Book 3, Chapter 27: That Personal Love Keeps You from the Highest Good.
Chapter Focus: When we give ourselves to God, we receive Him back. What a deal! We must seek God for His own sake and not seek Him through our possessions and infatuations. We must surrender ourselves to God in all things, setting aside our self-love, thereby being docile to His grace.
Thomas tells us to lay the ax to the root of our hearts to hack out all of those worldly attachments which keep us from being full-hearted disciples of Christ.
He carries this theme into the prayer at the end of the chapter, which asks God for strength and courage and wisdom in the practice of holding loosely to those transitory things, whether possessions or flattering chit-chat.
Thomas was very popular both in the monastery and in the general population. People would come from miles around to hear him preach or in seeking spiritual direction. So his comments about flattery are based on this experience of popularity and its pitfalls.
Chapter 27, In Short.
1. If your love is pure, sincere, and well-regulated, you will not be captive to anything.
2. Why are you consumed with vain sorrow and wearied with useless cares?
3. Your welfare lies with despising worldly longings and seeking empty praise.
4. Strengthen me, O God, that I may look upon everything, even myself, as passing away.
5. Give me, O Lord, heavenly wisdom, that I may learn to seek You above all things and to find You.
Question: What things or situations or praises do I look to for fulfillment? How can I enjoy these without hindering my pursuit of holiness and closeness to God?
The Text of Chapter 27: That Personal Love Keeps You from the Highest Good.
“My Child, you must give all for all, and be nothing of your own. Know you that the love of yourself is more hurtful to you than anything in the world. Everything more or less clings to you according to the love and attachment you have to it. If your love is pure, sincere, and well-regulated, you will not be captive to anything. Do not covet what you may not have. Do not pursue those things that will embarrass you and rob you of inward liberty. It is wonderful that you will not, from the very bottom of your heart, commit yourself solely to Me, with all the things which you can desire or have.
2. “Why are you consumed with vain sorrow and wearied with useless cares? Stand by My good pleasure, and you will not suffer loss. If you seek after this or that, or will be here or there, for the sake of your own advantage or the fulfilling of your own pleasure, you shall never be at rest, or free from care, because in everything something will be found lacking, and everywhere there will always be somebody who will oppose you.
3. “Your welfare does not lie with the gaining or multiplying of this or that thing which gives you an advantage, but rather in the rejection of those things and the cutting them out by the roots from your heart. You must understand this not only regarding money and riches but also of your pursuit after honors and vain praise: things which all pass away with the world. If your spirit of devotion is lacking, then the place of it only helps you a little. Similarly, if the state of your heart is without a true foundation your peace will not last long, or when sought from elsewhere, that is, if it does not abide in Me. You may change, but you cannot better yourself. For, when the occasion arises and is accepted you shall find what you did fly from, and even more.”
A PRAYER FOR CLEANSING OF THE HEART AND FOR HEAVENLY WISDOM
4. Strengthen me, O God, by the grace of Your Holy Spirit. Give me virtue to be strengthened with might in the inner disciple, and to free my heart from all fruitless care and trouble, and that I may not be drawn away by various desires after anything, whether of little value or great, but that I may look upon everything as passing away, and myself as passing away with them; because there is no profit under the sun, and all is vanity and vexation of spirit(Eccl 2:11). Oh, how wise is the disciple that considers thus!
5. Give me, O Lord, heavenly wisdom, that I may learn to seek You above all things and to find You; to relish You above all things and to love You; and to understand all things, even as they are, according to the order of Your wisdom. Grant me to prudently avoid the flatterer, and to patiently bear with them that oppose me. For this is great wisdom: not to be carried by every wind of words, nor to give ear to the wicked flattering Siren; for thus do we go safely on in the way we have begun.