Having dismissed the multitude, he went into a mountain alone to pray. ~ Matt. 14:23
October flew! We're coming to a quiet time in our lives and that's exactly what we need. We are enjoying eating dinner together without having to rush to volleyball practice or a football game. And Michael and I are back to strolling in the moonlight. He tells me the mosquitoes are gone but they bite me still. Sweet blood and all ...
Our little hamster died from old age, fat and happy, no diseases. Dagny had cleaned his cage and he was looking a bit tired as he clambered up to eat and wash himself. He made himself a little nest. The next morning we discovered he had passed on to a land of carrots and bananas, peanuts and sunflower seeds. It's strange to no longer save the rolls of empty tubes for him. He took great joy in tearing up the tissue, and we took joy in watching him. But, I'm supposed to be writing about St. Alphonsus' teaching on Recollection.
This was by far my favorite chapter so far. Everything resonated because I am living that life right now ... psst, you don't have to be a nun :) St. Alphonsus says, "To preserve recollection of spirit or the constant union of the soul with God, three things are necessary: solitude, silence, and the recollection of the presence of God.
"I will lead her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart. Osee 2:14. God speaks to the soul in solitude, and by His words the heart is inflamed with divine love. My soul melted when my beloved spoke, said the spouse in the Canticle (5:6).
So, seek solitude, practice silence, and rest in God by keeping the thought of His presence ever before you."
The saint reminds us that it's not only solitude of the body that is important, but the solitude of the spirit. He says, "What benefit it is to live in the desert if the soul still clings to the things of the earth? Solitude of the heart consists in banishing from the heart all desires and inclinations that are not for God, and in performing our actions simply with God's good pleasure in view. The solitude of the heart consists in being able to say, "My God, Thee alone do I desire and nothing else."
I loved this because it reminds me that although I live in this world, I do not have to be attached to it.
The saint exhorts us not to be idle. "It is not to be supposed that solitude and retirement are synonymous with idleness. Many live in retirement, but it is an inactive and useless retirement of which they shall have to render an account. Devout souls, on the contrary, are like bees that are never tired preparing honey for their cells. No time must be lost, but every moment employed in prayer, in reading, or in performing the duties of your state in life."
St. Alphonsus extols the virtues of work. "Work is an effective remedy against temptations. While our hands are occupied with external occupations, our heart can be fixed on God. The good intention we make in performing our labors sanctifies them in the sight of God and even makes labor a prayer, for prayer has been called the raising of the mind and heart to God.
"Those who have the spirit of prayer love silence, which has deservedly been called a protectress of innocence, a shield against temptations and a fruitful source of prayer. Silence promotes recollection and awakens good thoughts in the heart. Silence preserves us from many sins by removing the occasion of uncharitable talk, rancor and curiosity; on the other it aids us in the attainment of many virtues, like humility and meekness."
The saint reminds us that remembering the presence of God is an excellent means of "quieting the passions and of resisting temptations to sin ... Men fall into sin because they lose sight of the presence of God. It was the thought of God that gave the chaste Susanna courage to spurn the wicked advances of the men who tried to seduce her and even threatened her with death. She said, It is better for me to fall into your hands without doing evil, than to sin in the sight of the Lord. Dan 13:23.
"Union of the soul with God is the third happy result of walking constantly in His presence. Love is always strengthened by the presence of the object loved. In order to remain intimately united to God, it is not sufficient to make a morning and evening meditation. If you remove boiling water from the stove, it will soon cool off. And so it is with the human soul; to keep the fire of God's love aglow, the thought of His presence must be constantly before us."
As always, St. Alphonsus gives practical suggestions to practice the virtues. He says, "picture our Lord as present with us wherever we may be. We may think of Him at times as a little babe in the crib of Bethlehem; as a poor exile on His way to Egypt; as an apprentice in the workshop of Nazareth; a man of sorrows who was condemned a criminal to suffer and die; as scourged and crowned and crucified. One needn't strain the imagination, which is apt to be very fatiguing and might possibly be injurious." (I had to include this last bit because it makes me laugh. I suppose for us writers, this exercise is not at all strenuous.)
"Another way is based on the truths of holy faith. It consists of seeing God with the eyes of faith and being thoroughly persuaded that He is present and a witness of our actions. It matters not that we are unable to see Him with our bodily eyes; we cannot see the air around us, and we never doubt for a moment that it exists and that without it we could not possibly live. It is sufficient to make little acts of faith.
"Another beautiful practice is that of seeing God in His creatures. The beauties of nature such as the rising and setting of the sun, a magnificent landscape, a majestic river, a garden of beautiful flowers are so many reflexes of the beauty of the Creator. The thought of a learned or handsome or holy man can lead us to admire the wisdom and beauty and sanctity of God and return Him thanks for permitting His creatures to share in His holy attributes.
"The most perfect method, however, of keeping alive the thought of God's presence consists in beholding God within our very selves. It is not necessary to ascend to Heaven to find the Lord God; we need only to recollect ourselves, and we shall find Him within us. St. Paul says, Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 1 Cor 3:16. And our Divine Savior Himself has said, If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him. John 14:23.