Friday, December 19, 2008

Interior Recollection.

IV. FOURTH DISPOSITION.— Interior Recollection.

The fourth disposition necessary for this devotion, if we would taste its sweetness, and draw from it all its advantages, is interior recollection. Almighty God does not make Himself heard in a confusion : Non in commotione Dominus. A heart open to every object, a mind constantly scattered abroad, and incessantly occupied with a variety of superfluous cares and useless thoughts, is not in a state to hear the voice of Him Who communicates Himself and speaks to the heart in solitude : Ducam eam in solitudinem, et loquar ad cor ejus. Perfect devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ is a continual exercise of the love of Jesus Christ. It cannot, then, exist without this recollection. Jesus Christ communicates Himself to the soul in a particular manner by means of this devotion. It is necessary, then, that she should be at peace, free from embarrassment and from the tumult of external things ; in a state to hear the voice of her loving Saviour and taste the special graces which He bestows on a heart, free from all that can disquiet it, and prepared to be occupied with God alone.

This interior recollection is so completely the foundation-stone of the spiritual edifice in our souls, that without it, it is impossible to advance in perfection. It may be said that all the graces which a soul, not yet established on this foundation, receives from God are but characters formed in water, or letters imprinted on sand. The reason is this. To advance in perfection we must unite ourselves more and more closely with God. Now, without interior recollection, we cannot unite ourselves with God ; for He makes His dwelling only amidst the peace of the mind, and the retirement of a soul that is not dissipated by various objects, nor disturbed by the perplexity of exterior occupations. St. Gregory observes, that when Jesus Christ wishes to inflame a soul with His divine love, one of the first graces He gives her, is a great attraction to interior recollection.

It may be said, that the most ordinary source of our imperfections is the want of recollection and attention to ourselves. This is what stops so many in the path of piety. This it is which causes the soul to find scarcely any relish in the holiest exercises of devotion.

No one who had but little recollection has ever been very devout. Whence is it, said a holy man, that so many religious, so many devout persons who have good desires, and who seem to do all that is necessary to become holy, nevertheless draw so little fruit from their prayers, communions, spiritual reading ; and that, after having practised all the exterior exercises of spiritual life for so many years, they appear to have drawn scarcely any profit from them ? How is it that directors, who guide others in the path of perfection, remain themselves subject to their ordinary imperfections ? that men of zeal, labourers who give themselves with so much ardour to the salvation of souls, persons who are entirely occupied in good works, still have passions so strong, are always subject to the same failings, experience scarcely any facility in prayer, and pass their whole life in a sort of languor, without ever tasting the ineffable sweetness of peace of heart, always in disquiet ; persons whom the thought of death terrifies, and the least misfortune depresses? All this comes from their negligence in guarding their heart and preserving it in recollection. These persons leave the care of their interior, and give themselves too much to the exterior. Hence it follows that they fail to perceive a number of failings, inconsiderate words, caprices, irregular affections, purely natural actions. This would not happen if they were attentive in regulating their interior, and a little more careful in their actions, so as to prevent the passions which there find their nourishment from daily gaining strength, and this with the greater danger from their being masked under an appearance of zeal and of virtue.

It must therefore be acknowledged, that interior recollection is so necessary for having a perfect love of Jesus Christ and advancing in the spiritual life, that we make progress therein only in proportion as we give ourselves to it. It was by this that St. Ignatius, St. Francis of Sales, St. Teresa, St. Francis Xavier, St. Aloysius Gonzaga attained the height of perfection. If we do not take care to keep ourselves recollected during our actions, we shall draw little fruit from them, however excellent they may be in themselves. Let us keep silence if we wish to hear the voice of Jesus Christ. Let us keep our mind at a distance from the tumult and embarassment of exterior concerns, that we may be at liberty to converse with Him longer, and to love Him tenderly and ardently.

The devil, who knows well the great advantages that a soul derives from this interior peace, and this custody of the heart, will omit nothing to make her lose this recollection. As he despairs of inducing her to leave off her exercises of devotion and her good works, he makes use of these good works themselves, to lead her to dissipate herself abroad, and go forth, so to speak, from that retreat, where she was safe from his persecutions. A soul, attracted by the satisfaction which is found in this crowd of external actions, led away by the specious pretext of doing much for God, becomes dissipated, and loses imperceptibly that union with God, and the sweetness of His presence, without which she labours much and yet advances little. A dissipated soul is like a lost and wandering sheep, which is speedily devoured by the wolf. We think that we shall find it easy again to enter into ourselves. But, besides that the presence of God is a grace, which is not always at our disposal, the soul is no longer in a state to free herself from numberless external objects that occupy her. She has lost the relish for spiritual things, by the too long sojourn she has made, so to speak, in a foreign country. The remorse and uneasiness she feels, whenever she fixes her attention on herself, make this interior recollection a torment to her. She is dissipated, and in the end she loves the dissipation. Good God ! what a loss is it for a soul to spread herself continually abroad on external things ! What inspirations, what graces does she render useless ! Of what favours does she deprive herself, by the want of recollection !

If we would escape this misfortune, we must take great care to keep ourselves always in the presence of God, and to preserve the spirit of recollection in all our exterior occupations. When the mind is working, the heart must be in repose— immovable in its centre, which is the will of God. From this it must never separate itself. To acquire this interior recollection ( for, though it is a gift of God, it is never refused to those who desire it with ardour, and take means to obtain it), we must accustom ourselves to make many reflections on the motives which should actuate us in all we do. Before beginning an action, let us always take a glance to see if it is well ordered, if it is pleasing to God, and if we are doing it for Him. During the action, let us from time to time raise our heart to God, and renew the purity of our intention. A sign that we are doing an action for God is, that we leave it easily, continue it without uneasiness or regret, and are not annoyed when we are interrupted in it. But the surest and most effectual practice to preserve interior recollection in our principal exterior actions is, to represent to ourselves Jesus Christ as He laboured. Let us represent to ourselves with what modesty and exactness He worked when He was upon earth ; how He applied Himself to perform perfectly all that He did ; and with what meekness, with what tranquillity He accomplished it. What a difference between His manner of working and ours ! If what we have to do is displeasing to us, what specious reasons do we not allege to exempt ourselves from it ! What pretexts do we make use of to put it off ! With what tepidity and indifference do we perform it ? If it suits our inclinations, we feel a degree of joy that soon causes dissipation in our soul. The mere thought of not succeeding, renders us uneasy and melancholy. Let us then propose to ourselves Jesus Christ as a model. We must look at Him continually, if we wish to keep ourselves in interior recollection and to advance in His love. When it is said, that in order to preserve ourselves in interior recollection, we must not be too much taken up with external things, it is not meant that exterior employments which are of obligation are an impediment to interior recollection. We may be very recollected whilst in action. The greatest saints, who have had most intimate communication with God, and who have consequently been most recollected, have been most actively employed in external actions. Such were the Apostles and apostolic men who have been employed in the salvation of their neighbour. It is therefore a mistake to suppose that the greatest exterior occupations are obstacles to interior recollection. Provided it be Almighty God who places us in these employments, these same employments are the most suitable means to keep us continually united with God. All that is necessary is, that we only lend, as it were, our mind to these external things, and do not give them our heart. We must absolutely choose one of these two things, said a great servant of God, either to become an interior man, or to lead a tepid and almost useless life. If we are not very careful to preserve our interior recollection, so far shall we be from fulfilling the designs of God, that we shall not even know them, and we shall never arrive, either at the degree of sanctity our state requires, or at perfection.

A man that is not recollected, wanders about without finding rest anywhere. He seeks after all kinds of objects, without feeling satisfied with any. Whereas, if by giving himself to recollection he entered into himself, he would there find God. He would feel a satisfaction in God, who by His presence would fill him with so great an abundance of His gifts, that he would no longer go to find elsewhere wherewith to satisfy his desires. This is what may be seen every day, in interior persons. We imagine that the love they have for retirement, and the pain they feel in diffusing themselves outwardly, is an effect of melancholy. But it is not so. They taste Almighty God within themselves ; and the ineffable sweetness with which they are filled, makes them feel the diversions and pleasures which are met with in the world so insipid and nauseous, that they have a horror of them. When we have once felt what Almighty God is, and relished spiritual things, everything connected with flesh and blood becomes insipid.

What wonderful advantages are derived from the interior life, by those who have once established themselves in it ! It may be said, that they alone relish Almighty God, and feel the true sweetness of virtue. I do not know whether it be the effect of interior recollection, or the reward of the care they take to keep themselves constantly united with God ; but it is certain that an interior man possesses faith, hope and charity in so sublime a degree, that nothing is capable of shaking him in his belief ; he finds himself insensibly superior to all human fears. He is always in the same state of mind, always immovable in God. He takes occasion to raise his heart to God, from everything he sees and hears. He sees only God in creatures, in the same manner as, when we have looked for a long time upon the sun, we imagine that we behold it in everything we look upon afterwards.

Nor are we to suppose that recollection makes persons idle, and favours negligence. A man that is truly interior works more, does more good, and renders more service to the Church in a day, than many others who are not interior can render it in many years, even if they possessed greater natural abilities. Not only because dissipation is an obstacle to the fruits of zeal, but because the man who is not recollected, and yet labours much, labours indeed for God ; whereas, in the case of one who is recollected, it is God Himself who, by means of that recollection, works for man. That is to say, a person who does not live in recollection, may have God for the motive of his actions, but humour, self-love and nature have generally the greater share in his good works. On the contrary, a recollected person, always attentive to himself and to God, always on the watch against the caprices of nature and the artifices of self-love, works for God alone, and according to the impression and the direction of the Spirit of God.

The difference that is to be seen between an interior man and one who is not so, should be enough of itself to give us an esteem for recollection. We see in a man that is little recollected, an air of dissipation, which obscures the most striking actions of virtue, and which has in it something so repulsive, that it lessens the esteem we had conceived for his piety, and causes his words to have little or no unction. On the contrary, what an impression does that air of modesty, meekness and peace, which are visible on the countenance of a truly interior person — that reserve, silence, and continual guard over himself, make upon our minds ? Does not all this inspire veneration and love for virtue ? It is very difficult to be long recollected, without being really devout. For it is a certain fact, that the want of devotion generally springs from the want of recollection. The means of acquiring this interior recollection, and of preserving this precious gift, is, to be very careful —

1st. To avoid too great eagerness in what we do, and not to undertake anything which may prevent us from fulfilling, with entire liberty of spirit, our usual exercises of devotion.

2nd. Never to distract our heart with unnecessary occupations, so as to render it barren for prayer.

3rd. So to watch over ourselves, and keep ourselves so disposed, as to be always ready for prayer.

4th. To make ourselves masters of our actions, by raising ourselves, as it were, above our employments, keeping our hearts free from the embarassment and tumult that are generally caused in souls, by works of zeal, application to study, the care of a family, commerce with the world, the perplexity of business, and never considering the employments of our state, but as means to arrive at our last end.

5th. Retirement and silence are powerful means for gaining recollection. It is very difficult for a person who talks much to be very interior.

6th. Interior recollection is not only the sign of great purity of heart, it is also its reward. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God; that is to say, they shall walk continually in His presence.

7th. To make this exercise of the presence of God easier to us, we may take some sign that may remind us of it, as the striking of the clock, the beginning and end of every action, every time we enter our room or leave it, the sight of a picture, the arrival of a person, and similar circumstances.

8th. Reserve and modesty in all we do, are excellent means for becoming interior, especially if we are careful to propose to ourselves for a model, the modesty and meekness of Jesus Christ.

9th. Frequent reflection is a great help to anyone that wishes to become interior : to consider from time to time, that God is within us, or rather that we are in Him ; that wherever we are, He sees us, He hears us, He is close to us, — at prayer, at work, at table, in society ; to make acts of faith in the presence of God ; to be modest, alone as well as in company.

Finally, interior recollection is a gift of God. We must often ask this gift, and ask it as a necessary disposition for having an ardent love of Jesus Christ. This motive gives an efficacy to all our prayers. Devotion to the Saints who have excelled most in interior life, may be of great use for obtaining interior recollection. Such are the Queen of all the Saints, St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Joachim, St. John Baptist, and in particular, St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

Sacred and Immaculate Hearts

Sacred and Immaculate Hearts

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pillar of Scourging of Our Lord JESUS

Pillar of Scourging of Our Lord JESUS

Shroud of Turin

Shroud of Turin