Consider first, that besides the obligation we are under of daily consideration, in order to know God and our duty to him, there is another branch of necessary knowledge, which also calls for our serious attention and meditation; and this is the knowledge of ourselves. 'This is the highest and most profitable lesson,' says the devout a Kempis, 'truly to know, and to despise ourselves.' The knowledge of ourselves is the foundation of true humility, which is the virtue that teaches us to despise ourselves; and humility is the foundation of all other virtues; they have all a necessary dependence upon it. So that the knowledge of ourselves is, in effect, the foundation of all virtues. Now this knowledge of ourselves is not to be acquired without frequent and serious consideration. For to know ourselves
aright, we must consider attentively our origin and extraction; what we have hitherto been; what we are now at present; and what we shall be by-and-by: and such considerations as these will open our eyes and will convince us, what poor wretches we are, and how little reason we have to be proud; and, on the contrary, how many urgent reasons we have to despise ourselves, and to be thoroughly humble.
Consider therefore, 2ndly, your extraction; as to your body, out of dirt and corruption; as to your soul, out of nothing; and that whatsoever you have, either as to body or soul, above mere nothing, is not of your own growth, but the property of your Maker. Reflect that you no sooner came into being but you were defiled with sin, and were children of wrath; that your whole life has hitherto been one continued course of sin and ingratitude. And ah! how often have you fallen into the worst of evils, that bottomless pit of mortal sin? And what a dreadful figure did you then make in the sight of God and his holy Angels? What confusion, what horror, what an eternal damnation was then your due! And is not this still your case at this day? And what title have you then to any regard, either from God or man? What claim to any benefit or service from any of God's creatures? or what just complaint can you make, if all the world should abhor you as a traitor to God, a slave to the devil, and a victim of hell; and all creatures should join together against you, to revenge upon you the cause of their Creator? Reflect also on the many miseries you daily lie under; the small light there is in you for the discerning true good from that which is only so in appearance; the strength of your passions and self-love; your perpetual repugnance to the taking true pains for acquiring real goods, and the violent bent of your inclinations to evil. And then consider how soon death will be with you, and send your bodies to the worms, and your souls to the bar of divine justice, under a dreadful uncertainty as to your eternal lot. And see if, in the consideration of these things, you will not find matter enough to cure your pride, and to bring you to a true sense of your manifold misery and corruption; that so you may learn entirely to distrust yourselves, to be ever humble, and to place your whole confidence in God.
Consider 3rdly, the other great advantages which the soul acquires by often entering into herself, by the means of serious consideration, and taking an impartial view of the whole state of her own interior. Here she discovers her spiritual maladies, (to which before she was a stranger,) and she is enabled by this discovery to seek and to apply proper remedies to all her evils. Here she finds out the secret ambushes of her enemies, especially those more subtle ones of pride and self-love, which are continually seeking to impose upon her and deceive her. Here she learns to discern between the different motions of nature and grace, to watch over her own heart, to regulate its affections and inclinations, to guard against her passions, and to order her whole interior in such a manner, as to be agreeable to him who desires to make it his everlasting temple. O how happy is it for the soul thus to know herself! Ah! what will it avail a man to know all things else, if he be a stranger to himself!
Conclude to make the knowledge of thyself one of thy principal studies for the future. The Saints have always considered the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of themselves, as the most necessary of all the sciences. O study well, by means of daily meditation, this science of the Saints in both its parts. Daily pray with St Augustine, noverim te, noverim me. Lord, give me grace to know thee. Lord, give me grace to know myself.
Consider first, my soul, that not very long ago thou hadst no being at all, nor any share in the transactions of the world; thou was not even so much as thought of by any creature upon earth. In this low abyss of nothing thou hadst been ingulphed from all eternity; and there of thyself thou must have remained to all eternity, infinitely beneath the condition even of the meanest insect, or the most inconsiderable of all God's creatures; so that whatsoever thou hast at present above this mere nothing is no acquisition of thy own, nor any property of thine, but the pure gift of thy Maker. Down, then, with all self-conceit and presumption; down with all vain-glory; acknowledge thy true original, thy original nothing; sit always down in the lowest place; ascribe nothing to thyself as of thy own growth, but thy manifold sins; give the whole glory of all the rest to thy Maker.
Consider 2ndly, who it was that drew thee out of the deep abyss of nothing into this being which thou now enjoyest; who gave thee this power of thinking, this conscious life, this will, this memory, this understanding; who made for thee this soul and body. No other but he that made heaven and earth - even the eternal, immense, infinite Deity. and how came this great God to think of making thee? What did he see in thee that could move him to love thee, and to bestow this being upon thee? O! it was nothing but his own infinite goodness, for there could be nothing in thee worthy of his love: he stood in no need of thee; thou couldest do him no service. O! embrace, then with all the powers of thy soul, this infinite goodness of thy God. Give thy whole being to him who has given it all to thee. Dedicate thy whole self to his love and service, for time and eternity.
Consider 3rdly, that God made thee after his own image and likeness, that he might engage thee the more to love him. This image and likeness is in thy soul, which is a spiritual being; and in the spiritual powers of thy soul; in thy free will, which nothing controls, and which can be satisfied with nothing less than God; and in thy understanding which is capable of soaring above all things, visible and invisible, and reaching to the contemplation of God himself. O! let not, then, this noble spirit lie any longer groveling in the mire of the earth! Let not this will, that was made to be a queen, be a slave to flesh and blood. Let not this understanding, this mind, this thought, that should contemplate heavenly truths, be bowed down to empty earthy toys.
Conclude to be ever mindful of thy own nothingness, and that thou hast received all thou hast from the pure bounty of God. The sense and remembrance of this truth will teach thee always to despise thyself, and to love thy Maker with all thy strength.
Consider first, my soul, why thou camest hither - what is thy business in this mortal life - for what end has God made thee - upon what errand has he sent thee hither. This should have been the subject of thy meditation from thy first coming to the use of reason: and hast thou ever yet seriously thought of it? Thou canst not here plead ignorance, for one of the first things thou wast taught was, that thou wast made for God, and that the business for which thou camest into the world was to know him, love him, and serve him here, and so to come to enjoy him hereafter in a happy eternity. O how noble, how glorious, how blessed is this end for which thou wast made! O how good is thy God, who has made thee for himself, and for heaven; and even from all eternity has designed this happiness for thee!
Consider 2ndly, that, properly speaking, thou hast but one thing to do in this mortal life; and that is no other than to answer this end for which thou wast made, by dedicating thyself, in a good earnest, to the love and service of thy Maker. This is that 'one thing necessary,' Luke x 42. If thou apply thyself seriously to this great business, all is well; if thou neglect this, all will be lost, whatever success thou mayest meet with in any thing else. O! 'what will it avail a man to gain the whole world if he lose his own soul;' and with his soul lose his God and a happy eternity? O let all other business, then, be subordinate to this; let all that no way conduces to this be despised as vain and unprofitable; let all that is opposite to this be avoided, rejected, and abhorred, as hurtful and pernicious. O how true is it, 'vanity of vanities, and all is vanity,' besides the loving God, and serving him alone. Kempis.
Consider 3rdly, the great blindness and misery of worldlings who live in a continual neglect and forgetfulness of this their only business; whose pursuits are after mere vanities; who weary themselves like children, in running after butterflies; in catching at bubbles and empty shadows, such as vain honours, false riches, and deceitful pleasures that last but one moment; and for these they forfeit God and eternity. And has not this, O my soul, been hitherto thy own case? O be confounded at the thought of thy having been so strangely senseless and so very wretched. Detest the errors of thy past life; and now at least resolve to mind thy true and only business, and to turn to thy God with all thy heart.
Conclude, since God is both thy first beginning and thy last end - since thou art made by him and for him, and all thy powers, senses, and faculties are designed to bring thee to him - to employ them all henceforward in serving and glorifying him: thus only shalt thou find true comfort here, and heaven hereafter.
Consider first, that we belong to God by all manner of titles and therefore cannot, without the most crying injustice, alienate any part of our being from him, or refuse to employ our whole lives in his divine service. We are his by
creation, because he made us, and made us for himself; and therefore has given us a soul, capable of knowing, loving and enjoying him, and not able to find any true rest or satisfaction but in him. Our whole being is from him; our whole soul and body, with all our powers, senses, and faculties, belong to him; all whatsoever we possess, interiorly or exteriorly, is all his. And as the fund is his, so the whole produce ought to be his. All we are absolutely and entirely his property, and all our time, and all our talents, are but lent us by him; so we are indispensably obliged to dedicate all our hours, all our thoughts, words, and actions to him. and have we ever rightly considered this obligation? We belong to God in like manner, by the title of conservation,
by which he preserves and maintains every moment the being he has given us, otherwise we should presently return again to our ancient nothing. So that as in every moment we have an obligation to him for our continuance in being what we are, so every moment we are obliged to be his.
Consider 2ndly, that we belong also to God, and that in a very particular manner, by our redemption; by which the Son of God has purchased us for himself and for his Father, with his own most precious blood. For we had sold ourselves to Satan; we were become his slaves; we had no longer any share in God, or title to him; we were rebels and traitors to him by sin; and as such we stood condemned to death and to hell. But, behold, the Son of God, out of pure love and compassion, comes down form heaven to redeem us; he pays himself the price of our ransom - a great price indeed, even the last drop of his most sacred blood - to deliver us from Satan, sin, and hell; to reconcile us to his father; and to purchase mercy, grace, and salvation for us. So that now by virtue of this redemption he claims us as his own property, and it would be a sacrilegious robbery to pretend to alienate again from him these souls of ours, which he has purchased for himself with his own blood: it would be even, in the language of the apostle, 'treading under foot the Son of God, and esteeming the blood of the covenant unclean, with which we are sanctified.' Heb x. 29.
Consider 3rdly, that we belong also to God, by solemn vows and covenants, and by the dedication by which we were happily and holily dedicated and consecrated to him in our baptism and confirmation, and sanctified to be his temples for ever. Now all those things that are once solemnly consecrated to God; and more especially such as are made the temples of the living God, must be always his; and it would be a most grievous sacrilege to pervert them from his service to profane uses; and therefore it would be highly criminal in us to pervert those souls of ours from the love and service of their God, to whom they have been thus solemnly dedicated, and to profane and defile them by wilful sin. We belong to him also in quality of our King, our Father, our Lord and Master, the great sovereign of the whole universe, the being of all beings, &c.; and upon all those, and many more titles, his Divine Majesty challenges our love and service as his undoubted right. O let us never be so miserable as to refuse him what he so justly claims; let us look upon it as our greatest happiness, that we belong entirely to him.
Conclude to render faithfully to God, what upon so many titles belongs to him, by giving your whole selves to him, and employing henceforward both your soul and body in executing all his will.
Consider first, those words of the prophet, Isaias iii.10, 'Say to the just man, it is well,' and reflect on the many advantages which this short word well comprises, and ensures to the just both for time and eternity. Honours, riches, and pleasures, are the things on which the world sets the greatest value; but they are not to be found where the world seeks them, but only in the service of God. It is indeed a greater honour to be a servant of God, than to be the emperor of all the earth. What then must it be to be his friend and favourite, to be his spouse, to be his child, to be his temple? Can any worldly honours be compared with these? O how glorious a dignity it is to be heir apparent to a heavenly and eternal kingdom! O how happy, in the mean time, during our mortal pilgrimage, to walk and converse with God; to be as familiar as one pleases with this great King; to have an admittance into his closet whenever we will; to have an assurance from him of a favourable audience, and of obtaining all our requests. how truly honourable is it to have one's name enrolled in the book of Life; one's character established, not in the mean village of this world, (which nevertheless cannot help admiring and esteeming true virtue,) but in the great city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. O my soul, let such honours as these be the only objects of thy ambition.
Consider 2ndly, how rich the just man is; not always indeed in those worldly possessions, which every accident may take away, and which can never satisfy the heart; but in treasures infinitely more valuable, of virtue, grace, and merit, which all the money in the world is not sufficient to purchase, and which make the soul rich for eternity. But the servants of God have still a greater treasure than this, viz., God himself; whom the whole world cannot take from them, as long as they take care not to drive him away by wilful sin. 'He is their protector; and their reward exceeding great.' Gen xv. He is always with them; he is a tender father to them; the eye of his special providence is ever upon them; his Angels encamp about them, to defend them and deliver them from evil. In a word, God is all things to them that fear and love him; so that even as to the goods of the world he never forsakes those that do not first forsake him. O my soul, see thou seek no other treasure but him; he will make thee rich indeed: fear no loss but the losing of him. If thou hast him nothing can make thee miserable; but without him nothing can make thee happy.
Consider 3rdly, the solid pleasures that attend a virtuous life; such as the satisfaction, peace, and joy of a good conscience; the sense that holy souls have of God's goodness and love for them; the experience they have of his sweetness, in their recollection and prayer; the consolations of the Holy Ghost, and the ravishing delights they often find in God, as a certain foretaste of the joys of heaven; the comfortable prospect of a happy eternity, after their short mortal pilgrimage; and above all, their love of God, and a blessed conformity to his will in all things, which sweeten even the greatest crosses. Such pleasures as these are far beyond all that worldlings can pretend to - pleasures pure and spiritual, which have supported, and even given an inexpressible joy to the martyrs, under the worst of their torments; which, for other saints, have sweetened all their labours and penitential austerities; and made them think whole nights too short, when spent with God in prayer. O! how great then is that error, how pernicious is that deceit, by which Satan persuades the children of this world, that there are no pleasures in a virtuous life; whereas indeed there is no true pleasure anywhere else.
Conclude, since the whole happiness, in time as well as eternity, depends entirely upon loving and serving God, to set out from this hour in quest of this happiness, by entering upon the beautiful path of virtue, which alone can bring thee to it.
Consider first, how truly vain all those things are which poor deluded worldlings prefer before their God - empty bubbles, mere toys and trifles, false appearances, deceitful baits, laid by the enemy to catch their souls; gilded pills, that conceal a deadly poison; deluding dreams and airy phantoms, that will all vanish away in a moment, and leave both their hands, and their hearts empty; and then, the scene will change, and their fool's paradise of an imaginary happiness, shall turn to real, dreadful, and everlasting evils. 'O ye children of men, how long will ye be in love with vanity?' how long will you run after mere lies, and deceit? Reflect upon those that have gone before you; upon those that have enjoyed the most of what this world could afford of honours, riches, and pleasures; and tell me what judgment you think they make of them now. O they will certainly cry out with Solomon, (Eccles. ii. 11,) that in all these things they found nothing but 'vanity and vexation of spirit.' They will loudly condemn their own past folly and madness, in having set their hearts upon such toys, to the loss of God, and their souls.
Consider 2ndly, and take a nearer view of these worldly idols, these phantoms of honours, riches and pleasures; and see with what toil they are acquired, with what care and fears they are possessed, and how easily they are lost; what great evils they are exposed to; what a slavery they bring along with them; how short and how inconstant they are; how false and deceitful; how often embittered with gall; how mean, and unworthy the affections of a Christian; how far beneath the dignity of an immortal soul, made for nothing less than God; and how incapable of giving any solid content or satisfaction to a heart that can never rest but in its Maker. O how truly miserable then are all these children of Babylon, who are enslaved to things so base, so vile, so filthy! How wretched is that life that is all spent in this manner, in weaving cobwebs, in running after butterflies, in catching at shadows; in squandering away those precious hours that were given to secure to the soul a happy eternity; in impertinent amusements, in idle, foolish, and often sinful conversation; in dressing out, or pampering a carcass, that must quickly be the food of worms; in public haunts, in hanging over a pack of cards, in reading love tales and romances, and such like empty fooleries. Surely such a life as this must be most irksome and tedious, void of all true content, joy, peace, or comfort here, and of all prospect of happiness hereafter.
Consider 3rdly, how this folly and misery of worldlings is described by the prophet Isaia, ch. lix., where he tells them that they put their trust in that which is a mere nothing, that they speak vanities; that is, that their whole discourse and conversation is empty, foolish, and nothing to the purpose; that they conceive labour, and bring forth iniquity; that they are sitting day and night upon the eggs of asps, (most poisonous serpents,) which if they eat, will bring present death, and if they hatch, will turn out serpents, and destroy them; that all their works are but spending their bowels in weaving spiders' webs, which can never clothe them - unprofitable works, fit for nothing but to catch flies; that their thoughts and devices are all vain and unprofitable, and that their ways lead to destruction; that their paths are crooked, and that there is no judgment in their steps; and that whosoever treaded in them, knoweth no peace. O see how pathetically the Holy Spirit has here described the pains and labours poor worldling take in their pursuit of lying madnesses, which bring all kind of evils and death to their souls, without any manner of real profit or pleasure, and learn thou to be more wise than to walk in their footsteps.
Conclude never to imitate this wretched choice of blind mortals, who turn away from God to follow cheating vanities; but to despise from thy heart all those childish toys, and to turn to the charming paths of wisdom, virtue, and truth.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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