I speak not here, Theotimus, of the recollection by which such as are about to pray, place themselves in God's presence, entering into themselves, and as one would say bringing their soul into their hearts, there to speak with God; for this recollection is made by love's command, which, provoking us to prayer, moves us to take this means of doing it well, so that we ourselves make this withdrawing of our spirit. But the recollection of which I mean to speak is not made by love's command but by love itself, that is, we do not make it by free choice, for it is not in our power to have it when we please, and does not depend on our care, but God at his pleasure works it in us by his most holy grace. The Blessed Mother (S.) Teresa of Jesus says: |He who has written that the prayer of recollection is made as when a hedgehog or tortoise draws itself within itself, said well, saying that these beasts draw themselves in when they please, whereas recollection is not in our will, but comes to us only when it pleases God to do us this grace.|
Now it comes thus. Nothing is so natural to good as to draw and unite unto itself such things as are sensible of it; as our souls do, which continually draw towards them and give themselves to their treasure, that is, what they love. It happens then sometimes that our Lord imperceptibly infuses into the depths of our hearts a certain agreeable sweetness, which testifies his presence, and then the powers, yea the very exterior senses of the soul, by a certain secret contentment, turn in towards that most interior part where is the most amiable and dearest spouse. For as a new swarm of bees when it would take flight and change country, is recalled by a sound softly made on metal basins, by the smell of honied wine, or by the scent of some odoriferous herbs, being stayed by the attraction of these agreeable things, and entering into the hive prepared for it: -- so our Saviour, -- pronouncing some secret word of his love, or pouring out the odour of the wine of his dilection, more delicious than honey, or letting stream the perfumes of his garments, that is, feelings of his heavenly consolations in our hearts, and thereby making them perceive his most welcome presence, -- draws unto him all the faculties of our soul, which gather about him and stay themselves in him as in their most desired object. And as he who should cast a piece of loadstone amongst a number of needles would instantly see them turn all their points towards their well-beloved adamant, and join themselves to it, so when our Saviour makes his most delicious presence to be felt in the midst of our hearts, all our faculties turn their points in that direction, to be united to this incomparable sweetness.
O God! says then the soul in imitation of S. Augustine, whither was I wandering to seek thee! O most infinite beauty! I sought thee without, and thou wast in the midst of my heart. All Magdalen's affections, and all her thoughts, were scattered about the sepulchre of her Saviour, whom she went seeking hither and thither, and though she had found him, and he spoke to her, yet leaves she them dispersed, because she does not perceive his presence; but as soon as he had called her by her name, see how she gathers herself together and entirely attaches herself to his feet: one only word puts her into recollection.
Propose to yourself, Theotimus, the most holy Virgin, our Lady, when she had conceived the Son of God, her only love. The soul of that well-beloved mother did wholly collect itself about that well-beloved child, and because this heavenly dear one was harboured in her sacred womb, all the faculties of her soul gathered themselves within her, as holy bees into their hive, wherein their honey is; and by how much the divine greatness was, so to speak, straitened and contracted within her virginal womb, by so much her soul did more increase and magnify the praises of that infinite loving-kindness, and her spirit within her body leapt with joy (as S. John in his mother's womb) in presence of her God, whom she felt. She launched not her affections out of herself, since her treasure, her loves and her delights were in the midst of her sacred womb. Now the same contentment may be practised by imitation, among those who, having communicated, feel by the certainty of faith that which, not flesh and blood, but the Heavenly Father has revealed, that their Saviour is body and soul present, with a most real presence, to their body and to their soul, by this most adorable sacrament. For as the pearl-mother, having received the drops of the fresh dew of the morning, closes up, not only to keep them pure from all possible mixture with the water of the sea, but also for the pleasure she feels in relishing the agreeable freshness of this heaven-sent germ: -- so does it happen to many holy and devout of the faithful, that having received the Divine Sacrament which contains the dew of all heavenly benedictions, their heart closes over It, and all their faculties collect themselves together, not only to adore this sovereign King, but for the spiritual consolation and refreshment, beyond belief, which they receive in feeling by faith this divine germ of immortality within them. Where you will carefully note, Theotimus, that to say all in a word this recollection is wholly made by love, which perceiving the presence of the well-beloved by the attractions he spreads in the midst of the heart, gathers and carries all the soul towards it, by a most agreeable inclination, a most sweet turning, and a delicious bending of all the faculties towards this well-beloved, who attracts them unto him by the force of his sweetness, with which he ties and draws hearts, as bodies are drawn by material ropes and bands.
But this sweet recollection of our soul in itself is not only made by the sentiment of God's presence in the midst of our heart, but also by any means which puts us in this sacred presence. It happens sometimes that all our interior powers close and withdraw themselves into themselves by the extreme reverence and sweet fear which seizes upon us in the consideration of his sovereign Majesty who is present with us and beholds us; just as, however distracted we may be, if the Pope or some great prince should appear we return to ourselves, and bring back our thoughts upon ourselves, to keep ourselves in good behaviour and respect. The blue lily, otherwise called the flag, is said to draw its flowers together at the sight of the sun, because they close and unite while the sun shines, but in its absence they spread out and keep open all the night. The like happens in this kind of recollection which we speak of; for at the simple presence of God, or the simple feeling that he sees us, either from heaven or from any other place outside us (even if we are not remembering the other sort of presence by which he is in us), our powers and faculties assemble and gather together within us, out of respect to his divine Majesty, which love makes us fear with a fear of honour and respect.
Indeed I know a soul who, as soon as she heard mention of some mystery or sentence which put her a little more expressly in mind of the presence of God than usual, whether in confession or private conference, would so deeply enter into herself that she could hardly recover herself to speak and make answer, so that outwardly she remained as one deprived of life, and with all her senses benumbed, till her spouse permitted her to quit that state: which was sometimes pretty soon, and other times more slowly.