Souls that love God find their Paradise in the retired life, in which they have no communication with men. It brings no bitterness nor weariness to converse with God and to separate ourselves from creatures. His conversation has no bitterness, nor does His society bring weariness, but joy and gladness.1
Worldly people, with good reason, fly from solitude; because in solitude, where they are not occupied with diversions or worldly business, the remorse of conscience makes itself felt more acutely in their hearts; and therefore such persons seek to relieve themselves, or at least to distract their thoughts, by conversing with men; but the more they study to relieve themselves among men, and in the midst of worldly affairs, the more they encounter thorns and bitter disappointments.
To the lovers of God this does not happen, because in their retirement they find a sweet companion, who comforts them and makes them glad, more than the company of all their friends or relatives, or of the highest personages of the earth. St. Bernard said, “I am never less alone than when alone2—never less alone than when far from men; for then I find God who speaks to me, and then I find myself more ready to listen to him, and more prepared to attach myself to him.” Our Saviour desired that his disciples, although he had destined them to propagate the faith by journeying through the whole world, from time to time should leave their labors, and retire to solitude, to commune with God alone. Besides, let us remember that Jesus Christ, from the time when he began to live with the world, was wont to send them into the different parts of Judea, that they might convert sinners; but, after their labors, he did not cease to call them to retire to some solitary place, saying to them, Come ye apart to a desert, and rest a while; for those who came and returned were many, and the disciples had no time to eat.3
If our Lord said, even to the Apostles, “Rest a while,” it is indeed necessary for all holy laborers to retire, from time to time, into solitude, to preserve their recollectedness with God, and to obtain strength to labor with greater vigor for the salvation of souls.
He that labors for his neighbor but with little zeal, and with little love towards God, retaining some object dictated by self-love, and seeking to gain honor or wealth, does little for the gaining of souls. Therefore our Lord says to his workmen, “Rest a little while.” Certainly Jesus Christ did not mean by this expression that the Apostles were to set themselves to slumber, but that they should repose in holding communion with God, in praying to him for the graces necessary for living well, and thus should gain strength for conducting the salvation of souls, for without this rest with God in prayer, strength fails for laboring rightly to our own benefit, and to the profit of others.
St. Laurence Justinian wisely remarks, when speaking of the retired life, that it is to be always loved, but not always possessed; meaning to say that they who are called by God to the conversion of sinners must not remain always in solitude shut up in a cell, for they would fail of their divine calling, to obey which, when it is God who calls them, they must leave their retirement; yet they should never cease to love and to sigh for solitude, whenever God makes it more easy for them to find it.
O my Jesus! I have loved solitude little, because I have loved Thee little. I have gone about seeking pleasures and refreshment from creatures who have made me lose Thee, the infinite good. Miserable I am, that for so many years I have kept my heart distracted, thinking only of the good things. of earth, and forgetting Thee. Oh, take Thou this heart of mine, since Thou hast bought it with Thy blood; inflame it with Thy love, and possess it for Thine own. O Mary, Queen of Heaven! thou canst obtain for me this grace; from thee I hope for it.
1“Non enim habet amaritudinem conversatio illius, nec tædium convictus illius, sed lætitiam et gaudium.” -- Wis. viii. 16.
2Nunquam minus solus, quam cum solus.
3“Et ait illis: Venite seorsum in desertum locum, et requiescite pusillum.” -- Mark, vi. 31.