St Peter sinking in the waves (1766) - Francois Boucher
I have taken another extract from Father Considine's book 'Delight in the Lord', which is a virtual transcript of talks given by him to religious communities in the 1920s, and published in book form 'to help other souls attain something of that loving trust in God and joy in his service which was the aim of all Father Considine's direction.'
We don't have to be a religious to benefit from his wisdom.
Friends and Enemies
It is very important for us to understand and be able to recognize the different influences which are at work within our souls. Ordinarily there are four.
I. Human nature (our own). Very often we get discouraged and think God cannot love us, or we are not called to sanctity, or the spiritual life is too difficult, because we have indigestion or are a bit run down physically. The devil has nothing to do with this, though he highly approves of it. It is a natural evil and requires a natural remedy – a rest, or a tonic, or something of that kind.
II. The devil. Here are a few helps to recognize his working.
1. He cannot see our thoughts or the interior of our souls, so he does not start a new disposition there immediately. He can only work upon us by putting some material thing before our imagination and trying to get us attend to it.
2. He is not original - i.e. he does not originate ideas in our minds, but he seizes upon some circumstance which he knows troubles us, and he aggravates that, so as to cause more trouble. For example, if someone has (apparently) slighted us, he will take the opportunity to make the grievance appear much greater than it really was; and he will be perpetually bringing it before our minds. So when anything of the kind has occurred – when we are unwell or irritable, or something has gone contrary to our wishes, or someone has said a hard word to us, we ought to be more than usually upon our guard, knowing that the devil is likely to be busy about that in a few moments. We see this in the temptations of our blessed Lord, when the tempter took advantage of his hunger and exhaustion.
3. If the devil has tried a certain method of attack upon us successfully in the past, he will be pretty sure to repeat it. So be on your guard in circumstances in which you have had trouble before.
4. The suggestions of the devil often come rudely and suddenly to a soul that is trying to serve God. Be very suspicious of a sudden impulse, especially when you have laid yourself open to attack by some infidelity. The devil tries to make you act quickly, without giving yourself time for reflection, or to receive the influences of grace.
5. In general, the thoughts that make the spiritual life appear difficult or uninviting, that suggest you are not called to high virtue, that God will not forgive you easily, that you have lost your chance of sanctity – all such thoughts come from the devil. Also, whatever tends to make you seek pleasure outside your religious life, or contrary to the desires of Superiors, is from the devil.
6. It is a great aim of the devil to interfere with prayer. So when you go to pray he will often try to bring before your mind all sorts of temptations, troubles and harassing thoughts, or even decisions that have to be made (but not during prayer). He wants you to talk to him or yourself, not to God. You must quietly ignore these things. Don’t argue with him, but commend yourself quietly and trustfully to God, and occupy yourself with him alone.
7. As the devil cannot see into your soul, but can only guess at its state, it is a pity to show exterior signs of trouble, by sad or angry words, or depression of countenance.
III. Our good angel acts in all things contrary to the way in which the devil acts, calming the soul, trying to increase its confidence in God and its attraction towards spiritual things.
1. Whenever, without reasonable or gradual alteration, you find yourself changed from a state of sadness or depression to a state of joy and hope and love, this is the action of God. No one but the Creator of our souls can enter into them thus as Master and fill the chamber of our soul with peace and gladness.
2. Whatever tends to make the spiritual life seem sweet and easy and attractive – whatever makes you hopeful, makes God appear kind and loving, especially whatever makes you feel that God loves you individually, that He wants you and will help you – all such thoughts and feelings come from God.
3. God’s suggestions come gently and sweetly to a soul that is trying to serve Him – bringing peace and light, and a peaceful humility.
4. God’s suggestions are gradual and persistent, tending more or less in one direction. Thus, if God sends you the thought of His individual love and care for you, this thought will return again and again at various times, and its influence will grow stronger and clearer as you correspond. It is not God’s way to be continually upsetting the spiritual life and starting a soul again in new ways, and making violent upheavals.
St Mary Magdalene - Michael Sittow 1469-1525
St Mary Magdalene understood so well how to deal with our Lord, with her pia audentia (holy audacity). Forgiven sin is absolutely no bar to the closest union with our Lord – it is only another claim on his love. From the time he said to Mary Magdalene, “ Go in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee,” we never hear of those sins again. She does not seem at all troubled by them – she never hangs back from our Lord, or thinks that others have a right to be nearer to him than herself. She gets as close as possible to him always – and our Lord never sends her away. She thinks of him, not of herself, and that is the secret of peace of soul and of sanctity.
Once we have realized that we are nothing of ourselves, but full of bad inclinations, weakness and misery, all we have to do is to cast ourselves entirely into the loving heart of Jesus. He will never despise or reject us. Then we may forget ourselves and think only of pleasing him. There is no danger of presumption. Our Lord is more merciful, generous and royal than we can ever understand. Try to be with him always. The weaker you are and the less virtue you have, the more need you have of him, and the more you must cling to him, and the more he will do for you. It is our self-importance, not our misery, that gets in his way. You can never trust him too much. So go on your way rejoicing.
Don’t be foolish and slow of heart any longer to believe in him.
Ack. 'Delight in the Lord' by Rev. Daniel Considine S.J.