08 March 2008

A spiritual gem for Lent

One day last week I randomly picked a book from my shelves that I’ve always meant to read but haven’t yet (there are many such books): A Man Born Again by Saint Thomas More.

More wrote this book while locked in the Tower as an autobiography. I am half-way through the book and have greatly enjoyed it. It has proved useful while exercising on the elliptical machine and as meditative reading before bed.

Today I read this magnificent passage, written just after the death of his wife:

Memory fixed on the first day at the Charterhouse. I would be a saint? Men would revere my memory? How pleasant the prospect! How easy the path before me! I had not counted the cost. I did not consider that sanctification of man is not the work of man but the work of God. I had contemplated that God would work that sanctification only in those obedient to Him unto death – even to the death of the cross. No thought of Christ’s Passion had disturbed my dreams. I would be a saint! How mockingly the words must have ascended before the throne of my crucified God.

My cross pressed heavily as I sat there. I could thrust it aside. I could obscure it by any of a hundred pleasures. Or I could bend forward submissively, lift my arms, as Christ did, to steady that cross, and begin the weary march to Calvary.

I had not the strength. I could not bear the burden. I could not submit. I slumped on the bench and looked vacantly at the altar. I had not even sufficient courage to ask for strength.

“Then pray only for courage!”

I stiffened, so clearly had I heard the words. They had been as loud and clear as though someone had spoken them. I glanced at my father beside me but he had not noticed my movement. He knelt straight and motionless. Pray for courage? - I had no desire to pray even for that.

“Then pray for the desire!” The voice was louder and clearer, more insistent than before; yet there was no sound. The voice was within me, urgent and compelling.

I could not pray. Sorrow – self-pity – numbed my mind and heart. I pushed myself forward and knelt beside my father. I could not pray. Let my action answer the insistent voice! Let the voice pray for me!

In what manner does God not work within the soul, yet credit the work as merit to man? I offered no prayer – I had no prayer to offer. I could do no more than push my body mutely forward and kneel, more the token than the substance of prayer. Love impelled me and God accepted that love however poorly I expressed it.

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