St. Gregory wrote, “What does the solitude of the body profit if the solitude of the heart is not there?”1 In the preceding chapter we have seen how much solitude assists towards a recollectedness of mind; but St. Gregory says that it profits us little or nothing to be with the body in a solitary place, while the heart is full of worldly thoughts and affections. That a soul may be wholly given to God, two things are necessary: the first is, to detach ourselves from the love of every created thing; the second is, to consecrate all our love to God; and this is implied in true solitude of the heart.
We must, then, in the first place, detach our heart from every earthly affection. St. Francis de Sales said: “If I knew that I had a single fibre in my heart which was not given to God, I would instantly pluck it out.” If we do not purify and strip the heart of everything earthly, the love of God cannot enter in and possess it all. God would reign with his love in our heart, but he would reign there alone; he will have no companions to rob him of a portion of that affection which he justly claims to have all his own.
Some souls lament that, in all their devout exercises, in meditations, Communions, spiritual readings, visits to the blessed Sacrament, they do not find God, and know not what means to apply themselves to in order to find him. To these St. Teresa suggests the right means when she says, “Detach thy heart from all created things, and seek God, and thou shalt find him.”
Many persons, in order to separate themselves from creatures, and to converse with God alone, cannot go to live in deserts, as they would wish; but we must remember that deserts and caves are not necessary in order to enjoy the solitude of the heart. Those who, from necessity, are obliged to converse with the world, whenever their hearts are free from worldly attachments, even in the public streets, in places of resort, and public assemblies, can possess a solitude of heart, and continue united with God. All those occupations which we undertake in order to fulfil the divine will have no power to prevent the solitude of the heart. St. Catharine of Sienna truly found God in the midst of the household labors in which her parents kept her employed in order to draw her from devotional exercises; but in the midst of these affairs she preserved a retirement in her heart, which she called her cell, and there ceased not to converse alone with God.
Be still, and see that I am God.2 In order to possess that divine light which enables us to know the goodness of God, the knowledge of which draws to itself all the affections of our heart, we must be empty, and separate from us the earthly attachments that hinder us from knowing God. As a crystal vase, when it is filled with sand, cannot receive the light of the sun, so a heart which is attached to riches, worldly honors, or sensual pleasures cannot receive the divine light; and, not knowing God, it does not love him. In every condition in which a man is placed by God, in order that creatures may not draw him from God, it is necessary that he give attention to perform his duties according to the pleasure of God, and then in everything else let him act as if there were no other beings in existence except himself and God.
We must detach ourselves from everything, and especially from ourselves, by continually thwarting our self-love. For example, a certain thing pleases us; we must leave it for the very reason that it pleases us. A certain person has injured us; we must do him good for this very reason. In a word, we must desire and not desire, exactly as God desires or does not desire, without inclination to any one thing; because we do not know that what we ourselves wish is the will of God.
Oh, how easily is God found by every one who detaches himself from creatures in order to find him! The Lord is good to the soul that seeks Him.3 St. Francis de Sales wrote, “The pure love of God consumes every thing that is not God, in order to convert everything into itself.” We must, therefore, offer ourselves as an inclosed garden, as the holy spouse in the Canticles is called by God, My sister, my spouse, is an inclosed garden.4 The soul that keeps its door shut against earthly affections is called an inclosed garden. It is God who has given us everything that we have, and it is right that he should require of us all our love. When, then, any creature would enter and take up a portion of our love, we must altogether deny it an entrance, and, turning to our greatest good, we must say, with all our heart, “What have I in heaven, and what have I desired upon earth, but Thee, O God of my heart, and my portion forever?” “O my God! what but Thyself can satisfy my soul? No; except Thee I desire nothing either in heaven or on earth; Thou alone art sufficient for me, O God of my heart, and my portion forever!”
Oh! happy is he who can say, “I have despised the kingdom of the world, and all the glory of the time, for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ.”5 Truly, that great servant of God, Sister Margaret of the Cross, the daughter of the Emperor Maximilian II , could say this, when, at her profession, she stripped herself of her rich garments and gems, to clothe herself in the poor woolen habit of the Barefooted Nuns of the Strict Rule of St. Clare; and when, as the author of her life relates, she cast them away with a contempt that moved to tears of devotion all who were present at the function.
O my Jesus! for myself I do not desire that creatures should have any part in my heart; Thou must be my only Lord, by possessing it altogether. Let others seek the delights and grandeurs of this life; Thou alone, both in the present and future life, must be my only portion, my only good, my only love. And, as Thou lovest me, as I see by all the signs Thou givest me, help me to detach myself from everything that can draw me from Thy love. Grant that my soul may be all taken up with pleasing Thee, as the only object of all my affections. Take possession of all my heart; I would be no longer my own. Do Thou rule me, and make me ready to follow out all Thy will. O Mary, Mother of God! in thee I trust; thy prayers can make me belong wholly to Jesus.
1“Quid prodest solitude corporis, si solitude defuerit cordis?” -- Mor. l. 30, c. 23.
2“Vacate, et videte quoniam ego sum Deus.” -- Ps. xlv. 11.
3“Bonus est Dominus . . . animæ quærenti illum.” -- Lam. iii. 25.
4“Hortus conclusus soror mea Sponsa.” -- Cant. iv. 12.
5Regnum mundi et omnem ornatum sæculi contempsi, propter amorem Domini mei Jesu Christi.