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Him. His is not a mercenary love which
regards the value of the gift, but it is that true
and perfect love, which is the union of hearts.
This, as St. Bernard says, is when God and the
soul speak in accord. For if the Almighty

Letter XXII I43

threaten or punish me, I must not do the like
to Him, but, when He manifests His power,
humble myself the more. But if He give me
His love, I am bound to return it, crying with
the Spouse: " My beloved to me and I to him."

What an honour for the creature to be united
to its Creator in such a bond of mutual love;
this indeed is what Isaias tells us " levels
mountains and raises valleys," (XL. 4.) Offer
your heart to Christ, Whose tender mercy for
us led Him, though the infinite God, to become
a man, nay an infant, and Who, not satisfied
with shedding tears when He was born, eight
days after shed His Blood for us.

Since you so entirely belong to our Lord, do
not rob Him of yourself, lest you be found
among those of whom the prophet Jeremias
says: "They walked in their own will and in
the perversity of their own wicked heart."
(VII. 24.) To whom else should you give
yourself .f^ Where else would you be better off.''
How can you exalt yourself more highly than
by loving Jesus, Who loved you and washed
you in His Blood, and Who gives Himself to
those who desire Him, making them from men
to become as gods.^^

Be careful then, to offer gold to the Infant
Jesus. For as a little gold is worth more than
a great quantity of the baser metals, so a little
gold of true love is far more precious than all
the copper of fear and self-interest, with the
actions springing from them. Many people

144 Blessed John of Avila

value themselves in proportion to the number
of their good works, forgetting that God cares
more for the motive of our actions than for
their quantity, and that far fewer works would
be better pleasing to Him, were they accom-
panied by warmer love. With love, a small
alms, or a fast from one meal only, will content
Him better than much greater austerities and
gifts without it. So the widow who gave her
two mites pleased Him better than many who
gave far more, because of her truer love.
God's greatness appears in this, that no service,
however great counts for much before Him, if
not rendered with the whole heart. For why
should He, Who has need of nothing, and
Who cannot increase in riches or in any other
good, care for aught that can be given to Him,
except for the love of the giver, which is
so precious a present that none can rightly
refuse it.'^ This gift God desires so strongly,
that He punishes all with eternal death who
withhold it from Him. Who can be so little
covetous as He Who has no need of anything
we can offer Him.'' or who is there that longs
for our hearts as keenly as God does, seeing
that He sends to hell those who refuse them to
Him.'' Even if we love Him, He is not
contented unless we prefer Him above all else.
St. Augustine cried: "Lord, Thou commandest
me to love Thee, and dost threaten me with
misery unless I do so!" Let your chief care
be to love our Lord. It is for this He made

Letter XXII 145

Himself so little, for the more He dissembles
His Majesty, the more He shows us His
goodness and thus invites our love, which we
are more drawn to give Him in the littleness
which He took upon Him, than in the majesty
which is His own. His wisdom was hidden
when He became an infant without power of
speech; His power appeared as if bound by the
swaddling-clothes, as He lay upon the hay,
suffering from the bitter cold. All this He did,
because the more He hid His other attributes,
the more He manifested His tenderness for us,
so that we might love Him the better for what
He endured for us. For, surely, when we see
Him tremble with cold, it draws our hearts to
Him more than if we saw Him warmly clad,
and free from suffering. Therefore, if we
refuse our hearts to the divine Babe Whose
devotion to us cost Him so dear, we shall have
a heavy fine to pay. He who gives his affections
to God, offers what David terms " the holocaust
with its marrow;" for as fire consumes the
whole sacrificial victim, so does love consume
the whole man, both within and without, and
its flames do not leave unburnt the straws of
exterior vanities. How can he whose heart is
given to the Infant Jesus, bring himself to care
for pomp and show.'' for those who love grow
to resemble one another. Since God bestowed
on us such a favour in coming down to show
Himself to us as our way, let us travel to
heaven in His footsteps, Who is the Truth, and

1 46 Blessed "John of Avila

not run in the treacherous path of the world,
which would lead us to hell. Let our holocaust
contain marrow, which is soft and quickly
melted, like the heart given to God, which
should have nothing hard or sharp in it towards
either Him or its neighbours. And as the
marrow is protected from injury, first by the
skin, then by the flesh, and lastly is encased
within the hard bone itself, so should charity
be guarded by the devout soul at the risk of
losing all it possesses; and the will, hard as the
bone, should resolutely defend, at any cost, its
love for our Lord.

Such must be the gold you oflFer to the
Infant, Who chose to be born so poor. Open
then, your caskets, as did the Magi; for if your
heart, which is your treasure-house, be kept shut,
all your labour is lost. All else is not gold but
tinsel, and you would keep the best for yourself,
and give our Lord the worst. Open your
heart then, and place in it the new-born Infant,
for without Him it cannot be said to live. He
is not a burden; hold Him then fast to your
breast as the Spouse did her " bundle of myrrh."
(Cant. I. 12.) Treat Him with all reverence,
for He is your God; yet you may dare to speak
to Him, for He is a child, and is as sweet and
gentle as He looks. Beware lest you let Him
go, for it requires great care to keep Him.
You must love Him dearly, or you will either
forget Him, or He will weary you. Do not
rest until you feel sure of your love for one

Letter XXllI 147

another. Until the soul knows this, she lives
in fear and sadness beneath the weight of the
Law, but when once she realises that God
dwells in her, and she in Him, there is little
that can trouble her. May this be accomplished
in you. Amen.

lettet xxiii '


May God bless you during this Lent, and grant
that you may receive the ashes upon your
forehead at the beginning of this holy season
with such fitting dispositions as to constantly
preserve that holy humility in your heart which
they betoken. He to whom God gives light
to understand and to sorrow for the state he
was in while he lived apart from his Creator, is
delivered from the fatal blindness of pride, and
is made capable of receiving all fitting spiritual
graces. The Holy Scriptures say: "Pride is
the beginning of all sin : he that holdeth it shall
be filled with maledictions, (Ecclus. XL 15.)
that is to say, "vices." For as a king is
rarely seen alone, so, many other sins usually
accompany pride, and neither does humility
keep solitary state; for, as St. James tells us
(IV. 6.): "God giveth grace to the humble,"
and grace is the mother of all the virtues.

148 Blessed John of Avila

Pride seeks after honours and is grieved when
it is despised; humility is averse to being treated
well and rejoices in contempt, which it knows
that it deserves, and its own uprightness renders
it desirous that justice should be done. Pride
never has what it wants, for whatever it possesses,
or has given to it, it considers that it deserves
still more; while humility always thinks it has
more than enough, for it believes that it is
unworthy to walk the earth, and that hell itself
is not sufficient punishment for its sins. Pride
can live in peace with no one, not even with
itself, while humility agrees with all men, for it
abases itself before everyone and bears patiently
with them, believing with all its heart that they
are better than itself. Pride finds it insup-
portable to submit to others, whether to God,
or a mortal creature, but humility gives way
and bows down, so that it is able to pass through
the " narrow gate " of obeying the will of God
and man.

Great are the blessings which come to us
with the ashes of humility; let no man be
without it, lest he be without God also, for, as
St. Augustine exclaims: "Behold how high
Thou art, O Lord, and yet dost dwell with the
lowly of heart!" The prophet also says: "To
whom shall I have respect but to him that is
poor and little, and that trembleth at my words .f^ "
(Isaias, LXVI. 2.) Humility, which makes
a man think basely of himself, is yet no base
thing, nor is it a fruit which springs from this

Letter XXIII 149

earth, but grows in heaven. God bestows it on
those who search deeply in the mire of their
own souls, and diligently turn over in their
minds the remembrance of their sins and
frailties, for it is among such needs and miseries
that this precious jewel is usually discovered.
Our frequent errors have given us so many
transgressions to examine into and to repent of,
that, unless he wilfully turn away his eyes from
himself, there is no man who will not see ample
reasons not only to be humbled, but to be
confounded, at his own imperfections. Woe
be to us if we be one of .those of whom God
says: "Thou hadst a harlot's forehead, thou
wouldst not blush:" (Jerem. III. 3.) or again,
speaking of others : " They were not confounded
with confusion." (Jerem. VI. 15.) For what
can be more revolting than to meet with
insolence in one who should be filled with
shame? Who dare lift his eyes to God or to
His creatures, if he consider how he has offended
against them both.f^ Is there one among us who
has not failed in the perfect love of God.'' for
we do not love Him with all our understanding
and with all our mind but by believing His word
implicitly and by devoting all our wishes,
thoughts and purposes to serving Him more
fervently. He who loves Him with his whole
heart gives no part of it either to himself
or other men, loving none save for God, and in
God, and so renouncing all self-interest as to
love God purely for His own sake. Let each

150 Blessed John of Avila

one think how little he has mortified his passions,
and how he resists the reign of God's love
within him, and he will see that he does not
love God with all his soul. Our Lord commands
us to love Him with all our strength, and
indeed we ought to beg His pardon for our
weakness in this respect; our energies are given
to our own interests, and the concupiscence
which dwells within us makes us fail to serve
God diligently, and love Him fervently. Saint
Augustine says that, as charity grows, concu-
piscence diminishes, and that no evil desires
can exist with perfect charity. By the word
"desires," he means the immoderate self-love
we all bear towards ourselves. Now, as, with
the exception of Jesus Christ our Lord, and
His most holy Mother, no member of the race
of Adam has ever been altogether without
some degree of this inordinate self-love, so
none but they have ever been perfect in divine
love. If selfishness has killed the love of God,
then we are in a state of mortal sin ; while if the
love of God lives and reigns in our souls, making
them resolute not to offend Him mortally, they
are in a state of grace. If, however, self and
creatures usurp an undue place in our affections,
our charity is not perfect. Our works are im-
perfect if this virtue is defective, since it is that
which gives them life. When we do not love
God as we should, we are wanting also in the
love of our neighbours, for we neither feel
compassion for the sorrow nor joy at the

Letter XXIII 151

happiness of those who are very near and dear
to Godj and who were made His adopted
children in Baptism. We do not behave towards
them with due charity, because we are imperfect
in our love for Him Who said: "As long as
you did it to one of these my least brethren,
you did it to me." (St. Matth. XXV. 40.)

Although many of our actions may be not
only free from sin, but good in themselves, and,
being done in a state of grace, may merit eternal
life, yet for want of this two-fold charity, which
is the root of all good, these works may have
many defects. If you would be truthful and
humble, you must give God glory for all the
good you do, and thank Him for having aided
your free-will to choose rightly, and for giving
you the power to merit by using the grace He
has mercifully bestowed on you. Nevertheless,
you must examine the faults you have committed
in these actions, for it is safer to think of our
failings than of our virtues. Be sure that,
however strict your search may be, enough evil
will still escape your notice to give you cause
to cry with contrition to God: "From my
secret sins cleanse me, O Lord." (Ps. XVIII. 14.)
This is the reason that we do not love our
neighbours in the way God wishes, nor as much
as He desires, and that we do not bear patiently
with them and try to avoid annoying them.
In fact, this is the origin of all the shortcomings
which pollute our soul like a festering wound.
Our sins are greater than the human intellect

152 Blessed John of Avila

can realise, and only our Creator, who sees to
the bottom of our heart, knows all its weakness;
for often that which seems perfect to us is very-
evil in His sight.

Therefore, as Job says, we should " fear all
our works," (IX. 28.) and however right they
may seem to us, we must not be contented with
them, nor allow ourselves a secret complacency
in them. The self-contented conscience does
not content God; and that man alone is just
before Him, who knows that all justice and
grace proceed from the divine mercy. Nothing
so offends its Creator as a self-satisfied heart,
because it contains no empty vessel into which
He can pour the riches of His mercy. It will
remain in its natural poverty, for it can offer no
place into which the waters of grace may flow,
to make it live happily with God, and bring
forth much fruit, like a well-watered garden.

All things that we possess proceed from God,
and if anyone thinks he can so much as say
"the Lord Jesus!" of his own power, he puts
himself in God's place, for he attributes to
himself what his Creator alone can do. God
gives Himself to us on the condition that we
confess the truth, that in Him and from Him,
and not from ourselves, comes all that we have.
The greater the good we possess, the deeper is
our debt towards the Almighty, and the stronger
reason have we to blame ourselves for not
corresponding to such signal mercies by more
generous service, and to greater graces with

Letter XXIII 153

a warmer gratitude. He who is taught by-
divine truth attributes nought to himself save
his sins and his own nothingness. If all that
God gave us at our creation, and which by
His power He daily sustains, were withdrawn
from us, there would remain only nothingness
and we should return to the nothingness from
which we were formed. And if God took
from us the grace which He bestows on us for
the sake of Jesus Christ, what would the most
holy amongst us be, but what Peter was when
he denied our Lord, or Paul when he persecuted
his Redeemer? We know but too well what
we were before God touched our souls, and
taking from us our old hearts gave us new
ones in their stead.

Justification is nothing but the resurrection
of a soul which was dead in sin, and henceforth
exists by the life which God infuses into it
through the death of His Blessed Son. It
would be madness if the body attributed its
animation and power of motion to itself and
not to the spirit which dwells in it and quickens
it; and the soul is as blind which thinks that its
good works come from its own abilities, and
not from the supernatural life divinely bestowed
on it. Sometimes such presumption draws
down chastisement from heaven, and the gifts
possessed by the soul are withdrawn, so that it
finds itself unable to see, to hear, to take
pleasure in religious matters, or to perform the
good actions it was wont to do. Thus the

154 Blessed yohn of Avila

Christian soul discovers that it was another
Being Who gave it the spiritual life which it
did but receive, and that without the grace of
Jesus Christ it is like a corpse from which
animation has fled. You see, then, my friend,
that your defects are all you can attribute to
yourself, for you possess nothing else of your
own. If our Lord afflict you, think how weak
and faulty you must be, to show so little
resignation at His just punishment. If He
send you consolations, be confused at the want
of humility you manifest in the way you accept
them, for the more God honours you and
treats you as if you were righteous, the more
should you abase yourself, and be ashamed of
your short-comings. Remember how little you
profit by the inspirations and promptings you
receive from God, and how often, when He
urges you again and again to do something for
Him, you forget His wish almost at once, and
do not carry it out. Surely His every word
should remain imprinted in your memory for
life, without need for Him to repeat it. Think
how often your faulty heart lets the precious
grace which our Lord pours into it become
wasted, instead of carefully preserving It.

When God gives us spiritual sweetness, we
should prepare our souls to receive it again by
withdrawing more from earthly joys, and by
keeping our minds closed against them and
more recollected and given to God; yet it
sometimes happens that these very graces only

Letter XXIII 155

cause our souls to be more given to external
things than ever, because of the levity of our
natures. An examination of our failings must
make us confess that we do nothing well, and
that we have more cause to blush for the many
defects in all our actions, than to think for
a moment that we have done anything praise-

If a page does not show due respect to the
king he waits on, if he answers not immediately
when he is spoken to, or if he be slow in
delivering any message, he will certainly be
punished. So too, those we serve are not
content at our merely doing their bidding, but,
unless we do it well, we shall be blamed and
disgraced. Which of us can say that he treats
God with the reverence He deserves.'' Or
whose soul trembles within him while he adores
that ineffable Majesty as, we are told in the
holy Mass, "the Powers tremble.''" Where
is the shame we should feel before that infinite
Wisdom, Who knows what we are, and sees all
that is within us.'' Where can obedience be
found such as needs no second bidding.'' Where
a prudence that shows the soul how best to
serve and please the Almighty.'' Have Christians
a fitting gratitude for His numberless and
unspeakable benefits, or do they give such a
mighty God and Master that service of soul
and body which is His due.'' If any one truth-
fully judge himself, he will see how deeply sunk
he is in sin and misery. At night when the

156 Blessed John of Avila

time comes to examine his conscience as to the
actions of the past day, he will find that all his
words and works, his thoughts and deeds, are
full of faults, and that he has left undone much
good that he might have done, because he has
not rightly loved God or his neighbour; he
will recognise his ingratitude towards God, and
his impatience in bearing with others; and he
will discover that he has omitted to practise
innumerable other virtues. If, by the divine
help, he have performed any good works, they
are either stained with pride, vain glory, or
tepidity, or he has not fully corresponded to
divine grace. In short, God's light will show
him a thousand blemishes in his conduct, and
he will feel sure that there are as many more
he has failed to discover; understanding the
weakness of his nature, he will suspect that he
knows not half the worst. The humble Christian
thinks his own wickedness as inconceivable as
is God's goodness. Should any divine favours
be shown him, far from attributing them to any
merit of his own, he blames himself for not
corresponding to them, and profiting by them
as he ought. Thus he sincerely gives God his
due, which is all that he possesses which is
good and unsullied by any admixture of evil.
Convinced of this truth, as revealed by God
Himself, the lowly spirit rising above itself,
ceases to depend upon such a broken reed as
itself and leans for support on Him Who
upholds all things. Looking within his soul,

Letter XXIII 157

the Christian sees cause only for repentance,
and so lifts his eyes to his Creator, in Whose
loving kindness he can trust without fear of
being forsaken. God is so faithful that He
never abandons those who have recourse to
Him; His love is so tender that far sooner
will the sea run dry, or the sun cease shining,
than the heavenly Father lack pity for His own.
Therefore do they run and fly because God
carries them; they stumble not, for He upholds
them; they err not, for He is their guide, and
never will they be condemned, for He gives
His kingdom to those who " become as little

Take heed to yourself then, since our Lord
so urgently demands it of you ; give glory to
God for what is praiseworthy, but impute to
yourself all that deserves blame and dishonour.
Place all your hopes of perseverance in the right
way in our Lord, Who did not set you in it
with the intention of deserting you half way,
but seeks to lead you by it into the company of
His spouses in Paradise. There He will heap
honours upon you, so do not seek for honours
here. With a celestial feast in prospect, you
should not satiate yourself with the filth of this
world : nothing can please the palate which has
once tasted of that heavenly banquet. Turn
away from all that you will so soon be forced to
leave, and set not your heart on aught so transi-
tory. You would be bearing little enough for
God, if you alone had to endure all possible

158 Blessed "John of Avila

sufFerings. Think of the hell your sins have
deserved, and of the Paradise our Lord means
you to enjoy, since He has put you in the road
that leads to It. Contemplate the pains Christ
bore for your sake, and you will deem all that
you do or may suffer for Him unworthy of a
second thought. God should be so precious to
you that nothing He costs you should seem
worth considering ; even If you purchased Him
with your life, so small a price should count as
nothing. In Heaven you will realise what an
advantageous exchange you made, and how
foolish those poor wretches were who set their
hearts on the transitory good, and gave them-
selves up to pleasure, oblivious of God*s
promises. What fervent thanks you will render
to Divine Providence, for having enlightened
you when you were deceived as they are, and
drawn your thoughts above this earth. You were
the slave of vanity when our Heavenly Father
adopted you for His son : you were living
without thought of God's promised mercies,
when He placed you where you now are, and
so gave you the right to trust that He will be
your succour both In life and in death.

Then after this exile is ended, He will set
you In the land of the living, in the clear
fruition of the Beatific Vision. What your joy
will be God alone can tell, as He alone is able
and willing to bestow It. This will He do, not
for your own merits but because " He is good, for
His mercy endureth for ever, " (Ps. CV. i .) and

Letter XXIV 159

to him be glory and praise for all, and from all,
and in all, for ever and ever. Amen.

Letter jcrto


God grant you to realise the happiness of
Whitsuntide, not only by hearsay, but by
experiencing in your heart what was felt by
Christ's faithful servants assembled in the
Cenacle, when the Holy Ghost was poured
into their souls. He so strengthened their
weakness, enlightened their ignorance, and filled
them with joy, that all could see that our
Lord's Blood had not been shed in vain, but
had gained them, through His prayers, a par-
ticipation in the divine nature. When they
felt themselves thus transformed by grace, and
saw how wonderfully God loved them, they
had such an ardent love for Him, that they
sang forth praises to Christ their Lord and
Master, for having, as God, sent them this gift,
which, as Man, He had earned for them. They
remembered His promise that the Holy Ghost
would come to make Him known, and bear
testimony of Him to the disciples and the

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