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Step 03

ON OUR PILGRIMAGE OR RETIREMENT FROM THE WORLD.

1. Our pilgrimage or retirement from the world is an abandonment, without reservation, of everything which, in our own country, is opposed to that state of piety, to which we have resolved to devote ourselves for the love of God. It is a change of manners, which appears to the eyes of men little better than folly, a prudence which shuns the public gaze, a life concealed, a design which is secret, a meditation purely interior, a desire for things lowly and contemptible, an ardent thirst for suffering and mortification, a cordial affection for God, a fertile source of divine love, a renouncement of vain-glory, and an abyss of silence.

2. The thought which prevails with those, who, in the commencement of their love of God, are actuated, not by any desire of relaxation, but by greater fervour in their new conversion, is the design of withdrawing from their fellow religious into complete solitude, which they mistake for a motion of that heavenly fire with which they are inflamed. Hence these admirers of a beauty so noble and so excellent are animated by the desire of subjecting themselves to all kinds of humiliations and abasements, and of embracing all the austerities of penance. But inasmuch as this resolution is great and praiseworthy; so much the more need is there of discretion in its execution. For not every kind of solitude is good, at all times and for all persons, although entered upon with the greatest courage.

3. If “a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house,”1 says our Redeemer, let us take care that our pilgrimage become not a subject of vanity. For true solitude is a separation from persons and things, in order to keep the mind inseparably united to God. He who possesses this spirit is moved by an affectionate desire of weeping heartily and continually for his sins. He carefully shuns every attachment to that which belongs either to himself or to others.

4. When you feel invited by the Spirit of God to withdraw into solitude, do not wait until you have engaged others whose hearts are still tied down to the world, to join you in your holy enterprise. For the devil, like a wily thief, secretly watches his opportunity to rob you of your first fervour. Many desirous of saving with themselves their lukewarm and careless neighbours, have lost with them their own souls, through the extinction of that flame of divine love, which they so long delayed to fan and nourish in their bosoms. Have you received the sparks of this heavenly flame? Hasten to enkindle them into a blaze by the fuel of your love, lest otherwise they die out, and leave you in obscurity and darkness. We are not charged with the salvation of others. For the great Apostle of the Gentiles gives us this admonition: “Every one of us shall render account to God for himself.”2 “Thou, therefore, that teachest another, teachest not thyself?”3 As if he had said, I know not if you will be called upon to render an account of others; but of this I am confident, that every one of us shall render an account to God for himself.

5. When you commence your pilgrimage by retiring from the world, beware lest the devil excite in you a wandering disposition, and an inclination to those things which flatter and encourage sensuality. For our pilgrimage gives occasion to the devil to assail us from these two bastions.

6. The most perfect disposition we can possibly cherish, is a complete detachment from everything that can render the soul less free in the service of God. Retirement is the mother of this happy disposition. Hence he who has entered into solitude through the love of God, should no longer encourage any affection to creatures, lest his interior should be in continual agitation, and become a den for the turbulent passions.

7. In your retreat from the world, do not partake any longer in the cares of the world. For the passions which you have banished from your heart, would desire nothing better than to return.

8. Eve was banished from Paradise contrary to her wish; but the solitary freely, and of his own accord, makes himself an exile from his country. As Eve would probably have continued to eat of the fruit of disobedience, had she been allowed to dwell in the neighbourhood of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; so the religious who still cherishes an affection for his friends and relations, exposes himself to danger. Fly, as ye would from some fearful calamity, the places which may be to you the occasions of sin; since the fruit of the tree which we do not see, is not like that which is fair and beautiful to the eye, a constant source of temptation.

9. Let us not be surprised by the cunning and deception of our spiritual enemies, who would fain persuade us not to separate ourselves from people in the world, under the pretext that we shall receive a great recompense,--if, living in the world, we overcome the world,--if, gazing upon women, we can subdue our passions, and not suffer from the fire of concupiscence. Let us be thoroughly convinced that we ought to do everything contrary to what they are anxious to persuade us.

10. Long after our departure from our father’s house and kindred, when we have spent some years in solitude, and have acquired some little piety, some sentiments of penance and mortification of the senses, there will enter our minds vain and frivolous thoughts, which will tempt us to return to our country, to edify by the example of our new life, the persons who had been witnesses of our former irregularities. And this temptation to return to the world will be the more vehement if we possess any talent for speaking, any smattering of theology, by making it appear to the mind, that we may be the salvation of many souls, and a light to those who are in darkness. Thus they hurry us to lose in the deep ocean that which we happily acquired in port. But let us imitate the conduct of Lot, and not that of his wife. For he who returns to the place whence he departed will become fixed as a statue, and remain as immoveable as the woman changed into a pillar of salt. Fly from Egypt without yielding to the possibility of returning. For they who look back upon it with affection will be deprived of the sight of Jerusalem, the city of peace, the tranquil region of the passions. I would not, however, say that it is impossible for those who, at the commencement of their conversion, left their country to escape the dangers to which their spiritual infancy was exposed, and who are now thoroughly purified in heart and affection, I would not say it is absolutely impossible for those to return home without danger to promote the salvation of others, when they have thus laboured so strenuously to secure their own. Yet Moses, who was allowed to see the Almighty Himself, and who was sent by God to be the captain and deliverer of His people, encountered many perils in Egypt, that is, was surrounded by the darkness of the world.

11. It is better to displease our relatives than displease God. For the same God who made us is our Saviour; whereas relations are often the cause of those, whom they love the most, perishing and incurring everlasting torments.

12. He is a true pilgrim who, whilst speaking a language the world knows not, and comprehending not that which the world does understand, nourishes his soul in secret with the knowledge of God and of himself. We do not retire into solitude through any aversion to our relations, or to the place of our nativity. God forbid that we should be actuated by such base motives! No; we retire from them to avoid the losses which their presence and their company might occasion us. Jesus Christ, in this, as in every other respect, is our example and our master. He frequently withdrew from the company of His Blessed Mother and other relations. Having heard from some one that His Mother and brethren were seeking Him, the Lord infinitely good, and our divine Master, teaches us, in the answer which He gave on this occasion, the innocent and holy indifference which we may sometimes display towards our kindred. “Whoever,” He says, “shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.”4 Regard him as your father, who is willing to labour with you, that you may be relieved from the heavy load of your sins. Esteem as your mother, that heartfelt compunction, which can efface from your souls the deep stains of your offences. Embrace him as your brother, who is willing to join company and combat with you, that you may march valiantly in the path which leads to heaven. Let your wife and inseparable companion be your constant meditation on death. Let the children whom you cherish with tenderness be the penitential moanings of your heart. Let your body be your slave; and your friends, the celestial powers, who will assist you at the hour of death, if you cultivate their friendship during life. Behold the relations who seek the Lord! The love of God extinguishes our natural love for our kindred. Hence he who pretends to cherish, at one and the same time, the love of God and the love of his worldly friends, deceives himself, according to the testimony of our Blessed Redeemer: “No man can serve two masters.”5 And again: “Do not think I came to send peace upon earth,” that is,-- a love in those who wish to consecrate themselves to my service for father or mother, brother or sister,--”I came not to send peace, but the sword,”6 that those who love God may be separated from those who love the world, the carnal from the spiritual, the proud from the humble. For the Lord takes delight in this division of the spirit, this separation of the body from its endearments, purely through love of Him, the Supreme Perfection.

13. Take care, take every care that the world, which is inundated with the waters of sin, does not, through the compassion which you entertain for your relations, drag you within the vortex of earthly affection. Have no pity on the tears of your friends and kindred, if you do not wish yourselves to weep eternally. When they surround you, like flies or rather wasps round a pot of honey, and make great lamentations about you leaving them, direct your thoughts immediately to your death, and to the actions of your past life, without permitting them to wander to any other subject, that you may subdue one pain by another, and may overcome your compassion for them by compassion for yourselves. Persons who pretend to be our friends, but who in reality are our enemies, readily promise to do nothing but what is agreeable to our wishes. Their principal object, however, is to prevent us from pursuing our holy career, and to bend us to their own sinister purpose.

14. We ought to choose for our retirement those parts of the desert which are the most destitute of human consolation, which are the farthest removed from all danger of vain-glory, and which are the least known, and the least spoken of by men, otherwise we shall fly away from the world like birds, carrying with us our passions.

15. Conceal the splendour of your birth, and glory not before men in your illustrious name, lest we should conclude that as much as you are elevated above others by your rank, so much are you beneath them by the baseness of your actions.

16. No one entered upon his pilgrimage so nobly as Abraham, when he heard these words of the Lord: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee.”7 Although he was commanded to go into a strange and barbarous land, in which was spoken a language different from his own, yet he obeyed without hesitation.

17. All who have imitated Abraham in his pilgrimage, God has rendered illustrious. Though God surrounded them with glory, yet they assumed no portion of that glory to themselves, but opposed to it the buckler of humility.

18. When demons or men attempt to praise our pilgrimage, and our retirement from the world, as a noble and generous enterprise, let us turn our thoughts to Him, who, through love of us, became a pilgrim on earth, descending from heaven to sojourn in this valley of tears among men, and we shall perceive that, were we to live during the endless ages of eternity, we could do nothing equal to that which He has accomplished for us.

19. The affection which attaches us to any particular relative or to one unconnected with us by the ties of kindred, is exceedingly dangerous, since it may insensibly entice us from our solitude back again to the world, and entirely extinguish the fire of our fervour, and the tears of our compunction. As it is impossible to raise one eye to heaven, and fix the other, at the same time, upon the earth, so is it equally impossible, whilst we hesitate absolutely to withdraw by a spiritual estrangement and bodily separation from communication with our friends and acquaintance in the world, not to expose our salvation to great danger.

20. We cannot, without much pain and labour, regulate our manners, and pursue a good and laudable course of life. And that which we have accomplished with much toil and perspiration, may be lost in a moment. “Evil communications corrupt good manners;” and this even with such as are light and worldly, as well as with those which are immodest and indecent. He who after the renunciation of all things, still continues his conversation with the people of the world, or enters into their society, will be sure either to fall into their snares, or sully his heart by profane thoughts, or stain its purity and disgrace himself by the indiscreet judgments he will form of those who are already corrupted.

ON DREAMS, TO WHICH THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY

ENTERED INTO SOLITUDE ARE SUBJECT.

21. As my understanding is obscure, and my knowledge very imperfect, I behold in myself nothing but profound ignorance which it is impossible for me to conceal. As “the ear trieth words, and the mouth discerneth meats by the taste,”8 and the sun proveth weak sight; so doth speech show the emptiness of the spirit of him who speaketh. But since the law of charity seems to constrain us to attempt things above our capacity, I have thought it proper, without too much assurance upon the subject, to speak at the conclusion of this discourse on our pilgrimage, on dreams, as far only as is necessary to protect us from the artifices employed by the enemy of mankind.

22. Dreams are emotions of the mind, whilst the body is at rest, and without motion. Visions purely imaginary are a deception of the eyes of those who fancy that they see certain objects, whilst the mind is vacant and at rest. They are an alienation, a sleep as it were of the soul, whilst the body is awake. They are the sight of objects, which have no subsistence.

23. The reason why, after having treated of the world, we wish to speak of dreams, is evident. For when we have quitted our father’s house and our relations for the sake of Jesus Christ,--when we have consecrated and made ourselves over to His service purely through love of Him, the demons begin immediately to assail us with dreams, representing our kindred as weeping at our separation from them, or as dying through our cruelty, or as suffering on our account some grievous loss or injury. He, therefore, who believes these dreams, resembles the man who runs after his own shadow, and endeavours to catch it.

24. The demons who tempt us to vain-glory, pretend to be prophets, by foretelling in dreams events to come, which they have divined by the subtlety of their conjectures. When that comes to pass which we beheld in our sleep, we are filled with admiration and astonishment. This sometimes causes so much elevation of spirit, that we fancy we have received the gift of predicting future events. The devil is often a true prophet with regard to those who believe in him; but he is always a liar with regard to those who laugh at and despise dreams. This adversary of the human race, being of a purely spiritual nature, sees that which is passing in the air we breath; and observing that some one is near death, makes the fact known to those who are credulous enough to believe him. For demons cannot by foreknowledge predict future events. Physicians can as readily as they, give a probably conjecture concerning the death of their patients. These spirits of darkness often transform themselves into angels of light, and assume the appearance of martyrs, who seem, in our vision, advancing to greet us. When awake all this is calculated to foster a presumptuous opinion of ourselves, and to fill us with an unholy joy. Behold, however, one mark, by which you may detect their fraud and trickery. The good angels represent to us the everlasting punishment of the wicked, the terrors of the last day, the separation of the good from the bad; and when awake they inspire us with trembling and penitential sadness. But if we give credence to the devils, they make sport of us, even when we are awake. He who believes in dreams has lost both his understanding and his judgment; whereas he who has no faith in them is truly wise. Believe in those only who announce to you the awfulness of the last day, and the never ending torments of hell. If you feel urged by these dreams to the brink of despair, be convinced they come from the devil.

This third degree completes the figure and symbol of the Blessed Trinity. He who has mounted so high, ought not to turn either to the right hand or to the left.


  1. Matthew xiii. 57.

  2. Romans xiv. 12.

  3. Ib. ii. 21.

  4. Matthew xii. 50.

  5. Matthew vi. 24.

  6. Matthew x. 34.

  7. Genesis xii. I.

  8. Job xxxiv. 3.



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