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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : SERMON XXXIV On the Feast of a Holy Virgin

The Inner Way by John Tauler

SERMON XXXIV On the Feast of a Holy Virgin

How wise and prudent virgins should adorn themselves, both outwardly and inwardly, that they may be received at the Eternal Marriage of Christ and may enter in. Of the noble and precious virtue of true and lowly Love, to which we can attain only by resignation, suffering and love.

Quinque ex eis erant fatuae, et quinque prudentes

|Five of them were foolish and five wise.|

Our dear Lord likens the Kingdom of Heaven to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom and the bride. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. They are very unlike each other; for the foolish live after the flesh, in the world and in temptation. The wise look upon all these things, and live after the spirit. The wise virgins control themselves in all things, to which the foolish give no heed, both outwardly and inwardly.

There are five things which are necessary to all for the control of the outer man, if they desire to be like the five wise virgins. The first is moderation in eating and drinking, in clothes, in vigils, in fasting, and in all the other things that nature needs, and that must be partaken of to supply the needs of nature, but not for the furtherance of sin. The second is simplicity in all things. They should wear rough, plain clothes; be simple in their coming and going; firm and simple in their behaviour; and modest in all things.

Thirdly, they should avoid all foolish company, especially the company of those who speak vain words, and who are scrupulous about many things.

Fourthly, they must live by the labour of their own hands, and must not be idle, even though they be rich; for idleness is the door to all uncleanness.

Fifthly, they must be industrious and always at work. They must keep control over their senses and all their members, keeping aloof and turning away from all the temptations that may befall them, but which they must earnestly withstand, and to which they must never consent. There is nothing that will help them better in this, than making their temptations, humbly and fully, to some holy man, taking counsel with him, and submitting themselves earnestly and discreetly to bodily penance, with fervent prayer to God. All men are accounted foolish virgins before God, who do not thus govern the outer man.

Now, it becomes wise virgins to adorn themselves in the inner man. The foundation of this is lowliness of mind, for they are to become the Sisters of God by doing the Will of God; therefore they must not condemn others by saying that those who live in wedlock are wicked. They must not desire to please any one by their spiritual virtues, but God only; otherwise they will be like unto the Pharisees. They are not commanded to keep their virginity, but they are commanded to be humble. A proud virgin, in the sight of God, is a thousand times worse and more impure than a humble married woman. A virgin does not hate any one, but must love all people; she must not think much of self, but she must always keep herself in fear and trembling. When sins begin to grow and give pleasure, love and all other virtues grow cold. A virgin can only follow the Lamb of God in all places whithersoever He goeth, if she is truly pure and humble; for, if she is spotted by pride or any other gross sin, religious married people stand far above her.

Virginity has its origin in God Himself. The Angels have learnt it from God; for it is found in Heaven, and will remain there for ever, after the Judgment Day. When these virgins have risen again from the dead, they will not be given in marriage, but will be like unto the Angels of God and eternally united with God. They are loosed from all men, and are united only with God, that they may bring forth eternal fruit. They have great power over the Devil; they alone sing the new song that no one else can sing. God has set His Throne in these daughters who have thus been trained. It is a joy to Him to be with them, if they live after the inner man in humility, chastity and resignation, and with hearts subdued to the Love of God.

No one can attain to the Love of God without humility; and that is a gift of God above all temporal gifts. Humility brings true peace to the heart of man; for no one is quarrelsome or sinful, but he who lacks peace. If a man were truly humble he would never sin again. Mary could not sin because she was truly humble; and wherever God finds humility, there He does great things. Augustine says: |The lowliest on earth is also the holiest.|

These are the marks of a humble man. He always learns first to know himself, and acknowledges himself unworthy of all gifts. He counts himself unworthy to have been thought of by God, and to have been made a man. He confesses that he is unworthy that God should constantly feed and preserve him, therefore he thanks God unceasingly, and in great humility, for all these gifts. He neither exalts, nor extols, nor praises himself in anything, whatever it may be; but acknowledges that he is ever more and more indebted to God for all his gifts, while in all things God is his first and last thought. No wise virgin will have two aims or intentions in anything, so as to be thinking of God and also of something temporal at the same time; but that which she loves as well as God, must be a help to her, and be ordained to the Glory of God, under God; and it must be a help to her in coming to God. See, this is a wise virgin and none else. Man must love God more than all His messengers whom He sends forth and whom we call His gifts.

A wise virgin thinks no more of herself on account of her gifts, than of what she was before she was born. Whatever may be the gifts given her by God, He gives Himself to her with them, for here especially He is unhindered by man, and therefore He can work as He will. Therefore God perfects her in the very best way; God, of His Goodness, cannot help doing this, when He finds that she is faithful to Him, and that she gives Him a dwelling-place, suffers Him, follows Him and works with Him without any self love. A humble man thinks himself unworthy to fill the place he is in, and, with whomsoever he may be, he always takes the lowest place; he desires the most miserable part of everything, even in necessary things. He complains to no one of his suffering; neither does he complain to God, even of his suffering or of anything; but, in fear and trembling, when the suffering is very great, he takes all things as from the Hand of God. Therefore he does not know how to complain of any creatures, however unworthily they may treat him. Neither does he find fault with any one who does him harm, for he takes all things as from God, and as therefore right; for God does not inflict anything upon any one that is not for his good. Thus these virgins live and die without offense.

Mark, this is the shortest way to come to God and to the company of the wise virgins; and they who do not take it are among the number of the foolish virgins, although they do not believe it. All who desire, truly, to be in God, must be foolish in their own sight and in the sight of other people; for he who desires to save his soul must lose and forsake vain glory in this life; and he who desires to attain to true and humble love must learn to hold fast three things -- resignation, suffering and love. He who would learn resignation must not only forsake great sins, both outwardly and inwardly, but also, in inner spiritual things, he must not seek to please himself by his own good things, such as fasting, watching, praying, reading, thinking, or by consolation, sweetness, experience, knowledge, hunger and desire for reward after the Holy Sacrament. He must be self-controlled in exaltation, in visions, in contemplation, and so on. Then he ought to think that there is not a more miserable, unpleasing, cold and careless man than himself, and yet he must not consciously omit anything, or seek for freedom from any of his duties. See, a man thus becomes nothing in himself; for his self-will, wisdom, good opinion of self, and self-pleasing, and enjoyment in good works are all lost. The more thoroughly this takes place, the truer it is; and this casting down of self brings him to God; for God is an Abyss of humility; and in deep humility his soul lays hold on God, and God unites Himself with his soul. Therefore this man is transformed in God, and is just as though he had become another man. This is the work of the Holy Ghost, Who indwells and governs him.

The second point is suffering; and in order to be humble, ye must suffer all scoffing patiently and calmly, as far as ye can, both in love and scorn, with others, or in opposition, equally or unequally. Ye must endure contempt, disparagement, and such-like, in gain or in loss, outwardly or inwardly, as it may happen, and whoever may cause it. Though, at times, it may seem to you, as far as ye can judge, that it is neither the best nor the worst course, or that according to your ideas it may hinder your virtue or salvation, yet suffer simply and willingly as well as you can. Trust in God; and, though ye do not understand why all things have happened, yet bear all patiently; and then ye will bring forth the fruits of humility. Your own good opinion of self and your wisdom will wither away, and all things will happen to you for the best, if ye will only endure. And, though at times, it may seem to you that ye will be injured thereby, both in the temporal and spiritual things that ye have undertaken yourselves, yet by this humble and enduring resignation ye will be a hundred times further advanced in God in real and true virtue.

The third point is love, which waits on humility; for love is nowhere so nobly exercised as in patient suffering. Though it is true that by love man may rise so high that he can embrace God by union of will, yet it is true that God descends to the resigned and suffering man with all that He is; and there He is embraced by the loving soul, and He embraces it again and absorbs it into Himself. Thus the soul loses itself, and returns again to the Source from whence it came, and knows assuredly here, even in this life, as far as it possible, that hereafter it will enjoy Him for ever. He, whose portion this is, needs real humility, that he may learn to see God here also, as far as it is permitted.

Then, three things are necessary. First, man's intentions must be pure and clear; he must desire nothing else but God only; love nothing else but God only; seeking only to please and love Him aright. See, such as these have a true vision in this life.

The second thing is, that those who desire to see the blessings of God, must be ready to bear all and endure all in love; they must humble themselves from the very bottom of their hearts; they must not exalt themselves, however much God may reveal to them, and however secret these things may be.

The third thing is earnestness and diligence in spiritual exercises, that man may lift up his soul to God, in whatever way or whatever form is most pleasing and helpful to him, either in dwelling in the Humanity of God, His Divinity, or the Holy Trinity; the Hidden Life of our Lord Jesus Christ, or of our dear Lady, or of other Saints, and how they led their daily lives; for every syllable of Holy Scripture has a divine meaning which can be drawn from it. If a man does these three things, he ought to be able to obtain from God all that he needs -- if his intentions are pure, and he is ready to suffer and endure in love and humility, and is earnest in his religious exercises. A good disposition, a strong head, and a yielding, subtle mind are very helpful. A man who can succeed in this, and who receives grace from God, will make great progress in his spiritual life.

All virtue and all virtuous deeds depend on these six points. The first is true humility; the second patient suffering; the third perfect resignation in all things; the fourth real love; the fifth a divine intention in all things; the sixth earnestness in religious exercises. That thus we may all be wise virgins, may God help us. Amen.

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