Disillusionment With Divine Things

Father Benson notes: “The next stage of Purgation lies in what may be called, in a sense, the Disillusionment with Divine things. The earthly side has failed her, or rather has fallen off from the reality; now it begins to seem to her as if the Divine side failed her too.”

“A brilliant phrase of Faber well describes one element in this Disillusionment—the ‘monotony of Piety.’ There comes a time sooner or later when not only do the external things of religion—music, art, liturgy—or the external things of earthly life—the companionship of friends, conversation, business relations—things which at the beginning of the Divine Friendship seemed radiant with Christ’s love—begin to wear thin; but the very heart and essence of them begin to fail also. For example, the actual exercise of prayer becomes wearisome; the thrill of meditation, so exquisite at first, when every meditation was a looking into the eyes of Jesus, begins to cease its vibrations. The sacraments . . . become wearisome and monotonous.”

“Or she sets her heart, let us say, on some grace or favour, some positive virtue which she knows it must be her Friend’s will to confer upon her; she prays, she agonizes, she strives, she pleads—and there is no voice nor any that answers. Her temptations are what they have ever been; her human nature, she perceives, after all is unchanged. She had thought that her newly formed friendship with Christ altered once and for all her old self, together with her relations with him; and, behold! she is the same as ever. . . . It seems that, after all, He is no more to her than He had been before she knew Him so intimately.”

So goes the second stage in a soul’s development, a necessary step on the way to her greatest happiness . . .

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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The Way of Purgation Begins

Father Benson observes: “Often, the first sign that the Way of Purgation has been really entered, lies in a consciousness that there is beginning for her an experience which the world calls Disillusionment. It may come in a dozen different ways.”

“She may, for example, be brought face to face with some catastrophe in external matters. She may meet with an unworthy priest, a disunited congregation, some scandal in Christian life, in exactly that sphere where Christ seemed to her evidently supreme. She had thought that the Church must be perfect, because it was the Church of Christ, or the priesthood stainless because it was after the Order of Melchisedech; and she finds to her dismay that there is a human side even to those things that are most associated with Divinity on earth.”

“Or it comes to her, perhaps, in forms of worship. The novelty begins to wear off, and the sweetness of familiarity has not yet had time to form; and she finds that those very things which had seemed to her to be the most directly connected with her new Friend are in themselves external, temporary and transitory. Her love for Christ was so great as to have gilded over all those exterior matters which He and she had in common; now the gilding begins to wear thin.”

“This then is usually the first stage of Purgation; she becomes disillusioned with human things, and finds that however Christian they may be, they are not, after all, Christ.”

“If she is, after all, but a superficial kind of soul, she will lose her Friendship with Christ (such as it was), together with those little gifts and enticements of His with which He wooed and pleased her. There are wandering souls in the world who have failed under this test; who have mistaken human romance for an internal love, who have turned back again from Christ so soon as He has put off His ornaments. But if she be stronger than this, she will have learned her first lesson—that Divinity is not in these earthly things, that the love of Christ is a deeper thing than the mere presents He makes to His new friends.”

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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How Friendship With Christ Progresses

Father Robert Hugh Benson discusses in detail the process whereby a person grows in friendship with Christ. He observes: “The initial stage of the Friendship formed with Jesus Christ is usually one of extraordinary happiness. For the soul has found for the first time a companion whose sympathy is perfect and whose Presence is continuous. It is not, necessarily, that the soul consciously attends every instant to this new intimate, so much as that she is never wholly unconscious of Him. As she goes about her ordinary business, paying to each detail of it as much attention as ever, the fact that He is present within her is never entirely forgotten: He is there as is the sunlight or the air, illuminating, freshening and inspiring all that she experiences. From time to time she turns to Him with a word or two; at times He speaks gently to her. She views all that she sees from His standpoint, or rather from her standpoint in Him; lovely things are more lovely because of His loveliness; painful things are less distressing because of His consolation.”

“Yet this is only the initial stage of the process; and it is sweet largely because it is new. Certainly she has experienced a tremendous fact, yet so far she has but just entered upon it. There outstretches before her a road that ends only in the Beatific Vision; but there are countless stages to be passed before that end is attained.”

“For the Friendship, as so formed, is not an end in itself. . . . The soul herself must be educated, must be purified and cleansed so perfectly as to be united with Him by nothing except His grace. She must be first purged and then illuminated. . . . These two stages are named by spiritual writers, the Way of Purgation and the Way of Illumination, respectively.”

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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Hoping for More Than We Deserve

Father Frassinetti asks: “Are you only to expect from our Lord what you deserve to have? Is this to be our hope—that God will treat us according to our own merits? . . . If God were to treat us as we deserve, should we not be all lost?”

“We ought to hope after the manner in which we ought to pray. . . . To pray to God that He would treat us according to our deserts is equivalent to praying that He would abandon us to our own wickedness, and precipitate us into the infernal abyss. . . . Such a hope would not be hope, but despair. Even the greatest saints in paradise, if they had been dealt with according to their own merits—what would have become of them? Where would they be? God treated them according to the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, who redeemed them by His Precious Blood; and in this way they have come to be great saints in heaven. We in like manner ought to hope, and steadfastly to hope, that He will deign to treat us also according to these infinite merits, which are greater than the magnitude of our sins—greater than all our ingratitude and unfaithfulness.”

“Be truly penitent for your many sins, your ingratitude, and your unfaithfulness, keeping strict watch over yourself for the future; and then these sins and imperfections will not hinder Almighty God from granting you the grace of the sanctity you desire, which was merited for you by the infinite merits of His Incarnate Son, who died for you on the cross.”

“As a matter of fact, how many great saints, now venerated on our altars, were at first great sinners? What the mercy and grace of God has accomplished in them can He not accomplish in you?”

“We come to this conclusion—that for no one—absolutely for no one—is the attainment of Christian perfection too difficult; such perfection, as we have already said, consisting in the perfect union of our wills with the Will of God.”

Quotations from Joseph Frassinetti, The Consolation of the Devout Soul, trans. Georgiana Lady Chatterton (London: Burns and Oates, 1876).

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Aim High

Should one expect from God the grace to become a saint? Ought not one be contented with the lowest place in Paradise?

Father Frassinetti advises: “If you ask anything of the Omnipotent God, ask something great. . . . Does it cost God more to give you a great grace than a small one? . . . If God desires that you should become holy, will it displease Him to bestow on you the necessary graces?”

St. Teresa of Avila in her Way of Perfection remarks: “Does it cost us anything, or prejudice our cause, to ask for much when we are asking it from the Omnipotent God? It would be a shame to us were we to ask a great and most liberal emperor for a farthing.”

Father Frassinetti adds: “Why, then, would you wish to be contented with the lowest place in Paradise? The soul that in Paradise will have the lowest place is the soul which will have done the least for the glory of God on earth, and consequently will give Him the least glory in heaven. Why, then, since you have the power of giving greater glory to God in time and in eternity, do you wish to be contented with giving Him less?”

“The soul that shall have the lowest place in Heaven will be fully satisfied with having gained that place, because in heaven there is no such thing as disappointment; but while we are in this world we ought not to rest satisfied with striving merely to gain the lowest place. Rather should we desire to gain a very high one by aiming at Christian perfection, in order to give our God the greater glory in time and in eternity.”

Quotations from Joseph Frassinetti, The Consolation of the Devout Soul, trans. Georgiana Lady Chatterton (London: Burns and Oates, 1876).

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Transforming the Mundane Into the Meritorious

Father Frassinetti shows how occupations belonging to one’s particular state of life are not impediments to, but rather, can greatly assist in, the attainment of moral perfection.

He writes: “Are the employments belonging to each state of life bad in themselves? Certainly not. Of course I am not supposing that you are engaged in sinful trades. Your occupations are in themselves indifferent, either business or study or manual labour; or perhaps you live on your income, and employ yourself in superintending the proper cultivation of your estates and the proper regulation of your rents, etc. These occupations are not in themselves holy; but neither are they bad. . . . Occupations and labours indifferent in themselves, when they are undertaken and carried on in and for the love of God, directed and offered up for His glory, become holy and meritorious.”

“You fancy that you lose time on the way to Paradise by attending your trade and keeping your accounts, by your daily labour or by regulating your family affairs. Certainly you may lose time in these and similar occupations, if you undertake them merely to gain human ends, without having any regard to the glory of God. But if, on the contrary, all your occupations are offered up to God from to time (it will be the best way to offer them daily), with the intention of doing all things for His glory, do they not at once become sanctified by that good intention, and most useful as a means to increase your love of God, and make you more deserving of Paradise? In this way will they not aid you in your progress towards Christian perfection?”

“All your works, and all the employments of your condition in life, may be made to help you most exceedingly for the good of your souls, for your growth in the love of God, and for your progress in Christian perfection.”

“If we would but do all for the love of God! If we would but direct all our actions to His glory! Then even those things which in themselves are, so to speak, but mud and stones, would be transformed into gold, into jewels of eternal life.”

Quotations from Joseph Frassinetti, The Consolation of the Devout Soul, trans. Georgiana Lady Chatterton (London: Burns and Oates, 1876).

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Perfection in Every State of Life

One might ask: “How can I become holy in the state of life in which I am placed? In the midst of the world, surrounded with perils, oppressed with cares for my family, obliged to work hard, to buy and sell, how can I give my mind to the attainment of Christian perfection?”

Father Frassinetti replies: “Hear what St. Alphonsus says in his Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ: ‘The monk should become holy as a monk, the layman as a layman, the priest as a priest, the married man in a state of marriage, the soldier while following his calling.’ And certainly, since God desires that all should become saints, He will give to all the necessary graces, that they may become holy in whatever state or condition of life they may be placed. Do not these various states of life exist in this world by the disposition of God’s providence?”

“Fear not; only have the will, and in spite of all your family cares and business, yes, in the midst of this world’s inevitable perils, you will attain Christian perfection, according to your state. I have already said that God, according to our needs, gives us His grace; and so true is it that each one, according to his state, may become holy, that St. Francis of Sales disapproves of those who, finding themselves employed in one condition of life, nourish the desire to enter upon another. Listen to his words: ‘I do not approve of those persons who, being attached to any given employment or vocation, persist in desiring any other kind of life not conformable to their office or occupation.’ In confirmation of this truth, we have before us the fact that among the saints who are venerated on our altars there are some of every condition and every state of life.”

Quotations from Joseph Frassinetti, The Consolation of the Devout Soul, trans. Georgiana Lady Chatterton (London: Burns and Oates, 1876).

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