimes to renew and rectify his intention about it, at least in his recollections twice a day. For, for want of care in this point, it oft falls out that the office which at first was undertaken out of obedience to God and superiors, comes afterward to be executed for self-will and sensual complacence, after that the spirit of devotion is abated or extinguished.

6. Indeed, so contrary and prejudicial to the spirit of contemplative prayer are the distractions and solicitudes which attend offices, that: 1. Religious subjects during the time of vacancy, when they are more illuminated, ought to forethink and imprint in their hearts good purposes never to offer themselves to such dangers; and when they shall befall them, to carry themselves in them vigilantly and prudently, according to their former light, lest, entering upon them unprovided, they should prove mischievous and destructive to all devotion.2. And again, superiors, if they will consider that their principal care ought to be for the good of souls, will think it concerns them to be very nice in exposing to such perils their subjects before that the spirit of devotion and charity be firmly rooted in their hearts; for they also shall be accountable for the harm that their subjects' souls shall so incur.

7. Some superiors, either being of active spirits, and not knowing or not duly esteeming internal ways, or, perhaps, mistakingly believing their subjects to be more affected to external employments than interior, thereupon unwarily heap on them businesses to the hindrance of their recollections. In this case the subject ought to acquaint his superior with the inward disposition of his soul, how much good he finds by a constant exercise of prayer, and what damage the want of it causeth to his imperfect soul; but this being done, he must resolve to submit in case his superior still think fit to employ him.

8. In such circumstances, let not the subject be troubled if he finds it hard to abstain from showing some outward marks of unwillingness, however in his superior will he be resigned. For, indeed, to show cheerfulness argues in an imperfect soul rather a contentedness to be dispensed from prayer, not sufficiently esteemed by him, than a love to obedience; yea, such a seeming unwillingness will afford him a double mortification: 1. in that he contradicts sensuality in the discharge of obedience; 2. in that he incurs, in the opinion of others, an esteem of being immortified, the which will be a means to humble him.

9. When an internal liver is once actually and duly engaged in an office, in the first place he ought seriously to consider that, coming out of a state of abstraction and solitude into business, he will thenceforward walk in less light than formerly; and yet will be exposed to far greater perils by reason of many unavoidable occasions of distraction, impatience, satisfaction of sensuality, &c., of which he had little experience in time past; therefore he must resolve to keep a more watchful guard over himself; lest business bring him to a forgetfulness of his soul and of all former instructions and good purposes.

10. Secondly, to the end to secure himself from such perils, he must in the actual execution of business be wary that he do not fix his mind more intently and affectionately on them than mere necessity shall require. Let him oft call to mind his former good resolutions, and review again and again these or the like instructions, for without such preventions it can scarce be avoided but that he will decay in spirit and grow negligently tepid in his spiritual exercises; since corrupt nature will be very forward to take any colourable pretences of quitting internal recollections (the only support of a spiritual life), which now will become more irksome by reason of greater dissipation of thoughts, and more frequent occasions of falling into immortifications; and therefore souls will be apt to think that the nature of their present employment is such as that it will not consist with the obligations of an internal life. Then they will catch hold of any advantage to dispense with them, for that purpose making use of such popular sayings as this, that every good work is a prayer, &c.

11. Thirdly, more particularly in this state of active employments a soul must be careful, as far as the office will permit, not only to continue the practice of her former mortifications (and principally for the tongue and senses), but also to make good use of those many new mortifications which the discharge of her employment will afford her occasions to exercise; and, indeed, since probably she cannot enjoy that repose of spirit requisite to serious and perfect recollections, she ought the best she can to recompense that defect by increasing the practice of mortification and patience, by which means she will advance herself in spirit.

12 . Fourthly, she must remember that the doctrine of abstraction (most necessary in an internal life) has place also even in distractive offices, at least thus far, that the person is not to meddle in things that belong not to his present employment; and for such things as do belong thereto, he must be careful as to do them well and faithfully, so without bestowing on them more solicitude than shall necessarily be required, performing them seriously, but yet with composedness and tranquillity of mind, not suffering them to distract or encumber his memory before the time come for the executing of them, and then abstaining from passion and impetuousness, and from engaging his affections to them. A devout soul thus constantly discharging her office will come to that liberty, easiness, and settledness of spirit, that necessary employments will breed in her no harmful distractions (the cause of which is inordinate love to creatures).

13. But, fifthly and lastly, her principal care must be about her prayer. Although, by occasion of business, she cannot so habitually continue in a recollected state, yet at least she must resolve diligently and faithfully to pursue her daily appointed exercises, since prayer is the principal instrument by which divine light and grace against all temptation is administered to us; so that if prayer be duly performed, be it with distractions or without them, it will both urge a soul to use fitting mortifications out of prayer, and to make advantage (toward the perfecting and advancing of her spirit) even of the distractions and encumbrances of her office; whereas, if she be careless in prayer, she will become careless also in mortification, and by little and little will lose all that which with great pain and travail she had formerly gotten, yea, and be in very great peril never to find a way to return to her former state.

14. Certainly, if any distractions or employments can justify a soul for the neglect of this duty of internal prayer, those which attend the Popedom (the highest, weightiest, and most incessantly encumbering office that a soul is capable of) may do it. Yet St. Bernard, in those excellent books of Consideration, written to Pope Eugenius III., seriously advises him not so wholly to plunge himself in business, but that every day he should borrow or steal from the affairs of the universal church some hours to employ in this holy exercise.

15. Hereupon Lewis of Granada will allow of no excuse, under pretence of business, to cease from pursuing daily recollections. For (saith he) no business can be so necessary and so continually urgent as to hinder our daily necessary refections. Now prayer, which is the food of the soul, is as necessary thereto, if not more so, than food to the body, and if it so fall out that businesses are to be despatched just at the hours appointed for daily spiritual refections, the person foreseeing that, ought to repair himself by taking some other vacant time for his prayer; and if that will not be allowed him, he may and ought, according to the judgment of Aquaviva, General of the Jesuits, to solicit his superior to give him some relaxation from such employments, which the superior is obliged to grant, otherwise God will require a severe account from him for the harm that must needs come to the subject's soul by the want of that which is only able to support the spirit, and to enable it with profit to discharge the most necessary duties of his calling.

16. If, either out of sloth, distractions, or remorse through some imperfections incurred, a soul find difficulty to apply herself any time to prayer, though she promise better for the future, yet, if upon any motives of sensual nature she omit it at any time, she will the day following have less mind to go to it, and so be in danger quite to abandon her recollections. If she have not the very same excuses and pretences that she had formerly, nature will be subtle enough to invent some other, for the longer she delays the more inapt will she be for it, according to that wise saying of the ancient Rabbins, Qui protrudit horam, hora protrudet ipsum, he that thrusts off the hour of doing any good duty till another time, that hour, when it comes, will thrust off and delay him; he will be less capable then of doing his duty than he was formerly, by means of some new impediment; whereas a soul, by using some violence upon herself to break through discouragements to prayer, will get such courage and grace from God that afterwards her employments will afford her less hindrance unto this holy duty.

17. To this purpose, Johannes a Jesu Maria, General of the discalced Carmelites, relates concerning a devout gentleman, a penitent of his, who daily used at a certain time to recollect himself in prayer, how that treating with another upon some affairs of consequence, and the clock happening to strike the hour appointed for his prayer, he abruptly broke off the conversation, excusing himself that he had then an affair of such importance that it could not be delayed and must not be omitted; and so dismissing his friend, he retired to his recollection, wherein God was pleased, in reward for his diligence and fidelity to Him, to visit him after an extraordinary manner with some kind of supernatural contemplation, such as he had never had experience of before.

18. A well-minded soul, therefore, to the end she may be enabled to attend to this business of businesses (as St. Bernard calls it), ought to employ all her providence and subtlety so to order all her daily employments both for the time and manner as that they may be no hindrance thereto. Let her, if need be, make notes and remembrances of her several affairs each day (to the end her memory may not betray her), and beginning the morning with a serious recollection (which will sanctify all the following day's work), let her endeavour to despatch her task with such care and diligence, that towards evening she may be beforehand with her task of businesses, that solicitudes about them may not disquiet her mind, encumber her memory, nor distract her prayer.

19. It is morally impossible that in a religious state there should be any employment that should so wholly (and this constantly) take up one's thoughts as not to leave one hour each day to be given to God. Or if such an employment were, it would be absolutely unlawful, as being destructive to the obligation of a Christian, and much more that of a spiritual or religious person; no excuse, therefore, or pretence can justify a customary neglect of so essential a duty.

20. In case that sometimes by reason of some pressing affairs the devout soul cannot allow herself the whole time appointed for her recollections, let her at least take as much of it as possibly may be spared, or let her in exchange take some other hour of the day or night. However, let her preserve a thirsting desire and love to prayer, and by fervent interrupted actuations (as the present business will permit) and by some more than ordinary mortifications (especially of the tongue) repair the loss of a set recollection.

21. If a soul in employments cannot free her mind from distractions, aridities, and solicitudes in prayer, let her, however, be courageous to pursue it after the best manner she can, preserving as much resignation and tranquillity (at least in the superior soul) as may be, and let the sight of such imperfections humble but not disquiet her spirit. Let her consider and believe that God is not only as present to her in spirit during her greatest desolations as He was in her clearest recollections, but as loving also, and that this is the proper season for a soul to show her fidelity to God in adhering to Him in the top of her spirit, when not only the interior senses are diverted by images of businesses, but the affections also disordered by solicitudes.

22. To this purpose she may apply the point of election mentioned by Father Benet Canfield, who, to the great comfort of well-meaning souls, shows that in the midst of the greatest troubles, afflictions, passions, and distractions, a soul may as truly and efficaciously dispose of the operations of the superior spirit (which depends not upon our corporal organs) by fixing them upon God, making choice of Him for her final end, and submitting herself with resignation and love to Him even for sending her such trials, as she could in her greatest solitude and most quiet introversion; and this is best done without any violence or impetuosity, but with great tranquillity darting a spiritual regard to God, by means of which she may be as truly and effectually united to God (though not according to sense) in the midst of these troubles as in her greatest sensible unions.

23. A soul that will be thus vigilant and industrious may assure herself that God, who lays this office on her, doth it not for her harm, but for her greater good, and to give her occasion of exercising several virtues, which otherwise she would have wanted (at least the perfection of them), as likewise for the trial of her fidelity to Him amidst whatsoever incumbrances and temptations. Now by means of these virtues she will make great progress in the spiritual, at least forasmuch as concerns solid charity, if not for light of contemplation; and retaining a love to prayer, and practising it as well as she can, she will come to be in so good a disposition, that when she shall return to her former vacancy and solitude she will make a wonderful progress in the ways of contemplation. Thus she may see that as the office hath perils in it, so will God proportionably increase His grace and assistance.

24. For want of this care and vigilance over their interior, it is to be feared there be many in religious convents that fruitlessly spend their lives in employments in some sort beneficial to others, but of little profit, yea, perhaps, very prejudicial to themselves; as some that read lessons of philosophy or divinity, yea, even many that pass their whole time almost in spiritual employments, as preaching, hearing confessions, giving spiritual directions, &c.; for these works being performed not in virtue of spiritual prayer, and consequently not proceeding from the Divine Spirit, but the spirit of corrupt nature (which is the source of all actions performed in a state of distraction), God's Spirit seldom gives a blessing to them.

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