More From The Lectures of Titus Brandsma

All Called to Mystical Life.

It strikes us immediately that the blind brother, with
all possible stress, maintains that we are called to
the mystical life, all of us; that the mystical life,
the familiar intercourse with God, the experiencing
god, the enjoyment of God, is something God will grant
man on earth, nay, grants it to many if only they make
themselves susceptible to it and place no limit or
hindrance to His love. Those who have entered the Order
of Mount Carmel should keep in mind that God calls them
to the enjoyment of His presence even in this life;
that He wills us to contemplate Him, to lose ourselves
in Him; that we should regard this as the first and
highest obligation and never allow either study, work
or pastoral duties to push it into the background.

He is very emphatic in this. On the other hand, he
acknowledges the necessity of study, of preaching and
of other pastoral duties. But these should be grounded
on a more elevated contemplation. That was the reason
why he wished the younger members of the Order to be
set on the road of contemplation so that, grown up and
confirmed in this, they could never really lose that
habit of contemplation. Thus all their work would be
supported by the most intimate intercourse with God.

As emphatically as possible he rejects the idea that
the mystical life which does not consist essentially in
sights and visions, stigmata and levitations, but
simply in seeing God before us and with us and in us,
being consumed through love for Him, knowing the divine
fire within us and only wishing with God that it burn
and consume us — that this mystical life is not for
us, for every one of us. Naturally, he leaves the
disposition of this grace and its degrees to the good
pleasure of God. He does not want us to look upon
mystical life as something we can rouse in ourselves.
It is and ever remains a gift of God, but God has made
our nature susceptible to it. He does not want us to
disregard this susceptibility, to neglect developing in
and freeing it from such hindrances as lessen its
working in us. To this negatively directed preparation
he adds the more positive one of the steady practice of
virtue. Here it is clearly evident how nearly he is
related, on the one hand to St. Teresa and on the other
to Ruysbroeck; evidently both have influenced him. The
Devotio Moderna taken by Geerte Groote in its pristine
and noblest conception from Ruysbroeck has in this
respect been also adopted by St. Teresa. This is
especially true of the idea that man should not remain
inactive and leave everything to God but that a steady
activity in practising virtue and holiness is the first
and indispensable preparation for the higher grades of
mystical life.

The Order Is a School; a Family.

Our Order resembles a classroom in which we acquire
this practice of virtue, or a large family in which the
members strive together toward a common goal with
greater facility than is possible to individual effort.
In the spiritual life, no more than in ordinary life,
can we dispense with education, with teachers and with
guidance. It is an exception when God does not call in
the human aid of a community or of an Order to lift His
elect to the heights of sanctity. That is why it is so
significant that there are schools of mysticism in the
Church each with its own traditions, each following a
different road, but all emanating from one central
point, which is God Himself, and leading to one goal,
again not distinct with God. God has willed in Nature a
great richness and diversity. In the spiritual life He
also wills a variety, adapted to the diversity of
talents and the richness of forms under which He
communicates His graces. So also in His prescience He
called the Order of Mount Carmel into being and
overwhelmed it with graces. Its function would be to
form a school of mystical life, with a very personal
stamp which the leaders of the Order would preserve in
order that the Order would answer its peculiar
vocation. When God transplants into the garden of
Carmel the young seedlings that will open for Him like
flowers; when He calls to the Order so many fresh young
souls, glowing with zeal, then He desires that the
Order care for these souls.

Splendour of God’s Wisdom.

Next Brother John acknowledges openly that he fervently
wishes to make known the splendour of God’s wisdom
which wishes to do immensely more in man than it does,
but is hampered by the hindrances offered by man and
his frequent unworthiness. However, to him who pays due
respect, God’s Wisdom is lovely. It will fill all its
elect with its treasures, its loveliness, its gifts. It
will overwhelm them and reward them with the full
enjoyment of itself. The less they are intent upon it,
the more they shall partake of it. Mostly they do not
think of it, or they would give their life a thousand
times for God. In fact, they almost live beyond
themselves already, quite wrapped in God. And their
body is subject to their spirit.

Special Form of Prayer, “Aspiration.”

To attain this the Venerable brother insists moreover
on prayer and meditation, on a form of prayer which
might be called the continuation and permanent fruit of
prayer. Hendrik Herp, the Franciscan pupil of
Ruysbroeck, first employed the word which John of St.
Samson has taken over in his school, not as something
new in itself, but never before emphasized from this
point of view. John of St. Sampson has taken over this
form of prayer which is so perfectly in accordance with
the traditions of the old monks and also of the hermits
of Carmel. In his conference with the Abbot Isaac,
Cassian speaks about the use of ejaculations and
aspirations. Ven. John of St. Sampson further developed
this practice in a way that might truly be called
masterly. He has taught us the full beauty of this form
of prayer and brought it into use. He calls it with
Hendrik Herp, toegeesting, uplifting, or “aspiration”
and attaches to the latter word a peculiar meaning. It
is an exercise on our part and at the same time it is
thought to be extremely effective in making us share
the infusion of the abundance of divine grace because
it so greatly develops our receptiveness for grace and
absolutely opens our hearts to God. It is not simply a
loving dialogue; that is only the beginning and start.
It is a soaring to God, the bursting forth of a flame
out of our loving and glowing hearts. It is an attempt,
repeated again and again, to unite ourselves as closely
as possible to God, or rather, to reform ourselves in
God and conform ourselves to Him. It is an impulse, a
desire to lose ourselves in God and God does not
repulse us. He takes us to Him and we grow into one
spirit, we are filled with His spirit, we live his
life. How remarkable! We long for God because we are
filled with His spirit, with Himself. And because we
are filled with Him, we desire ever more to be filled;
we seek Him and so He fills us ever more. This practice
transcends all understanding, it transcends all display
of affection, it strives immediately to God and aims at
nothing else than being one with Him. Since intellect
and love are at the bottom of this “aspiration,” or
“uplifting,” it takes its stand there, yet one thinks
neither of intellect nor love, but only to gather its
fruit, the union. Nevertheless, in its growth it is an
exercise and many various steps may be distinguished in

Four Steps to Aspiration.

The first step is the sacrifice of oneself and all
creation to God. In doing this it is best to focus the
offering all in one idea; that all is His, without
drawing special attention to one particular work of His
hands. We are to see God, not the creature; the
creature only in so far as is needed to mount up to
God. The second step is a request for His gifts; that
He Who is able to give them may give them; that He Who
is rich and mighty may diffuse this splendour. The
third step is the making of oneself similar to God, by
loving Him fervently and by desiring all to accept this
love and incite it in themselves. the last step is the
union of oneself perfectly to God. This includes all
the previous steps, but on a higher plane.

All this is far from easy, therefore the brother quite
understands that success does not come at once, but he
wishes us to take great pains. Gradually we shall
succeed. The exercise can, as it were, be ever more
intensified, till at length it grows into something
like an immediate seeing or grasping of God and grows
so familiar that it becomes second nature. All images
disappear; we pass above everything immediately to God.
Only we should not push this so far that we should want
to exclude Christ’s humanity from our upward flight to
God. He is ever to remain our Intercessor, our

Knowing by Not-Knowing.

Relative to the union with God in the innermost parts
of our souls, the Venerable John loves to speak most of
an all-surpassing, all-exceeding, all-overreaching
contemplation, which according to his expression draws
the subject quite into the object, perfectly unites the
subject with the loved object and so enthralls the
subject with the object that one is absolutely
possessed by the other. In this he sees a wonderful
interchange. The soul loses itself in God. Its
understanding, its total bewilderment is its richest
idea. It realises that it will know the Highest by not
understanding what it knows. It often cannot talk about
it, nor find words to express what it should want to
say if it had to, or were to, communicate anything of
the Unspeakable. Thus it is for the soul both light and
darkness at the same time. So they, to whom God has
given the highest understanding, speak in an
incomprehensible language, only to be understood by
those who have been uplifted to an equal height.
Besides, men of this kind should not like to speak
differently with others, unless God would desire it.

The Scintilla Animae.

The true pupils of the school of Carmel should be in a
high degree wrapped up in themselves, to find and meet
God in the innermost recesses of their souls. There God
goes to meet them. He grows by the meditations they
devote to Him and the love they dedicate to Him. He
grows in the innermost depths of their being till they
cannot hide Him any longer and He does not want to
remain hidden in them any longer. John of St. Samson
renews here the old theory of the scintilla animae, the
spark of the soul, of the synderesis or summing up of
everything in the first and simplest terms, from which
everything develops and which is gradually known in its
richness, but which should ever be kept in mind as the
ground and the first summary. In the innermost,
deepest, most essential part of us God is the being of
our being, life of our life, the reason of our
existence and of everything we do and are able to do.
There God is like a spark in our soul. He has kindled
fire in us — fire that imparts light and warmth, fire
that must flame up.


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