St Louis-Marie de Montfort
True Devotion to Mary
Jesus, Our Saviour, who is true God and true man, must be the ultimate end of all our devotions; otherwise they would be false and misleading. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of everything. “We labor,” says St. Paul, “only to make all men perfect in Jesus Christ.”
For in Jesus alone dwells the entire fullness of the divinity and the complete fullness of grace, virtue, and perfection. In Jesus alone, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. Jesus is the only teacher from whom we must learn. Jesus is the only Lord on whom we should depend. Jesus is the only Head to whom we should be united, and the only model that we should imitate. Jesus is the only Physician that can heal us; the only Shepherd that can feed us; the only Way that can lead us; the only Truth that we can believe; the only Life that can animate us. Jesus alone is everything to us, and He alone can satisfy all our desires.
We are given no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. God has laid no other foundation for our salvation, perfection, and glory than Jesus. Every edifice which is not built on that firm rock, is founded upon shifting sands and will certainly fall sooner or later. Through him, with him, and in him, we can do all things and render all honor and glory to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit; we can make ourselves perfect; and we can be for our neighbor a fragrance of eternal life.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Abandonment to Divine Providence
One grain of pure faith gives more true enlightenment to a simple soul than ever gained by vastly superior intelligence. A simple soul, faithfully fulfilling its duties, contentedly obedient to the suggestions of grace and being gentle and humble to everyone, possesses knowledge worth more than the most profound intellectual penetration of the unknown. If only we could see the divine activity in all the pride and savagery of human activity, we should always behave toward our fellow creatures with kindness and respect. For their turbulence would never affect us. We must never sever our union with the activity of God which is incorporated in them and which they will reveal to us if we stay gentle and humble.
Lucifer is a radiant angel and the most enlightened of all, but an angel hostile to God and his designs. The mystery of sin is merely the result of this hostility, which manifests itself in every possible way. Lucifer does all he can to ensure that all that God has made and governs is overthrown. Wherever he gets a foothold, the work of God is defaced. The more knowledge and intelligence a person has, the more misgivings we should have about him unless he has not that basic piety which consists in being happy to serve God and do all he wants. A well-disposed heart unites us with God’s will. Without it, we behave according to impure impulses and usually fight against the divine plans. God uses only the humble as his instruments. Yet, to fulfill his designs, he makes use of those proud folk who defy him as his slaves. Whenever I come across a soul who thinks only of God and his will, I pay no attention to any other qualities it may lack, but declare: “This is a soul with a genius for serving God.” A host of other talents without this surpassing virtue terrify me, and I suspect the activity of Lucifer. I stay on my guard and brace myself in opposition to this brilliancy, which is no more than a bit of fragile glass.
Angela de Foligno
Book of Blessed Consolation
And greater deception still is there in spiritual self-sufficiency even than in the worldly— that is to say, in knowing how to speak of God, in understanding the Scriptures, in performing great penances and keeping the heart busied over spiritual things. For the spiritually self-sufficient do often fall into error and are more difficult to correct than those who have worldly self-sufficiency. Esteem yourselves, therefore, as nothing, as nothing known or nothing unknown. Of a truth, the soul can possess no better insight or knowledge than to perceive its own nothingness and to remain within its own prison.
Therefore, perceiving and knowing himself to be nothing and empty of all good, he will more earnestly offer praise and prayer unto the majesty of the divine goodness which he seeth and comprehendeth through this humility, and here is virtue born in him through the grace sent him of God. The greatest and chief of all virtues is charity, which is love towards God and one’s neighbour. And this love springeth from that light; for when the soul perceiveth itself to be nothing, and God inclined towards such vile nothingness and abasing Himself and uniting Himself thereunto, it doth so violently burn with love for Him that through this burning love it is made one with God. And being thus transformed by love, what creature is there who would not love unto the utmost of his power?
St. Mary Magdalene Martinengo
Treatise on Humility
I cannot approve the praise which is sometimes given creatures, either on account of some virtue, such as abstinence or meekness, or because they seem to be humble in all circumstances. I think that a soul will be holier in proportion to its self‐emptying, because in the emptying of self it will share more fully in the holiness of God. But in truth, my God, you alone are holy! Make us all holy, O Lord, firstly by annihilating in us all that is opposed to holiness.
God is essentially holy, holiness itself, and it seems that he glories more in this attribute than in any other, and wishes to be praised for it more than for anything else. We see this in the endless praises of the highest angels, Who ceaselessly proclaim: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” We see it also in their profound, silent adoration of the divine holiness, as with trembling wings they strive to love him more and more, and with veiled face they confess that in knowing and loving and praising his sanctity they fall far short of the reality.
Such also is the attitude of the humble soul, which shares in God’s holiness. First it ﬁxes its gaze upon the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ, God and man, in which it sees an exemplar of the highest sanctity. Thence forms an idea of holiness, and resolves to realize this ideal. Carrying out this resolution it reforms itself within and without, by imitating Jesus Christ. With this divine model before its eyes and in its heart, it gradually grows in holiness. Day by day its vision is simpliﬁed and intensiﬁed, so that it sees newer depths in God’s holiness, and is thereby more drawn to imitate it. Finding itself hindered by its own nothingness, it abandons itself and every image and form. Thus stripped of self it enters into God, who makes it his own and renders it holy with his own holiness.
God himself desires that we should attain to the highest sanctity. This desire he made known when he said: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Jesus, before his Passion, raising his eyes and hands to the Father, prayed thus: “Holy Father, sanctify them in the truth.” Therefore, my soul, arise, and immerse yourself in that sea of holiness, never to leave it again, that thus you may sanctiﬁed by the sanctity of God himself.
Servants of the Lord
Tomorrow’s priest will be like his Lord, a man with a pierced heart: pierced with the godlessness of the life around him, pierced by love that does not count the cost, pierced by the experience of his own weakness. The priest will be a man with a pierced heart because his task is to lead others to their own hearts, to the core of our human existence. He can do that only if he has found his own heart, and discovered for himself that it is in the very woundedness of human life that God has chosen to dwell. The priest of the future will know that he has been chosen by God in spite of — or rather, because of — his weakness. He will know that just as Christ’s pierced heart is the temple of God and the fountain of the Spirit, so his own pierced heart is the true strength of his mission. He will know that his unembarrassed faithfulness to the wisdom of God, which seems foolish to the world, is the real source of his credibility.
Adrienne von Speyr
Commentary on the Gospel of John
Where there is Christian love, Satan is not far away, because he makes his best catches where true love becomes weak, where it cools off, where it imperceptibly lets itself be falsified into something that still bears the name of love but is the opposite of love—self-seeking enjoyment. The devil’s presence at the table forces Christian love to be on guard even in the harmless joys willed by God and to take on the inner form of renunciation. If Christians no longer knew that they really had to fight against the devil, their Christianity would slip into a superficial optimism in which a light-headed enthusiasm would replace the earnestness of love. Love and renunciation are an earnest unity. Love desires to do everything in its power. When it renounces, it does so not in a pathetic or tragic mood or for the sake of the joy that lies in the act of renunciation. Rather it attempts, as far as it can, to purify itself and prepare itself for the Lord’s arrival.
The humble person will, therefore, have to be constantly reborn through asceticism. Over and over again he will return to the very fountainhead of Christianity in order to experience what is discipleship, what obedience, what penance, and this not in his own imagination but in the sense conferred by Christ. More and more he is “tuned into” the Lord’s sense, and nothing remains to him but to be humble. He can now assign no values and standards to himself. Values and standards lie in the rule, which is to say in the Lord’s hand. It is the Lord’s judgment that decides. The Christian who accomplishes great things at whatever level of asceticism can never ascribe his achievements to himself, but only to the fact that the Lord and his grace have entrusted him with a task. Asceticism thus makes a Christian into a thankful person. Thankfulness and love must spontaneously flow out of him if his asceticism is to bear the sign of genuineness. If they should be lacking we can be sure that an all-too-human element has crept in and that guilt and aberrations are not far off. To be sure, no one who considers taking up the way of the Lord’s Cross to the extent demanded of him will, for the moment, show signs of irrepressible joyfulness. But in spite of the Lord’s suffering and that which is enjoined on him, he will be at peace, and he will radiate something of the truth of revelation, a truth perceived in peace. And this will occur so visibly that he himself will appear to become a fountain of truth, not for himself (for his glance is fixed on the Lord), but for his fellow men.
Hans Urs von Balthasar
The Christian and Anxiety
Christianity offers man, not a bottomless pit, but solid ground–grounding in God, of course, and not in self. To place oneself on this solid ground involves relinquishing one’s own ground. The sinner wants to stand on his own, not on God. And whoever tries to stand both on God and on his own is sure to fall into the bottomless space in between. The realization, or even just the experience, that one is standing in this bottomless pit presupposes that one has stopped walking–walking on God’s ground or making the passage from one’s own ground to God’s. Living, efficacious faith means to walk, to be under way. Everyone who walks has ground under his feet. Faith, love, hope, unceasingly offered to man, are the ground that is constantly being pushed off under his feet. Sin refuses this ground in order to take a stand on one’s own; yet even between sin and the repentant return to God, speaking now as a Christian, a momentary loss of footing does not necessarily intervene. Whoever believes, whoever reaches out for faith, takes a real step, and while he steps he cannot simultaneously philosophize about the possibility of stepping, cannot reflect introspectively upon the passage from himself to God and have it in his grasp…
From a Christian perspective, once there is a possibility of passing over to God (and God makes this possible by grace), the job of mastering this passage, still from a Christian point of view, is no longer in man’s hands. When man is really walking, God has already provided for the possibility of walking and solved the problem of continuity, and so all the paradoxes of the mind, about Achilles and the tortoise, are passé. The uneasy conscience that many Christians have, and the anxiety based on it, do not come about because they are sinners and backsliders but because they have stopped believing in the truth and efficacy of their beliefs; they measure the power of faith by their own weakness, they project God’s world into their own psychological makeup instead of letting God measure them. They do something that Christians are forbidden to do: they observe faith from the outside; they doubt the power of hope; they deprive themselves of the power of love; and they lie down to rest in the chasm between the demands of Christianity and their own failure, in a chasm that, for a Christian, is no place at all. Is it any wonder that anxiety seizes them on account of this placelessness?
Thus there is no such thing as a Christian reflection on some static relationship between the anxiety of sin and the anxiety of the Cross. The law of exclusion rules between them, a law that can be defined only in terms of the movement from one to the other, a genuine movement, a firm stride–in the same way that faith is described in the New Testament as something tangibly sure, giving rest and security–certainly not as a flickering dialectic between sin-anxiety and assurance of salvation, trembling before the devil one minute and triumphing over him the next.
The person who loves renounces, in ever greater measure, every autonomous determination or ordering of his own deeds and omissions, his own thoughts and feelings, so that everything he has may be left more freely and more completely at the disposal of the beloved. Because he thus equates the one law of love more and more closely with the law of his own being, he becomes increasingly free of the external compulsion of law. Paradoxically, however, he is at the same time raised to a new and more binding obedience since every act of love commits him more deeply to love. For this reason, the disobedience of one who loves to even the least wishes of love is much more serious than that of one who is far from love, who hardly suspects the existence of love or of the laws of love. Both the internal and external actions of one who loves are weighed in a different balance; such a one calls in vain upon the larger distinctions that are valid for others. A wish that God whispers in his ear because there is a possibility that it may be heard, but which he rejects, can wound God’s eternal love more deeply than the transgression of a major commandment by one who is as yet unaware of the rules that govern the etiquette of love.
St. Edith Stein / Theresa Benedicta of the Cross
from “Freedom and Grace”
For it to be freely graspable by the soul, grace must also already be effective in it and, for it to be effective, it must already find a place in it. And like the spirit of evil, the spirit of light, the Holy Spirit, also brings about an alteration of natural reactions in the soul it has seized. There are reactions that, through it, are barred, even if according to natural reason they would be appropriate: hate, revenge and the like. And there are spiritual acts and mental states that are the specific forms of its actual life: love, pity, forgiveness, blessedness, peace. These also occur where, according to natural reason, no motive for them exists. That is why “the peace of God” “surpasses all reason.” And that is why the kingdom of God must be a “folly” for all those who stand outside. The spirit of light is, in accordance with its essence, overflowing fullness, the most perfect and never-diminishing abundance. But it does not radiate out because it cannot bear to be with itself – on the contrary, by radiating out, it remains with itself and preserves itself. And that which is filled by it is kept safe in it, and the spirit is kept safe in what it fills. The soul that takes up the spirit is filled by it and holds it to itself, even when it radiates it out; indeed, the more it radiates it, the more it stays with it. Thus it can find a true home in it.
But what about its individuality? Isn’t it annihilated when the natural reactions are stopped? And when the new spirit makes an entrance in the soul and seizes lordship, doesn’t it become impossible for it to enjoy its own life to the full? The quotations about death being that through which life is won, about hating one’s own soul, etc., also point to this. In fact, it is beyond doubt that the soul experiences a radical conversion through the “rebirth out of the Spirit.” The life in which the soul would otherwise enjoy itself and its idiosyncrasies is cut off from it. First, the more that grace disperses itself in it, progressing out from it, that which offered the spirit of evil a point of attack disappears, along with what belonged to the soul itself. And the attachment to natural reason and the way of reacting that it prescribes dies away. Nonetheless, what we called “individuality,” the ownmost property of the soul, is not erased. This individuality is surely not a disposition to predetermined reactions. Nor is it a psychological capacity that would shrink back when it could not live itself out in actual psychological states. Individuality stands “behind” all natural “facilities,” dispositions, and reactions. It impresses its stamp on them wherever they are, but it is not itself dependent on them and does not disappear with them. The whole “character” of a person, i.e., the aggregate of natural dispositions specifically colored by their spiritual individuality, can be destroyed, the soul can be torn from this natural foundation out of which and with which it arose, and nonetheless retain its individuality.
This individuality is intangible. What enters into the soul and comes out of it is saturated by it. Also, each soul receives grace in its way. Its individuality is not expelled by the spirit of light, but is married to it and experiences as a consequence, truly, a “new birth.” For the soul enjoys its life in its own uniqueness fully and purely only insofar as it remains with itself. With all reacting, the soul does not act out itself alone; it is also at the same time subjected to laws that are accountable to those reactions as such, independently from the subject that realizes them in a given case. Only when it is detached from everything external and is at rest, does the soul purely live its own life. But it can only be at rest and detached from the outside – this we have seen time and again – when it is lifted up into the kingdom of heights. Thus it receives itself, through grace, as a gift.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
The Divine Milieu
The duty of human perfection, like the whole universe, has been renewed, recast, supernaturalised, in the kingdom of God. It is a truly christian duty to grow, even in the eyes of men, and to make one’s talents bear fruit, even though they be natural. It is part of the essentially Catholic vision to look upon the world as maturing–not only in each individual or in each nation, but in the whole human race–a specific power of knowing and loving whose transfigured term is charity, but whose roots and elemental sap lie in the discovery and the love of everything that is true and beautiful in creation… [T]he effort of mankind, even in realms inaccurately called profane, must, in the christian life, assume the role of a holy and unifying operation. It is the collaboration, trembling with love, which we give to the hands of God, concerned to attire and prepare us (and the world) for the final union through sacrifice. Understood in this way, the care which we devote to personal achievement and embellishment is no more than a gift begun. And that is why the attachment to creatures which it appears to denote melts imperceptibly into complete detachment.
Foundations of Christian Faith
In reality eternity comes to be in time as time’s own mature fruit, an eternity which does not really continue on beyond experienced time. Rather eternity subsumes time by being liberated from the time which came to be temporarily so that freedom and something of final and definitive validity could be achieved. Eternity is not an infinitely long mode of pure time, but rather a mode of the spiritual freedom which has been exercised in time, and therefore it can be understood only from a correct understanding of spiritual freedom. A time which does not exist as the seedbed of spirit and of freedom does not offer us any eternity. But because it is from time that we have to infer the time-conquering final and definitive validity of man’s existence which has been actualized in spirit and in freedom, and because in our conception of it we almost unwillingly have to think of it as an endless continuation of time, naturally we get into difficulties. We have to learn to think without images and to demythologize in a very correct and basically harmless sense and say: the achieved final validity of human existence which has grown to maturity in freedom comes to be through death, not after it. What has come to be is the liberated, final validity of something which was once temporal, and which came to be in spirit and in freedom, and which therefore formed time in order to be, and not really in order to continue on in time. For otherwise it would exist precisely in a mode which would not be final and definitive, but rather it would have before it an open future of a temporal nature in which everything could once again go on becoming different indefinitely.
“Questions of Controversial Theology of Justification”
Theological Investigations IV
Prior to any subjective attitude, man is really different (from what he would be as mere creature and mere sinner), because redemption has taken place in Christ, because God loves him in Christ as long as he is on pilgrimage: so much so, that for all eternity, even in his damnation, man remains determined by this ‘is’. This ‘is’ which determines him for ever is not procured by faith and love. He rather ‘takes cognizance’ of it through faith and love, accepting it of course and ratifying it existentially, so that through this act, something happens in him which means his salvation, because if he ‘took cognisance’ of it with refusal or indifference, this same reality, this ‘is’, would mean his damnation. If we call this ‘is’ a supernatural existential we could say: prior to any subjective appropriation of salvation, man is inwardly determined by a supernatural existential, which consists of the fact that Christ in his death ‘justified’ sinful man before the all-holy God. Anyone who finds such terminology painful, need only think of the following in simple scholastic terms: if through faith bestowed by grace and through love man can be subjectively justified before God, and if this ‘can be’ obviously precedes the act of (subjective) justification, then this ‘can’, this potency, is his on the one hand, hence ‘intrinsic’ to him (no matter how much it permanently depends on the grace of God); and it is still something on the other hand which is not due to him by ‘nature’, but only comes to him by the death of Christ. This intrinsic ability, necessarily prior to the subjective appropriation of salvation of which it is the vehicle and in which it becomes one’s own, can be simply called the supernatural existential of being (objectively) redeemed or of being (objectively) justified… There is good reason for putting it so, because it is the only way of making it clear in theological concepts, though it is of course always known by the genuine Christian: the fact that the event of the subjective justification of the individual is really and most intimately connected with Christ and his cross. It is not simply a subjective conversion to a God who by reason of his metaphysical goodness has to be gracious in any case, if we ourselves are only interested in it. This is the only way to make it clear that the death on the cross is not merely a historical matter, but that it is now the essential vehicle of my salvation, since God has done something to me in Christ before I do anything. All this is correct and of decisive importance. And it may and can be said that the supernatural existential of being justified (objectively) by Christ before God precedes the subjective appropriation of salvation—which of course also brings about supremely ‘objective’ relationships.
St. Isaac of Nineveh / Isaac the Syrian
Discourse on Gehenna
A right way of thinking about God would be the following: the kind Lord, who in everything He does looks to ways of assisting rational beings, directs thought concerning judgement to the advantage of those who accept this difficult matter. For it would be most odious and utterly blasphemous to think that hate or resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings; or to imagine any other weakness, or passibility, or whatever else might be involved in the course of retribution of good or bad as applying, in a retributive way, to that glorious (divine) Nature. Rather, He acts towards us in ways He knows will be advantageous to us, whether by way of things that cause suffering, or by way of things that cause relief, whether they cause joy or grief, whether they are insignificant or glorious: all are directed towards the single eternal good, whether each receives judgement or something of glory from Him — not by way of retribution, far from it! — but with a view to the advantage that is going to come from all these things.