Mighty is the work of sanctification. Over the chaos of our miseries, over the dry and empty waste of our poor heart, is seen the Spirit; and His fruitful breath causes a richer and more beautiful creation to arise than that which sprang forth in the beginning of time from the hands of the Almighty. A holy soul: there is no richness that can equal it or any work of art that is comparable to it. It is the delight of God because He sees in it a likeness of His Word, the Son of His eternal joys. And how is this masterpiece produced?
It comes into being as the material world was formed: greatness from above, and baseness from below. From on high is the Spirit who passes over the waters; from below is our soul, which receives the divine breath and which, as a docile instrument, responds obediently to the action, the will, and the thought of God. Sacred Scripture says that Wisdom “reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly.” In similar fashion is the work of holiness accomplished, for it is a result of might and of mildness.
To sanctify a soul, great power is needed — indeed, infinite power. “Who can make him clean, that is conceived of unclean seed? Is it not Thou who only art?”
To sanctify souls, there was required the force of the wisdom that fashioned the Incarnation, and the might of the sorrow that wrought the mystery of Calvary, and the power of the love, strong as death, which produced the Eucharist.
The action of God in the sanctification of each soul is a marvel of power. What force is necessary to snatch us from sin, to which our poor nature is bound with many bonds! What might is in the divine voice that calls us to enter into the land of mystery, the land of vision! What is the power of the love that God allows to fall into our hearts as a spark that kindles and turns into a flame and eventually burns like a volcano! What might is in the Cross, to which we must nail ourselves with Christ to achieve sanctity! All the power of God’s all-powerful right hand is needed to make us saints.
On our side, holiness is also the effect of power, since only those who exercise force achieve it. That is why there are so few saints. What is sanctity but the deification of our entire being? It is a profound recollection of spirit that concentrates upon God. It is the absolute simplification of the heart that fixes itself positively and firmly upon God. It is the complete transformation of our will that merges and loses itself in the loving will of God. It is the spiritualization of our poor body, to use another term, that in bearing the sufferings of Christ becomes an instrument of the soul, and arrives even to rejoice in God. “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God.”
What prodigies of strength are necessary to fix the inconstancy of the spirit that is ever restless, to hold in check the fickle heart, to rule the rebellious will, and to lift up the base and gross flesh from its connatural slime!
Aloysius Gonzaga, striving with indefatigable patience, hour after hour, to avoid distractions in prayer; Augustine fighting as a giant against past memories and the fierce revolts of the present; Teresa of Jesus polishing for many years with incredible patience the brilliant facets of her heart in order to present it to her Beloved; Hilary bending the body to the spirit with great and heroic mortifications; Ignatius handing himself over to the cruel teeth of wild beasts as the pure, white wheat of Christ in order to be changed into spotless bread: these eloquently proclaim to us the enormous power that is necessary for holiness.
Treat your soul gently, as God does
Who would find this easy to believe: that mildness is just as necessary as force, perhaps even more so, to become a saint? Mildness is not weakness; rather, it is an indication of strength. Weak souls do their works with noise and show; the strong operate with marvelous gentleness. Life is as strong as it is gentle; love is as powerful as it is delicate. Hence, the action of God upon nature, in history, and on souls is infinitely mighty and infinitely mild.
The action of God upon His saints is most gentle. How He respects our liberty! How He condescends to our weakness! He does not run or jump or act violently. We, being weak creatures, rush; but God works slowly, because He deals with eternity. We bewail the passage of minutes; but God serenely watches the flow of years. We wish to achieve the goal of our desires with a single rush; but God prepares His work gently, nor does our inconstancy weary Him, nor do our failures startle Him, nor do the complicated vicissitudes of human life overturn His eternal designs.
Conversions are prodigies of gentleness, such as was St. Augustine’s. The long stages necessary for union are prodigies of gentleness, such paths as St. Teresa traveled. Great missions from God are also prodigies of gentleness, such as was St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s. If we knew how to study the divine action in every saint, in every soul, we would be astonished, perhaps more at the gentleness than at the power of the sanctifying action.
Gentleness is indispensable for us if we are to become holy; and this we frequently forget. Undoubtedly many souls do not sanctify themselves because of a lack of power; but many also, indeed very many, fail to do so because of a want of gentleness.
The human soul is precious and delicate. It came forth from the divine lips as a most gentle breath. It is cleansed and rendered beautiful with the divine Blood of Jesus; and it is destined to be united with God Himself to participate in the life and in the ineffable mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity.
Such an exquisite jewel must be handled with consummate delicacy. That is how God treats it, and that is how we should treat it. What an atmosphere of purity of mind, of peace, and of delicacy ought to surround a soul for it to achieve its sanctification! When the soul is borne to another atmosphere, how it pines, how it laments! It is like those beautiful and delicate flowers which a strong wind withers or the heat of the sun discolors and parches.
I think that the greater part of the spiritual ills of souls who seek perfection comes from a lack of gentleness.
Gentleness is needful to these poor, ever-disquieted souls. Desirous of holiness, they wish to achieve it all at once. They cannot countenance their own miseries, they grow angry at their weaknesses, and with an overrefinement of ingenuity, they continually worry and grieve themselves.
Unknowing and proud, they have not discovered the secret of mildness, the daughter of love, which is patient and benign. If they possessed this secret, they would understand that one arrives at perfection by paths that are strewn with imperfections, which must be borne with humility; that when a soul falls, it does not arise with agitation, but gently places itself in the merciful hands of God by means of humility and trust in Him; that God does not ask for the perfection of our conduct, but for the perfection of our heart, as the wonderfully mild St. Francis de Sales so admirably teaches us.
Mildness is necessary to these souls who are so strict with themselves, even to the point of excess. They have forgotten the pages of the Gospel wherein we are told about mercy and love; they see in Christ only the severe countenance of a judge, without remembering that He is also Friend, Father, Spouse, and, above all, Savior, who came to heal our miseries. They do not know that the sweet honey of love achieves more with the poor human heart than the bitter gall of severity. It seems that they still live on Sinai, that they have never placed their foot in the Cenacle, and that they have never uttered the consoling and victorious cry of the beloved disciple: “And we have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath to us.” They do not believe in love.
Mildness is required in the desolations of spirit of those souls who would free themselves violently, without thinking that in this way they only increase their pain. Gentleness is needful in prayer, for there are souls who become angry at distractions, and who wish at all events to travel by the road that pleases them, whereas they ought to allow themselves to be borne gently by the Spirit, who inclines where He wills, and whose comings in and goings out we do not understand. Gentleness is needful for recollection, seeing that one would try to obtain it with violence, whereas the imagination is restrained and the powers of the soul are brought to concentration only by a delicate gentleness.
Mildness is necessary in order that the soul may know itself, seeing that the very gifts of God are not recognized — shameful ingratitude! — out of a fear of falling into pride, as though humility were not truth itself, according to the happy phrase of St. Teresa. Gentleness is necessary, but why go on? Enough has been said to open these consoling vistas to souls who have need of them.
The soul is a delicate thing: a reflection of God, a breath of the Most High. Let it be treated as it deserves, so that, poised on the strong wings of might and of mildness, it may ascend to the holy regions for which it was born, that it may soar up to the bosom of God, who is infinite might and infinite mildness.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter from Archbishop Martinez’s Worshiping a Hidden God: Unlocking the Secrets of the Interior Life, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
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