We continue this week with a short selection from the book of Fr Robert Hughes Benson, "The Friendship of Christ"
The soul begins then in this stage to learn her own ignorance and her own sin, and to learn her amazing self-centredness and complacency. Up to now she has thought to possess Christ, to hold Him as a lover and a friend, to grasp Him and to keep Him. Her previous mistakes came from this very thing; now she has to learn that not only must she relinquish all that is not Christ, but she must relinquish Christ -- leave, that is to say, her energetic hold on Him, and be content, instead, to be altogether held and supported by Him. So long as she has a shred of self left she will seek to make the friendship mutual, to give, at least, a fraction of what she receives. Now she faces the fact that Christ must do all, that she can do nothing without Him, that she has no power at all except what He gives her. What has been wrong with her up to now, she begins to see, is not so much that she has done or not done this or that, but simply that she has been herself all along, that she has sought to possess, not to be possessed . . . that that self has been hateful because it has not been altogether lost in Christ. She has been endeavouring to cure the symptoms of her disease, but she has not touched the disease with one finger. She sees for the first time that there is no good in herself apart from Christ; that He must be all, and she nothing.
Now if a soul has come so far as this, it is extremely rare that sheer pride should be her ruin. The very knowledge of herself that she has gained is an effectual cure of any further real complacency; for she has seen plainly, at any rate for the time being, how utterly worthless she is. Yet there are other dangers that face her, and of these one at least may be pride under the very subtle disguise of extravagant humility. "Since I am so worthless," she may be tempted to say, "I had better never again attempt those high heights and those aspirations after friendship with my God. Let me give up, once and for all, my dreams of perfection, and my hopes of actual union with my Lord. I must sink back again to the common level, content if I can keep myself just tolerable in His sight. I must take my place again in the ordinary paths, and no longer seek an intimacy with Christ of which I am evidently unworthy."
Or her self-knowledge may take the form of despair; and it is a burden which before now has broken down even the mental faculties themselves. "I have forfeited," cries a soul such as this -- a soul which has lost the excuse of pride, but yet clings to its substance -- "I have forfeited the Friendship of Christ once and for all. It is impossible that I who have tasted of the heaveniy gift should be renewed again unto repentance. He chose me, and I failed Him. He loved me, and I have loved myself only. Therefore let me go far off from His Presence. . . . Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
And yet, if the soul only knew it, now is the very moment to which all the preceding stages have led.
We continue this week with a short selection from the book of Fr Robert Hughes Benson, "The Friendship of Christ":
Yet, if all goes well through this difficult time of purgation; if the soul is yet strong enough still to cleave to what seems now a mere memory; if she is confident that an initiation so bewilderingly beautiful as was hers when the Friendship of Christ first came to her, cannot, in the long run, lead to barrenness and cynicism and desolation; if she can but cry in her sincerity that it is better to kneel eternally at the grave of the buried Jesus than to go back and mix again in the ways of the world; then she learns at least one lesson when Jesus rises again (as He always does) -- that she cannot hold Him in the old way, because He is "not yet ascended to His Father," and that, in one word, the object of religion is that the soul should serve God, not that God should serve the soul.
There follows, however, a third stage before the Way of Purgation is wholly passed. The soul has learned that external things are not Christ; that internal things are not Christ. She has become "disillusioned," first with the frame of the picture, and next with the picture itself, before she has reached the original. She now has to learn the last lesson of all, and become disillusioned with herself.
Up to now she has always retained a belief, however faint and humble, that there was something in herself, and of herself, that attracted Christ towards her. She has been at least tempted to think that Christ had failed her; now she has to learn that it is she who, all along, in spite of her childlike love, has been failing Christ; and this is at once the real essence and object of Purgation. She has been stripped of all her coverings, of her ornaments and her clothes; now she has to be stripped of herself, that she may be the kind of disciple that He wishes.
She begins then in this third stage to learn her own ignorance and her own sin, and to learn, too, that which ought to have been wholly incompatible with her ignorance and her sin -- her amazing self-centeredness and complacency. Up to now she has thought to possess Christ, to hold Him as a lover and a friend, to grasp Him and to keep Him. Her previous mistakes came from this very thing; now she has to learn that not only must she relinquish all that is not Christ, but she must relinquish Christ -- leave, that is to say, her energetic hold on Him, and be content, instead, to be altogether held and supported by Him.