ON THE SWEETNESS OF PRAYER.
By the practice of holy prayer we elevate our minds and hearts to the God of all consolation; we draw near to the fountain of life; we apply ourselves to the source of all happiness. Who can, then, express the ineffable sweetness which this holy intercourse with God must bring to pious souls! It cannot be denied that as long as we live in this mortal pilgrimage, — as long as we travel through this vale of tears, and are surrounded by the earthly tabernacle of our flesh, which weighs down the spirit, we cannot enjoy perfect happiness. We must acknowledge that perfect joy cannot be attained upon earth, but that the possession of this blessing is reserved to those pure souls, who, having fought the good fight, and gained the victory over their enemies, have left the prison of their bodies, and entered into the eternal kingdom. Yet it is also certain that, even in this life, the nearer we approach to our sweet and merciful Lord, the closer our communication is with His Divine Majesty, the more we partake of his happiness, and the greater is the joy which He pours into our hearts. "Taste and see," says holy David, "how the Lord is sweet." The lovers of this world, seeing that the persons addicted to prayer mortify their passions, chastise their body with its concupiscence, abstain from sensual pleasures, despise all worldly enjoyments, cultivate the spirit of recollection, and strive to detach themselves from all sensible objects, and to fix their heart and mind in God alone, imagine that their life is full of sadness and sorrow, and can conceive but very faintly, how they can be said to enjoy true and real delight. But the lovers of God know how greatly they are mistaken who think thus. For the practice of prayer, which to them would be a source of affliction and weariness, is to pious souls the purest fountain of comfort and delight. "Taste and see how the Lord is sweet." Here the holy prophet does not invite us to apply to the corrupted sources of the world in order to find our joy. He does not say, 'Taste and see how sweet and delightful to the heart are riches, honours, and worldly pleasures;' but he invites us to withdraw from the deceitful joys of this world, and to draw near to God. He says, "Taste and see how the Lord is sweet."
And oh, how many persons who had drunk deep of the bitter cup of misery under the slavery of their passions, have found, when converted to God, that, by giving themselves devoutly to holy prayer, they have become entirely changed, and have passed from the state of the deepest affliction to that of the sweetest consolation, to the enjoyment of the peace of God which surpasseth every understanding. What man ever indulged himself more freely in the enjoyment of earthly pleasures, and especially of the delights of the flesh, than St. Augustine? And what were his sentiments after the blissful momentin which he broke asunder the chains that tied him to sin, and embraced a life of prayer? Listen to his own words: 'For me,' says he, 'I have found more pleasure in weeping over my sins at the foot of the crucifix, than I ever experienced in attending the theatre, which formerly afforded me such delight.' Dulciores mihi sunt lacrimts paenitentium quant gaudia theatrorum.
That which happened to St. Augustine after his conversion to God is daily being renewed in the case of hundreds and thousands of Christians, who, after arousing themselves from the state of sin, and turning in good earnest to the practice of prayer, have found therein a hidden manna, which is unknown to all but him who tastes it; who thus enjoys a foretaste of that ineffable sweetness in which the blessed inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem are ingulfed. And whenever it pleases God in His inscrutable wisdom to try His faithful servants, by withdrawing from them all sensible delights, and permitting them to suffer desolation in their prayers, He does not deprive them of all comfort, but even then He leaves them, in the bottom of their hearts, a deep and solid feeling of satisfaction in the consciousness that they are fulfilling His holy and adorable will even by their sufferings and aridities; and besides this, He causes His light to shine occasionally amidst their darkness, letting them from time to time experience the inestimable blessing of His Divine presence.
But here it must be observed that, in order to enjoy the sweetness of prayer, we must disentangle ourselves from the ties of the world, and from all inordinate affections to created things, and rest with all our heart and soul in God alone. "Delight in the Lord," says holy David, "and He will give thee the requests of thy heart." [Psalm xxxvi.4.] 'Be pure and free interiorly,' says the Imitation of Christ, 'without being entangled by any creature. Thou must be naked, and carry a pure heart to God, if thou wilt attend at leisure, and see how sweet is the Lord.' ['Book ii. c. 8] . . . 'As soon as thou hast delivered thyself up to God with thy whole heart, and neither seekest this nor that for thy own pleasure, but wholly placest thyself in Him, thou shalt find thyself united to Him and at peace; for nothing wilt thou relish so well, and nothing shall please thee so much, as the good pleasure of the Divine will. Whosoever, therefore, with a single heart, shall direct his intention upwards to God, and purify himself from all inordinate love to created things, he shall be the most fit to receive grace, and worthy of the gift of devotion. For the Lord bestows His blessings there, where He finds the vessels empty. And the more perfectly a soul forsakes things below, and the more she dies to herself for the contempt of herself, the more speedily grace cometh, the more plentifully it entereth, and the higher it elevates the free heart. Then shall he see and abound, he shall admire, and his heart shall be enlarged within him; because the hand of the Lord is with him, and he hath put himself wholly into His hands for ever. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that seeketh God with his whole heart, and taketh not his soul in vain. [Book iv. c. 15.]
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.