Fiat voluntas tua. The soul has made its choice: the terrible choice between its personal well-being and subservience to the inscrutable necessities of God. "Not my will, but Thine": my will shall be transmuted into love, "as iron thrust in the fire takes on the semblance of the flame," that so it may be utterly remade in Thee. Wonderful though my separate life has seemed, enlightened by God, and full of opportunities for service, I give it back to Thee now; merge it in the movement of the All. This was the choice made in Gethsemane. Now, that choice is to be carried into action, to find expression in the concrete world of things.
If we have indeed dared to accept the Chalice of Life—of intensest life—which was there offered to us, we have accepted it with all its implications. How then is this choice to be actualised, how exhibited in the growing soul’s experience? How can we show our will’s surrender; and what gift shall we bring to prove the quality of our love?
Our surrender shall be exhibited by a total self-abandonment, a willing meek acceptance of the lowest place in that School of Perfect Resignation of which the mystics tell us: an acceptance of the commonplace and ignominious suffering which is so easily meted out to us by an inimical or an indifferent world. Our gift of love shall be our whole selves offered up to Him: body, soul, and spirit on the altar, where He has been before. We must go out from the quiet garden of prayer: from that place of dim fragrance where the lover can speak directly to the heart of Beloved. As the exultant hour of the Annunciation is followed on the spiral by a return to the homely courtesies of life, so the sacred moment of heroic choice in which the sorrowful way opens before us, is followed closely by the hardest of all mortifications; a throw-back, not to sublime and spiritual suffering, but to the coarse and common pains of earth. Here it is that the true worth of our surrender shall indeed be tested. Here we have the opportunity to prove our love. We are to make an oblation of our very bodies’ dignity and reticence: ceding to Him the strong outposts of the citadel of pride. We are to make an oblation of all separateness and selfhood, whether manifested by body, soul, or spirit, to that stern "Acceptor of Sacrifices" who is yet our Father and our Friend.
Should not the growing soul be grateful for these purifying torments here offered to it—for the Scourge, the Thorns, and the Cross? Is it not a part of the unmeasured Divine generosity, that these, the instruments of His Eternal Passion, are freely given to those littlest ones who follow in the way? So much has been given to us; so great a confidence reposed in us, and yet we have fallen so bitterly short of the fullness of the stature of Christ. Surely we are willing to pay for this by a contrition expressed in true penance?—to take our share in "the unimaginable disappointment of God"? Surely needful was this opportunity of pain. Threefold are the roots of imperfection within us. Threefold too must be the purifications wrought in us by these mysteries of sorrow; and here, we stand at the threshold of the first.
The secret ordeal of Gethsemane was but the annunciation of the trials of the adventuring spirit. The life which it elected in that hour of solemn choice is not to be made easy, for it is not, as the Quietists thought, "One Act." Its manhood must be tested in the open, by the mockery, the insults, the unmeaning cruelties of the self-satisfied and imperceptive crowd. With none of the high circumstances of the martyrs—rather as one who has been a nuisance to his kind—the soul goes now to the pillar of utmost self-abasement. There, bound and helpless, exposed in its nakedness to the sharp lashes of earthly opinion, the victim of any who may turn against it—there shall the Christian who lays claim to the mystical fellowship of Jesus first exhibit his generosity, his constancy, his courage: there, down there in the turmoil, the squalor, the hubbub of daily life, where only the man of action is a hero, and the God-intoxicated seer at best a fool.
The whips of the world have always fallen sharply about the limbs of the world’s saviours: and each finite soul in whom Christ is brought to birth—who feels the entincturing madness of His heavenly love—participates according to its measure in that great business of salvation; has a part in His redemptive office, helps to fill up the measure of the fullness of God.
We too—though the secret flame within us burns feebly—yet bring to these brothers of ours all that we can tell of the good news of the Kingdom of Reality, the mystery of more abundant life; and most often they meet our exultant tidings with the scourge of their indifference and contempt. We announce to them their royal lineage, and they put upon our head the thorny crown of an insulting tolerance. The helping hands, the willing pilgrim feet are often pierced by them, the self-giving heart is wounded by their scorn. The pains of Christ are felt thus in all His members. They are a veritable part of the pageant of His glory, and only by suffering can we prove our real participation in this His life. A voice comes to us out of the darkness, as we tread the way we think so hard and steep : "O all ye that pass by, behold and see, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." What is your little grief and disappointment beside the sorrow wherewith I am filled? I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness I have sought you, bringing to your souls the tincture of Eternal Life. I have shown you that life in action, its actual growth towards God. I have not kept my secret to myself. That which I do, I do it in the name of all the race; freely I have received, freely I give. But you have made loneliness my portion; you have cut me off from amongst the sons of men. The bridge that I have built that you might walk thereon, you have deliberately broken down. I would have fed you with My Substance, and you have cast the Bread of Life away. Ego te pavi manna per desertum; et tu me cecidisti alapis et flagellis.
|“I fed thee with manna in the desert; and thou hast beaten Me with buffet and scourge.” (Roman Missal: Office for Good Friday.)
It is the voice of the Lord and Lover of men, heard behind the ceaseless noises of the earth-life, sorrowing as He passes amongst us unrecognised and alone. Shall we refuse to follow where He treads? Shall not we too bear on our bodies His livery; receiving for the mystic food we offer the buffet and the scourge? Shall we not elect to stand beside Him, bound to the immovable pillar of the world’s prejudice, patient under the pitiless lash of its curiosity, its astonishment, its contempt? Here is our great opportunity of love, great chance of generosity of an actual sharing in the life of God.
"A man once thought," says Tauler, "that God drew some men even by pleasant paths, while others were drawn by the paths of pain. Our Lord answered him thus, ‘What think ye can be pleasanter or nobler than to be made most like unto Me? that is by suffering. Mark, to whom was ever offered such a painful and troubled life as to Me? And in whom can I better work, in accordance with My true nobility, than in those who are most like Me? They are the men who suffer. No man ever suffered so bitterly as I; and yet no man was ever so pure as I. When was I more mocked than when I was most glorifying My Heavenly Father? Learn that My Divine Nature never worked so nobly in human nature as by suffering; and because suffering is so efficacious, it is sent out of great love.’"
Yet a mighty exultation, a joy untasted by those who only know the smooth side of the world, waits on the willing sufferer with and for Christ. In the hour of the body’s captivity and hardest humiliation, the spirit first knows itself to be free. It lies easily in the hand of God; deliberately it waits upon His Will. With a deep serenity which the condemnation of the world will never trouble—more, with a strange inward joy, a flaming rapture, which the intelligence of the world will never understand—it submits its members to the scourge.
"Who shall separate us," cries Paul, "from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? Nay! in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us!"
More than conquerors: bound to the pillar, enduring the lash of those who believe that they hold us in their power, "nor height nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God." So deeply immersed is the soul in the spiritual universe, so greatly has this harsh call on all its latent manliness increased its stature in that world, that here at the beginning of sorrows it sees itself at the beginning of victories. Its Triumphs are already at hand.
But these mighty declarations bring shame and silence to our little, flickering, self-regarding love, shrinking in terror from collision with the apathy or opposition of the world. They can only be taken on the lips of the great and ardent spirits; the eager chivalry of Christ. The comfortable Christian, snugly wrapped in the decent blankets of tradition; the religious amorist whose secret orchard fulfils all he can demand of Heavenly Love—these cannot pass this way. Here come the true squires of the Eternal Wisdom, following their Master to the lists, that they may prove their loyalty and courage. Here, surrendered to "the sufferings of the time," they are rapt to a foretaste of its glory: they find, mysteriously, a gateway which leads them to the murmurous solitudes of God. There the thud of the descending lash beats time to a celestial music; and the heavenly theme of the soul’s symphony, "a melody intolerably sweet," is heard through the crash of the world’s discords, moving towards its triumphs in the heights. "Worldly lovers," says Rolle, "soothly words or ditties of our song may know, for the words they read; but the tone and sweetness of that song they may not learn." It is known only by those who go with God to the pillar, submitting to those great rhythms of Creation which beat out, through pain and conflict, the harmony which is Eternal Life.