Tauler Sermons Week 3
Steadfastness as an Element of Devotion
Second Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent
And Jesus went from thence and retired into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And behold a woman of Canaan who came out of those coasts, crying out, said to Him: Have mercy on me, Lord, Thou son of David; my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil. Who answered her not word. And His disciples came and besought Him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us. And He answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel. But she came and adored Him, saying: Lord, help me. Who answering, said: It is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast it to the dogs. But she said: Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters. Then Jesus answering, said to her: woman, great is thy faith; be it done to thee as thou wilt; and her daughter was cured from that hour. Matt. 15:21-28
Ah, dear children, this passage of the Gospel shows us the noblest, most profitable, surest and deepest conversion to God that a man can ever experience. And be assured, besides, that any conversion that is not, in some way or other, effected after this manner, will be of little or no benefit, no matter what we may do or leave undone.
Our Saviour went from thence, says the Gospel. And from whom did He depart? From the scribes and the hypocrites. Mark well that the scribes were the wise ones of this world, who trusted in their own knowledge and went according to their own plans. Children, this points out the most injurious condition in which spiritual men can be placed. Many a noble soul is in this way brought to total failure, sometimes by one, sometimes by both of two different errors. Indeed, there are few who wholly escape. By scribes we mean intellectual men, who value everything according to the standard of their reason and the observation of their senses, and they set great store of this kind of knowledge. Presently they are much admired; they discourse with beautiful and stately words. But in the depths of their souls—that interior source of all true science—there is nothing but an empty and barren waste.
The hypocrites, or Pharisees, are those who rank themselves as good spiritual men, and yet are full of self-esteem. Their own plans and customs are the only rule they follow, and their one aim in life is to be praised by men. They hotly condemn all who venture to differ from them. Mark well, that our beloved Lord went forth from among such men as these, for they had demanded of Him: Why do Thy disciples transgress the traditions of the ancients? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he gently reproved them: Why do you also transgress the commandment of God for your tradition? (Matt. 15:2-3.) So do these men of whom we are speaking value their own methods and practices above the interior admonitions of God’s Spirit, condemning God’s real friends because they will not be guided by their inventions, but prefer to be directed by the hidden impulses of grace. Yet these or any other kind of misguided men, should not be condemned openly in a monastic community, for that would not be in accordance with religious discipline.
Let everyone be on his guard privately against such men. There are always religious men who are totally absorbed in the external side of a good life, and who nevertheless interiorly are miserably held captive by the love of created things. They have many prayers to recite, many readings of the Psalter. As much may be said for the poor, deluded Jews of our time, devoted as they are to reading the Psalms and the other Scriptures, and yet the true knowledge of God is entirely hidden from them. These men take the discipline, they pray and fast and watch, and yet God is not purely and simply the motive of any of these practices, but only poor, deluded human nature. All this parade of spiritual exercises is entirely directed by their self-love. This Phariseeism excludes the eternal God from their souls. This vineyard was never planted by the heavenly Father, but will be disowned and destroyed, as our Lord Himself declared: He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth. (Matt. 12:30) When the time of the harvest has come, then God will gather in His corn, that is to say, His elect; and those who do not gather with Him shall be rejected. In whatever souls He finds a harvest that He has not planted, those also shall be rejected. Beware, then, of the influence of this false devotional spirit.
The tendency to be guided by natural motives, after the manner of the scribes and Pharisees, running into the excessive use of external and showy exercises of religion, prevails greatly nowadays among all classes. Many are so greatly affected by the spirit of the scribes of old, that a conscientious father confessor can hardly hear their confessions, so obstinately are they rooted in their purpose to persist in their delusion. Out of the company of such men Jesus goes forth, and ever will go forth.
But does our blessed Lord go? He goes into the land of Tyre and Sidon. Now, Tyre may be taken to mean somebody suffering from anguish of heart, and Sidon, one who is hunted. Alas, dear children, how few men there are who appreciate the value of interior suffering and of interior persecution, or being hunted! Yet nothing in the world is so honourable or so precious as that both these trials should meet together in our souls. When one has safely gone through such an experience, only then can he understand what nobility of soul and what fruit of virtue result from these bitter struggles.
But what do I mean by a man who is hunted? I mean that an interior man must insist on being always close to God as the only true state of his soul, and this forces him incessantly to hunt and drive himself inward to God’s presence in his interior consciousness. Now, this provokes the violent resistance of the outward man that is in us all; we would always seek to return forcibly to the outward things that minister to our natural weakness.
Here, then, is the conflict. The inner man’s proper place is with God. He always thinks and always yearns for it, and toward that union with God our Lord is ever driving and hunting him. Now, to our outward man this is always offensive and against nature, and he always fights against it. St Paul tells of this struggle: I am delighted with the law of God according to the inward man, but see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind. (Rom. 7:22-23) And hence the apostle complains that what he wills not that he yet does, and what he wills he is not able to do. This is the war between nature and reason, into which God enters with His grace, and hunts and drives both before Him. And it should be well understood, children, that when this is properly appreciated by you, then all is well; for whoever is thus hunted by God’s Holy Spirit is one of God’s elect.
You can easily understand, children, that from this constant hunting of man’s soul a bitter anguish results. But when at last he is content to abide, for God’s sake, without any consolation, then will Jesus surely come to him and possess him. But if he will not patiently suffer the anguish of the conflict between grace and nature, then will Jesus not come to him. All who have not experienced this interior distress and sincerely accepted it—even unto the very death of nature—from them nothing good can be expected. They are bound captive to the world. Sometimes such men never realize the meaning of what has been going on within their souls. For there are many trials of body and of soul whose end and purpose is little observed by us, and which, if humbly and thankfully received from God and patiently endured, will end happily with the inpouring of Divine grace. Sometimes, again, the world, that is to say, our fellow-men, conspire to mislead us, and even violently assail us. Add to this the cunning of the evil one, and the uprisings of fleshly passion, and the poor soul seems overwhelmed with fatal outward difficulties, while interiorly God Himself seems to oppress her and she is tormented by her naturally inordinate impulses—altogether a sad and bitter state of suffering.
Children, what can this poor, belated and desolate man do so that he may hold his own, and not be driven to extremities in this dreadful hunted condition? Nothing otherwise than the Canaanitess did in her deep sorrow—run to Jesus Christ and call out to Him with all his strength: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Ah, children, in this hunted state of soul, there is granted a voice to utter a holy call to God; the answer will be the measureless joys of the interior life. Our prayer is a sigh of the spirit yearning for God, so deep and so sad that it flies through measureless space far over all the range of nature—straight to the Divine heart. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit Himself that now assumes charge of and perfects this work in us; and as St Paul says, it is His voice that pleads for us: The Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. (Rom. 8:26) And, dear children, when the Holy Spirit thus prepares us, no other preparation can compare with it.
But now something strange occurs; for occasionally it happens that the soul’s cry seems to be unheard by God. After bravely enduring the inner anguish and the outward tribulation, after crying aloud with a strength of yearning that seems to pierce Heaven itself, then, yes even then, God sometimes acts as if He would have nothing to do with this afflicted soul. This is the most cruel trial of all. Ah, children, how deep must be the self-denial of that soul, and how disinterested its loyalty to God, if it now turns all the more resolutely to Him and relies wholly upon Him, and upon none other. If it suffers simply and purely for His very sake, in this its hour of unspeakable desolation! Oh! it exclaims, how can it be that God has shut the door of infinite mercy against me? And yet that soul remains true to Him.
But so it happened with the Canaanitess—as she cried out her prayer after Christ, His mercy seemed shut against her. And when His disciples pleaded for her, His answer was a cold and stern refusal: I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel. Then when she came and adored Him and implored Him to grant her prayer, He said these harsh words to her: It is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast it to the dogs. To His refusal He added the sting of most bitter words, calling her not only an unworthy creature, but even a dog. Could He have dealt more severely with her? Could He have crushed her down more pitilessly? And, now, what did this poor soul do in her agony of woe? She suffered everything meekly and patiently; she let herself be hunted like dog by the Lord her God according as He willed. In fact, she more than accepted his dreadful chastisement. He had called her a dog, she called herself less than dog—avowed herself to be only dog’s whelp, a pitiful and miserable little puppy. By this entire self-annihilation, she proclaimed her true hearted and steadfast trust in Our Lord Jesus Christ. How beautiful are her words: Yea, Lord, for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.
Ah, dear children, happy is the man and holy, who can strike so deep down into his heart to find the will of God there. This is not a matter of words or of any pious use of the senses, but of truest earnestness, for it annihilates us in self-renunciation deeper than anything else in us, human or Divine. Anguish, suffering, and shame are at their worst in that man’s soul, and yet he trusts God with unshaken constancy, and his confidence in the Divine loving-kindness grows stronger and stronger, as God’s abandonment of him seems to grow more certain—just as was the case with the Canaanitess when rejected by our Lord. The harder He treated her the more confidently did she beg His mercy; and it was for this reason alone that she got all she asked from Him.
Dear children, this is the right and the Divine road to true spirituality. The man that can thus stand his ground meekly under all God’s visitations of inner and outer affliction, looking to nothing but God’s will for guidance, awaiting God’s time of relief most patiently—the man who will thus stand his ground until death without the least repining—ah, children, he has found the straight road to union with God without any intermediation. That road is total self-renunciation, in mind and in heart, in the face of God and of all creatures; the soul willingly suffering banishment from all joy, and maintaining that self-renunciation with all confidence in God, even to the end. To such a true and faithful soul the Lord will, at last, speak words similar to the ones He addressed to the Canaanitess: O, woman, great is thy faith! Be it done to thee as thou wilt.
Children, I tell you the everlasting truth when I say, that all who tread this path will one day, without doubt, hear such words as these: ‘My beloved, whatever you shall ask of Me, shall be granted you in all fullness, for you have for My sake gone out of yourself and away from all that is yours, whether in mind or in body. Enter, now, into My inmost spirit and be joined to Me without any intermediation, to be made one with Me by My grace, as I am one in My nature.’ Children, such an entrance into Infinite Good, is granted only to one who has given up all things, all selfhood in soul and body. For just in proportion as man gives up self in all things, so does he enter into God by the help of Divine grace. He that voluntarily loses all things for God’s sake, finds all things in God.
And now I will give you an example of maiden whose case is like that of the Canaanitess; she is still living, and the incident occurred less than four years ago. Once it happened that she was rapt out of her senses so far and high, that she seemed to behold God and our Lady and all the saints in their glory. But to herself, she seemed to be separated from this glorious company by an immeasurable space. And this banishment gave her pain so inexpressibly bitter, that it could be compared only to that of hell itself. (For we know that the pain of hell is essentially this—the lost souls know that they have wilfully cut themselves off from God and His saints, never more to see Him and to love Him.) Our good maiden in her anguish, now humbly besought our Blessed Lady and the saints to intercede for her. But, alas, they were all so deeply absorbed in the joy of God that they could not grant her a single instant’s attention; her cry for relief was unheard.
Then she turned to Jesus crucified; she implored Him by His bitter passion and cruel death to have pity on her. An answer came reproving her for praying to Him: ‘You have never yet proved yourself worthy of the favour you ask.’ Upon this, seeing that neither our Lady, the saints, no, nor even our crucified Saviour, would help her, she went direct to God and said: ‘Lord, my everlasting God, no one will help me, Your unhappy creature, in my misfortune! And now, my Lord and Creator, my Eternal Father, humbly accept Your righteous judgment upon me if it be Your will that this awful pain, seemingly like that of hell itself, shall be mine eternally. Then may Your will be done upon me in time and eternity; to Your disposal I meekly abandon myself. Whatever shall please You in me and from me, heavenly Father, to that I give myself up for all eternity.’ In this way she offered herself to God absolutely and without any reserve. And instantly she felt herself carried away from her banishment and absorbed, without any intermediation, in the abyss of God’s being.
And since then not a day passes when she is not again drawn into that manner into union with God. I am firmly convinced that she has never in her whole life committed mortal sin; and yet see what dreadful pain she has had to suffer. Ah, dear children, what multifarious suffering must we not undergo before God grants us that perfect union with Him—we who have often offended God grievously and even now cling so tenaciously to created things! Learn a good lesson from this pious maiden’s case, who was so lovingly submissive to God’s holy will that (if such an impossible thing could be) she would eternally endure the pains of hell, if that were His decree.
But that is precisely what we do not do when we enter upon the spiritual life. We count upon making wonderful progress inside of four or five years. We are accustomed to say to others: ‘Dear brothers, pray to our Lord for me, that I may become one of His dearest friends both in time and eternity.’ But be assured of this: If you were in the right way you would not think yourself at all worthy of any such honour, or of being enrolled even in the lowest rank of the friends of God. Therefore, sit yourself down in the lowest place, as the Gospel teaches, for then only will you be sure of being raised up higher, for all those who exalt themselves, will undoubtedly be humbled and cast down lower. Beg God’s guidance that you may clearly know where He would place you, both in His own sight and in that of men. Be content with that place and aspire to none other.
Children, it is in entire self-renunciation for the love of God in all our doings, in plenty and in need, both in matters spiritual as well as corporal, that God enters the soul without any intermediation. Mark well, my children, that even a little drop of such virtue as this, joined to only a faint emotion of Divine love in the soul, is a better preparation for intimate union with God in our soul’s depths, than if we stripped ourselves naked to clothe the poor or fasted upon rocks and briars. A single minute of this perfect self-renunciation is of more profit to man, than forty years following his own religious contrivances. It is the most praiseworthy way to God, and the shortest. of all ways that can be thought of it is the easiest, and the most beneficial.
O, my God, how many men are there forever circling about and losing the precious time of Divine grace, instead of going direct by this way to the possession of the Supreme Good, which would then be given them in life wholly regenerated! Year after year they continue oblivious to the grace that awaits their fidelity, as if they were lulled to sleep by their forgetfulness of God. After the better part of a lifetime, they still remain as far removed from perfection as at the beginning—a lamentable evil among spiritual men. If they only recognized the injury, great and perilous, that they do themselves by following their own inventions and methods, the marrow in their bones would wither up and the blood would freeze in their veins.
That we may sink deep down into the abyss of God’s life, and willingly yield ourselves to His eternal decrees, grant us, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Some important points:
By scribes we mean intellectual men, who value everything according to the standard of their reason and the observation of their senses, and they set great store of this kind of knowledge.
The hypocrites, or Pharisees, are those who rank themselves as good spiritual men, and yet are full of self-esteem.
Tyre may be taken to mean somebody suffering from anguish of heart, and Sidon, one who is hunted.
I mean that an interior man must insist on being always close to God as the only true state of his soul, and this forces him incessantly to hunt and drive himself inward to God’s presence in his interior consciousness.
The inner man’s proper place is with God. He always thinks and always yearns for it, and toward that union with God our Lord is ever driving and hunting him.