Tuesday, 24 January 2017

St. Francis De Sales on Spiritual Dryness

St. Francis de Sales
 Today is the memorial of St. Frances de Sales (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church - referred to as Doctor Caritatis - 'the Doctor of Love.' His writings are exemplary - lucid, rich with insight, and beautiful - bordering on poetic. He is known to have won over the Calvinists, not so much with the rigour of his logic, nor with threats of brimstone, but with his gentleness and love, which was none other than the gentleness and love of Christ.

The Introduction to the Devout Life is one of his works, and is considered a master piece of Christian literature. Bellow is a brief extract from this work, under a chapter titled: "Of Spiritual Dryness and Barrenness."

So you shall act in times of spiritual consolations. But these bright days will not last for ever, and sometimes you will be so devoid of all devout feelings, that it will seem to you that your soul is a desert land, fruitless, sterile, wherein you can find no path leading to God, no drop of the waters of Grace to soften the dryness which threatens to choke it entirely. Verily, at such a time the soul is greatly to be pitied, above all, when this trouble presses heavily, for then, like David, its meat are tears day and night, while the Enemy strives to drive it to despair, crying out, “Where is now thy God? how thinkest thou to find Him, or how wilt thou ever find again the joy of His Holy Grace?”

[Finally, Philothea,] amid all our dryness let us never grow discouraged, but go steadily on, patiently waiting the return of better things; let us never be misled to give up any devout practices because of it, but rather if possible, let us increase our good works, and if we cannot offer liquid preserves to our Bridegroom, let us at least offer Him dried fruit—it is all one to Him, so long as the heart we offer be fully resolved to love Him. In fine weather bees make more honey and breed fewer grubs, because they spend so much time in gathering the sweet juices of the flowers that they neglect the multiplication of their race. But in a cold, cloudy spring they have a fuller hive and less honey. And so sometimes, my daughter, in the glowing springtide of spiritual consolations, the soul spends so much time in storing them up, that amid such abundance it performs fewer good works; while, on the contrary, when amid spiritual dryness and bitterness, and devoid of all that is attractive in devotion, it multiplies its substantial good works, and abounds in the hidden virtues of patience, humility, self-abnegation, resignation and unselfishness.

Some people… fall into the great mistake of imagining that when we offer a dry, distasteful service to God, devoid of all sentiment and emotion, it is unacceptable to His Divine Majesty; whereas, on the contrary, our actions are like roses, which, though they may be more beautiful when fresh, have a sweeter and stronger scent when they are dried. Good works, done with pleasurable interest, are pleasanter to us who think of nothing save our own satisfaction, but when they are done amid dryness and deadness they are more precious in God’s Sight. Yes indeed, my daughter, for in seasons of dryness our will forcibly carries us on in God’s Service, and so it is stronger and more vigorous than at a softer time. There is not much to boast of in serving our Prince in the comfort of a time of peace, but to serve Him amid the toils and hardness of war, amid trial and persecution, is a real proof of faithfulness and perseverance. The blessed Angela di Foligni said, that the most acceptable prayer to God is what is made forcibly and in spite of ourselves; that is to say, prayer made not to please ourselves or our own taste, but solely to please God;—carried on, as it were, in spite of inclination, the will triumphing over all our drynesses and repugnances. And so of all good works;—the more contradictions, exterior or interior, against which we contend in their fulfilment, the more precious they are in God’s Sight; the less of self-pleasing in striving after any virtue, the more Divine Love shines forth in all its purity. A child is easily moved to fondle its mother when she gives it sweet things, but if he kisses her in return for wormwood or camomile it is a proof of very real affection on his part. (Part IV, Chp. 14).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Baptism of Christ Who Crushed the Serpent in the Jordan

The following is a poem which serves as a narrative-allegory of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River. It draws particularly from two antiphons from the Office of the Day:

The springs of water were made holy when Christ appeared on earth. Draw water from the wells of the Saviour: Christ our God has made the whole creation holy.

The Saviour crushed the head of the serpent in the river Jordan; he released all men from its power.

Along with the Morning Benedictus antiphon:

Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy; he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.

'The Baptism of Christ,' Ottavio Vannini, 1585-1643.

As scattered people there did dwell
Like thirsty creatures ‘round a well
To hear and heed the locust man—
That crying voice of God’s right hand—
The one of whom he prophesied
Came walking to Jordan’s river side.

Meanwhile John had finished preaching,
In the river, sinners rinsing,
Then looking up his cousin saw
Untying sandals by the shore,
The one who baptised him in womb—
Whom he knew as holy lamb and groom.

Placing sandals upon the dirt
As undergarments he did girt,
Waded in the Creator blest
O’er rush and reeds—looking majest’—
Gently so without them crushing
Which others broke in careless rushing.

Then at last John did apprehend
What Jesus sought and did intend.
So as Christ neared at height of waist
He said to him in timid haste:
“To me thou comes to baptise thee
And yet thou shouldst come to baptise me!”

“Indeed, but let it be for now
As by humble act I make vow
Between the waters low and high
To bridge divide and draw more nigh
Their union one which I’ll repair
Which Adam broke through pride and snare.”

And as these words the Saviour spake
Within those waters swam a snake—
More ancient than the first born man,
Condemned to crawl and eat the land,
But which since Elijah’s parting
Was confined to in the Jordan swim.

Without understanding his speech
John obeyed and on shoulders each
He placed his hands on God in flesh
And plunged him down in water fresh,
Whereat like whale Jonah released,
So Christ His Godhead’s power unleashed.

And although to the naked eye
All seemed normal, except the sky—
Which shone with an unusual glow—
At that moment did waters throw,
Throughout the world, off ancient curse,
And in turn baptised was all the earth.

Then as John loosened his mild hold
Jesus rose up and lo behold!
In sky above a mighty sign—
Heaven opened before John’s eyne—
The Spirit fell as dove on head,
Hov'ring 'bove Christ, as voice it said:

“Behold my dear beloved Son,
In whom I’m pleased, my favourite one.”
Trembling thus in awe and wonder
John looked up, as all in ponder
Looked back and forth at John agape,
The cloud above, and Christ standing straight.

For none save John beheld the sight,
Yet some felt grace, and all saw bright—
The brightly sky that gave away
The hand of God at work that day.
A while did pass in silent pause
Before Christ moved toward desert’s jaws.

All the while beneath now blessed stream,
Writhed the serpent, hidden unseen,
Swimming in rage towards Christ’s feet
Intent on having flesh fangs meet,
But as its fangs were poised to kill,
Christ wading out, crushed snake’s head with heel.