Deus, qui diligentibus te bona invisibilia præparasti: infunde cordibus nostris tui amoris affectum; ut te in omnibus et super omnia diligentes, promissiones tuas, quæ omne desiderium superant, consequamur. (Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: "O God, who hast prepared invisible good things for those that love Thee: pour forth into our hearts an affectionate love for Thee: that loving Thee in all things, and above all things, we may come to the enjoyment of thy promises, which are above whatever we can desire.")
[I]t is the Church's Divinity that accounts for her passion for God. To her as to none else on earth is the very face of God revealed as the Absolute and Final Beauty that lies beyond the limits of all Creation. She in her Divinity enjoys it may be said, even in her sojourn on earth, that very Beatific Vision that enraptured always the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ. With all the company of heaven then, with Mary Immaculate, with the Seraphim and with the glorified saints of God, she endures, seeing Him Who is invisible. Even while the eyes of her humanity are held, while her human members walk by faith and not by sight, she, in her Divinity, which is the guaranteed Presence of Jesus Christ in her midst, already dwells in heavenly places and is already come to Mount Zion and the City of the living God and to God Himself, Who is the Light in which all fair things are seen to be fair.
Is it any wonder then that, now and again, some chosen child of hers catches a mirrored glimpse of what she herself beholds with unveiled face; that some Catholic soul, now and again, chosen and called by God to this amazing privilege, should suddenly perceive, as never before, that God is the one and only Absolute Beauty, and that, compared with the contemplation of this Beauty—which contemplation is, after all, the final life of Eternity to which every redeemed soul shall come—all the activities of earthly life are nothing; and that, in her passion for this adorable God, she should run into a secret room and shut the door and pray to her Father Who is in secret, and so remain praying, a hidden channel of life to the whole of that Body of which she is a member, an intercessor for the whole of that Society of which she is one unit? There in silence, then, she sits at Jesus' feet and listens to the Voice which is as the sound of many waters; in the whiteness of her cell watches Him Whose Face is as a Flame of Fire, and in austerity and fasting tastes and finds that the Lord is gracious.
Of course this is but madness and folly to those who know God only in His Creation, who imagine Him merely as the Soul of the World and the Vitality of Created Life. To such as these earth is His highest Heaven and the beauty of the world the noblest vision that can be conceived. Yet to that soul that is Catholic, who understands that the Eternal Throne is indeed above the stars and that the Transcendence of God is as fully a truth as His Immanence—that God in Himself, apart from all that He has made, is all-fair and all-sufficient in His own Beauty—to such a soul as this, if called to such a life, there is no need that the Church should declare explicitly that the Contemplative Life is the highest. She knows it already.
...The First Great Commandment of the Law, then, is inevitably followed by the Second, and the Catholic interpretation of the Second is thought by the world, which understands neither, to be as extravagant as her interpretation of the First.
For this Divine Church that knows God is also a Human Society that dwells among men, and since she in herself unites Divinity and Humanity, she cannot rest until she has united them everywhere else.
For, as she turns her eyes from God to men, she sees there immortal souls, made in the image of God and made for Him and Him alone, seeking to satisfy themselves with Creation instead of with the Creator. She hears how the world preaches the sanctity of the temperament, and the holiness of the individual point of view, as if there were no Transcendent God at all and no objective external Revelation ever made by Him. She sees how men, instead of seeking to conform themselves to God's Revelation of Himself, attempt rather to conform such fragments of that Revelation as have reached them to their own points of view; she listens to talk about "aspects of truth" and "schools of thought" and the "values of experience" as if God had never spoken either in the thunders of Sinai or the still voice of Galilee.
Is it any wonder, then, that her Proselytism appears to such a world as extravagant as her Contemplation, her passion for men as unreasonable as her passion for God, when that world sees her bring herself from her cloisters and her secret places to proclaim as with a trumpet those demands of God which He has made known, those Laws which He has promulgated, and those rewards which He has promised? For how can she do otherwise who has looked on the all-glorious Face of God and then on the vacant and complacent faces of men—she who knows God's infinite capacity for satisfying men and men's all but infinite incapacity for seeking God—when she sees some poor soul shutting herself up indeed within the deadly and chilly walls of her own "temperament" and "individual point of view," when earth and heaven and the Lord of them both is waiting for her outside?
The Church, then, is too much interested in men and too much absorbed in God. Of course she is too much interested and too much absorbed, for she alone knows the value and capacity of both; she who is herself both Divine and Human. For Religion, to her, is not an elegant accomplishment or a graceful philosophy or a pleasing scheme of conjectures. It is the fiery bond between God and man, neither of whom can be satisfied without the other, the One in virtue of His Love and the other in virtue of his createdness. She alone, then, understands and reconciles the tremendous Paradox of the Law that is Old as well as New. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart … and thy neighbour as thyself .
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson
Paradoxes of Catholicism (1913)
[Image: F. de Zurbarán, La niñez de la Virgen, The State Hermitage, Saint Petersburg]