How to translate sensory impressions into profitable lessons
When you see things beautiful to the eye and valued on earth, think that they are all as nothing, as mere dust, compared with the beauties and riches of heaven, which you will certainly receive after death, if you renounce the whole world.
Looking at the sun, think that your soul is still more beautiful and radiant, if it is filled with the grace of its Creator; and if it is not, it is darker and more despicable than outer darkness.
Turning your eyes to the skies, raise the eyes of the soul to the highest heaven beyond and cleave to it with your thought, since it is the heavenly dwelling place prepared for you, if your life here on earth is sinless and holy.
When you hear the songs of birds in the trees in springtime, or other sweet singing, raise your mind to the sweetest songs of paradise and think how the heavens echo for ever with Halleluia and other angelic praises, and pray God to let you sing His praises for ever, in company with those heavenly spirits, of whom Revelation says: ‘And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God” (Rev. xix. 1).
If you feel attracted by someone’s beauty, bring to your mind the thought that under this attractive exterior hides the serpent of hell, ready to slay you, or at least to wound you, and say to it: ‘ Accursed serpent! It is you who stand here like a thief, seeking to devour me! Vain effort, for God is my helper! ‘ Then, turning to God, say: ‘Blessed art Thou, my God, Who hath revealed to us our secret enemies and “’hath not given us as a prey to their teeth”’ (Ps. cxxiv. 6).’ Thereupon take refuge in the wounds of Him, Who was crucified for us, dedicating yourself to them and thinking how much our Lord suffered in His holy flesh, to free you from sin and instil in you a disgust of carnal lusts.
I remind you of one more weapon to repel the seduction of physical beauty, namely: when you fall into it, hasten to sink your mind deep into the thought of what will this creature, so attractive to you now, become after death? Stinking putrefaction filled with worms.
When you are walking somewhere, think at each step that every stride takes you nearer the grave. Seeing birds flying in the air, or rivers with swiftly flowing waters, reflect that your life flies still faster, hastening towards its end.
When strong winds blow, the sky is overcast with black clouds and you hear shattering thunderclaps and see blinding flashes of lightning, remember the terrible day of judgment and, falling on your knees, bow to your Lord and God and pray Him to grant you time and His grace to prepare yourself to stand then without shame before the face of His terrible majesty.
When various troubles assail you, do not forget to exercise your mind in edifying thoughts about them and connected with them, but above all do this: rise to the contemplation of the all-governing will of God and strive to establish in yourself the assurance that it is for your good and for the sake of your salvation, that the loving wisdom and just will of God has graciously ruled that you should suffer what you now suffer and in the measure that you suffer. So rejoice that God shows you His love in such cases, and provides an occasion to prove how willingly and whole-heartedly you submit to His will in everything He chooses to send you. Say from your heart: ‘This is the will of God fulfilled in me, for in His love of me He has ordained before all time that I should suffer this affliction, or sorrow, or loss, or injustice. Blessed be the name of my most merciful Lord.”
When a good thought comes to your mind, turn to God and, realising that it was sent by Him, give thanks.
When you are occupied with reading the word of God, have in mind that God is secretly present beneath every word, and take these words as issuing from His divine lips. When while the sun reigns in the heavens, you see darkness approach and veil its light, as happens in eclipses, grieve and pray to God not to let you fall into outer darkness.
Looking at the cross, remember that it is the emblem of our spiritual warfare and contains unconquerable power; that if you turn away from it, you will be delivered into the hands of our enemies, but that if you remain under it, you will reach heaven and enter it in triumph and glory.
When you see an icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, turn I your heart to Her, the Queen of heaven, and give thanks that She showed such readiness to submit to the will of God, to give ‘ birth, suckle and bring up the Saviour of the world and to be an unfailing protector and helper in our unseen warfare.
Let the icons of saints bring to your mind how many intercessors you have always praying for you before God, and how many allies fighting for you in your unceasing battles. Having themselves courageously fought the enemies throughout their lives and overcome them, they have revealed and shown you the I art of waging war. If, with their help, you are alert in fighting your battles, you will, like them, be crowned with victory in the eternal glory of heaven.
When you see a church, among other good thoughts remember also that your soul too is the temple of God, as it is written: ‘Ye are the temple of the living God’ (II Cor. vi. 16) and therefore you must keep it pure and immaculate.
Every time you hear church bells, bring to mind the greeting of the Archangel to the Mother of God, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured’ and dwell on the following thoughts and feelings: give thanks to God for sending from heaven to earth these good tidings, by which the work of your salvation began; rejoice with the Holy Virgin in the transubstantial greatness to which She was raised for Her deep humility; in company with Her and the Archangel Gabriel, adore the divine Fruit which was then forthwith conceived in Her most holy womb. You will do well to repeat this glorification often in the course of the day, accompanied by the feelings I have described; make it a strict rule to repeat it at least three times a day: in the morning, at midday and in the evening.
In brief I give you the following advice: be always awake and attentive in relation to your senses and never allow the impressions you get through them to excite and feed your passions. On the contrary, use your senses in such a way as not to deviate even a hair’s breadth from your decision to please God always and in everything, or to be guided by His will. To achieve this, in addition to transferring your thoughts from the sensory to the spiritual, as we have indicated, it is very useful to practise the small rule mentioned in the first chapters—not to be spontaneously attracted by anything or spontaneously repelled by anything, but by strict and steadfast reasoning to determine, in each particular case, the attitude to be adopted to the impressions received through the senses, in order that it should conform to the will of God, which we know through His commandments.
I shall also add, that if I have described above methods of turning the use of the senses to spiritual benefit, it does not mean that you should constantly practise them. No, what you must practise constantly is to collect your mind in the heart and remain there with the Lord, thus having Him as a Teacher and Helper in your victory over enemies and passions, either through direct inner resistance, or through the practice of virtues opposed to them. What I described was said only with the intention that you should know these methods and make use of them when necessary. All the same, it is unquestionably very useful, in our warfare, to cover all sensory things with a spiritual veil.