It often seems to me that the thorns and thistles of our life’s condition are ordained by God in view of curing precisely our soul. I see this with absolute clearness in my personal life.
If you are seized with anger towards someone, try to imagine that both you and he must die; how insignificant his fault will then appear, and how unjust your anger, even if formally justified.
Sickness is the most favorable time for us to return to our own heart, to God. As soon as our health has improved, the possibility of this drifts once more to an infinite distance.
Faith has nothing to fear from negative polemics, the ordeal by the mind; faith is able to withstand such an ordeal. But what it has to fear in us is the terrible weakness of the spirit, “the apostasy of the heart” (Kireievsky’s expression).
Those who seek proof to justify their faith are on a false track. Faith is a free choice; wherever there is a desire of proof, even a desire hidden from ourselves, there is no faith. The evidences of divine manifestation must not be taken as “proofs” – this would lower, cancel, the great virtue of faith.
To free ourselves from inner chaos, we must recognize objective order.
This is the kind of man we most often encounter; he presents a combination of three traits: (1) pride – faith in his own strength, delight in his own creations; (2) a passionate love of earthly life; and (3) freedom from any sense of sin. How can such men approach God? What is their path? Can they be transformed? As they now are, they are hopelessly isolated from God; they do not even feel the need of Him. And it is this kind of personality that is cultivated by modern life, by education, literature, et cetera. The idea of God is erased from the soul. In order that such a man should be reborn, what catastrophes are required!
There is a spirituality closely enmeshed with emotions – esthetic, sentimental, passionate – which is easily combined with selfishness, vanity, sensuality. Men of this type seek the praise and the good opinion of the priest who confesses them; their confession is very difficult for him, for they come in order to complain of others, to whimper; they are full of themselves, readily accuse others. The poor quality of their religious exaltation is best demonstrated by the facility with which they pass to a state of anger, irritation. They are further from genuine contrition than the most inveterate sinners.
The man who does not order his life according to logic and common sense but proceeds from the supreme law – the law of love – is always right. All other laws are naught in face of love, which not only directs hearts, but “moveth the sun and other stars.” He who keeps this law within him lives. He who lets himself be governed by philosophy, politics, reason alone, dies.
Faith originates in love; love, in contemplation. It is impossible not to love Christ. If we saw Him now, we should not be able to take our eyes off Him, we should “listen to Him in rapture”; we should flock around Him as did the multitudes in the Gospels. All that is required of us is not to resist. We must yield to Him, to the contemplation of His image – in the Gospels, in the saints, in the Church – and He will capture our hearts.
What is the necessity for reading the Lives of the Saints? In the infinite spectrum of the paths leading to God, which are revealed in the lives of the various saints, we can discover our own; we can obtain guidance that will help us to emerge from the jungle in which our human sinfulness has entangled us to gain access to the path leading towards Light.
Answer to the dying woman who does not suspect the approach of death; answer to her perplexity – “I am prepared neither for life nor for death”: We cannot lead a genuine and dignified life here without preparing ourselves for death, without continually meditating upon the thought of eternal life.
My rule of life: to change our residence only when circumstances become pressing; to undertake nothing in the practical sphere on our own initiative, but to mine to the depths into which God has directed us.
How pathetic the complacency of our outlook on this present life is! The insubstantial little island of our “normal” existence will be washed away in the worlds beyond the tomb.
Here is the source of sin and folly – an aimless self-will instead of voluntary and spontaneous submission to Law.
There is a certain “constricted” condition of the soul in which we find it difficult to smile; we feel neither softness nor tenderness towards anyone – in one word, a petrified insensibility. Only prayer, especially the prayer of the Church, will dispel this condition. Such a mood is habitual to the proud, the melancholy, the vain, the debauched, the miserly; but to a certain degree, it is inherent to men in general: it is the condition of sin, of the absence of grace – man’s common condition. So far as the soul is concerned, this is already a hell on earth, death despite the life of the body; and it is the natural consequence of sin, which literally is death to the soul.
The normal order within our soul: (1) A mysterious life of the spirit of which we are unaware, the genuine pledge of our salvation – that which comes to us from holy baptism, from the sacraments, from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; (2) the vaporous cloud of our pseudo-virtues, disfigured, corroded, by the acid of vainglory: our so-called good deeds, our so-called prayer, truthfulness, straightforwardness; these mists obscure the true image of our wretched soul and hinder contrition; (3) the dense clouds of the actual sins we easily forgive ourselves: our continual judgment of other men, mockery, contempt, coldness, anger; (4) lastly, interior to all this, the deep, ancient strata of hereditary corruption which we share with the whole of humanity – the fundamental sinfulness from which arise, like poisonous vapors, blasphemous thoughts and impulses, all kinds of impurities, monstrous perversions.
I think of the meaning of sweat, tears, and blood for our purification and sanctification – of work, penance, martyrdom. Through them the body is freed of its psychic-animal elements, and the spiritual impulse, meeting no obstacle, pervades the whole man; this is why the Church elevates its martyrs, emphasizing precisely the shedding of blood; and this is why people honor the dead killed in war.
We must relinquish the notion that humanity is divided into two hostile camps, two different breeds of men, the just and the sinners – the first predestined for beatitude, the second, for perdition. Nothing of the sort is true. We are all sinful, all tainted, and our Lord suffered for all of us. All are equally dear to Him, and it is to Him that the final judgment belongs. That is why Christ’s words about love are directly followed by the words about judgment: “Judge not, that you may not be judged.”
Often we are saddened by the faded appearance of a friend or relative who has grown old. Yet this decline is a purely physical one that opens the way for beneficent spiritual forces arising from the depths of our interior. That blossoming, the wane of which we observe with dismay in ourselves and in others – bright eyes, ruddy complexions, deep, melodious voices – all that is but the flowering of our psychic-animal nature, and is without value. The more a man loses outwardly, the more profound is the rebirth in his interior. Yet it is well if this is so, and if the passing years do not lead instead to melancholy, to the fear of old age and death, to spiritual degeneration.
How far false ideals lead us! In this manner have many revolutionists lost their souls; proceeding from a righteous (but narrow) concept of the good of the people, they have attained only to satanic hatred, lies, murder. A similar fate awaits the adherents of the ideal of nationalism unless they subordinate this ideal to a higher one.
Our whole interior life is energized by the love of God. But whence shall we derive this love? All our loves are fed by sensible impressions of the beloved object (the world, our friends and loved ones). How shall our love, our faith, endure the ordeal if they are not nourished by evidences? Yet what sensible impression can we receive of God, Whom “no man hath ever seen”? We have Christ. Thoughts of Him, prayer, the reading of the Gospels – such is the food by which the love of Him is nourished. But it may be (and such is often the case) that our hearts are too unformed, too unreceptive. In this case, we must return to the lives of the Saints, to the writings of the Fathers. They hold the same light of Christ, but with a softer quality, mellowed in passing through the prism of a saintly human soul.
Only men who have no experience in such things can speak of the uselessness of making an effort in prayer, in the love of God. All striving towards God-even the weakest, even if forced -yields a vivid and irrefutable experience of His love. A man who has had this experience will never forget it. The same can be said of love towards other men. All love carries with it its own satisfaction and recompense. Here we find the experimental confirmation of the words “God is Love.”